Neel, O’Keefe make the first cut

Joel Sawyer

Finalists for five open seats on the Board of Regents were announced Tuesday. Among the finalists are current regents Michael O’Keefe and H. Bryan Neel, and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland.
In all, the names of 13 candidates were forwarded to legislative leaders and the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee. The committee will review the candidates and forward by the Regent Candidate Advisory Board one finalist for each seat to a joint session of the Legislature for a late February vote.
The 4th Congressional District finalists are St. Paul banker Andrew Boss, Superintendent of Roseville Area Schools Carol Ericson and Superintendent of South St. Paul Public Schools David Metzen.
Finalists in the 6th District are retired 3M executive George Allen; Barbara Klemme, a consultant to nonprofit organizations; and Maureen Reed, a doctor and medical director for contracted care at HealthPartners.
Bergland and Herbert Chilstrom, former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America-Chicago, are finalists from the 7th District.
Despite heated debate about who should have been forwarded to the Legislature, most council members agreed that the finalists, particularly O’Keefe, are excellent candidates.
“We have one incredible star,” council member Nedra Wicks said of O’Keefe, who represents the 5th District.
O’Keefe, the executive vice president of the McKnight Foundation, was the only candidate recommended unanimously by the council. O’Keefe will face William Drake, president and CEO of Islet Technology.
Neel, a physician, researcher and educator at the Mayo Clinic will have his 1st District seat contested by Thomas Stoa, an emergency care physician and former state representative.
Council members discussed recommending only O’Keefe for the 5th District and Neel for the 1st District, even though the council is charged with forwarding two to four names to legislators.
Some council members felt the two were superior, particularly O’Keefe, to their opponents, and that Drake and Stoa should not be forwarded, despite the Legislature’s mandate.
University Professor David Naumann, who serves on the council, said he was disappointed by Drake’s interview and qualifications.
During the interviews, Naumann said, “(Drakes’s) understanding of the University did not extend beyond the newspaper level.”
Several board members also questioned Stoa’s qualifications, claiming he lacked enough experience serving on boards of directors and dealing with higher education issues to be a regent.
Council member and Metro State University Vice President Bob Vanesek defended Stoa, saying his lack of experience should not disqualify him.
“I saw that (his inexperience) was countered by a native intelligence and a refreshing interview,” Vanesek said.
Vanesek added that forwarding just one name from the two districts could appear too arbitrary to some legislators.
“Some might see it … as (the council) trying to make a choice for the legislators,” he said.
But council member Paul Thatcher disagreed. “If you tell the truth about the candidates,” he said, “you’re probably not in trouble (with the Legislature).”
Thatcher’s argument did not prevail.
Neel was also criticized for what some said was his arrogant demeanor and refusal to take responsibility for problems that have occurred at the University while he has served on the board.
But other council members, such as Gregg Orwoll, stood by him.
“I think he’s done a fairly good job,” he said. “I think we should re-elect him.”
Klemme was added to the 6th District list late Tuesday after Council chairwoman Mary McLeod suggested that the council reopen voting for that district, even though members had voted earlier in the day.
Compared to other districts, McLeod said, “We felt we had set a higher standard in the 6th. We felt it was only fair to the give them another chance.”
The 6th District had several other experienced candidates, including attorney and former House Speaker Harry Sieben, Jr. But Sieben failed to impress many council members because of his poor interview and lack of knowledge about the University.
“As a trial lawyer, I’d have thought he’d have prepared a pitch for the jury,” council member Humphrey Doermann said.
Despite Sieben’s sub-par performance, many recommended forwarding his name because of his stature as a public figure and his ties with the Legislature.
“He would be a tremendous asset to the University.” Thatcher said. He later added, “It would be a shame if this council did not forward his name.”
Several times during deliberations, council members reminded each other to keep in mind that the board lost one female candidate in Jean Keffeler last November, and will lose another when Regent Hyon Kim relinquishes her 4th District seat this spring.
Reed, Klemme and Ericson are the only women who were recommended as finalists. Reed and Klemme represent the same district, so only two of the five seats could be filled by women.
Because Allen is considered a fairly strong candidate in Reed and Klemme’s district — the 6th — council member Jane Tschida said Ericson has the best chance of becoming the next female regent.
“(The 4th District) may be the only place where a female can win,” Tschida said.