The University of Minnesota released two legal opinions Wednesday that say former House Speaker Steve Sviggum has a conflict of interest in being a regent while working for Minnesota Senate Republicans.
Two attorneys, one on the university staff and another hired by the school, agreed that being the executive assistant to the Senate majority leader is a conflict with his unpaid job on the university’s governing board.
The situation “creates a fundamental, systemic clash between the duties owed to the university by Regent Sviggum, as a regent, and the duties owed by Regent Sviggum to the Senate majority caucus, as an employee,” attorney John Stout wrote to the university. “As long as these two positions are held simultaneously by Regent Sviggum, this systemic conflict cannot be eliminated, managed or cured, including by means commonly used to address transactional, periodic or incidental conflicts.”
Sviggum, a Kenyon Republican who served in two commissioner jobs under then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said in an interview that he disagrees with the legal opinions. However, he added, he plans to attend a Friday meeting on the matter.
“I obviously will partake on Friday,” Sviggum said. “I will listen to their advice. I will try to see their position.”
Still, he added: “It is fairly clear to me that no conflict exists.”
Sviggum suggested that if some people think there is a conflict, “it can be handled, like most things in life, by a management plan.”
The ex-speaker said there is no conflict since he makes no decisions as a Senate employee.
But university General Counsel Mark Rotenberg wrote that Sviggum “will be involved in high-level partisan legislative deliberations.”
Regents Chairwoman Linda Cohen sought the legal opinions after thinking there could be a conflict.
“The process being undertaken by the board of regents is governed by our code of ethics, and will be conducted in a deliberative manner with integrity to advance the university’s best interests,” Cohen said in a statement. “Each member of the board is committed to use our best informed judgment to arrive at an appropriate decision in this matter.”
Sviggum said that Cohen and others he asked about various job options before he took the Senate position did not see any problems.
When legislators elected Sviggum a regent, he worked for the Humphrey Institute within the school. The regents’ code of ethics required that he give up that job.
A committee will discuss the legal opinions Friday and the full board is expected to take up the issue next week.
Sen. Gary Kubly was in critical condition late Wednesday, suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“Sen. Kubly had a medical crisis this morning and currently is in critical condition in Regions Hospital,” Senate Democratic spokesman Amos Briggs said Wednesday night.
A chaplain opened the Wednesday night House session praying for Kubly, who himself is a minister. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2010 and on the first day of this year’s legislative session used his iPad to thank fellow senators for their support after his voiced all but failed.
Kubly, 68, has been assisted this year by his wife, Pat, and attended Senate floor sessions and committee meetings.
Earlier this year, as Kubly began his 16th legislative session, he said doing the work in the Capitol would be more difficult.
“I had thought of resigning, but they talked me out of it,’’ Kubly said.
Fighting for mining
Iron Range officials say they understand mining, and others should let them develop planned copper and nickel mines.
Newcomers to the range are “telling us what to do,” Ely Mayor Roger Skraba said in a St. Paul news conference. “Thanks for the advice, but I think we know what to do.”
In an interview, Skraba said that he has seen 200 trumpeter swans in an old mine that is expected to become a copper and nickel mine. He said they would not flock there if there were serious environmental problems, like mining opponents say.
Mine backers complain that the federal government and environmentalists are delaying approval of the new type of mines.
“We’ve been mining on the range for 130 years; we know how to do it,” said Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm. “This is the second largest copper deposit in the world, and we can do this right, too. This is what the state needs. If you want the economy to grow, this is the place to start.”
St. Louis County Board Chairman Keith Nelson agreed that people in the area know what they are doing.
“If it can’t be done safely here, it can’t be done safely anywhere,” Nelson said.
PolyMet, Twin Metals and others propose opening the new mines in an area that long has produced iron ore and taconite.
Mines employed 18,000 Iron Rangers in 1980, but just 5,000 now, so union leaders joined government officials in supporting the mines.
“We’re ready to go to work,” said Craig Olson, president of the Duluth Building Trades Union.
The mine event was part of Duluth-St. Louis County Day at the Capitol.
The event was smaller than planned after a storm forced the cancelation of three buses that were to bring people to the Capitol.
Duluth and St. Louis County residents visited with lawmakers to lobby for projects in the area, including $3 million to establish an economic development corridor along Kensington Drive, $7 million for a University of Minnesota Duluth American Indian Learning Center and $4 million to renovate Wade Stadium.