Conflict of interest legal opinions on Sviggum ordered

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

University of Minnesota Board of Regents Chairwoman Linda Cohen in a statement today (Feb. 10) detailed her approach regarding former Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum, now a university regent, who recently accepted a position with the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus as its communication director and executive assistant.

She and the regent general counsel, said Cohen, immediately began discussions concerning possible conflict of interest by Sviggum relating to his employment.

“The Code of Ethics policy is clear in stating that Regents are expected to put aside parochial interests, keeping the welfare of the entire University, not just a particular constituency, at all times paramount. It also declares an employment-related conflict exists whenever a Regent’s employment relationships may impair independence of judgment,” she said.

Cohen said she had met twice with Sviggum, whom, at her request, has agreed to refrain from voting at this month’s committee and board meetings.

She has asked the regents’ general counsel to determine, and, if so, to what degree, a conflict of interest exists with Sviggum’s employment, said Cohen.

She has also asked a private attorney versed in conflict of interest law to do an independent evaluation, Cohen explained.

Both attorneys are to provide her their opinions by Feb. 24, Cohen noted in her statement.

After receiving the opinions, Cohen, possibly her assisted by others, will make a decision.

“It is my intent to have the full Board discuss and act upon any recommendation before, or at the beginning of, our regular March meeting,” said Cohen.

“The questions raised in this matter are well beyond the current and particular future interests of a Regent. It is important that we be objective, judicious, and fair and I believe this process lives up to those principles,” she said.

In other happens, Ramsey County officials met with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton this morning to discuss a new local partner funding

Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf (left to right) and Ramsey County commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega at the press conference last May announcing the Vikings/Ramsey County Arden Hills' stadium proposal. County officials recently announced a new funding package to fuel their blunted attempt at winning the stadium scramble. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

scheme for financing the proposed Ramsey County/Vikings Arden Hills’  stadium proposal.

“I give Ramsey County a lot of credit,” said Dayton, speaking prior to his meeting with commissioners.

“God bless them,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, of the Ramsey County effort.

Republican leaders speak of not rushing a Vikings’ stadium vote before a feasible proposal is cobbled together — it could be damaging to the effort to pass something that has no legs, Zellers explained.

The new Ramsey County stadium funding model excludes countywide sales tax or food or beverage taxes — legislative non-starters — and looks to parking revenue, parking lot naming rights, admission surcharges, on-site hospitality taxes, the redirection of expected sales tax revenues towards transportation, with the county assuming responsibility for land purchase and clean-up costs.

Ramsey County officials leaving the Governor’s Office spoke of the latest funding model as a game changer.

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, indicated a stadium bill could be put forth even as late as late March and still be handled this session.

Not long ago, the City of Shakopee put out a Vikings’ stadium proposal.

And now the City of Duluth has entered the picture with a stadium proposal by Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, calling for a Vikings’ stadium southwest of downtown Duluth on the 500 acres of the former U.S. Steel/ Atlas Cement Works site.

“Stationing the Vikings in Duluth is economically advantageous,” Reinert said, and enhances “the message that the Vikings represent all of Minnesota and are not exclusive to the metropolitan areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

Dayton said he has not reviewed the Duluth proposal.

In other matters, Dayton is expected to deliver his second State of the State Address before assembled lawmakers in the House this Wednesday evening.

Hopefully, it will be short, quipped Zellers.

Lawmakers get restless when events disrupt their meals, he deadpanned.

“We’ll be there. We’ll be respectful,” he said.

Zellers indicated that the House will be taking up its education reform legislation this coming week.

This could mean a debate concerning teacher tenure, as some Republican education legislation run contrary to the idea of longer serving teachers having preference in terms of layoffs over newer teachers.

The Senate is expected to take up less controversial bills.


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