Alaska editorial: University regent under indictment should step down

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2007

The following editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

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Surely former mayor and Board of Regents member Jim Hayes has his reasons for holding on to his University of Alaska Board of Regents position even after two highly respected people have asked him to step down.

Rep. Mike Kelly, a former regent and old friend of Hayes', told the News-Miner he sent a letter to Hayes advising him to step down for the good of the university. And Gov. Sarah Palin also apparently recently attempted to appeal to the wiser side of Mr. Hayes with no success.

Jim Hayes and his wife, Chris Hayes, face federal charges that they misused $450,000 in federal grant funding. A probe of past records also shows Jim Hayes used the University of Alaska seal in the course of making a grant application for a non-profit organization operated by his wife and used his title as mayor of Fairbanks to do the same.

Reportedly, Mr. Hayes simply states his innocence as the reason he shouldn't step down. He hasn't made a public statement.

Perhaps it's a part of legal positioning. Offering to step down could, possibly, be construed as an admission of wrongdoing.

On the other hand, stepping down could be seen by the general public as, simply, doing the right thing.

No matter the result in a court of law, there are serious ethical questions that Mr. Hayes needs to address. And, in the meantime, regardless of a verdict and regardless of an ethical examination, the political reality is that he cannot effectively serve in this appointed public role.

This is of particular concern to Interior residents and Fairbanks as the home of the University's flagship campus because, currently, Mr. Hayes and one other regent are the two local voices on the 11-member statewide board.

If we will have only two voices on the board, then they most certainly should be strong voices.

Repeating what we have said before, since the indictment on Jan. 17 - and since 31 federal agents raided the Hayeses' home, church and nonprofit organization a year ago - Mr. Hayes has remained silent. The public has now heard, second-hand, his intentions. He apparently intends to stay on the board of regents.

But we'll join the governor and Rep. Kelly in saying we believe Hayes should strongly consider stepping down from the regents, or at least be prepared to tell the people of this state why he is still the best man for that job.

It bears repeating that this does not presume guilt. We join many, many people in this community who hope to heaven his innocence will stand true.

But, we state again, there is no question that Mr. Hayes' effectiveness as a lobbyist on behalf of the university is compromised while he is under this legal and ethical cloud. It's the last kind of distraction anyone needs from university business. There also can be little question that the breadth and depth of federal charges Mr. Hayes faces must be taking a huge toll as the family must deal with these legal proceedings and manage the situation at the nonprofit and the church.

If Mr. Hayes continues to refuse to step down and does not make his reasons publicly known, then legislators should not hesitate to start the process for his removal from the regents. If he's not returning calls from the media and not addressing these concerns for the public in some other fashion, then he's already failing to do his job as a public servant.

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