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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hennepin County Taxpayers Get Swindled Again

This time by Sen. Julianne Ortmann.

It's been a busy and prosperous spring for Sen. Julianne Ortman.

For the past six weeks, Ortman has been working full time in her new $91,000-a-year job as chief financial manager for the office of Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, a political ally. At the same time, she has been collecting her $31,149-a-year legislative salary and a $96 daily expense allowance while missing some committee hearings and Senate floor sessions.

The dual roles of the Republican from Chanhassen, an assistant leader of the minority caucus, were evident May 11. Ortman was paid by Hennepin County as working on county business from 8 until 10 a.m., while state records show her answering a roll call for the start of the day's Senate session in St. Paul at 9:20 a.m.

A review of county payroll records and Senate documents from April and early May show that Ortman often bounced between her two jobs, at times starting one job just minutes after officially punching out from the other.

In two instances, she missed Senate committee meetings while working for the county, according to the records. Meanwhile, many of her county payroll records show her working long hours, evenings and weekends on days when the Senate was in session.

On one day, April 19, Ortman worked a 15-hour day for Hennepin County and missed a Senate floor session but still received her $96 daily expense allowance from the Senate.

In a written response to questions Friday, Ortman said a legislator holding two jobs is not uncommon in Minnesota.

"We have a citizen's Legislature where our work is not intended to be full-time employment. I have always had other employment," said Ortman. She listed other former legislators who held other jobs while serving at the State Capitol -- including Stanek, who was a Minneapolis police officer while serving in the House.

"I am proud to now be a Hennepin County Sheriff's Office employee and enjoy my work as the director of finance," Ortman added. "I am working very hard and strive to do both jobs well."

This is excellent shoe leather reporting by Mark Brunswick and Mike Kazuba at the Strib. This is the type of thing we need more of.

Ortman could not be reached Friday for a response concerning the apparent conflict May 11 when she was working for the county and on the Senate floor simultaneously.

Senate records show that Ortman took a $96 daily expense allowance (per diem) for every day in April, including Saturdays and Sundays, for a total of $2,880. Under Senate rules, a senator must specifically request to not collect per diem or a salary during the legislative session, and Ortman did not make such a request.

An initial set of timesheets provided to the Star Tribune by Hennepin County reflected four additional occasions when Ortman was working for the county and on legislative business at the same time. But after turning over the timesheets, Hennepin County amended Ortman's schedule for seven days and provided a new set of timesheets to the newspaper. In explaining the change, the Sheriff's Office said that Ortman had not been trained on the department's time recording software at the time, and another employee had recorded her hours incorrectly.

Go read the whole thing.