Ventura

Coralie Carlson

In his latest pick from the University litter, Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed Regent Michael O’Keefe on Thursday to commissioner of human services, the state department that oversees social services programs like welfare.
O’Keefe said he will be able to continue his post at the University; his five-year term on the University’s chief governing board expires in 2001.
O’Keefe will be stepping down in February from his position as executive vice president and chief executive officer of the McKnight Foundation, the largest foundation in the state. The McKnight Foundation gives grants to support the arts, environment projects, housing and economic development.
Through the foundation, he also worked closely to implement changes in the state’s welfare program, a crusade he will continue as commissioner.
“For that reason, it is a natural kind of transition for me,” O’Keefe said.
The McKnight Foundation sponsored 22 partnerships in the state for communities to help get people off welfare, like job training and child care. But the foundation only supports the partnerships for two years.
O’Keefe said he would like the state to continue the path that it’s on, and shape the department to foster those local welfare organizations.
The regent’s influence might stretch beyond the walls of the state department.
“Because of Michael’s breadth of experience, we have been discussing ideas on government reform,” Ventura said.
Although O’Keefe worked for the McKnight Foundation for the past 10 years, he served in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare during the Johnson, Nixon and Carter administrations.
This latest appointment comes in a troublesome week for Ventura’s staff as they fill appointments.
Alan Horner, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, stepped down Wednesday following revelations of previous run-ins with the department — like tickets for fishing without a licensee and not licensing an ice house.
But O’Keefe was quick to put down any such worries about his own past.
“I don’t fish, I don’t hunt, I don’t scuba dive and I don’t own a snowmobile,” he reassured the press conference crowd after his appointment announcement.
O’Keefe comes with high recommendations from the University.
“He’s been a stellar member of the Board of Regents,” University President Mark Yudof said.
O’Keefe is not the first University employee that the governor snagged. Ventura’s chief of staff, Steven Bosacker, was formerly the executive director and corporate secretary for the Board of Regents. Ventura also temporarily drafted Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s vice president for budget and finance, to help with the governor’s budget proposal.
But Yudof isn’t holding a grudge. “I’m flattered,” he said.