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Sen. Koch resignation followed 'improper relationship' complaints

Four members of the Minnesota Senate Republican leadership team tell reporters Friday that they received complaints that Sen. Amy Koch had an inappropriate relationship with a Senate employee. From left are Sens. Chris Gerlach of Apple Valley, David Senjem of Rochester, Geoff Michel of Edina and David Hann of Eden Prairie. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL - "It's probably not our finest week." With those words, the Minnesota Senate's new top Republican revealed Friday that the state's first female Senate majority leader resigned after he and others confronted her with allegations she had an inappropriate relationship with a male Senate employee.

Interim Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel and three other top Republican senators told reporters that Senate staffers complained that a relationship they alleged between Sen. Amy Koch and the employee hurt the work environment.

"This is a painful experience for all of us involved," Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said.

Michel, Senjem, Sens. David Hann of Eden Prairie and Chris Gerlach of Apple Valley said they wanted to be open about the situation and let the public know what is happening. They waited 23 hours after the resignation letter to talk, quickly calling a news conference after Capitol reporters began asking questions about a rumored affair.

Michel, named interim leader after Koch's Thursday resignation, would not identify the man that Senate employees said was engaged in an improper relationship with the Buffalo Republican senator. He stopped short of calling it a sexual affair, saying that only two people know that.

The man remains on the Senate payroll, Michel confirmed.

Senators who confronted Koch with the allegations, all on the GOP leadership team, refused to say if she should be brought up on Senate ethics charges. When she resigned as majority leader, she said she plans to remain in office to serve her district just west of the Twin Cities.

Michel said he did not know if there would be any legal or legislative rule violations if the allegations are true, but said such a practice between a supervisor and an employee is not proper in any government or private business situation.

The secretary of the Senate's office is looking into what, if anything, could happen to the employee, Michel said.

Five senators knew of the allegations for up to two weeks and four of them met with Koch Wednesday night to discuss the subject. Those in the meeting said that Koch did not confirm or deny the claims.

The senators said that Koch Wednesday night brought up the possibility of resigning, but did not tell them of her decision before she released her letter late Thursday.

Koch's office had no immediate response to Friday's developments.

Those who met with Koch were surprised at the resignation.

"We were nearly as surprised as all of you to see the resignation at the end of the day yesterday," Michel told reporters.

The 40-year-old senator served as majority leader for a year, after helping win a Republican majority for the body for the first time in 38 years. Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, were the faces of the GOP legislative leadership in extended budget talks with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Koch, married with one daughter, is a one-time Concordia College in Moorhead student and was a Russian language expert for the Air Force.

While Michel is interim leader, Republican senators will elect a new permanent leader within two weeks.

Senators would not say how many Senate employees complained to them.

Michel said that GOP Senate caucus leaders got involved because they could not accept the kind of conflict of interest the allegations suggest.

"We do not want to have the Minnesota Senate to have that kind of a working environment for our employees," Michel said.

Senjem said the information Senate employees gave senators was "painful," but "we did what all of us, I think, felt was necessary" in talking to Koch.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.