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Monday, May 21, 2007

Senator Ortmann Responds to Press Coverage of her Job Working for Good Friend Sheriff Rich Stanek

Chanhassen Villager:

For immediate release
Contact: Andrea Ross
May 20, 2007
Guest Column by Julianne Ortman

There has been quite a bit of media coverage over my new job as Director of Finance for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. Let me offer my perspective, and a little history.

Since I was elected to the County Board in 2000, I have always had full-time employment in addition to my public service. From 1994 to 2006 I worked as the
manager and partner at a law firm, Ortman & Associates. My husband Ray Ortman has always been my partner; it was our family business, and for many years it provided the means of support for us and for our 4 children. In January 2006, Ray assumed a new position as a full time minister and parish administrator at St. Victoria's Church in Victoria. I am very proud of him and his service to the church.

At that time we closed the law firm, and I spent the summer and fall running for re-election. In March of 2007 I applied for the position in the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. I went through the application process, along with other candidates, and accepted the position. I started on April 2 and the Senate reconvened from break on April 10. It would have been impossible to delay the start of my work
or take a leave of absence until after the Senate Session this year, because of the immediate demand to develop the 2008 Budget for the Sheriff's Office. In my mind and in my heart this was a great opportunity for me and my family, even if it meant having to work extraordinary hours for five weeks to fulfill my responsibilities. The Sheriff's Office authorized me to use flexible hours to complete the legislative session, and I have worked diligently for five weeks of overlapping schedules, to work full time and also be present for my work in the Senate. For the most part, the days I have missed in the Senate were ones where we did not take up major bills, and the votes were not close. Most of our bills are heard and receive votes on two
separate occasions on the Senate Floor. I planned and scheduled to make a priority of major bills and those where my vote made a difference. I contacted our Chief of Staff and legislative assistant frequently to monitor Senate business. Members are excused from the Senate for personal and business reasons. We do not allow members to vote for anyone else, as they do in the House, so our journals frequently reflect attendance of about 60 to 65 members.

Much has been suggested about my timesheets, but the scrutiny has led to the invariable fact that my timesheets accurately report my work for the Sheriff's Office, the hours I have worked for Hennepin County have been authorized by my employer, and my absences from the Senate have been excused.

The problem is without media scrutiny, these timesheets would not be accurate. This raises the question about whether the Hennepin County Sheriff's office has the proper controls in the way they handle payroll.

I have never voted on Sheriff's Office legislation at any time in my employment with that agency, and I received an opinion from counsel that my employment by the Sheriff's Office did not create any conflict of interest. The fact that I have other employment outside the Senate is not unusual; many legislators have other work (business people, farmers, attorneys). Noteworthy "legislative all-stars" who worked in government while also serving in the legislature include: Jane Ranum (county prosecutor), Charlie Weaver (county prosecutor), Kathleen Blatz (county services), Phil Carruthers (county prosecutor), Rich Stanek (police officer), Tony Bennett (police officer), Linda Higgins (city property reclamation), and every school teacher who has ever served in the legislature. We have a citizen's legislature, where individuals from throughout the State, with different training, experience, and backgrounds, are elected to make our laws. The work is intended to be part-time. I serve as a resident of Chanhassen, and as a woman, a mother, a lawyer, and now as one of tens of thousands of government employees from throughout Minnesota. I bring the benefit of all of these experiences to my work as a legislator, and I work very hard to bring honor and excellence to my work in all of these roles.

I've asked Sen. Higgins to comment on this one. She is my state senator.

I definitely got caught up in media glare with my new job; I regret that the focus wasn't on my work at the capitol, or the great work of the Sheriff's Office. I don't object to being accountable; but I do object to the unfair innuendo and half-truths, and the effort to scandalize what is a very normal thing to do: to work for a living, to work hard, and to try to achieve great things through public service. This is what makes public service so difficult, but nonetheless I will continue to strive to do both jobs well. State Senator Julianne Ortman was elected to her first term in 2002. Senator Ortman is Assistant Minority Leader and Lead Republican Senator on Tax Committee.

She encourages and appreciates constituent input, and can be reached at (651)296-4837, by mail at 125 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at