Dayton Names His Lawyer Human Services Commissioner

Emily Johnson Piper smiles Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, after it was announced she will be Minnesota's human services commissioner. With her is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)
Emily Johnson Piper smiles Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, after it was announced she will be Minnesota’s human services commissioner. With her is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Gov. Mark Dayton appointed his office’s chief lawyer to run Minnesota government’s largest agency.

Emily Johnson Piper takes the commissioner’s post at the Human Services Department next week, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith announced Monday.

Piper replaces Lucinda Jesson, who started her job when Dayton took office in 2011. Dayton on Friday named Jesson to the state Appeals Court and Monday was her last day as commissioner.

Dayton said in a statement that Piper has been involved in human services issues since starting with his office last year. “Thus, she is well prepared to provide the same outstanding leadership to that agency.”

Smith made the announcement of Piper’s appointment because Dayton was undergoing back surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

“Emily has the experience, the knowledge, the skill and, maybe most important, the spirit of service,” Smith said.

Piper takes control of the state’s largest bureaucracy, with 6,200 workers and a $36 billion budget with money from state and federal governments. It provides more than 1 million Minnesotans health and other care.

She said one of her biggest challenges will be improving the state sex offender treatment program, which is under a federal judge’s order to reform so patients can be released into the community.

Jesson “took great steps” to improve the program, Piper said, pledging to continue the progress.

As she begins her new job, Piper said, she “plans to travel the state to meet with our key staff in many of the facilities DHS owns and operates.” She said she will seek ways to improve how the department does things.

“I look forward to statewide conversations with the people we serve,” she said, as well as with legislators and others.

Piper, who will be paid $154,992 annually, worked for the state Commerce Department and in private law practice before joining Dayton’s office.

Her mother is Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson and grandmother was the first woman president of the council.

“I would say public service is in my genes,” Piper said.