Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is New Wasilla Mayor Verne Rupright Following In Sarah Palin's Footsteps? Rupright Fires Police Chief Angella Long As One Of His First Official Acts

Residents of Wasilla, Alaska undoubtedly remember how one of Sarah Palin's first acts after being elected mayor for the first time in 1997 was to fire then-police chief Irl Stambaugh on the grounds of alleged "insubordination". Stambaugh was a John Stein loyalist (referring to Palin's defeated opponent) who apparently didn't want to pledge personal loyalty to Palin.

So you can forgive Wasilla residents for wondering if their new Republican mayor, Verne Rupright, is following in Sarah Palin's footsteps. The Mat-Su Frontiersman and KTUU Channel 2 report that on April 17th, 2009, Rupright fired police chief Angella Long, who had served as chief since January 2007. And this one looks almost as messy as the Stambaugh firing. Naturally, there are two versions.

Angella Long believes she was fired for disagreeing with the mayor over his plans to restructure the department. She said that, according to Rupright’s budget, the mayor planned to eliminate the deputy chief’s position by 2010, putting Deputy Chief Greg Wood out on the street. She told the mayor that she thought it was a bad idea and that the position was necessary, but the mayor did not agree. She maintains her relations with her boss had been professional and collegial since he was elected last year until she disagreed with him.

But Rupright disputes most of what Long said. He said he was simply trying to turn the deputy chief’s position into a lieutenant’s position. Long’s dismissal, he said, was of a piece with a somewhat larger restructuring plan he’s put in place at the city, where he also dismissed the city’s finance director, Cheryl Deariso, the week before last. He said he’s been on the job for six months and put a lot of thought into both moves.

And he was quick to distance himself from any comparisons with Sarah Palin's style when she became mayor. “She called for everybody’s resignation and then had them re-apply for the positions,” Rupright said.

But Rupright doesn't plan to put Wood out on the street. In the interim, Rupright said, he’s talked to Wood, who has told the mayor he would stay on, be it as a deputy chief or as a lieutenant. Rupright has also put Sgt. Craig Robinson in charge of the department as acting chief, but he intends to advertise the vacancy. Meanwhile, Long does not challenge the right of the mayor to fire her, but professes to be concerned about the welfare of the department, considering that Wasilla is contemplating annexing more adjoining land, to include the Williwaw Subdivision just east of town.

Ironically, Angella Long was first hired by Irl Stambaugh in 1993. So now they have one more thing in common.

I don't recall any particular controversy associated with Angella Long's tenure. Many in the community expressed satisfaction at the way she ran the cop shop. She obviously understood that the police chief serves at the mayor's pleasure. Most recently, two Wasilla police officers were involved in a fatal shooting in Big Lake on March 25th, 2008, but the shooting was considered justified.

No, it doesn't quite look like Verne Rupright's about to follow in Sarah Palin's footsteps. He wouldn't look too good in Naughty Monkeys. But when I heard about him firing a police chief so soon after his election, I couldn't help but flash back to Sarah Palin's first mayoral administration.


  1. Maybe so. He still hasn't hired a permanent police chief. In fact, he's not hired a single position within the city. The finance director position was filled by the controller, who was hired by the previous mayor. Maybe he hasn't advertised for a new chief because no one wants to work for him. The acting chief can go back to being a sergeant protected by his union if he has a falling out with Rupright.

  2. Gee. Maybe Verne is just being fiscally responsible. I realize it can be hard to reconize that trait in this governments rancid political atmosphere...

  3. I still haven't seen a posting for a new chief...However Verne did hire a temp for another 6 months, since he could no longer hide behind Sgt. Robinson.