The Palin - Monegan - Wooten Controversy

Gov. Palin’s sister was married to an Alaska State Trooper and as is all too often the case with cops, the marriage ended badly – and noisily. I’m doing the timeline and sequence of events from memory but I’m confident it’s pretty much right. By the time the divorce got nasty Palin did not hold any office in AK, but was a well known, prominent even, figure. Any complaint from her would have gotten attention in State government, but there was no love lost between her and the Murkowski Administration, so nobody would have gone out of their way to do anything for her, but they wouldn’t have done anything to her either.

By the time any of it came to anyone’s attention, it was already old, a year or more, came mostly from family members and neighbors, and stemmed from a nasty divorce. All that conspired to make a tough investigation. There was never a DV writ, and if there had been it would have cost him his badge and gun and probably his job if it rose to assault. Alaska has a 20 day writ that is issued pro forma on the naked assertion of violence or even fear, so we rarely did anything to a LEO that got one of those unless s/he violated the writ. Those writs are so routinely abused, almost every complaint for divorce is accompanied by one, that they don’t have any credibility unless there is an assault charge, which there never was in this case.

The fact that it was a civilian complaint invokes the arcane processes of the Troopers’ Administrative Investigation provisions, a very formal process with the union involved at every step.

Many of the allegations could not be sustained but three, I think, were, which led to a ten day suspension without pay. By the standards of the service, that much time off without pay is pretty severe discipline and it was accompanied by a formal written warning that any further misconduct would cost him his job. Actually, those that were sustained were sustained by his admission, not by any evidence that could be gathered. I think the discipline was too light and I would probably have wanted thirty days, he already had a record of discipline, which is the State’s typical discipline for misconduct just short of immediate dismissal. I DO NOT believe I could have sustained a dismissal before an arbitrator on the old civilian complaints where almost all witnesses had a personal involvement and the discipline was largely based on the grievant’s admissions.

That said, I was still director of labor relations and nobody told me about it, at least not with enough specificity that I keyed on it or remember being told. My level was the last before it would go to an arbitrator and if it got to my level at all before I retired, it came over as a routine matter. I only learned about who the players were after I retired and it was resolved and then only in a very off the record conversation in a very seedy bar.

I would not have resolved it down to a five day suspension I don’t think, but had we taken it to arbitration, an arbitrator might have reduced the suspension. The Department of Public Safety established a sorry record of very, very mild discipline during the Knowles Administration and all during my tenure we had a very difficult time breaking the pattern. We’d go to arbitration on a suspension and the union would trot out similar or worse conduct that got a lighter penalty, so the arbitrator would reduce the penalty.

However, it is NOT coincidence that they waited until after I retired to bring it over to the Department of Administration and get it resolved; only Admin, specifically my successor or the Commissioner of Administration, has that authority. At minimum, I would have asked some very tough questions about why it should have been resolved and why the original penalty was so light. If for no other reason but by that time there was a reasonable likelihood that she was going to be Governor and you could see her asking some tough questions. It would have been my calculus that I would rather tell the Governor that an arbitrator reduced it than tell her that I had.

What I think happened is that the DPS management bet wrong; they were thinking Knowles would win and they wanted to curry favor with the union, so they made them a deal and sold it to either my successor, a relative neophyte, or to the Commissioner of Administration, a thoroughly disgusting human being and the principal reason I retired when I did; some people you just don’t work for. I like how the Democrats here are being righteous about how he should have been fired; he’d have never been fired in a Democrat administration and probably wouldn’t have been disciplined at all unless the union said it was OK, something they almost never do if there is any time off without pay.

Moving on to Monegan, he alleges that she pressured him to fire Wooten and that his failure or refusal to fire Wooten caused her to dismiss him from his position as Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. OK, so what? A commissioner serves at the Governor’s pleasure and she can fire him for any reason, no reason, but not an illegal reason. I don’t know a polical manager, including myself, who didn’t carry around a list in his head of people he’d like to see fired. It would be perfectly normal for political authority to have Trooper Wooten on the radar and if he had his hat on crooked discipline him.

It would have been essentially impossible to reopen the old case against Wooten without some new and compelling evidence and to my knowledge, none has come to light. Monegan is smart enough to know that and so is Palin. I’m not sure some of the people who work for her are. After she fired Monegan, not real stylishly, he averred that he really didn’t know why she fired him but thought it was because he didn’t fire Trooper Wooten for her. The Troopers’ union, the Public Safety Employees Association (PSEA) and Wooten jump into the spotlight, do a presser, and release all of Wooten’s confidential personnel files. Understand that the business manager of PSEA is ex-National Extortion Association (NEA) and very political. So political that he ended PSEA’s historic independence and allied with the AFSCME local that represents the bulk of State employees. The AFSCME local, the Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA) lives for politics and is headed by a former Democrat State Senator who served as Governor Knowles’ Commissioner of Administration – and my boss for a while, that was interesting. So, there’s plenty of room for politics in all this and a pretty good circumstatial case that the Union siezed on this to mau-mau Governor Palin – they do stuff like that.

Palin denies that she fired Monegan over the Wooten matter, saying she simply wanted a “new direction” for the department. Well, firing an appointee because you want a “new direction” is about the same as the appointee saying he left because he “wanted to spend more time with his family.” Neither is likely to be the truth. Anyway, Monegan was Chief of the Anchorage Police Department before Palin appointed him to head the State DPS. The Chief of APD MUST be cozy with the cops’ union or he won’t be Chief very long, far more so than the Commissioner of Public Safety has to be “friendly” with PSEA. The story varies, but he either quit as Chief or the Democrat Mayor of ANC, Mark Begich, currently running against Sen. Stevens, fired him. Bottom line; Monegan has close ties with both the major cop unions in the State and with the Democrats. Take that for what you will.

Palin denies all and says investigate all you want further saying that neither she nor her staff pressured Monegan or anyone else about Wooten. Well, the cracks in that started appearing quickly and it becomes evident that some staff members HAD discussed Wooten with Monegan. And cops being cops, before long a tape recorded conversation between one of Palin’s closest aides and a State Trooper Lieutenant acting as the Department’s Legislative Liason comes out, and it’s all about Wooten and the Governor wanting Monegan to do something about him. Along the way, the Senate, a R-D coalition and no friends of Palin, launch an investigation of the whole mess and hire a former State prosecutor as their lead investigator.

One of the things mentioned in the taped conversation is the fact that the Department of Administration had Wooten’s Workers Compensation file; a file they wouldn’t normally have and that Palin’s aide had seen it, something he wouldn’t normally be able to do. That’s a problem because it invites some tough questions about how he got the file and what he and the Department of Administration were doing with it.

Anyway, before this becomes a book, that’s where it stands. Nothing ties her to anything illegal, but she is tied to some things that somebody did that were just plain dumb and which may have violated some State rules on confidentiality. My worry for her VP bid is that she doesn’t know what some of her people might have known or done so the vetting that the Campaign did might not have been thorough enough.

I know that if charges like this had come out against a Governor that I worked for, I’d have put the “continued employment” gun to the heads of everyone who might know or have done something and if they did something bad, I’d have very publicly and noisily fired them. She obviously didn’t do that and the whole thing is looking waaay too much like somebody is covering something up. They may not be, but looks are all that count.