Bill to remove regents unnecessary

Nookraker

Jeremia Schrock / Sun Star Reporter
March 29, 2011

As of March 29, a bill that would affect the UA system as a whole (and the Board of Regents in particular) is making its way through the state legislature. House Bill 6, sponsored by Rep. Max Gruenberg (D), would grant the governor the power to “remove or suspend a member of the Board of Regents (BOR) of the University of Alaska for good cause.” The reasoning behind the bill is that while the BOR has the ability to regulate itself, it has failed to adopt the rules necessary to handle the removal or suspension of a regent.

However, several individuals disagree with Gruenberg’s bill. “I don’t think the bill is needed,” said Joe Hayes, UAF’s Alumni Director. Between 1995-97, Hayes was a student regent and the board’s first African-American member.

Hayes believes such issues should be handled within the BOR itself and that the bill is simply a reaction to the 2007 federal indictment of former board member Jim Hayes, who is not related to the Alumni Director.

Jim Hayes is also a former Fairbanks mayor. He was indicted for conspiracy and money laundering by a federal grand jury in January 2007. Throughout the entire process, and despite calls for his resignation by both the legislature and then-Governor Sarah Palin, Hayes continued to serve as a member of the BOR until April 2007 when he (it is said) reluctantly resigned. In 2008, he was found guilty and is serving a five-year prison sentence.

“You would hope a sitting regent would not want to impugn the integrity of the board,” Joe Hayes said. “You’d hope they’d do the right thing and step down.” While the former mayor did eventually step down, the damage, it seems, had been done.

The BOR bylaws (BL05-C: Removal From Office) state “an officer of the board may be removed from the office by a simple majority vote of the whole board at any regular or special meeting.” In short, if the board wants to remove somebody it can.

That particular bylaw was revised on Feb. 7, 2007, two months before Jim Hayes’ resignation. While the minutes from both the regents’ regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 7-8 and an earlier emergency meeting held on Jan. 23 remain mysteriously silent on Hayes and the changes to the bylaws, the fact remains that the BOR now has a process in place. This means that the primary reason for HB 6 to move from being a bill to a law is, essentially, false.

Jo Heckman, who became a member of the BOR on Feb. 7, also believes that the bill is unnecessary. “The process works just fine,” she said. “This is how I run my business: ‘if it’s not broke, why fix it?’” Heckman is the president and CEO of Denali State Bank and the first female bank president in Alaska.

In HB 6, Gruenberg states that the BOR is ignoring its obligations under AS 14.40.170 (b) (1). That statute states that the board will “adopt reasonable rules, orders, and plans with reasonable penalties for the good government of the university and for the regulation of the Board of Regents.” Is the February 2007 addition to the bylaws not a reasonable rule? Is being removed as a regent not a reasonable penalty?

While proper oversight of any organization is imperative, it is also important that the reasons for said oversight be justified. In the case of the BOR, it appears they are operating just as they should be.

On Feb. 23, HB 6 was referred to the Judiciary Committee and as of March 29, has not yet been discussed. If the bill remains in committee at the close of the legislative session on April 13, it will die in committee and cease to be on the table.

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