Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin Explains Why She Axed Walt Monegan As Allegations Of Hush Money To Chuck Kopp And Witness Tampering Surface
Finally, after over a month, Governor Sarah Palin disclosed why she fired former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. Full story from the Anchorage Daily News, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, and KTUU Channel 2. Additional stories posted on the ADN's Alaska Politics blog.
During a press conference held on August 13th, 2008, in which she took questions, Governor Sarah Palin said that a recently discovered conversation recording of one of her staffers pressuring the Department of Public Safety to fire Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten, who went through a bitter divorce with her sister, will be turned over to a legislative investigator.
Governor Palin today acknowledged a conversation was recorded when Frank Bailey, her director of boards and commissions, called a trooper station complaining about Wooten. She says she never asked Bailey to make the call, even though she says the recording may sound as if Bailey was acting on her behalf. Attorney General Talis Colberg was also at the press conference, and acknowledged that at least two dozen calls were made by six different people, but claims the governor neither made any of the calls nor knew about them.
Palin has been under heavy criticism since firing former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. However, she also disclosed three reasons why she fired Monegan (I listened to the press conference in part on KFQD and specifically took down this information).
- He was not making headway on achieving key goals such as resolving the trooper shortfall.
- He was not making satisfactory progress on resolving alcohol issues.
- He was not a team player in regards to budget issues.
But recognizing his previous experience in dealing with alcohol issues, particularly in Bush Alaska, Governor Palin did not want to remove Monegan from the administration altogether, but to place him in charge of the Alcoholic Beverage Control board, where he could combine his rural expertise with a full-time focus on alcohol issues. Nevertheless, Monegan elected not to accept the post, and left the administration instead. Monegan continues to maintain he was pressured by Palin's family and the administration to fire Trooper Wooten. You can view all previous posts on Monegan's firing HERE.
However, another controversy has just popped up. According to Attorney General Colberg, the state paid a $10,000 severance package to Monegan's replacement, Chuck Kopp, the former Kenai police chief who resigned under pressure in July. That's in addition to his salary. In exchange for the $10,000, Kopp agreed not to sue the state. Click HERE to read the severance agreement. Also read Andrew Halcro's latest post on this issue; he's concerned the $10,000 might be "hush money", since commissioners are at-will employees requiring no severance pay.
The Palin Adminstration is also under fire for attempting to launch their own investigation ahead of the official state investigation of the circumstances surrounding Monegan's firing. The preliminary investigation, even if well-intentioned, may expose the administration to potential charges of witness tampering. In July, the state legislature appropriated $100,000 towards an independent inquiry, and hired former prosecutor Steve Branchflower to investigate. Andrew Halcro also addresses this issue HERE.
Attorney General Colberg said his office's review began after State Senator Hollis French was quoted in The Wall Street Journal about two weeks ago saying the governor could be impeached as a result of the probe. That raised questions about how impartial the Legislature's investigation was going to be, according to the governor's office. Colberg told KTUU it isn't witness tampering. The only problem is that if the worst case scenario happens, it will appear as if a potential defendant, the Palin Administration, was prepping potential witnesses.
Opinion: Sarah Palin could have saved herself a lot of grief if she had simply told us why she canned Walt Monegan last month instead of serving up some New Age Oprah-style drivel about "new energy" and "new direction". There seems to be a disturbing aura of New Age influence within the Palin Administration.
The tough part is trying to sort out how much smoke and how much fire there is to this mess. Personally, I don't get a sense that the Palin Administration is corrupt; instead, I think they're ignorant, naive, and parochial. Andrew Halcro has been reasonably fair about his pursuit of the problem,
The same cannot be said for Dan Fagan. While I admire his uncompromising stand on social issues and resource issues, this guy wants Sarah Palin's blood and makes no secret of it. Today, he even cut off "Palinbot" callers before they could even speak. At least Fagan could pretend to a small sliver of objectivity, but he's become a world-class ratings whore. If Palin's actually broken the law, then hold her accountable. But ignorance is not a crime; let's not turn this into a witch hunt.