Alaska editorial: On impeaching University of Alaska Regent Jim Hayes

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2007

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

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A resolution in the Senate to consider impeachment of University of Alaska Regent Jim Hayes was introduced and referred to committee on Feb. 26, and there - a month later - it sits.

Unfortunate and painful as the process may be, it's time the resolution moved forward for the good of the state, our university and for the future of the board of regents.

The issue should be of high interest for residents of the Interior after the departure of two influential Interior regents: Brian Rogers of Fairbanks and Joe Usibelli of Healy. Gov. Sarah Palin chose representatives from Anchorage and Kodiak to replace them. That leaves Mr. Hayes and Cynthia Henry of Fairbanks as the only remaining Interior representatives - and Mr. Hayes hasn't been effective for the past year.

University regents make important decisions and are key figures who have the potential for great influence on the future of our university. That makes the status of individual regents worthy of legislative attention. And while all regents must consider a statewide perspective in their deliberations, a balanced geographical representation on the board is important for the public's confidence.

While it is wise for regents' status to be protected from simple political whims of a governor, the system fails if leaders are reluctant to take the necessary steps when a regent is failing the public. A regent who is not performing should not be allowed to stand as an immovable object. If Mr. Hayes has not met conditions for removal, it's hard to imagine what threshold must be reached.

He missed nearly half the board of regents meetings in 2006 and has not attended either of two meetings held so far this year. His endorsement letter written on home-made letterhead featuring his photo, the university seal and using his title as regent to solicit public funding for the nonprofit he and his wife operated stands in clear opposition to what most Alaskans would consider honorable. The same goes for a similar endorsement letter he crafted using his title as Fairbanks mayor.

If there are good explanations for these actions, the former mayor has not bothered to breathe a word in defense of them.

On top of this are dozens upon dozens of questionable administrative actions involving federal dollars - documented in the past four days in this newspaper - that were carried out in part by a man who should be no stranger to the accountability demanded in public venues. The entire debacle - and it can be considered nothing less - will at the very least prove to be a colossal embarrassment to the federal agencies involved and to Sen. Ted Stevens.

Mr. Hayes cannot divorce himself of responsibility by simply refusing to comment.

And of course he and his wife, Chris, have been indicted on numerous federal charges of misappropriating hundreds of thousands of public dollars. Mr. Hayes is innocent until proven guilty in the criminal courts, but no one can possibly believe a person could fully perform the duties required of a regent when faced with defending himself in a federal case that will take months, if not years, to resolve.

The governor and several legislators, including legislators who count themselves as friends of Mr. Hayes, have asked him to "do the right thing" and step down. He has refused.

The Legislature now needs to step in and do the right thing where Mr. Hayes has refused. It's time to impeach.

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