ST PAUL, Minn. — Four months after taking office, Gov. Tim Walz finally has a full cabinet.
Tuesday Gov. Walz appointed Tarek Tomes as the new commissioner of Minnesota I.T. Services, also known as MNIT.
"After the interview I had with Tarek I remember thinking I would like to work for this person," Walz told Capitol reporters. "This is somebody who inspires me to a vision."
Tomes was one of three finalists nominated by a panel of experts that interviewed 22 candidates. He's spent 25 years in the private and public sector, including time with British Telecom and a stint as an assistant commissioner at MNIT.
"I have a little bit of a difficult time with the term successful, because I don’t think successful is good enough for Minnesotans. I think this organization has to thrive."
Tomes is leaving his current post as Chief Innovation Officer at the City of St. Paul.
"We’ve been really appreciative of his service, of his leadership, his ideas and innovation he brings has been invaluable to our administration," Mayor Melvin Carter told KARE.
"We’re going to miss him a lot in the city, but we know he’ll do great things with the governor and this new administration."
He pointed out that MNIT has 2,300 employees who oversee 2,800 hundred technology applications and billions of transactions a day, both for state workers and other users of the state's online services, including citizens and local government offices across Minnesota.
"We have to make sure we instill a culture where we’re not scared to fail," he explained. "The fear of failure means you may not bring forth the appropriate solutions to change people’s lives."
It's no wonder the final slot was the hardest to fill. MNIT has been under fire from lawmakers over the troubled launch of the MNLARS licensing and registration system in the summer of 2017.
A blue-ribbon panel appointed by Walz is currently studying whether to put more money into MNLARS, or to scrap it and start from scratch. The price tag for the system, under development since 2008, has reached $100 million.
"One of the things that’s going to be incredibly important is always to keep people in the center of these solutions, so we won’t make those decisions in a vacuum," Tomes remarked.
"But we will make the most prudent decisions, even if they’re difficult decisions."
He said the technologists at MNIT were very distressed by the problems with MNLARS.
"We want to make sure that they don’t retreat. We want to make they’re not afraid to continue to put forth bold solutions."
Former MNIT Commissioner Tom Baden retired in early 2018 after 36 years with the state, at a time when he was being grilled in legislative hearings about problems with MNLARS.
He was replaced by Johanna Clyborne, a Minnesota National Guard brigadier general, who has been credited with bringing much more stability to MNIT and helping with the functionality of MNLARS.
Clyborne, however, spent much of her time in hearings trying to convince lawmakers to provide funding to finish MNLARS and pay for the agency's core cyber security mission. She didn't carry over into the Walz administration.