Governor names Mark Phillips as IRRRB commissioner


Today, Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to name Mark Phillips as the next Commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB).

Mark Phillips

Mark Phillips

Phillips, an Eveleth native, served as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development in Dayton’s first term, resigning in October 2012. He has worked in the private sector as a business development director for a large construction company and previously worked for the IRRRB as director of community and economic development.

Dayton will also name another of the commissioner candidates, Mary Finnegan-Ongaro, as deputy commissioner. Former State Rep. Joe Radinovich, an outgoing IRRRB board member, will be Assistant Commissioner. Another candidate, Steve Peterson, will stay on in his current position as an economic development official for the agency.

Phillips will replace outgoing Commissioner Tony Sertich, who earlier this month announced he would be stepping down to become the next President of the Duluth-based Northland Foundation. Sertich had previously served as State House Majority Leader and State Representative from the Chisholm and Hibbing area from 2001 to 2011.

A couple big names jockeyed for the position publicly early on, but ultimately Gov. Dayton opted for an open application process, considering a veritable who’s-who of the Iron Range in the selection process that culminates with today’s announcement.

With this selection, Dayton picked a leader with a track record of running a large organization, but that isn’t affiliated with any of the various factions within Iron Range leadership. Mary Finnegan-Ongaro, too, is an outside with insider knowledge.

As I’ve written, the next commissioner must balance the agency’s goals of supporting Iron Range communities, diversifying the economy, while negotiating the parochial, often ego-driven political structure. Phillips represents a choice that is both acceptable to local interests and capable of implementing a big-picture agenda. I like the inclusion of other perspectives in Finnegan-Ongaro and Radinovich.

The IRRRB is a unique state agency that acts under state law to distribute the much of the iron ore production tax revenue paid by Northern Minnesota mines in lieu of local property taxes. The commissioner is the executive officer and head of the agency, while the agency’s budget is overseen by a board of current legislators from the Iron Range and nearby.

UPDATE: The statement from Gov. Mark Dayton was issued this morning —

ST. PAUL, MN – Today, Governor Mark Dayton appointed Mark Phillips to be Commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB). Phillips will lead the Board in its mission to diversify and improve the economy of the Iron Range. Phillips served as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) from 2011 to 2012, and was the IRRRB’s Director of Economic Development from 1983 to 1988. Phillips is currently Director of Business Development at Kraus-Anderson Construction Company.

“I am pleased to appoint Mark Phillips to serve as Commissioner. The people and businesses of the Iron Range will be well served by Mark’s extensive public and private economic development experience,” said Governor Dayton. “I appreciate Mark’s willingness to serve Minnesota again, and I look forward to our work together in the years ahead.”

“I would like to thank Governor Dayton for this tremendous opportunity to serve the people of Minnesota,” said Commissioner Phillips. “During the past four years, Minnesotans have seen increasing job growth and new prosperity. I am eager to work with the Governor, IRRRB Board, area legislators, and private sector partners to continue this progress.”


  1. Wow, now us taxpayers will be paying for two more high paid positions (deputy and assistant commissioners) to an already bloated IRRRB staff of over 50 people…amazing! All IRRRB commissioners to-date could handle the job on their own but Phillips can’t??

    The background of Phillips however holds out hope that his thinking and business investment decision making won’t be like Obama’s – “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that”, or Lewinsky’s ex-boyfriends wife who proclaimed – “Don’t let anybody tell you that, you know, it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.”

    But adding Radinovich to the mix, and paying him no less, is pure politics. He comes with no business background whatsoever. I wonder if he’ll ask Lueck if they can car pool to board meetings to save us taxpayers from having to pay both gas money.

  2. Tammy Swedberglund says

    But it’s always been a public/private symbiosis to some degree – you surely have heard about how Range steel helped to win WW2, and is there any higher market intervention a government can make than warfare ? A sustained domestic infrastructure stimulus would create more industry jobs than stop and go global market vagaries , especially when the more geographically competitive ore and steel plays lie ex-America .

  3. David Gray says

    Radinovich had to be rewarded for betraying his constituents who sent him packing.

  4. I hold out hope that this current crop of political appointees will do something positive for the Range. There has been nothing in the past that indicates I should have hope but I’m trying to be positive. Just the fact that our loony Governor appointed him dims my hope slightly. With millions of dollars to attract viable businesses to our area you don’t have to be a genius to get Rangers working, you just can’t be totally incompetent.

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