I talked to University of Minnesota regent Steve Sviggum earlier this morning about the conflict-of-interest inquiry he’s facing from an ad-hoc committee on Friday.
He said he welcomes the open meeting, calling it “the reasonable thing to do.”
Sviggum said he hasn’t yet seen either of the two legal opinions requested by board Chairwoman Linda Cohen. He doesn’t know what outside attorney John Stout has written, though Sviggum said he believes the U’s general counsel, Mark Rotenberg, does see a conflict of interest, judging from statements Rotenberg has made in the past.
“I think they’ve pretty well made their minds up,” Sviggum told me, though I’m not sure whether he was including Cohen in that statement.
Sviggum, as you may know, faces board concerns that his new job as Senate GOP spokesman conflicts with his position as regent. Critics suggest he can’t advocate fully for the interests of the U if those interests conflict with policies of the GOP. (Think of funding, for example.)
Sviggum maintains that’s not the situation because he’s not a decision-maker with the GOP, and so has no bearing on the GOP’s relationship with the U. Sviggum continues to insist that he sees no conflict of interest.
And he has provided a bit of a twist: His own “legal” opinion.
Sviggum said an attorney that’s “close to the regents” has offered him an unsigned written opinion that sees no conflict in holding both jobs.
“They’ll take it just as seriously as Mr. Rotenberg’s,” he said. “One attorney’s opinion is just as good as another.”
But Sviggum said he couldn’t tell me who wrote the opinion, saying he would have to ask the attorney first. He didn’t directly answer my question about whether the board would find an anonymous opinion credible, but he seemed to have a let’s-wait-and-see attitude.
(I should be getting a copy of that document later this morning.)
I asked Sviggum whether he stands by the statement he made on MPR several weeks ago that he wouldn’t resign even if the board asked.
He told me:
“I’ll take some time and look at the situation. I won’t let an outside person develop a conflict that doesn’t exist. I feel very strongly about that. I’m not considering … or am of the mind to resign on this.”