Sen. David Tomassoni resigned his post as executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools Friday morning, amid complaints that the position is a conflict of interest with his work as a state lawmaker.
“While I am able to perform the duties of both jobs, the distraction of holding both jobs has become untenable,” Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, wrote in a letter to the RAMS board. “I believe that if I continue as Executive Director of RAMS that it could have unintended consequences.”
The drumbeat of criticism over his second job had become a “distraction” from his work at the Legislature, he wrote.
Tomassoni had argued for weeks that his new job working for a coalition of Iron Range municipalities, townships and schools would not be a conflict of interest when the board came to the Legislature to lobby for things like school funding or economic development projects. On Friday, the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board agreed that the two jobs didn’t conflict, but the ongoing conflict over the overlapping work roles prompted Tomassoni to tender his resignation anyway.
“We have committed no conflict of interest, nor illegal action,” he wrote. “The perception being touted at the Capitol has the potential to make my association with RAMS a risk to my effectiveness as your State Senator. My commitment to the Iron Range and RAMS is unwavering. Therefore, it is with deep regret that I must submit my resignation, effective immediately, as Executive Director of RAMS.”
The job Tomassoni accepted typically involves travel to St. Paul to lobby lawmakers on issues of mutual interest to Iron Range communities and schools. The board was moving to hire an outside lobbyist for the job in Tomassoni’s stead. Tomassoni’s $6,500-a-month salary from the association would have more than doubled the $31,141 he earns annually as a state senator, although he had pledged to waive his RAMS paycheck during the months when the Legislature is in session.
His resignation comes as the Iron Range board prepares to rewrite and reform its decades-old bylaws. Charles R. Baribeau, a Virginia city councilor who is running unopposed for the RAMS board presidency, said the board is in no rush to hire a new executive director yet.
“We supported his original decision to stay on as executive director,” Baribeau said. “It wasn’t an issue for our board. It was a whole separate issue down at the Capitol.”
At the Capitol, critics welcomed news of Tomassoni’s resignation.
“Sen. Tomassoni made the right decision today to resign from his lobbying job,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said in a statement. “It was never a good idea for a sitting Senator to take a job as a lobbyist and he should not have put his constituents, the RAMS Board and the Minnesota Senate through this.”
Buffeted by weeks of criticism, Tomassoni had asked the state campaign finance board to weigh in on whether he was violating conflict of interest rules. The board ruled unanimously Friday that he was not.
“Simply taking a job can never create a conflict of interest,” said Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the campaign finance and disclosure board. “A conflict doesn’t arise until the official is called upon to vote.”
Lawmakers face greater scrutiny on individual votes, he said, but “teachers vote on education bills, Realtors vote on real estate bills.”