Minn. Senate panel gives thumbs-up to roads chiefby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota lawmakers are giving high marks to Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel after less than a year on job. The Senate transportation committee today unanimously recommended confirmation for Sorel, who took over as transportation chief last year after the full Senate voted to fire Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau from the post.
St. Paul, Minn. — A year ago, Senate Democrats were blaming Carol Molnau for everything they viewed as wrong with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
They criticized her dual role of commissioner and lieutenant governor, her management skills, and her response to the 35W bridge collapse.
This year, they're piling on the praise for Molnau's successor. Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, described Sorel as the best commissioner ever appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
"A lot of us have seen some changes that really have enhanced the activity that MnDOT provides for the public," said Murphy. "And talking with the staff, and even the person that plows the snow in front of my house, they all seem to be pretty happy. So I think you're doing a pretty doggone good job."
Similar sentiments came from other committee members. Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, told Sorel that he's a strong leader who brings out the best in his people.
"As one of the people on this committee who had concerns about the leadership within this department, I want to commend you for the dramatic change in the morale of your staff," said Saltzman.
Sorel is a civil engineer with three decades of experience in transportation. He was previously employed with the Federal Highway Administration, and most recently ran that agency's Minnesota Division Office.
Sorel worked on projects for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, as well as the rebuilding of the 35W bridge.
During his presentation to state senators, Sorel stressed that in his time as commissioner he's also been working to rebuild the public trust in MnDOT.
"When the I-35W bridge collapsed, our world changed. Our world changed in transportation. And we had different kinds of expectations out there. And we have to address those expectations, and I wanted to be part of that," said Sorel. "I wanted to be in a leadership role where I could be an active leader and bring the community back, and bring a viable and sustainable transportation community for our citizens."
Sorel won the committee's unanimous support, but he didn't escape criticism. Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, told Sorel that his reputation for good communication was overblown.
"I've been on this committee 18 years, I believe. I've never met the commissioner," noted Day. "So I don't think his communications are all that great, in dealing with me anyway. I'm pretty open to going anyplace to do anything for transportation."
The full Senate could vote on Sorel's confirmation as early as next week.
- All Things Considered, 01/08/2009, 5:55 p.m.