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A top DFL legislator announced Wednesday that he is resigning from a paid fellowship at the University of Minnesota after Republicans raised questions about preferential treatment in filling the post.

Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, accepted a seven-month research fellowship at the Institute on the Environment’s Energy Transition Lab in July. The $50,000 temporary role was set to end just after the Legislature returns to work in February. He will leave Sept. 20.

In a statement announcing his resignation, Long, an attorney, said he was “honored” to accept the job after “a competitive public hiring process.” He cited his long history of working on environmental and climate issues.

But hundreds of pages of e-mails and internal documents released Wednesday show that Long and Ellen Anderson, a former DFL state senator now at the helm of the Energy Transition Lab, discussed creating the position months before it was publicly posted.

In one March exchange, Long told Anderson that the fellowship remained his “top choice for employment following the legislative session.” He sent a draft job description, along with a proposed schedule, the following month.

Funding for the position was secured from an undisclosed outside source. “We got $50K from [REDACTED] to hire Jamie Long for one year,” said an e-mail sent in May by lab project manager Barb Jacobs.

Anderson e-mailed Long in June to let him know that the position was posted and encouraged him to apply. A July e-mail from the Human Resources Department issued a routine warning to Anderson not to rush the hiring process. Five days later, Long accepted the job.

Preferential treatment?

The correspondence was disclosed to reporters Wednesday following a government records request by Republican Rep. Chris Swedzinski, who serves with Long on a House energy and climate committee.

In a letter sent Wednesday to House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Swedzinski said the documents presented “major questions” about the hiring process. “There is no question that Rep. Long would not have been hired but for his position as a lawmaker. … The preferential treatment for a lawmaker who was effectively able to write his own position and work hours is concerning,” he wrote.

Swedzinski also raised concerns about the job itself, noting that the funding source for the position has not yet been disclosed. He called for an immediate investigation into whether a lobbyist or campaign contributor underwrote the job and questioned whether the description of the role as “engaging and educating legislators and other decision makers” would amount to lobbying under state law.

Swedzinski also called on Hortman to strip Long of his leadership position, which includes serving as assistant majority leader and vice chairman of the energy panel, until an ethics investigation is completed.

A spokeswoman for Hortman said the speaker was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

Long dismissed the allegations as “politically motivated.” In a statement, he said he resigned “to allow the Lab to focus on achieving a carbon-neutral Minnesota.”

“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,” Long said. “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.”

In an interview Wednesday, Long acknowledged having conversations about the job before it was posted. But he said he felt the interview process was competitive. He said the lab was one of a number of organizations he met with as he looked for a job during the legislative interim.

Short-term project

Institute Director Jessica Hellmann defended the process for creating and filling the position.

“Writing a job with an individual in mind is not against University HR policy for a temporary position, which is typically built around a short-term project-based need,” Hellmann said.

She noted that the job was posted publicly for 14 days on the University of Minnesota’s Office of Human Resources web page and on the institute’s website. Six candidates applied and three were interviewed for the post. The “position was never intended to include lobbying,” she said.

Hellmann declined to immediately disclose the source of the funding for the role, saying it was unclear whether she could do so under state law.

Long said he was not aware of the funding source for the role. He also disputed the idea that the role would involve lobbying, adding that he did not speak with any legislators in his capacity at the university.

“[The] role is education, trying to translate knowledge to the general public,” he said. “That is not lobbying. That’s public education.”

Torey Van Oot • 651-925-5049