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Independent review of AG's Office a good idea

The Star Tribune has weighed in on the turmoil in the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General with an editorial calling for an independent review by the legislative auditor (“Resolution needed in AG controversy.”) I think that is a fair proposal and one that I hope AG Lori Swanson takes to heart.

Critics of the union movement on this blog and elsewhere have blamed the turmoil and morale problems on everything from a Swanson DFL political rival, to a right-wing political conspiracy, to union bullying. In a bizarre twist, one Swanson ally on this blog even accused the Communist Party of orchestrating the disharmony.

While I certainly cannot disprove the allegation that one or more outside forces had a hand in the virtually nonstop internal issues that have roiled the office during Swanson’s first 15 months, the ill-conceived management practices current and former employees in the office have described strike me as a much more likely culprit. In fact, when reports of the morale issues first started trickling to Minnesota Lawyer from current and former staff members at this time last year, those reports had an oddly familiar ring to them. An identical litany of allegations of mistreatment by management bubbled up from current and former staffers early in the administration of Swanson’s predecessor and longtime mentor, Mike Hatch. (And I don’t mean to pick on Hatch. Heavy-handed management approach and sometimes abrasive style aside, he was a staunch advocate for “ordinary Minnesotans” who today remains one of the state’s most brilliant political tacticians.) But I cannot help thinking that if Swanson could just bring herself to abandon the management methods of her mentor, and instead adopt a more conciliatory approach, that would go a long way in diffusing the situation in her office.

However, no improvement will come about so long as the AG and some of her supporters continue to point the finger at outside sources as being the cause of the staff dissatisfaction. Having an independent third party come in to get at the root of things would be an excellent way to help the office resolve this seemingly intractable impasse. It’s in the office’s best interests, and, to be frank, in Swanson’s own political interests to straighten this out. Let’s get the legislative auditor in there to either give the office a clean bill of health, or more likely, find the areas that need addressing so that both Swanson and her staff can move forward.

2 comments

  1. Yes, having an independent assessment could be helpful. However, that assessment needs to be done in a way that will protect current AAGs from retribution. For example, if I tell the legislative auditor about two specific cases in which I believe ethically questionable decisions were made by a deputy and the AG and then the auditor turns around and asks the deputy and AG about those cases, guess who’s left exposed and still “at will” when all is said and done? AAGs don’t have civil service protections like the AUSAs at the US attorney’s office. AAGs don’t have a union to stand behind us, either.
    Most of the time I enjoy my work because I am serving the State of Minnesota (not serving Lori Swanson) and on most cases I can work without worrying about interference by Swanson and her deputies. But when there is a higher profile case where the AG thinks she somehow is the policymaker (instead of the Legislature or the state agency), then the problems begin. Then an AAG realizes just how lonely it is to not have anyone behind them. I would rather not resign and work somewhere else. But it may not take many more of those lonely experiences.
    Frankly, I don’t care much for an independent assessment. I do want some assurance that I will be able to represent the State of Minnesota vigorously and ethically and still have a job and clean conscience the next day.

  2. I don’t have a dog in this fight and would observe that their have been many missteps by the AG. I feel for the employees. However, one thing that struck me about the prior comment is that it suggests a role for the AAG that make me a bit unconfortable. The AAG is not elected but seems to beleive that the AG doesn’t have a role in his/her work. As an elected official, the AG represents the people of MN and the State’s interest in all matters including the advice that is given to state agaencies, especially in those matters where there is heightened public interest (although in Swanson’s case I understand it seems to be more about her own interest than the State’s). This trumps the AAG. The AAG is not elected. Among other things, the AG is a policy maker and needs some level of deference by her staff. I think the real issue is management style and micromanaging but I don’t work there.

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