Ex-911 manager in Virginia Beach among dozens of remote state workers

You could call it another form of long-COVID, the continuation of a policy that allows state employees to work remotely from home, long after the pandemic’s end. At last count, more than 1,100 state employees lived in another state, many of them in Wisconsin.

But a closer look by KSTP-TV revealed that some 82 remote state employees work much further away in states that do not even border Minnesota. Among them, until recently, was a Minnesota Department of Public Safety administrator, who oversaw the state’s 911 emergency network remotely from Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Two emergency communications managers with the State of Minnesota have left their leadership positions at the Department of Public Safety (DPS) after 5 INVESTIGATES raised questions about a telework agreement that allowed one of them to work full-time from the East Coast.

Sandi Stroud quit her six-figure job as Minnesota’s 911 Program Manager last week, eight months after moving to Virginia Beach.

Stroud is not accused of violating any state policies because her plan to work more than 1,300 miles from the office was approved by Dana Wahlberg, former director of Minnesota’s Emergency Communication Networks, a division of DPS. 

Wahlberg announced her retirement in March, as other leaders raised questions about her decision to approve Stroud’s telework agreement. 

The case has focused renewed attention on whether the state’s outdated policy on remote government employees needs to be revamped. The problem actually precedes the stampede to work from home during the pandemic.

The policy question about state employees living and working outside of Minnesota is one that Sen. Mark Koran (R-North Branch) has been asking since 2017 when he learned someone with the Department of Natural Resources was doing that job from California. 

“As a Minnesota employee, do you not even have the basic skin in the game that you’re a resident, a tax-paying resident in the state?” said Koran. “That’s, to me, a problem.”

Department of Public Safety officials refused to discuss the issue in an interview with KSTP. But the chair of the Metropolitan Emergency Services Board acknowledged there needs to be a discussion about potential changes to the loosely defined policy.

[MESB Chair Trista] Martinson, who also chairs the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, said Stroud’s unusual work from home arrangement was likely not a threat to public safety, but also said it raises larger questions about how public employees serve taxpayers at all levels of government. 

“At what point do we need to come back together to have eyes on to say, ‘Are we missing something?’ Martinson said. “I think that’s the difference. It’s not ‘can you,’ but ‘should you?’”

Policy makers need look no further than neighboring Iowa for guidance on state employees working remotely.

Minnesota does not have a specific state policy that would have prohibited Stroud or any other state employee from living in a non-border state, but other states do. 

The Iowa Department of Public Safety’s telework policy states that remote employees “must be able to report to work within one hour of notification.”