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Democratic lawmaker resigns from U of M post amid questions

Updated: September 12, 2019 07:57 PM

A Minnesota representative has requested an investigation into how a legislator got a paid fellowship position at the University of Minnesota.

Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) wrote a letter to House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) Wednesday, requesting Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis) be suspended from his position. 

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Long was hired in July at the university's Institute on the Environment by former state Sen. Ellen Anderson, of St. Paul. Anderson was the institute's executive director before she was reassigned last Tuesday to work on other projects.

In the letter, Swedzinski raised concerns over where the money to fund Long's position came from as well as whether Long should have registered as a lobbyist.

Long stated he applied for the job like anyone else and disputed claims the position had been created for him specifically.

Jessica Hellmann, the director of the Institute on the Environment, issued the following statement Thursday regarding Long's hiring:

"While this hiring practice does not appear to have violated any specific HR policy, it does not appear to align with our values. IonE is part of a leading public research university; we must be transparent, fair, and nonpartisan. Moreover, we must take steps to avoid even the appearance of partisanship. Going forward, we will implement new, voluntary measures to hold our hiring practices to the highest standards and expectations."

Hellmann added, "Rep. Long was hired because he was determined through the hiring process to be the most qualified candidate for the position."

Long submitted his resignation via a letter dated Tuesday.

Board of Regents Chair Kendall J. Powell said he wants answers about the hiring process for Long. 

"I'm more interested in the process of how that took place and who was involved, I think from an HR standpoint they went through the right process," said Powell. "I think we want to get more informed."

In a statement issued Wednesday, Republican Party of Minnesota Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said, "Once again, we are left with questions: Who was (the) redacted donor of Rep. Long's $50k salary? Was the U of M trying to buy votes to support their nearly $100 million budget request this year?"

Addressing Long's salary, Hellmann said:

"As the publicly released documents show, IonE anticipated paying for this position from private funds. However, at the time of the DPA request, we had not yet withdrawn any of those funds to reconcile the salary for this position.

"We have decided any salary costs for this position will instead be paid out of an account that contains licensing revenue, and not out of any taxpayer or private/philanthropic funds. This licensing revenue is unrestricted and can be used to support the University as needed. In this case, we felt it was the most appropriate choice of funding."

In his resignation letter to the DFL, Long said:

"I've committed my career to building a clean energy future, and I was honored to be selected for a temporary research position at the Energy Transition Lab after a competitive public hiring process. As a part-time legislator needing additional employment to support my family, I appreciated the opportunity to devote my time to helping all Minnesotans benefit from the fast-growing clean energy economy. Unfortunately, with a politically motivated data request targeting my work, it's become clear that my presence may be a distraction from the mission of the Energy Transition Lab. I resigned from my position earlier this week in order to allow the Lab to focus on achieving a carbon-neutral Minnesota."

The resignation goes into effect September 20, Long wrote.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS made numerous attempts by phone, email, and in-person to reach Rep. Long for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Rebecca Omastiak

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