Carlson may tap adviser

Brian Bakst

Gov. Arne Carlson is expected today to name McKnight Foundation Executive Vice President Michael O’Keefe as Jean Keffeler’s replacement on the Board of Regents. The appointment would come more than two weeks after Keffeler resigned from the 12-person University governing body.
O’Keefe, a St. Cloud native, already has strong ties to both the University and the governor. O’Keefe is a member of the Advisory Board of the University’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
In a 1992 Star Tribune opinions article, O’Keefe wrote about the importance of public-private partnership, a theme that has been emphasized recently at the University in such cases as the partnerships with Coca-Cola and Dinnaken Properties.
“Economic development in the 1990s must create new opportunities for more people, not merely redistribute existing resources,” he wrote. “Public and private economic development policies should contribute to making the community a better place to live.”
O’Keefe is a member of Carlson’s “luncheon gang,” a group of six Twin Cities business leaders who started meeting last spring to discuss higher education and its relationship to economics. Brian Dietz, the governor’s communications coordinator, said the group initially met informally, but has since been formalized and named the Governor’s Roundtable on Economic Development and Higher Education.
Dietz said the group will soon release a report on the relationship between the state’s economy and its higher education system. He said the group compiled the data by meeting with higher education officials including University President Nils Hasselmo and Board of Regents Chairman Tom Reagan.
Members of the group have become well-versed in University issues, Dietz said.
But O’Keefe had an extensive background in education prior to becoming a member of Carlson’s committee. He served as a federal education policy maker under President Jimmy Carter.
Carlson will formally announce the replacement at 11 a.m at a press conference in the Governor’s Office.
It is unclear how long a Carlson replacement would hold the position. The governor’s office is relying on an 1851 statute, in which a gubernatorial appointment would serve until the close of the 1998 Legislative session.
The University, on the other hand, is using a 1973 Minnesota Attorney General’s ruling as its guide. Under that interpretation, a replacement would only serve until May.
Dietz said last week that the announcement of a replacement was delayed until the appointee could be contacted. A receptionist in the McKnight Foundation office said O’Keefe has been on vacation for the past week, and Dietz would neither confirm nor deny that O’Keefe would be named to replace Keffeler.
But numerous sources within Morrill Hall, including Regents’ Executive Director Steven Bosacker, had heard there was a strong possibility that Carlson would name O’Keefe.
The Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation has been a frequent contributor to the University since the charity was established in 1953. The foundation made 12 grants to the University last year totalling $795,000. Overall, the foundation doled out $55 million in 1995 in grant money.
Besides heading Minnesota’s largest foundation, which is among the largest foundations in the country, O’Keefe also serves on the Minnesota Council of Foundations board of directors.
O’Keefe took the McKnight Foundation position in 1989 after working as a consultant for the nationally renowned Ford and Carnegie foundations in New York City.