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U Of M Lawyer: Sviggum Has Conflict Of Interest

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — University of Minnesota Regent Steve Sviggum has a conflict of interest that can't be resolved as long as he works for the state Senate Republican Caucus, the university's top lawyer said in a memo Wednesday.

General Counsel Mark Rotenberg wrote that Sviggum has a "fundamental, systemic clash" between his duties as a regent and as chief spokesman for Senate Republicans.

"As long as these two positions are held simultaneously by Regent Sviggum, this systemic conflict cannot be eliminated, managed or cured," he wrote.

Regents Chairwoman Linda Cohen asked Rotenberg to consult with an outside attorney and expert on corporate governance, John Stout, after Sviggum took the GOP job five weeks ago. Rotenberg agreed with Stout's conclusions.

A three-member regents panel will meet to discuss the issue Friday and the full Board of Regents is due to consider the panel's recommendations Thursday next week.

Sviggum, a former Minnesota House speaker, continued Wednesday to deny any conflict of interest, saying he doesn't consider himself a decision-maker at the Capitol despite the lawyers' conclusion that he is. But he also said he expects the panel and the full board won't go against their own lawyer's findings. "I understand that. That doesn't mean it's right," he said.

He declined to say if he'll resign either position if his fellow regents agree the conflict is insurmountable.

"I will listen to their advice before I make a decision," he said.

University spokesman Chuck Tombarge said he was checking on the regents' options if Sviggum doesn't want to relinquish one job or the other. The regents' bylaws say the board can remove any officer if members the interest of the university requires it.

This is the second time Sviggum has faced a conflict-of-interest question since he became a regent last February. He decided last April to keep his unpaid seat on the board and quit his paid job as a legislative fellow at the university's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. His Senate staff salary is more than $102,000.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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