Racing Commission Officials Say They're Being Unfairly Targeted

by Matt Sepic, Minnesota Public Radio

October 16, 2012

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Attorneys for two top officials at the Minnesota Racing Commission said separate state investigations into their clients are unwarranted.

Sheila Engelmeier, an attorney for Racing Commission Executive Deputy Director Mary Manney, said Commission Chairman Jesse Overton put Manney on paid administrative leave in early September after Manney filed a complaint about Overton's behavior.

Engelmeier said Minnesota Management and Budget then began an investigation of Manney, but investigators would not tell Manney what the inquiry was about.

"Ms. Manney was sent home, put on immediate investigatory leave on Sept. 7, and told not to make any contact with any of the commissioners and anyone else," Engelmeier said. "And we still don't know what the allegations are that she was accused of. I've never seen anything like that in my 26 years plus of practice, that somebody would be put on paid leave and the only thing they were told was that there were allegations of misconduct."

Engelmeier said she was told by an investigator Monday only that Manney had been accused of insubordination, but the investigator would not elaborate. Engelmeier said the suspension and investigation came as retaliation after Manney complained that Overton had been exceedingly disrespectful to women.

Engelmeier said the alleged behavior was not sexual in nature, but did include bullying and disrespectful comments.

Commission Chairman Jesse Overton referred questions to Minnesota Management and Budget.

"I can confirm that there are two investigations regarding the racing commission but cannot speak to specifics and am not qualified to address the work of the racing commission," MMB spokesman Jonathan Pollard responded in an email.

The actions come as Racing Commission Executive Director Richard Krueger is planning to retire.

"It almost raises a question that this is some sort of political ploy to make certain that she does not to be the [next] executive director,' Engelmeier said.

Manney is not the only top Minnesota Racing Commission under investigation. Minnesota Management and Budget is also looking into the job performance of Dr. Lynn Hovda, the commission's chief veterinarian.

Neither MMB nor the racing commission would say what that investigation is about, but Hovda's attorney Roberta Brackman said in a statement that the commission is damaging Hovda's reputation.

Brackman said the investigation into Hovda stems from an incident on an extremely hot day last July, when four horses arrived at Canterbury Park from Texas. She said the trailer carrying the horses was attached to a pickup truck and both the truck and trailer sat on top of a flat bed trailer.

Brackman said the semi did not have equipment to get the trailer down, so Hovda gave the horses an anti-inflammatory drug to protect the animals from the heat.

Since the incident, Brackman said that Hovda has spoken with several other equine veterinarians, who said Hovda's actions were both appropriate and necessary to prevent the horses' injury or death.

One commission member agreed to talk about the mood at the commission. Camille McArdle says the women are being treated unfairly. McArdle has been on the commission for 19 years and is a veterinarian.

"I don't feel good about what's happening. I don't feel good about the way that it's been handled. And the fact that they're both strong women who've done a good job and are suddenly finding themselves on the defensive also bothers me."