Monday, October 13, 2008

Did Palin abuse her authority by dismissing Monegan?

Apparently, some members of the media are upset that Sarah Palin is insisting that she was cleared of any unethical behavior regarding her dismissal of Walt Monegan, former Alaska Public Safety Commissioner.

AHN said, "Palin was asked by a reporter over the weekend in Pittsburgh if she abused her power, according to Fox, and she responded, "No. And if you read the report you'll see that there was nothing unlawful or unethical about replacing a cabinet member. You got to read the report, sir."

What does Walt Monegan have to say?

"I've never contested my firing. My firing was completely lawful," Monegan said in a nationally broadcast interview. "It wasn't that I was fired that I asked any questions. It was, what were the reasons for the firing."

In an interview on NBC's today show, Monegan refused to discuss what legal options, if any, he might be exploring after the release of Branchflower's report on October 10th.

But MSNBC tells us, "Among the e-mails released was one of farewell written by the public safety commissioner himself, Walt Monegan, when he was fired in July. In it, he suggested the governor had reason to believe she had lost his support, and urged his former colleagues to communicate better with her."

Why did Governor Palin have reason to believe that she had lost Walt Monegan's support?

Monegan had signed a public letter supporting a $3.6 million project designed to keep troubled teens off the street in Anchorage -- even though the governor had vetoed the project the previous year. Plus, Monegan, a cabinet member, was secretly working behind closed doors with a State Senator to revive the legislation Palin had vetoed.

On MSNBC, "Monegan acknowledged he shouldn't have signed the letter, because it put the governor in the awkward position of defending her veto decision."

OK. It appears that there is a disconnect taking place between what the media is reporting and the actual events that led up to Monegan's firing. The MSNBC article can be read here:

Here are Stephen Branchflower's Findings:

Finding Number One: For reasons explained in Section IV of the report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) provides:

"The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust."

Finding Number Two: I find that, although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety. In spite of that, Governor Palin's firing of Commissioner Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads.

Finding Number Three: Harbor Adjustment Service of Anchorage, and its owner Ms. Murleen Wilkes, handled trooper Michael Wooten's worker's compensation claim properly and in the normal course of business like any other claim processed by Harbor Adjustment Service and Ms. Wilkes. Further, Trooper Wooten received all of the worker's compensation benefits to which he was entitled.

Finding Number Four: The Attorney General's office has failed to substantially comply with my August 6, 2008 written request to Governor Sarah Palin for information about the case in the form of e-mails.

Walt Monegan claimed that he lost his job because he refused to fire Trooper Michael Wooten, Sarah Palin's former brother in law. However, Branchflower's report states that "it was likely a contributing factor, but not the only factor that led to his dismissal."

Recommendations for Action by the Legislature:

First Recommendation: The legislature should consider amending AS 23.20.107(b)(1) to require that a "governmental agency" that seeks to acquire medical or rehabilitation records of an employee first establish a reasonable relationship between the request for the records and the purpose for obtaining the records. Additionally, the term "government agency" should be defined in AS 23.30.107. (Discussion can be found on page 78).

The Second Recommendation: The legislature should consider amending AS 39.25.080 to permit those who file complaints against peace officers to receive some feedback about the status and outcome of their complaint. (Discussion can be found on page 79).

In the discussion section below, Branchflower opines, "In this case, there has been much said about the level of frustration that existed on the part of Sarah Palin's father, Chuck Heath who filed the original complaint against Trooper Michael Wooten, and on the part of Sarah and Todd Palin, who attempted to learn the status of the investigation only to be told by Colonel Grimes that the matter was confidential by reason of AS 39.25.080. I believe their frustration was real as was their skepticism about whether the complaints were taken very seriously, and a thorough investigation was underway. However, law prevented the Troopers from giving them any feedback whatsoever.

When a citizen files a complaint against a peace officer, there should be a balance in our law that on one hand seeks to protect the confidentiality of the investigative process, but on the other recognizes that someone may have been aggrieved. At the very least, the law should provide for the release of some information to the complainant regarding the status of the case. When citizens are told no information can be released, it has the potential of engendering skepticism about whether the complaint was taken seriously. There is likewise a great potential that the confidence we need to have in our law enforcement agencies will be undermined, and respect for those institutions will be eroded. This is especially so because in most instances, as was the case here, the officer is an employee of the very same agency that was conducting the investigation.

In sum, AS 39.25.080 should be studied to determine whether some relaxation of the law is possible to allow some feedback to a person who files a complaint against a law enforcement officer. (Discussion can be found on page(s) 80 and 81)."

I think that pretty much sums up the events surrounding "Trooper Gate".

The Branchflower Report determined that Governor Palin violated the public trust by using her office to attempt to get feedback on her father's complaint, (which was filed because Trooper Michael Wooten had allegedly threatened to kill him).

Branchflower found that, "although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Palin, it was likely a contributing factor."

What are the other contributing factors? A blog called Protein Wisdom Pub, claims that the real reason Manegan was fired is because of "repeated attempts at budgetary end-runs around Governor Palin."

For example, Monegan signed a public letter of support for a $3.6 million project designed to keep troubled teens off the street in Anchorage — even though the governor had vetoed the project the previous year and hadn’t included money for it in her budget for 2008. For more info, click repeated attempts at budgetary end-runs around Governor Palin:

Monegan even admitted in an interview that he should not have signed the letter. The letter was disrespectful of the Governor's position on the bill.

A Cabinet member who is disloyal to the Governor can and should be fired. Walt Monegan not only proved that he could not be trusted, he also proved that he can be spiteful and vengeful. (I'm sure his attorney will be filing a lawsuit for monetary damages before the month is out).

Before we go, Congratulations to Trooper Michael Wooten for his infamous plunge into American history!

From this moment on, he will be fondly remembered as the Alaska Trooper who was suspended for drinking and driving on the job, tasering a 10 year old child, participating in an illegal moose hunt and threatening to kill his father in law.

Nice resume.

Best of luck to you, Trooper Wooten!

More infomation about Wooten's employment history an be found at the Juneau Empire at this link: (Sam Taylor provided it).

Branchflower Report:

MSNBC article on Monegan's betrayals:

McCain-Palin Campaign: Troopergate Report Cleared Governor Of Wrongdoing AHN October 13, 2008
McCain-Palin Campaign: Troopergate Report Cleared Governor Of Wrongdoing AHN October 13, 2008Posted using ShareThis

AP Article in Star Tibune

Protein Wisdom Pub:

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