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GOP lawmaker claims conflict of interest for Dayton Chief of Staff Tina Smith; governor disagrees

State Rep. Peggy Scott tells Dayton that his chief of staff should not also serve as chair of the Rochester Destination Medical Center Corp. board. Dayton’s office said concerns not valid.

In a letter Wednesday to Gov. Mark Dayton, GOP state Rep. Peggy Scott says it’s “troubling and a massive ethical concern for the state” that Tina Smith serves both as the governor’s chief of staff and as the chair of the Rochester Destination Medical Center Corp. board.

Scott, from Andover, is the assistant minority leader in the state House. She wants Smith to resign either as chief of staff or DMCC chair.

The governor’s office, though, says the relationship has been reviewed and said Scott’s concerns aren’t valid.

Scott notes that the state is committed to spending more than $500 million over the next 20 years on the Rochester project, which is part of the Mayo Clinic’s multi-billion-dollar plan to stay competitive in the medical industry.

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Scott said the DMCC project will likely compete with other state projects for funding and that Smith holds considerable sway over the governor’s legislative agenda.

“If the DMCC seeks additional aid, policy changes or opposes policies pursued by legislators or the governor, Ms. Smith is in a precarious spot. She’s is in a position to be lobbied by the local partners and the Legislature in both capacities, possibly for competing interests, and to lobby for and be lobbied by the DMCC,” she wrote.

Scott also refers to the situation last year when former House Speaker Steve Sviggum was working for the state Senate at the same time he served on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. At the time, Scott said, the governor said Sviggum should do one or the other. Sviggum ultimately resigned from the regents post.

After reviewing the letter, Dayton’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bob Hume said in a statement this afternoon:

“Before appointing Ms. Smith to the Board of the Destination Medical Center, the Governor’s General Counsel reviewed the relevant statutes and requirements, and concluded that there was no legal impediment to such an appointment.

“Representative Scott’s claims of an ‘ethical conflict’ or a violation of ‘duty of loyalty’ have no validity whatsoever. Ms. Smith was at the very top of the Mayo Clinic’s recommendations for appointment to the Board. After the Governor appointed her, the other Members of the Board made their own, independent decision to unanimously elect her their Chair.

“Unlike Representative Scott and most other Republican legislators, the Governor does not see a problem with a partnership between a non-profit entity, like Mayo, and state government. In fact, he believes a representative of his administration on the board, to watch over the state’s sizeable investment, and to work with other stakeholders to assure the maximum benefits to the people of Rochester and the entire State of Minnesota, is highly desirable.”

The governor’s office also pointed to a conclusion from the Legislative Auditor’s office, which looked into Kelm-Helgen’s dual roles at Scott’s request and said:

“Based on the state law that mandated the composition of the Medical Destination Center Corporation (MDCC) Board, Ms. Smith, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, does not have a conflict serving as the MDCC Board Chair.”

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In 2012, another top Dayton aide, Michele Kelm-Helgen, resigned her position as deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs in the governor’s office to take a job as executive director of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission, which is building the new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis.