Here’s the official statement given out by University of Minnesota Board of Regents Chair Linda Cohen on her decision to seek legal counsel regarding regent Steve Sviggum’s conflict-of-interest case:
Board of Regents Chair Linda Cohen’s Statement on Regent Sviggum’s Employment“As Regents are aware, on January 16, 2012 Regent Steve Sviggum announced that he had accepted employment as Communications Director and Executive Assistant for the Minnesota Senate Majority Caucus. The General Counsel and I promptly began discussing the possibility of an employment-related conflict of interest under Board policy.
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.
Following his announcement, I have spoken with Regent Sviggum about this matter and have met with him on two occasions. At my request, he has abstained from voting at this month’s committee and Board meetings so we could have time to consider this matter. Based upon my understanding of his employment responsibilities, this position appears to me to constitute an employment-related conflict of interest with his duties as a Regent.
Therefore, pursuant to Section 6, Subd. 3 of the Code of Ethics, I have asked our General Counsel to provide an opinion as to whether an employment-related conflict of interest exists and, if so, the degree or pervasiveness of that conflict. I have also directed the Office of the General Counsel to engage an independent attorney at my discretion and with my approval to consult and render an opinion on this matter. That attorney is John Stout of the Fredrikson & Byron law firm in Minneapolis. Mr. Stout currently chairs the Corporate Governance Committee of the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section, has extensive experience in corporate and non-profit governance and is widely recognized as an expert in this field. Both opinions are to be provided to me by February 24, 2012.
After I have considered the opinions of our attorneys, I will make a determination regarding the conflict and bring forward a recommendation to the Board, or I will appoint an ad hoc group to assist me with these tasks.
This is a complex and serious matter that warrants our careful review and due diligence. My rationale for taking this approach is to ensure that we have the benefit of our General Counsel’s judgment and experience as well as an independent outside counsel’s review of the situation. This process is consistent with the Board’s governing documents, deliberative nature, duty to act in the best interests of the University and history of acting with the highest degree of integrity to advance the University’s mission and serve Minnesota’s citizens. Together we will use our best informed judgment to arrive at 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.
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.”