Minnesota's commissioners for health, education, public safety, and the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR) are leaving their posts.
The Office of Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday that Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Education Commissioner Heather Mueller, and IRRR Commissioner Mark Phillips have chosen not to seek reappointment to their roles following Gov. Walz's reelection.
Malcolm, Mueller, and Harrington in particular have been among the most high-profile Walz commissioners in recent years, with Malcolm and Mueller heavily involved in Minnesota's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while Harrington marshaled the state's response to the riots that followed the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020.
Malcolm has previously said that she had considered retiring in 2021, and may have done so were it not for the outbreak of COVID-19. She had previously served as Commissioner of Health from 1999 to 2003 and was appointed again by former Gov. Mark Dayton in 2018.
In a statement, Walz paid tribute to her "steadfast leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic."
“Working with Governor Walz and his team to help Minnesota navigate the COVID-19 pandemic was the most challenging and meaningful work I’ve done in my career, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve,” Malcolm said, adding: "We all owe a debt of gratitude to the thousands of unsung public health heroes in federal, state, and local health departments who are building a better, healthier future for their neighbors and their communities."
Mueller was the face of Minnesota's schools response to COVID-19 when she was the deputy commissioner for education, ascending to commissioner in April 2021 when Mary Cathryn Ricker resigned.
Walz's office praised her for working "tirelessly" to roll out COVID testing and vaccines to get kids back into school, as well as her work on education budgets as more funding was approved for the state's public schools.
Recently she has been under scrutiny and calls to resign from Republicans who accused her department of failing to stop COVID support payments to Feeding Our Future, which is now under investigation for $250 million fraud, but the Minnesota Department of Education argues that it was them who blew the whistle on the scheme.
Harrington has spent almost 45 years in public service – 35 years of which was in law enforcement. He was appointed by Walz to serve as DPS Commissioner in January 2019, and came to the forefront as a lead for the state's law enforcement response to the May 2020 riots.
State resources including the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minnesota National Guard were called in to provide reinforcements to local police as civil unrest took hold over several nights following Floyd's murder.
In his statement, Harrington thanked the police, emergency services, victims' services, and Driver and Vehicle Services that make up the Minnesota DPS, describing the employees as "the true backbone of the department."
Phillips led the IRRR under both Walz and former Gov. Dayton, and highlighted work he has undertaken including expanding childcare options and broadband access, and enhancing downtowns and outdoor recreation in northeastern Minnesota among his achievements.
Walz is now looking to fill the following positions on his cabinet:
- Department of Education
- Department of Health
- Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation
- Department of Labor and Industry
- Department of Public Safety
- Department of Revenue