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Fried in line for MnDOT job

Gary Fried, Goodhue County's longtime emergency management director, will succeed Sonia Pitt at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Pitt, formerly of Red Wing, was fired last November

for misusing taxpayer dollars as the state department's emergency management director. She also came under fire for not immediately returning to Minneapolis from an East Coast trip following the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

Fried will take over the position Dec. 10, provided he passes a standard background check, MnDOT officials said Monday.

The Goodhue County Board is expected to officially accept Fried's resignation at today's meeting.

The 54-year-old Fried said he is not worried about taking over a job that came under such intense public scrutiny.

He said his experience sets him apart from Pitt.

"I think there was a lapse -- or I don't think she was comfortable in the position and she didn't take the proper steps at the time the bridge collapsed," Fried said Monday. "I feel comfortable going into that position. I feel my knowledge base is there."

While their credentials may set them apart, Fried and Pitt both have connections to Red Wing.

Pitt owned a home locally on Lake Street during her time as emergency management director and Fried lives here.

And Steve Murphy, who leads the Minnesota Senate Transportation Committee that handles MnDOT finances and policy, also is from Red Wing.

Steve Lund, MnDOT state maintenance engineer, called the geographic connection between the three "very coincidental, of course."

"(Fried) wasn't a successful candidate because he's from Red Wing," Lund said. "His credentials were the important thing."

This will be Fried's second stint with MnDOT. He worked there before coming to Goodhue County in 1986.

As MnDOT's emergency management director, Fried will handle statewide disaster preparation, response and mitigation.

He will also be in charge of the state's emergency operations center and serve as a national, state and local liaison and spokesman on emergency issues.

Lund said MnDOT will not limit Fried's ability to do his job because of Pitt's behavior, much of which involved unauthorized use of state money to travel across the country.

"His hands won't be tied at all," Lund said.

Lund did say the job still requires a fair amount national involvement. Whether that involves traveling, "we'll have to weed through it as it comes," Lund said.

Fried is headed to MnDOT with considerable experience in nuclear emergency planning.

Goodhue County is home to Prairie Island nuclear plant, one of two Minnesota nuclear facilities. Fried played a key role in developing the county's nuclear emergency response plan as well as coordinating multi-jurisdictional emergency drills.

He also helped implement a countywide addressing system and an enhanced 911 network in the early 1990s.

Fried said he is looking forward to the next chapter of his career.

"I know (MnDOT's) a good organization to work for," Fried said. "It's a new challenge. The entire state will be my jurisdiction. I think that's kind of exciting."

Fried's last day with Goodhue County will be Dec. 8. His interim replacement will be Diane Richter-Biwer, who recently received her state emergency management certification.