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Sonia Morphew Pitt

Page history last edited by Steve Escher 10 years, 11 months ago

 

If the 35W Bridge had not collapsed, it’s possible Sonia Morphew Pitt would still have her job as Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and no one would have heard of her or her reprimanded supervisors, Rick Arnebeck, Steve Lund, and Bob Winter.

 

As it is, Morphew Pitt was audited by the state for travel and other state-paid expenses for the time period 1 July 2005 through 11 September 2007. In addition, Morphew Pitt, Arnebeck, Lund, and Winter were all part of an investigation, instigated by Mn/DOT and conducted by Minneapolis-based Ratwik, Roszak and Maloney, into issues regarding oversight and supervision of Mn/DOT employees.

 

She was fired on November 9, 2007. According to a press release issued by Lt. Governor, and then Mn/DOT Commissioner, Carol Molnau, Morphew Pitt was fired for “serious employee misconduct pertaining to out of state travel, misuse of state resources and conduct unbecoming to Mn/DOT." [1]

 

So how did she get to be the focus of so much attention? While she was out of town on business at the time the bridge collapsed, she made the mistake of not returning to Minnesota for another 10 days. And it took several days for anyone to notice she wasn’t around. Her immediate supervisor’s supervisor, Bob Winter, was not aware that she was out of town for several days. [2, 3] Commissioner Molnau said she did not notice Morphew Pitt’s absence for five or six days and was disappointed that Morphew Pitt did not return to the state as others had done. [3]

 

According to a report in the Star Tribune, Morphew Pitt was at Harvard University in Massachusetts for a three-day emergency preparedness course when the 35W Bridge collapsed. Another conference participant claims Morphew Pitt “was torn between staying on the East Coast and returning to Minnesota.” Her immediate supervisor, Steve Lund, did not order her to return. Instead of flying back to Minnesota, as another course participant (a city of Minneapolis employee) was ordered to do, Morphew Pitt completed the conference and then flew to Washington D.C. for a “non-work related trip." [4]

 

In the days following the collapse, Morphew Pitt claims she was in “‘near constant telephone and email communication with her staff’ during the crisis.” Phone records indicate she spent more time on the phone with Daniel Ferezan, a friend who works for the Federal Highway Administration in Washington D.C., than she did with Mn/DOT and her staff. The investigative report and audits also revealed Morphew Pitt used her Mn/DOT cell phone for excessive personal calls—65 percent of her calls were personal. 90 percent of her out-of-state calls were personal and the majority were to Ferezan. [5]

 

According to the Mn/DOT investigative report, only 12 of 32 emails Morphew Pitt sent in the days following the collapse related to the event. The text of one email—from Ferezan—asked about a clam bake, but the subject line referenced the inspection of deck truss bridges. [4]

 

Other issues in the report include unauthorized trips and airline upgrades, hotel costs and other expenses. [6]

 

The report issued by the Office of the Legislative Auditor states:

“Sonia Morphew Pitt, the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s former director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, caused the state to incur over $11,500 of unauthorized, unreasonable, or inappropriate expenses and charged the state for over $14,500 of work time that should have been recorded as personal leave. The Minnesota Department of Transportation did not adequately supervise Ms. Pitt and did not have adequate internal controls over her state-paid expenses.” [6]

 

It was also recommended that “The Office of the Attorney General should seek recovery from Sonia Morphew Pitt for the inappropriate costs. The Department of Transportation should repay inappropriate costs to the federal government to the extent they were initially funded through federal grant programs.” [6]

 

Her three supervisors, two current and one former, were also reprimanded. [7]

 

Rick Arnebeck, Mn/DOT’s Division Director for Engineering Services, was Morphew Pitt’s supervisor from January 2006 through April 2007. Arnebeck was suspended for three days without pay for inadequate oversight of Morphew Pitt, especially the expenses she claimed and her cell phone bills. [8]  

 

Steve Lund, Mn/DOT’s Maintenance and Security Director, was Morphew Pitt’s supervisor from April 2007 until November 2007. Lund received a written reprimand for inadequate oversight of Morphew Pitt’s expenses and cell phone bills, and for lacking a basic understanding of her daily activities. A WCCO report states that Lund would have “faced more severe discipline, but got credit for starting to scrutinize Pitt’s expenses and travel more closely.” [2]

 

In the written reprimands that Arnebeck and Lund received, both letters stated, “Your lack of supervisory oversight attributed to the extremely damaging consequences that were inflicted upon the Department of Transportation and to a degree the image of all State employees which cannot be tolerated." [2]

 

Bob Winter, Mn/DOT’s Division Director of Operations and Lund’s supervisor, received an oral reprimand.   

 

The complete report issued by the State of Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor and then-Commissioner Molnau’s response can be found here.

 

The investigation report issued by the Mn/DOT can be found here.

 

 

 

References:

 

 

1. TPT.org, MnDOT Emergency Manager Fired. Retrieved 5 April 2008.

2. WCCO.com, State Disciplines 3 Officials Who Oversaw Pitt. Retrieved 5 April 2008

3. Minnesota Department of Transportation, Mn/DOT Investigation Report. Retrieved 12 April 2008.

4. StarTribune.com, Nov. 10: MnDOT official fired over improper trips. Retrieved 5 April 2008.

5. Minnesota Public Radio, MnDOT fires manager accused of improper travel. Retrieved 5 April 2008.

6. Office of the Legislative Auditor – Office of the Legislative Auditor, Financial Audit Division Report – Minnesota Department of Transportation Investigation of the Former Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Retrieved 12 April 2008.

7. KARE11.com, Minnesota Department of Employee Relations – Letter to Governor Pawlenty. Retrieved 12 April 2008.

8. Minnesota Public Radio, Three MnDOT managers disciplined over Pitt case. Retrieved 12 April 2008.

KARE11.com, Three of Sonia Pitt's supervisors reprimanded. Retrieved 12 April 2008.

StarTribune.com, Failure to supervise Pitt leads to 3 reprimands. Retrieved 5 April 2008

Twincities.com (Pioneer Press), Pitt accused of bilking MnDOT of $26,000. Retrieved 12 April 2008.

 

 

Comments (1)

Sara McDonnell said

at 10:12 am on Apr 20, 2008

I'm not sure what our convention is for referencing sources so I posed comments as questions about quotes and paraphrases in this section...

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