Regent’s possible conflict to be reviewed on Friday

Regent Sviggum will meet with an ad hoc committee ahead of the March regents meeting.

by Dina Elrashidy

Three Board of Regents members will meet Friday with fellow Regent Steve Sviggum to discuss his potential conflict of interest and come up with a recommendation for the full board.

Chairwoman Linda Cohen said Tuesday she received two legal opinions from attorneys, which she had requested at the latest board meeting Feb. 10. She said the findings from those opinions will be released Tuesday night or Wednesday.

Cohen would not discuss those results before the meeting on Friday.

Sviggum’s roles as the executive assistant and communications chief for the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus and regent will be reviewed Friday by Cohen, Vice Chairman David Larson and Regent David McMillan.

Cohen said she hopes the full Board of Regents will make a decision on whether a conflict exists on March 8.

During a board meeting Feb. 10, Cohen asked University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg and an independent attorney to review the roles to determine if a conflict of interest exists. Cohen said she believed his roles were a conflict of interest.

Sviggum released a third legal opinion Tuesday from an anonymous attorney, who concluded that Sviggum’s new position is not a conflict of interest.

“It is unlikely that Sviggum will be presented with any issue that presents an issue where his judgment may be impaired,” the anonymous opinion stated.

Cohen said she had heard of the third opinion and will take a look.

“Usually, with my dealings with lawyers, it has not been anonymous,” Cohen said. “That influences how much credibility one brings to it.”

Sviggum announced Jan. 16 that he was taking his new job at the Senate. The next day, Cohen said in a statement that the board would review the roles for a potential conflict of interest.

In an email to Cohen obtained by the Minnesota Daily, Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, wrote on Jan. 21 that he saw no conflict with Sviggum’s dual positions.

“His is a staff relationship and a relationship that lies in the area of providing support and does not involve the establishment of or voting on policy or finance,” Senjem wrote to Cohen.

Sviggum has repeated that his communications job with the Senate Republican caucus is not as a decision-maker.

In another email that same day, Senjem wrote, “Your recent comments regarding Steve Sviggum are disappointing but understood. I would have hoped you would have contacted me before your [proclamations] but that did not happen.”

Sviggum served nearly 30 years as a state representative, including eight years as Speaker of the House, until 2007.

He was the subject of a conflict of interest review when he was selected as a regent last year, resulting in his departure as a fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Cohen said she has been in contact with Sviggum since the last board meeting to stay “upfront” on the issue.