In 2007 Jim Hayes, of the University of Alaska Board of Regents, refused to step down after he and his wife were indicted upon 92 charges of fraud, theft and money laundering.
Hayes reportedly missed almost of half of the board meetings in 2006 and refused to resign even after he was directly asked to step down by former governor Sarah Palin. Hayes later relinquished his position in order to focus on crafting a defense for his trial, which resulted in his conviction on 16 counts.
In response to the crisis, State Representative Max Gruenberg proposed House Bill 6, a bill that would allow the Alaska State Governor to remove any member of the Board of Regents for good cause.
Previously both the Governor and the Board of Regents lacked the power to remove members confirmed by the Legislature, even in the embarrassing case of Jim Hayes. Though the Legislature does have the power to impeach a regent, the process is cumbersome and time consuming.
House Bill 6 is currently awaiting Governor Sean Parnell’s signature after it was passed by the legislature on April 12. The legislation received unanimous support in both houses and is expected to pass.
The opening passage of the bill defines the legislation as, “An Act authorizing the governor to remove or suspend a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska for good cause; and establishing a procedure for the removal or suspension of a regent.”
The bill is meant to rectify the events of 2007 in which Governor Palin lacked the authority to removes Hayes from the Board, despite having sent multiple requests asking him to step down.
“That was an example of a case in which someone should not have been serving in that position and proved difficult to remove,” explained Representative Gruenberg. “It left the university and the community at large frustrated with the lack of options.”
The new bill grants authority to the Governor to suspend and remove regents and outlines the process of removal, a fact that Gruenberg capitalized upon.
“I hope that we never have to use it. But if we do, then we now have a standard framework for fair removal,” said Gruenberg.
Were the situation to arise, the Governor would first suspend a regent who had been formally accused of illegal activities. If the regent were convicted of the charges, it would constitute “good cause” which would then result in removal by the governor.
Granting the governor the authority to deal with such crises ensures that problems of this nature will be dealt with, even when the Legislature is not in regular session.
Former chair and current member of the Board of Regents Mary K. Hughes expressed her approval of the bill and stated her support of Representative Gruenberg.
“Representative Gruenberg is to be congratulated for spending quite a bit of time shepherding the bill through the legislative process,” Hughes said. “Now if something like this ever occurs, there is an avenue for the governor to utilize.”
According to Hughes, the Board of Regents and the State Legislature seem to be in agreement over the content of the bill. Hughes explained that minor changes were made to the wording of the bill, but the concept remained static.
“As far as I know, everything we requested was accommodated. The collaboration on this bill was absolutely stellar,” said Hughes.
Representative Gruenberg also expressed his satisfaction with the final bill and praised the Legislature for their diligence in developing a solution to the problem.
“I was very pleased with the end result of this legislation. This was a situation where the system really worked,” said Gruenberg. “I wanted this to be a very good final product and we achieved that.”
The new legislation is intended for dire circumstances rather than political action and the University Board of Regents will continue to be insulated from state politics.
Though objections to the bill may arise in the future, Gruenberg and Hughes remain confident that House Bill 6 is a strong solution to the problem of regent misconduct.
“There could always be challenges, but I think that this bill is the best possible product that the legislature could have given the people of Alaska,” said Hughes.
With the process of removal granted by House Bill 6, the Board of Regents has been given a new line of defense against future crises. The bill should allow the Board more time to focus on relevant issues, rather than being distracted by issues concerning potential regent misconduct.
With unanimous support by the Legislature and apparent approval by the Board of Regents, the bill appears to solve the longstanding question of authority.
“The intent here was always to assist the University of Alaska, and at the end of the day we came together in an effective collaboration,” said Hughes.