Regents See Conflict: Sviggum To Decide Between Jobs

UPDATED

By Andrew Tellijohn

Former House Speaker Steve Sviggum will choose between being a University of Minnesota’s regent and serving at the institution’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

He made the decision after a Wednesday meeting of three regents, who said they believe it would be a conflict of interest for him to continue in both positions.

Sviggum, a Kenyon farmer and long-time state legislator, told the three regents that he does not agree with their decision, but would respect it and soon will let them know what job he will keep.

Sviggum

“I will accept your decision,” he said. “I will not say I agree.”

Sviggum was sworn in as a regent in early March after the Legislature voted him in. Moments after lawmakers picked him, Sviggum told reporters that he already had asked lawyers and others whether keeping the Humphrey job would be a conflict, and he was advised there was no problem.

Soon after Sviggum became a regent, Board Chairman Clyde Allen of Moorhead appointed a committee of himself, Vice Chairwoman Linda Cohen and Regent Patricia Simmons to look into whether there would be a conflict in maintaining the two roles.

Sviggum said he has been open about his position with the Humphrey School, where he is set to make $80,000, through the entire regent selection process.

He said he raised the funds for his Humphrey position privately and, as a fellow, had no say in personnel or salary matters at the Humphrey School. Regents serve without pay.

“I try not to be stubborn,” Sviggum said. “When one knows or feels they are right, you have pretty strong legs. And my legs, regents, are very strong. I feel very confident about the rightness of the position.”

But the committee disagreed. Rules do not prevent a university employee from serving on the board, but regents cannot vote on issues in which they have a financial interest. The committee determined there was too great a conflict for Sviggum to maintain both roles.

The committee emphasized that Sviggum did nothing unethical or immoral.

“A conflict of interest is not a bad thing,” Simmons said. “It just simply has to be addressed. One wants to have regents with potential conflicts of interest because it means they have experiences and have responsibilities in other areas.”

Allen called Sviggum “an honorable man” and said he believes Sviggum is “eminently qualified to perform both roles” he currently carries at the university, but not at the same time.

Cohen agreed. Money Sviggum raises privately still becomes university funds, she said. Cohen called the inherent conflict “broad and substantial” and recommended that Sviggum choose.

Sviggum asked the regents for time to discuss the choice with his family.

Allen was appreciative that Sviggum did not fight the recommendation.

“He made an honorable decision,” Allen said after the meeting. “I commend him.”

The university question was not Sviggum’s first conflict-of-interest accusation.

While speaker, Democrats said they thought he had a conflict voting in favor of ethanol-related bills because a farm he owns with his brothers benefited.

The farm also was in question when some accused him of seeking to make money when a wind farm was proposed to include Sviggum property after he supported legislation promoting wind power. At the time, Sviggum said that he would not be part of the decision.

After leaving the Legislature, he served as state labor and industry commissioner, running an agency that received substantial federal funding. When he considered running for governor, federal authorities said that would violate the Hatch Act, which forbids federal workers from running for office. He opted against running.