Legislative Auditor will review Hoffner dismissal

SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Legislative Auditor James Nobles has agreed to review Minnesota State Mankato's handling of football coach Todd Hoffner, who was reassigned, then fired, and reinstated after winning an arbitration case against the institution.

Nobles told KARE he has received inquiries from lawmakers, seeking a formal review.

"They're putting it pretty simply and bluntly; how could this possibly have happened?" Nobles explained.

"And so I think that's the basic question, but within that there are other very specific questions."

Nobles said it will take a few weeks to determine the scope of the inquiry, which will take months to complete. He said that university officials are barred by Data Practices laws from sharing documents related to personnel decisions with lawmakers and the public.

"But they can, and have to, share it with the legislative auditor. We have clear legislative authority, in statute, to see all data and documents regardless of classification and we will do that."

Nobles also received a letter from MNSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone and MSU President Richard Davenport requesting a review. In their letter to Nobles, the administrators said an independent review is warranted.

Nobles said he has no interest in peering into the original criminal complaint that triggered MSU Mankato's original decision to sideline Hoffner in August of 2012, but will focus instead on whether or not the Hoffner case was handled differently than similar dismissals at MSU Mankato.

Hoffner was charged in November 2012 with producing child pornography. Blue Earth County prosecutors filed the charges after a university technician saw two home videos on Hoffner's work cell phone, showing his three young children dancing in the buff after they left a whirlpool bath.

In late November of 2012, a Blue Earth County judge dismissed the charges. District Judge Krista Jass said that the two clips, which ran 62 seconds in total, amounted to innocent child's play.

The fact that Hoffner was not encouraging his children to dance, and was not sharing the videos, weighed into her decision. Exhaustive searches of Hoffner's home and computers found no other evidence to back the charges.

The university reassigned Hoffner, and eventually fired him in the spring of 2013 without a public explanation.

Earlier this month a neutral arbitrator, Gerald Wallin, ruled that Hoffner was wrongfully dismissed. That ruling cleared the way for Hoffner to return to his old coaching job.

When he arrived on campus April 16 a large group of players announced they were refusing to practice, because they wanted to stick with Aaron Keen, the Mankato assistant who led the Mavericks to two great seasons while Hoffner was away defending himself. The following day the players mended fences with Hoffner during a private team meeting.

Because of Data Practices Laws the university administration never explained to the public why Hoffner was fired, months after being cleared of all criminal charges.

Those officials told the arbitrator they dismissed Hoffmer because his work computers had been used to access adult websites. But computer forensics experts hired by Hoffner's attorneys found that several other staff members and students had access to those computers. In one case all of the activity was from a graduate student who had the computer before it was assigned to Hoffner.

Under the terms of the union contract the burden of proof is on the university, according to leaders of the Inter Faculty Organization or IFO union that represents Hoffner and other coaches in the MNSCU system.

University officials told the arbitrator some players complained because Hoffner's children had been in the locker room while players were there. But the arbitrator was not swayed, noting that those complaints were never lodged prior to Hoffner's dismissal.


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