MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov.-elect Tim Walz on Friday named Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington, a former St. Paul police chief and state senator, as the new public safety chief in his incoming administration.
Walz also said he’s keeping two more commissioners from outgoing Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration: Cynthia Bauerly at the Department of Revenue and Mark Phillips at the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. They’ll join Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, whom Walz retained last month.
The Democratic governor-elect tapped former state Sen. Steve Kelley, a telecommunications policy expert at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute, as his commerce commissioner.
Walz spoke on the former trading floor of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, which has been converted into a co-working space for entrepreneurs and small businesses called the Fueled Collective. He said he wanted to highlight the strength of Minnesota’s economy, which was founded on agriculture and commodities, and the state’s future as a hub for start-up and high-tech industries.
In keeping with that theme, he named Steve Grove, founding director of the Google News Lab, to head the Department of Employment and Economic Development. Grove moved home to Minnesota from Silicon Valley last April. Walz noted that Grove and his wife founded Silicon North Stars, which helps youths from underserved communities in Minneapolis pursue technology careers.
“This is an incredible state with dynamic entrepreneurs, and a very diverse economy, with extraordinary, extraordinary creativity,” Grove said. “And I think I look forward to bringing a fresh perspective, as a proud native returning home, to this challenge.”
Walz named former Obama administration Labor Department official Nancy Leppink to lead the Department of Labor and Industry. She’s moving home to Minnesota from Geneva, where she works for the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency.
U.S. Army and Minnesota National Guard veteran Larry Herke, who served in Iraq, will lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Walz, who takes office Monday, has only one cabinet position left to fill, commissioner of information technology. He said he understands the frustration that Minnesotans have felt with the troubled rollout of the MNLARS drivers licensing and vehicle registration system. He said he wants to deliver a clear plan to fix the existing problem “and a plan going forward to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
While many police departments are struggling to recruit qualified applicants, Harrington said it hasn’t been a problem for him — his department is currently interviewing 100 candidates for 10 openings.
Harrington — who offered greetings in Spanish, Hmong and Somali — said it’s important having officers who speak the languages of their communities, and it helps to promote a vision of policing as a noble profession. With that vision, he said, “there will be no shortage of candidates wanting to step up and serve.”
Walz noted that Harrington — who was St. Paul’s second black police chief — has increased diversity on the Metro Transit force from 5 percent to 50 percent.
Kelley said the Walz administration is committed to a “clean energy future” with “great jobs and a great economic future in rural communities and urban neighborhoods.” But he was noncommittal about a major project that the Commerce Department under Dayton has fought, Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. The department is one of several parties, including environmental and tribal groups, suing to overturn decisions by the independent Public Utilities Commission to approve the project.
“As the incoming commissioner, I’m going to learn the facts, and I’m going to do the research, before I say anything about how we might handle that lawsuit,” Kelley said.
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