Alaska Editorial: Transfer of power: Bill gives governor authority to remove university regents

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

The state Senate lightened its potential future work load a bit Friday when it passed a bill offering the governor power to remove a University of Alaska regent from office for “good cause.”

The Legislature already has the power under the Alaska Constitution to impeach a regent. Such an action requires time and discomfort, though.

So legislators have offered the governor the authority via House Bill 6. The legislation received unanimous support in both houses; it will now go to the governor for his veto or acceptance.

Given the bill’s unanimous backing, the governor probably will have to let this one pass, but it’s still an unusual cession of legislative power by the Legislature itself.

This issue arose in 2007 when former Fairbanks Mayor Jim Hayes was indicted on charges of misusing federal grants given to a charity. Hayes, who was eventually convicted, was a regent at the time of the indictment, and he declined invitations for his resignation.

Having Hayes continue as a regent was an embarrassment. However, because neither the board nor the governor can remove a regent confirmed by the Legislature, the only way to extract Hayes was with an impeachment trial in the Legislature. Eventually, as senators began kicking around an impeachment resolution, Hayes resigned.

The process spawned an alternative idea — let the governor deal with this kind of mess. It has taken several years, but that approach now goes to Gov. Sean Parnell for his consideration.

The legislation allows a governor first to suspend a regent who has been indicted or charged or has been accused of various actions for which probable cause has been established through a formal process.

The governor then could remove a regent for “good cause.” Good cause includes a conviction of any felony or several types of misdemeanors. It also includes misconduct, an inability to serve, neglect of duty, incompetence or an unjustified failure to perform a regent’s duties. Good cause can also be invoked if a regent loses a professional license for reasons that are “related to the regents’ fitness to serve.” A formal administrative hearing must be held to judge the removal, if the regent requests it.

Giving the governor this power could be useful when a problem with a regent arises outside the Legislature’s regular session. However, the Legislature still will need to remain vigilant and ready to use its impeachment powers. After all, a governor who appointed a regent could be reluctant to pursue that regent’s removal, given that doing so might highlight not only the regent’s lapse of judgment but the chief executive’s as well, by association.

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