ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Minnesota ordered the firing of a state environmental panel’s director, but her attorney believes they lack the authority to remove her from the post.
Jodi Boyne, spokeswoman for House Speaker Kurt Zellers, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Susan Thornton was notified recently that Jan. 2 will be her last day as director of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.
The commission oversees money from a trust fund that’s fed by state lottery proceeds, recommending environmental and natural resources projects to the Legislature each year. The most recent round of projects totaled almost $51 million for two years.
Boyne said she could not reveal reasons for Thornton’s termination because it’s a personnel matter.
Thornton’s attorney, Vince Louwagie, said his client was told the decision wasn’t based on her performance but that “somebody had decided to go in a different direction.” The lawyer told the AP that the director of the Legislative Coordinating Commission gave Thornton the notice.
Louwagie said he doesn’t believe lawmakers have the unilateral authority to fire Thornton since she leads a citizen panel. He said he has advised her to continue showing up for work after Jan. 2. Thornton has led the commission since 2008.
Some commission members and Democratic state lawmakers told the St. Paul Pioneer Press they were upset by what happened.
“I was blindsided by this,” said Nancy Gibson, citizen co-chair of the commission. “As co-chair, you would think I at least would be privy to some of it.”
The commission used to be made up entirely of legislators, but was revamped in 2006 to include citizen members. It now consists of five state senators, five state representatives and seven citizens — five appointed by the governor, one by the Senate and one by the House.
The Legislature had typically gone along with recommendations from the commission, but in the last legislative session the Republican chairmen of House and Senate environmental panels led an effort to replace several recommendations.
“The LCCMR has always been nonpartisan,” Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, told the Pioneer Press. “The decisions have always been bipartisan. And now the (House) speaker is making it into a partisan position.”
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