FAIRBANKS - Gov. Sarah Palin lacks the authority to remove University of Alaska regent Jim Hayes from office, according to Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg.
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The legal opinion released Friday is opposite an opinion by a legislative attorney regarding Hayes, a former Fairbanks mayor under indictment on fraud and money laundering charges.
"At first glance, we were optimistic after seeing the Legislative Legal Services opinion that the governor may have the ability to remove a regent," said Meghan Stapleton, a spokeswoman for Palin. "However, after further legal review, Attorney General Colberg has issued an opinion that the governor is unable to remove a regent from the university without cause."
The issue arose after the federal indicted charging Hayes and his wife, Chris, each on 92 counts of fraud, theft, money laundering and misappropriating government funds in connection with the nonprofit LOVE Social Services run by Chris Hayes. The charges are unrelated to Jim Hayes' role as a member of the university board of regents.
Palin last week asked Hayes to resign, but he declined, according to the governor's office. On Friday, Palin sent a letter to Hayes again asking him to resign.
Last week a lawyer with the Legislative Affairs Office said the regents serve at the pleasure of the governor and can be removed at any time. Colberg disagreed with that assessment.
"This interpretation is at odds with the express intention of the Constitutional Convention that the university be insulated from politics," he said in his opinion.
Transcripts of the discussions by the framers of the constitution indicate they didn't intend the Board of Regents to be included in the same category as other executive branch boards, Colberg said.
"Thus, while the regents are appointed by and are responsible to the governor, they do not serve at his pleasure but rather for fixed terms, and they may, therefore, be removed from office solely for cause," Colberg wrote. "Unless the members of the Board of Regents commit acts of malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance sufficient to constitute cause for their removal, the governor possesses no check upon them and no power to direct their activities."
Jim Hayes said Sunday he was unaware of Colberg's legal opinion. He said his attorneys have advised him to not comment on his case, but added he had no plans to resign as a regent.
"My appointment is until 2011, and I intend to serve my full term," he said. "I'm not guilty of anything."
The state Legislature can remove a regent by an impeachment vote with a two-thirds majority in both Houses.
"We were hoping for a quicker resolution," Palin said. "It's unfortunate that a cloud is going to remain over the Board of Regents for a longer period of time."