University of Minnesota officials are disputing Steve Sviggum's assertion that he consulted with them before taking his new job as the Minnesota Senate Republicans' communications director.
In a statement Wednesday, Linda Cohen, chair of the Board of Regents, and Mark Rotenberg, the U's General Council, said that it was "important to clarify media reports."
Sviggum "did not discuss the job or consult about it" with the board's chair or vice chair, the statement said. "Nor did Regent Sviggum discuss taking this position with the university general counsel or seek his advice about doing so."
In a Wednesday morning interview, here's what Sviggum told Minnesota Public Radio's Cathy Wurzer:
"I certainly did cover my bases, Cathy. I did speak to the executive director of the Board of Regents, I did speak to university counsel. I did speak to the chair and the vice chair of the Board of Regents and laid out, while not the position in specific, but the policy and... what the intent of the policy is, what it does cover.
I got direct answers from all of them... that the policy was there to make sure that a Board of Regents member was not a university employee or an elected official in the State of Minnesota.
And that was precisely the answer and the confirmation."
Sviggum was referencing a Friday phone call between Cohen, Regent David Larson and Sviggum, said Jeff Falk, a university spokesman, regarding proposed changes to the board's Code of Ethics. (The drafted policy adds the requirement that "a Regent shall not serve as a compensated University employee...")
Those changes were proposed as a result of the board's first inquiry into Sviggum's possible conflict between his two positions at that time -- the unpaid seat on the board and the paid legislative fellowship in the U's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. (More about that process here.)
Cohen did not answer phone calls Wednesday night. But when I called Cohen on Monday evening, she said that she had just heard about Sviggum's new gig "five or 10 minutes ago" via a call from "someone from the university."
Sviggum had not cleared the new job with the board, she said.
In interviews with MPR and the Minnesota Daily, Sviggum does not say that he cleared the "position in specific," but rather asked general questions about the proposed changes to the ethics code. That's what he told the Star Tribune, too.
"I spoke to the board's counsel, executive director, chair and vice chair [about the job possibility]. I was thrown under the bus before, so I wanted to cover the bases," he said, referring to a board decision earlier this year that Sviggum could not simultaneously be a regent and hold a position at the U's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
This time, Sviggum said in an interview with MinnPost, he asked them their opinion about a series of hypothetical jobs, including as an employee of the Legislature.
He recounted a conversation with board chair Linda Cohen in which he said they agreed those kind of employees are not decision-makers and, hence, pose no conflict. Cohen's comment, according to Sviggum, was "'Precisely.' "