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GOP Senate caucus communications director Steve Sviggum talked with his boss, Senate GOP caucus chief of staff Kevin Matzek, in the back of the Senate floor Monday.

, Star Tribune

U panel to weigh in on Sviggum's regent post

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS
  • Star Tribune
  • February 28, 2012 - 7:22 PM

A three-person panel will decide Friday whether Steve Sviggum's state Senate job conflicts with his spot on the Board of Regents, the University of Minnesota said Tuesday.

Regents chair Linda Cohen formed the ad hoc committee of three regents to review two legal opinions she requested on the conflict-of-interest question. The group will consider those opinions -- plus one Sviggum himself submitted -- and then make a recommendation to the full board, which may vote on the issue March 8.

Sviggum faces concern from some board members and others that his new job as communications chief for Senate Republicans is a conflict with his six-year, unpaid regents position. They argue that his job will impair his judgment and hamstring his advocacy. Sviggum believes that because he is not a decision-maker he has no conflict that he could not manage.

On Tuesday, he called Cohen's plan for an ad hoc committee "open and transparent," but expects that two of its members -- Cohen and board vice chair David Larson -- are "probably not supportive" of his position. Regent David McMillan will also be a part of the group.

This is the second time since the Legislature elected Sviggum to the board last year that his day job has raised a conflict-of-interest question. Last March, a three-regent panel decided that Sviggum's paid position with the U's Humphrey School of Public Affairs presented a conflict with his spot on the board and recommended he choose between the two. He disagreed, but gave up the Humphrey job.

In January, Sviggum took the Senate communications position, drawing a new round of criticism.

Cohen said earlier this month that while the first review was objective and fair, she "wanted to make it even more so" this time, with outside legal advice. The U retained John Stout of the Minneapolis firm Fredrikson & Byron to draft an opinion. Mark Rotenberg, the U's general counsel, also wrote one.

Sviggum submitted his own legal analysis Monday by an attorney he declined to name. "He's very close to the university, very close to the Board of Regents," Sviggum said. "He ... believes I'm being wrongly treated."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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