ST. PAUL -- An advisory panel picked 13 finalists Wednesday for five University of Minnesota regent openings, but one candidate's dual role as a state agency commissioner bothers an influential senator.
DFL Sen. Larry Pogemiller, whose district covers the university, questions why Michael O'Keefe should be reappointed as regent because he is also commissioner of the Department of Human Services. The 12-member Board of Regents sets policy for the four-campus university.
Pogemiller said he would prefer that O'Keefe withdraw before the Legislature votes. But Pogemiller said he is not actively organizing opposition against O'Keefe.
"I don't think anyone is so well qualified that he should have two bites of the apple," said Pogemiller, who raised similar objections during O'Keefe's commissioner confirmation hearing two years ago.
O'Keefe, one of two people in the running for the 5th Congressional District regent seat, said he has no plans to step aside. His only opposition is Franklin Pass, an executive with a Minneapolis biotechnology firm.
O'Keefe said his job as commissioner poses no conflict of interest with his role as regent because the Human Services Department has no direct oversight over the university budget or vice versa.
"I've been comfortable playing these two roles for the past two years," O'Keefe said.
This year, lawmakers will award unpaid, six-year terms to one student, two other at-large regents and the 5th Congressional District regent. Another at-large regent will be selected to replace William Peterson, who died this fall and whose term was to expire in 2005.
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