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GOP attacks Dayton for severance pay for former appointees

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton approved nearly $80,000 worth of severance payments to three outgoing administration officials over the past five years.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton approved nearly $80,000 worth of severance payments to three outgoing administration officials over the past five years.

The administration paid former economic development commissioners Katie Clark Sieben and Mark Phillips, who succeeded each other, $33,750 and $27,097 respectively in payments as they departed, according to a report from the investigative wing of Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media and confirmed by the governor’s office. In 2011, the administration paid Sheila Wright $18,064 as she departed her job as director of the office of higher education after less than a year.

Each of the officials resigned from their posts.

“The governor made those decisions, and in his judgment the circumstances justified those severances,” said Linden Zakula, the governor’s deputy chief of staff. The administration has not detailed those circumstances or what justified the severance packages in these three circumstances but not in other commissioners’ departures.

Phillips left his post at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development in 2012 to return to the private sector. He returned to the Dayton administration last year as the commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

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For each of the officials, the severance packages amounted to about three months’ pay.

“State law explicitly authorizes severance of up to six months’ salary for senior-level state employees, who make more than 60 percent of the governor’s salary, when they leave state service. We offered severances of up to three months’ salary to three agency heads, as the law expressly permits,” Zakula said. House Republicans say the governor’s office is misreading the law on severance, which they say does not extend to the people to whom he granted the payments.

Dayton had not commented publicly on the matter.

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