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Daily Glean: Feds to disgraced MnDOT worker: Heckuva job, Sonia!

Where in the world is Sonia Morphew Pitt, the MnDOT disaster coordinator who went AWOL during the 35W bridge collapse? Working for the feds at Homeland Security, the Strib’s Paul McEnroe and Tony Kennedy report. She’s a “transportation security specialist.” Somewhere, FEMA ex-boss Michael Brown is smiling.

Less driving means less federal gas-tax dough, which means $180 million to $250 million less for Minnesota transportation projects in 2009, the Rochester Post-Bulletin’s Matt Russell reports. Possibly foregone: 175-225 projects and at least 4,800 jobs. Remember, the state’s gas-tax revenues will bring in less than expected, too. Lots of scheduled projects could be rolled back.

The $2 million discrimination payout to five black Minneapolis cops ain’t happening, the Strib’s David Chanen writes. City leaders are mum, citing a judge’s order to shut up. The cops’ lawyer says, in effect, bring on a trial. It’s scheduled for October 2009. A settlement could still happen before then, but for now, an impasse has clearly been reached.

One day after refusing to give up indicted U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens’ money, Norm Coleman’s campaign caved and disgorged the $20,000. The PiPress’s Rachel Stassen-Berger notes Al Franken’s campaign released an attack ad on the subject before the Norm switcheroo. Some major outlet still should do a piece on Coleman’s ties to Veco, the oil company that supplied Stevens with house goodies. Franken wants Coleman to give back Veco money raised in 2002, AP’s Brian Bakst reports.

More Senate: Stassen-Berger and WCCO’s Esme Murphy each catch an error in a recent heart-tugging Coleman ad. Seems a mom whose son had cancer overstated federal refusal to fund childhood cancer treatments before Norm came along. On Reality Check, WCCO’s Pat Kessler says Coleman’s bowler ad attacking Franken’s character “shaves the truth” but is largely accurate.

There are now more foreclosures in Minneapolis’s suburbs than the city, the Strib’s Steve Brandt reports. In 2008’s first half, the sheriff’s sales were up 59 percent in the ‘burbs, compared to 20 percent in Minneapolis. The city had 58 percent of foreclosures in 2006’s first six months; now that’s 41 percent. Fraud cases may have blown through Minneapolis sooner, but mortgage-rate resets are now nailing the suburbs, one expert says. The situation isn’t great anywhere, as numbers are rising in both places.

Superscary: City Pages’ Jonathan Kaminsky says an Xcel nuclear plant worker was among dozens buying degrees from a diploma mill. Xcel won’t say what job Duwayne Huss had, but get this: Now he works in a Wisconsin nuke plant’s control room. The Spokane Spokesman-Review unearthed the roster of crooked graduates, and there are other Minnesotans on its list.

MPR’s Tim Post says a full 15-person jury pool has been empaneled in the Olga Franco case. Ten women, five men, wide-ranging ages and occupations. Is it too much to ask for an ethnic breakdown? After all, the case involves the explosive illegal immigrant issue; knowing Anglos versus Hispanics isn’t a precise attitudinal measure, but it’s as valid as the ones listed.

The Mayo Clinic has delivered the first Minnesota babies born from frozen eggs thawed in a petri dish. The Strib’s Josephine Marcotty says healthy twin girls were born in June. Freezing eggs, not embryos, expands the universe of potential parents. Only 200-300 babies have been born this way. Egg freezing costs about a grand, twice the price of embryo chilling.

The PiPress’s Mary Divine has a neat piece on fourth-generation “steel straighteners” working 12-hour days to repair the Stillwater Lift Bridge. A too-tall truck badly mangled some bridge beams three weeks ago.

Somebody, cover this! MPR’s Tom Scheck passes along a state GOP invitation to candidate “speed dating.” According to the invite, for $50 a table, “you will have the opportunity to visit with several of our candidates. Our candidates will rotate around the room and spend 7 minutes at each table, giving you the opportunity to get to know them!” For those not GOP partisans, the Aug. 12 event could be relatively cheap entertainment.

Today’s RNC protest update: St. Paul will provide an amplified “soapbox” near the Dorothy Day Center, close to the Xcel Energy Center. The Strib’s Chris Havens reports that you’ll need a permit, there’s a lottery, and you should check here today. (Idle thought: would GOP backers compete for speaking time?) A PiPress editorial praises Mayor Chris Coleman on his “nonpartisan” protest restrictions.

More RNC: Despite all the tsuris in St. Paul, no one has applied for marching permits in Bloomington and Minneapolis, Minnesota Independent’s Paul Demko and Chris Steller observe.

Fox9’s Tom Lyden says St. Paul police will join the protester ranks today. They’re mad about pay that’s below metro averages, especially for veterans. At least 100 cops will march. (I wonder if they got a protest permit.) The city says it’s offered a 10 percent hike over three years, and with bennies, St. Paul cops are in the top 10.

The PiPress’s Stassen-Berger has a rundown on new state laws taking effect tomorrow. Don’t forget that carbon-monoxide alarm within 10 feet of every bedroom!

Minneapolis cabbies will probably get a fare hike, plus automatic inflation adjustments every March. The latter is tied to the regional transportation index, the Strib’s Steve Brandt writes. A $1 surcharge during the GOP convention was nixed by a council committee. The full Council votes Aug. 8.

How to earn an age discrimination suit: fire 25 nurses, 23 of them older. That’s why Edina’s Fairview Southdale is being sued, the PiPress’s Jeremy Olson notes. The hospital is getting rid of Licensed Practical Nurses in favor of Registered Nurses; the LPNs just happen to be older, a hospital spokesman says. He adds that electronic records have reduced the LPN need.

Tons of 35W bridge-collapse overtime worked by three Minneapolis cops will cost taxpayers an extra $780,000 in pension payouts, Brandt writes. The pension formula is tied to earnings, which includes overtime. When the feds declined to reimburse the city, the payout for everyone in the fund rose.

Target Center will get a $1 million acoustical upgrade, the Strib’s Jon Bream reports. The upgrade will be done by Wolves season, but may be spitting in the wind, given the Xcel Center’s copious other advantages. Question: does the city’s Target Center fund have enough dough to cover this, or is it coming out of the general fund?

Last week, I gleaned a press-rights spokesperson ripping U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum for failing to castigate the Tunisian government’s “police state.” Fair is fair; today, a Tunisian embassy spokesman defends the country in the PiPress.

Nort spews: The Twins once again stop short of first place, losing 8-3 to Chicago. Fans want Livan Hernandez’s head on a platter; Alexi Casilla’s finger will apparently need season-ending surgery. The non-waiver trade deadline is 3 p.m. today. A Milwaukee newspaper says the Packers might trade Brett Favre to the Vikings or Bears; they also reportedly offered him $20 million to really, really, absolutely, cross-your-fingers-hope-to-die retire.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Hannah Hosanna on 07/31/2008 - 08:02 pm.

    How much is the Pitt woman making? If she’s a federal employee, her salary is public information, isn’t it?

  2. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 08/01/2008 - 12:21 am.

    If you know her paygrade, the payscale is public information.

    $89,920, according to this website, which reports she is now a FORMER employee of DHS.

    I think Pitts took a paycut going from MNDot to DHS. She must have realized she was lucky to get a job. Yes, past tense now. Wonder if Brownie could give her a job cleaning out horse stalls?

  3. Submitted by berns obe on 10/02/2008 - 12:26 pm.

    I believe it is prudent for the world to know about a lack of poor judgment affecting decisions possibly associated with public safety at the KEWAUNEE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, KEWAUNEE, WI. Two months ago, various online blogs, picked up by the Journal Sentinel Online, Milwaukee, WI, reported a story regarding the purchasing of degrees from a diploma mill in Spokane, WA. There was much speculation and distortion within these blogs and within the subsequent articles. The complete information was never reported factually and thus resulted in public outcry and negative press for the corporation and industry associated with the story, not to mention the individual involved. It is my belief that solely because of this poor publicity, the corporation’s hand was forced into termination of employment of a 19-year veteran in the industry (19 years in that very plant), with a safe operating history; a man that, while showing severe naïveté in trying to get something for just a bit more than nothing, never put the public’s safety at risk. But, what was he trying to get for only a bit more than nothing? The degrees were not used to deceive his employers to get a job or keep his position. The nuclear industry has its own intensive testing for those purposes. Instead, the “degrees” were a way for him to get recognition of the expertise he has gained after 19 years in the industry in addition to the six years spent serving our country’s Navy in the same field of study. 25 years in nuclear power. 25 years of safe operation. 25 years of experience completely dismissed by the press, the bloggers, the corporation. Simply put, the purchased “degrees” did not in any way affect whether this man was qualified to do his job, nor did it affect the way he performed on the job. Yet, due to prosecution by the media and bloggers, he will never be in that industry again. Where the real criminals only get 3 years, this man has been convicted for the rest of his life!

    On the other hand of this corporation that threw away such experience and performance, however, is a nuclear reactor operator, also in charge of making decisions and taking actions that can put the public’s safety at risk; a nuclear reactor operator who, four hours after the beginning of his shift, had a blood alcohol level of 0.056, more than half the legal limit for driving. Now, consider that this man had already been on the job for four hours, had driven into work that morning, all with an elevated blood alcohol level. How high was it when he drove in to work? We know what a vehicle can do in the hands of someone under the influence. Imagine the potential of a nuclear power plant driven by an operator under the influence. Yet this man, who has a history of alcohol abuse shown by his two previous DUI’s still is employed as an operator at the plant, still is allowed to enter the control room and still is in a position that affects public safety. Granted, his “operator’s license” was revoked as a disciplinary measure, but he is still in the plant, monitoring vital measurements, taking actions based on these measurements; measurements which I’m not convinced are not still blurry from the night before, and actions which may or may not be justified.

    Are the choices being made at Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant in the best interest of the surrounding communities or are they in the best interest of the corporation’s reputation? I wonder, if the stories were reversed in the media, who would be employed and who would be out the door.

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