Furious state employee responds to GOP email

Not long after I posted the email sent by Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers to state employees, Department of Natural Resources Central Region Information Officer Harland Hiemstra copied me on this response, which he’s given me permission to share with you here:

Regardless of what any of us think about the current budget impasse and possible state government shutdown, I find it offensive and highly inappropriate for you to be using the state government email system to deliver to state employees on state time what is essentially a partisan message. We are already under a great deal of both professional and personal pressure to deal with this situation.
Your correspondence to advance a political agenda is, I believe, a possible violation of the ethics expected of state officials, and I have contacted the chair of the House Ethics Committee to see if there may be any recourse. I also will be contacting Senate officials related to this matter, as well as others.

Harland Hiemstra

I’d like to hear from other state employees on this. If you’re comfortable using your name and giving Mr. Hiemstra some company, please share your thoughts in the comments. If you’d rather only your agency be used as identification, please share your thoughts using this form and I’ll add them to this post. Want to see how this works? We’ve done it here and here.

More voices (updated 6/28/11 at 3:45 PM)

“I was pretty shocked at their use of my state e-mail for that tactic. It doesn’t matter which way I think the conversation with the Governor should go. If he had something to say to encourage us and help us get through this, he should have said that and then stopped. There was no reason, nor was it appropriate, to justify the Republican side of the Legislature’s position.  That justification doesn’t really support me at all — nor does it matter. It does seem unethical.”  — Department of Health employee

“Elections are for partisanship; governing is about making things work. He writes about sitting around the table to pay bills. You’ve got to have income to pay bills, so we won’t be able to do that if this thing goes more than two weeks.”  — Pollution Control Agency employee

“I was disgusted when I received the email. It was upsetting and distracting and should not have been sent at a time when critical policy decisions are having to be made.”  — Department of Human Services employee

“I must not be one of the valued state employees because I did not receive this e-mail from Zeller and Koch directly; a colleague forwarded it to me. I thought it was a joke. It is absolutely outrageous that these two would e-mail state employees on the job, and send us this very biased letter.  Public employees are extremely busy trying to prepare for the potential government shutdown, in addition to our regular work duties.”  — Department of Health employee

“It’s very difficult to open your professional email box and find that it contains an email from a person representing a party which feels the work you do is so insignificant, that 15 percent of your agency can be removed without considering the impacts to the public it serves. It’s even more difficult when you realize that the message is also asking you to view the one person standing between you and unemployment as the enemy and that he, and not the persons seeking to end your livelihood, is actually holding your job and employment status hostage.” 
— Department of Transportation employee

“Use of the state e-mail system for what is, at root, a campaign message, is at best unethical.”  — Department of Revenue employee

“This was my response to Zellers and Koch: As a state employee I must say I do not feel it is appropriate for you to use my state email inbox for an attempt to sway my political opinion, especially a message so blatantly biased toward one political party. In the seven years (this week) that I have worked at the Minnesota Department of Health I have never received such a message from any politician.

“I am also offended at having my professional email used for a message that insults my intelligence.  Most Minnesotans are aware that this budget standoff would not have happened if the Republicans in our legislature would stop fighting Governor Dayton’s reasonable proposal to raise taxes less than 2% on only the richest 2% of people in the state.  No one will suffer financial hardship from this tax increase. No one will have to do without any necessities. No one will have to endure without creature comforts, without most of their usual luxuries and certainly not without health care.

“So please do not send future political messages to this address. I would prefer that people with more money than they need pay higher taxes rather than my being out of work or my friends doing without the state-funded health care they rely on to survive.”  — Department of Health employee

“We get a steady barrage of political emails from our Commissioner, frequently including her weekly “Commissioner Check-in.” I once responded to her, but they have continued. Even the message posted on our website regarding the status of the agency following a shutdown is needlessly politicized. I’d love to have a fresh fit of pique as my fellow state employees seem to have felt. Mine is a steady diet, to which I have become inured.”  — Department of Education employee

Footnotes to the shutdown:

Keep reading! The Intelligencer covers the shutdown:

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Pat McGee on 06/27/2011 - 05:18 pm.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. And I’m not a state employee.

  2. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 06/27/2011 - 06:03 pm.

    I’m no longer a state employee, but back when I was we were not allowed to use the state email system for purposes unrelated to our work. I guess Koch and Zellers might think this is work-related – to me, it’s political spam, and I would be just as displeased as Mr. Heimstra to find it in my inbox.

    Not to mention the (taxpayer-funded!) time those workers may have spent, reading this campaign statement rather than doing their jobs. If Koch and Zellers have not actually violated Ethics standards, they do not show very good judgment.

  3. Submitted by will lynott on 06/27/2011 - 06:59 pm.

    Jeff, here’s the reply I just sent to rep Zellers:

    “Mr Zellers, I find your message (below) to be highly inappropriate and patronizing. It’s nothing more than a crude attempt to abuse state employees by threatening them with their jobs in the hope that they will pressure the Governor to cave in to your demands. Such a partisan appeal to state workers is unprecedented in my 30 years in state government, and I respectfully request that it be the last. At the very least, please take my name off your list. Please confirm.

    Thank you.”

    My regards to Harland.

  4. Submitted by Michael Corcoran on 06/27/2011 - 08:47 pm.

    Harland doesn’t seem to understand he is an employee of the ‘people’. The people who earn the money and pay the taxes that pay Harland’s salary and benefits.

    The House and Senate leaders are elected leaders of the representatives of the people. They had a right and duty to inform the employees of the people of their desire to come to an agreement without a government shutdown.

    Get over it Harland, its called democracy

  5. Submitted by Dave Thul on 06/27/2011 - 08:56 pm.

    So it’s okay for Dayton’s commissioners to send letters and emails with partisan talking points? Careful not to trip over that double standard.

  6. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/27/2011 - 10:18 pm.

    Did Mr. Heimstra also demand an investigation into the Governor’s June 15th e-mail? Or perhaps he won’t be one of the state employees out of work during a shutdown. Heaven knows that we couldn’t survive without a $60,000 per year infornmation officer telling us that everything is closed.

  7. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 06/27/2011 - 10:30 pm.

    I’m not a state worker, but I am a school teacher. for 6 months the MN GOP has treated public workers like wealthy leeches sucking on the generous breast of society. The GOP have fought so that state workers and public workers could take home thousands less because these middle class workers could somehow bear the burden better than the truly wealthy. We are already the 10th leanest state and Republicans want to cut 15% of the state workforce. Senator Parry literally said that 15% of state workers wouldn’t even be missed.

    Then they send a letter calling state workers valued. they’ve kicked, flogged, and beaten on public workers for their own benefit to the hoots and hollars of their base. Now they call on their “valued” servants to defend them. What cowards.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/28/2011 - 08:32 am.

    I hope ‘ol Harland hasn’t ever used his state email account for personal bidness.

  9. Submitted by Lora Jones on 06/28/2011 - 08:55 am.

    #6. Just in case I’d missed something the first time around, I re-read Dayton’s e-mail. By no stretch of the imagination is it the partisan and demagogic pap pedaled by Koch and Zellers.

  10. Submitted by Lora Jones on 06/28/2011 - 08:56 am.

    And, in case you all hadn’t noticed, I am sick to death of the Repug penchant for false equivalence.

  11. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 06/28/2011 - 09:43 am.

    @Dave: A better analog would be Dayton’s email to state employees last week. I’ve posted it below. I looked it over again, sentence by sentence, and then did the same for the Zellers/Koch leter. These are very different letters.

    The Dayton letter cautiously sticks mostly to the facts (with no mention of the Republican leadership or their positions): You are receiving layoff notices; preparations are underway for a shutdown; we’ll keep negotiating with the hope of averting it; this is a bad situation.

    The Zellers/Koch letter reads like a copy and paste of their partisan talking points. There are nearly a dozen direct references to Dayton as chief obstacle, including a reference to the Dayton as a hostage taker (borrowed the PiPress and merged seamlessly into the tone of their message). All of this while publicly adhering to the so-called “code of silence.”

    I will gladly elevate any comments by state employees who were hearteed by the Zellers/Koch email or dismayed by Dayton’s (or an email from a commissioner). So far I’ve not seen an example of either, but there are an awful lot of state employees out there.

    Anyways, here is Dayton’s email from last week:

    “This weekend you received notices that, unless a budget is enacted by July 1st, state government will shut down most of its operations. Most of you would be laid off or placed on an unpaid leave of absence until government operations resume. This was an extremely difficult decision for everyone involved; however, we had no choice but to begin planning for this possibility.

    “As a precaution, we have identified the most critical government services, which we believe must continue even in a shutdown. Today we have submitted this list to the Ramsey County District Court, which ultimately will decide what services will continue past July 1st, if a shutdown occurs.

    “I consider virtually all services provided by the state to be essential, and all of them have been established by previous governors and legislatures to serve and benefit the people of Minnesota. My decisions were not based upon personal preferences or policy considerations. Rather, they were instructed by the words of the Minnesota Constitution, which states clearly: “No money shall be paid out of the treasury of this state except in pursuance of an appropriation by law.” (Article XI, Sect. 1.) Thus my decisions were based entirely upon which functions of state government are so critical to protecting the lives and safety of the people of Minnesota, or which, if terminated, would cause such disorder or severe statewide economic impact, that they should be made exceptions to the Constitution’s clear prohibition.

    “I know that I speak for my entire cabinet when I say that we greatly value you and all of our state’s dedicated employees. We deeply appreciate your hard work and the high-quality services you provide to millions of Minnesotans. It is precisely those Minnesotans, those services, and your ability to deliver them, for which I am negotiating.

    “I will continue to do everything I possibly can to reach a compromise and a balanced budget agreement in time to avert a shutdown. I believe that you – and everyone in our state government – provide very important services to Minnesotans, and I will continue to defend you.

    “The last several weeks have been, and the next few weeks will be, extremely difficult for you and other state employees. I thank you. Like you, I look forward getting to resolving this crisis as soon as possible and moving ahead to our shared commitment to build a better Minnesota.

    “My best regards. Sincerely, Mark Dayton”

  12. Submitted by Kassie Church on 06/28/2011 - 11:04 am.

    The Dayton email was an email from my employer. While he is an elected official, he is ultimately my main boss. The Zellers email was an email from a politician. State employees do not answer to Reps or Senators unless they specifically pass legislation asking for specific things. It was not different than if a private citizen sent a political email to State employees, except that he used State resources to do so. It was totally inappropriate and it was insulting.

  13. Submitted by will lynott on 06/28/2011 - 12:03 pm.

    #5, I don’t remember getting anything like that, but maybe they slipped my mind. Please post some examples.

    #8–you mean like Zellers did?

  14. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 06/28/2011 - 12:41 pm.

    Usually there’s nothing entertaining about spin. Annoying yes, entertaining, not so much. This time though, watching Republicans trying to defend this backfiring letter is entertaining. They’re doing the usual casting of aspersions, changing of the subject, and fact-free counter claims, and getting nothing for it.

    Face it Republicans, until your leaders are willing to act like grownups and recognize they have to split the difference over taxes — and it’s your job to make them understand this — you own this shutdown.

  15. Submitted by jody rooney on 06/28/2011 - 12:58 pm.

    I am appalled by a number of the comments that have been made.

    First some of commenters think that this kind of intimidation is appropriate. Posters #4,5,6,8 seem to think that threats are an appropriate way to do the public’s business.

    Second they don’t seem to understand that the Dayton communication is from the boss to his employees. That’s who they work for they are employees of the administrative arm of government. They do not work for the legislature.

    Third the message was not only partisan it was childish.

    Fourth the above posters apparently don’t understand the difference between public and private dollars. Mr. Hiemstra certainly does and believe me so do most public employees. It is drilled into them that using email for personal purposes is stealing from the public. I would imagine that the phone policy is a bit looser but not much – family and emergency. After having worked in both the public and the private sector many of the routine practices I saw in the private sector would have gotten people fired in the public sector.

    Fifth what do these posters comments say about their lack of the understanding of government and ethics. That’s what is scary. Cancel football in high school start teaching civics and ethics (which is based on but different from morality) clearly the curriculum needs a boast.

  16. Submitted by Mike Keapproth on 06/28/2011 - 05:55 pm.

    I responded to Zellers E-mail simply by stating what is so wrong with having the wealthest 2% citizens pay their fair share in taxes? The Dept. of revenue states that over the past ten years the richest in Minnesota have doubled their wealth. Where are the jobs the tax breaks were supossed to bring? I would say China, or maybe Mexico.I think its time for our polititions to do their jobs and balance the budget. How about we lay them off. For ever.

  17. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/28/2011 - 08:27 pm.

    Does the Governor sign the paychecks? Does he hire and fire? Can he spend money without authorization from another legislative body? Doesn’t really sound like a boss to me. The Governor and all state employees work for the the State of Minnesota, or you and me.

    “and I will continue to defend you.” Thank you Mr. Governor, who is attacking them? Sign the bills you received weeks ago and all of the employees would still have jobs on Friday. Sign the same bills tomorrow and all of the employees still have jobs Friday.

    Shall we increase State spending by 6% or 12% is the real question, not who pays for the additional 6%.

  18. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 07/06/2011 - 11:27 pm.

    After the “rich” get through meeting with their accountants and lawyers and figure out how to avoid paying Dayton’s new taxes, us working class types will end up financing the latest ideas from the progs.

    After we pay for another stadium for another billionaire.

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