Sunday, April 29, 2007

Indicted University Of Alaska Regent Jim Hayes Resigns From The Board Of Regents

Update: Jim Hayes was convicted on 16 counts on February 11th, 2008. Click HERE for updated post.

On Friday April 27th, 2007, in a letter addressed to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Jim Hayes oficially resigned from the UA Board of Regents in order to devote more time to preparing a defense in his upcoming trial. This post combines stories from the Anchorage Daily News, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, and KTUU Channel 2.

Hayes, who also is a former Fairbanks mayor, and whose term would have expired in 2011, also informed Governor Palin that he didn't want his legal problems to distract from Alaska's universities and the regents who oversee them, and that he also needed to devote more time to caring for his wife, who suffered a stroke last year. He reaffirmed his innocence of the charges pending against him.

Click HERE to view his letter of resignation in PDF format.

In a 112-count indictment, Hayes and his wife, Chris, are accused of misusing government grant money intended for a private agency, Love Social Services Center, that was run by Chris. The money, more than $2.7 million in all, was supposed to help low-income kids, but, according to the indictment, the couple siphoned off more than $450,000 toward construction of a church where Hayes is pastor and for personal expenses including a plasma TV for their home and a family wedding reception. They are charged with fraud and money laundering. The Fairbanks church is Lily of the Valley Church of God in Christ. The grants were funneled to the Love organization through earmarks by U.S. Sen. Ten Stevens (R-AK), according to reports by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Click HERE to see the 27-page Hayes indictment in PDF format.

In a press release, Governor Palin announced her acceptance of Hayes' resignation:

“I am pleased that Mr. Hayes took this course of action and agree with his decision to not further distract from the University and its mission,” she said. “I feel as though a cloud over the university has been lifted and the regents can now focus on the university’s issues and move forward.”

Unitl now, Hayes has adamantly refused to resign, despite appeals by Governor Palin and the threat of legislative action. Legal opinion about the Governor's options has been divided, with her Attorney General Talis Colberg claiming she (Palin) couldn't fire him, while counsel for the state legislature claimed she could remove him. Lawmakers attempted two gambits to induce Hayes' resignation. First, State Senator Tom Wagoner (R-Kenai) introduced a bill to impeach Hayes. The impeachment bill was not because of his indictment, but because he missed an excessive number of regents' meetings and allegedly misused the state seal. But when that effort got temporarily sidetracked, Rep. Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage) introduced HB 237 to empower the governor to suspend or remove any member of the UA Board of Regents under certain prescribed conditions.

However, Sen. Wagoner believes that the first Senate hearing held this past Wednesday on the impeachment resolution may have pushed Hayes over the edge. "Had it not been for that resolution and finally getting a hearing on that resolution and him understanding that we were not going to drop that resolution... had that not happened, no, I don't think Jim Hayes would have resigned," Wagoner said. He also stated that the measure had wide support, especially from students.

Sen. Bettye Davis (D-Anchorage), the chairwoman of the Senate Health Education and Social Services Committee, was not "sitting on the bill" as originally feared. She said Hayes asked for time to figure out what he was going to do so she didn't schedule a hearing on the resolution until two months after it was filed.

Obviously, Hayes' resignation kills the impeachment move. However, action on HB 237 will continue. "We think the bill is good public policy whether it is Mr. Hayes or anyone else," Rep. Bob Lynn said Friday. The bill, sponsored by the State Affairs Committee, which Rep. Lynn chairs, gets its first hearing during this upcoming week.

The chairwoman of the Board of Regents, Mary Hughes of Anchorage, pointed out in a written statement that the federal criminal case against Hayes doesn't involve any university money. She thanked Hayes for serving on the board. Still, according to the indictment, Hayes used his position as a regent to push for grants for his wife's agency, without revealing their relationship.

Before being appointed a regent by former Governor Frank Murkowski, Hayes served as mayor of Fairbanks from 1992 to 2001. He also worked as a schoolteacher and served on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Board of Education. He earned his bachelor’s degree in education from UAF and in 2002 was named the university’s Distinguished Alumnus. He graduated from Lathrop High School in 1965.

Hayes was also a delegate to the “Conference of Alaskans” held in 2004 to discuss whether any of the $27.7 billion permanent fund should be used to finance state government.

On Saturday, KTUU interviewed students at the University of Alaska-Anchorage (UAA) to determine reaction. While most students interviewed were aware of the story, many professed more pressing concerns.

"I think that might have to do with finals week. I mean, it's been pretty crazy around here with everything. I think everyone's kinda got their head in the books so," said UAA student Abbie Moon".

"I'm worried about school. School, school, school, and improving my way of life," said another UAA student Russell Bowers, a freshman.

Commentary: The resignation letter by Hayes seems to indicate that he was most influenced by Sarah Palin's attitude. He apparently shares the high regard and respect for Palin shown by so many Alaskans. Already she's shaping up to be the most popular governor in state's history, particularly because of her refusal to bend over for the Big Three oil producers.

But what's particularly gratifying about this outcome is the refusal of the local NAACP or any other black civil rights groups in Alaska to play the race card and defend Hayes' conduct.

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