St. Paul — The Minnesota Jobs Coalition today requested that the Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association investigate Rep. Joe Atkins’ potentially improper employment with the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation and the Inver Grove Heights Schools, Independent School District 199, and the over $500,000 in salary and public benefits Rep. Joe Atkins received from the school district that were reimbursed annually by the BEST Foundation from 2001 to 2014.
“In reviewing documents the Minnesota Jobs Coalition received in response to Data Practices Act requests, we discovered an unusual compensation arrangement between Rep. Atkins, the B.E.S.T. Foundation and Independent School District 199. Rep. Atkins has been paid as a public employee for work performed for a private foundation, which is ‘separate from’ the District,” said Minnesota Jobs Coalition President Kevin Magnuson. “Further, Rep. Atkins is compensated entirely with private contributions to the B.E.S.T. Foundation, many of which come from corporations Rep. Atkins was tasked with regulating. In light of this highly unusual financial arrangement over at least 14 years, the Minnesota Jobs Coalition has called for a full and immediate investigation into Rep. Atkins’ employment and compensation arrangement, beginning with a review by PERA of his participation in the public employee pension plan.”
Following MPR News’ story “Critic: Rep. Atkins’ corporate ties at odds with regulatory role” (Tom Scheck, September 24, 2015), the Minnesota Jobs Coalition made a series of Minnesota Data Practices Act requests and searched publicly available information to gain further insight into Rep. Atkins’ role with the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation (the “B.E.S.T. Foundation”) and Independent School District 199 (“ISD 199”).
The documents produced in response to MJC’s DPA requests showed that:
- Atkins is compensated through ISD 199 for work performed as Executive Director of the B.E.S.T. Foundation. (p .20-32, Minnesota Data Practices Act (“MDPA”) request Nov. 13, 2015) (p. 34, MDPA request, Nov. 13, 2015).
- From at least 2001, Rep. Atkins has received $20,000 in salary and between $11,356.32 and $26,700.16 annually in public benefits, including “the standard statutory deductions, health and dental insurance, long-term disability insurance, life insurance, and PERA,” totaling $591,505.81. (p. 11,Re: Data Inspection Request, Nov. 5, 2015).
- Atkins is paid entirely through private, foundation contributions, not through public funds. (p. 5, Re: Rep. Atkins Compensation Data Request, Nov. 3, 2015).
- The B.E.S.T. Foundation receives an annual reimbursement request from ISD 199 for “expenses paid to Mr. Joseph Atkins as Executive Director of BEST (sic) Foundation,” (p. 20-32, MDPA request,, Nov. 13, 2015).
- No other employee of the Foundation is compensated through ISD 199. (p. 17, MDPA request, Nov. 13, 2015).
Publicly available information from the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation and ISD 199 show:
- The B.E.S.T. Foundation and ISD 199 both state: “The Foundation is separate from, but supportive of, the Inver Grove Heights Community Schools, Independent School District 199.” (p. 1, 2, 5, “B.E.S.T. Foundation Relevant Public Information”).
- Atkins does not appear in the ISD 199 “All Staff directory” (the entire registry has been removed from the ISD 199 website after MJC requested documents) (p. 3-4 “B.E.S.T. Foundation Relevant Public Information”).
- The average scholarship from the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation is $1,297 (com).
- Public employee benefits paid to Rep. Atkins could have funded nearly 200 additional scholarships for graduating seniors since 2001, including roughly 15 based on contributions to Rep. Atkins Public Employee Retirement Association pension alone.
1988- Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation founded
1991- Joe Atkins is elected Mayor of Inver Grove Heights
1996- Joe Atkins selected as Executive Director of Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T Foundation while serving as Mayor
1996- Inver Grove Heights Community Schools, Independent School District 199 adopts position language creating an employment role within the district for the Executive Director of the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation
2002- Joe Atkins elected as State Representative, continues serving as Executive Director of Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation
All communications related to this matter can be found here. Publicly available information relevant to the Foundation can be found here.