A regents panel believes that Steve Sviggum's new job with state Senate GOP caucus creates a "fundamental, systemic conflict" with his service on the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents. It recommended Sviggum give up one of the two posts.
At a midday meeting Friday, three regents explained their reasoning.
Regent David McMillan said that he believes the two jobs make it "impossible to maintain the public’s confidence."
"Even if a superhuman regent-slash-executive assistant to the majority caucus could manage through all the situations I think could arise there by using tools like recusal," he said, "I don’t think such a person… could ever overcome the public perception that his or her loyalty, confidentiality and duty of priority to the university could remain intact situation after situation after situation."
That group is making a recommendation to the full board, which meets next week and is the "final authority" on conflict questions, according to its code of ethics. Last time, when a three-regent panel recommended Sviggum pick between his posts, he gave up his job with the U's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
But this time, he did not step down.
"I’m a down-home farmer trying to do the right thing," Sviggum said during a lengthy, often accusatory response to the regents comments, "and that’s why I’m not going to walk out of here and resign.”
Sviggum repeated his point that he can manage his two positions and again argued that he vetted the job with board leaders and the U's general counsel before taking it -- a point they dispute. He said he imagines the board members find him to be a "pain in the butt," but it's important to keep him on the board for his sometimes critical perspectives.
After the meeting, he said he would "take some time" before deciding what to do next.
The panel reviewed three legal opinions released this week. John Stout, of the Minneapolis firm Fredrikson & Byron, and Mark Rotenberg, the U's general counsel, agreed that Sviggum's new job creates an "unresolvable, systemic clash of duties" with his spot on the Board of Regents.
"This systemic conflict cannot be eliminated, managed or cured," Stout wrote. "The public's confidence, the integrity of the Board and the protection of the University's public mission require that Regent Sviggum relinquish one of the two positions he currently holds."
Those two nonbinding opinions were requested earlier this month by Linda Cohen, chair of the U's Board of Regents, who launched an inquiry into whether Sviggum's new job creates a conflict of interest.
Sviggum also submitted a legal opinion, by an attorney he has not named, which reiterated his opinion that because he's not a "decisionmaker" in his job as the Senate GOP's communications chief, he cannot have a conflict of interest. It concludes that "it is unlikely that Sviggum will be presented with any issue that presents an issue where his judgment may be impaired."
Sviggum, a former speaker of the House and commissioner of Labor and Industry, makes $102,000 a year in the Senate job, which he started in January. His six-year term on the Board of Regents is unpaid.