Walt Monegan and the Other Ex-Commissioner of Public Safety.

13 10 2008

In the media circus, and legislative frenzy of the Troopergate investigation, and the release of the Branchflower Report, it’s good to hear from former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan himself.

“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.”

Monegan declined to say in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show what legal options, if any, he might be exploring in the wake of the findings announced late Friday in Alaska by investigator Stephen Branchflower.

Monegan did say that he and his family were pleased with the report’s conclusions.

“Actually, I feel relieved,” he said. “My wife and I have been through a lot. It’s not a matter of being revenged. It’s just strictly a matter of being relieved.” Monegan was interviewed by telephone from Alaska.

In his report Friday to a bipartisan panel that looked into the matter, Branchflower found Palin in violation of a state ethics law that prohibits public officials from using their office for personal gain. Palin has said that Monegan’s tenure as the state’s lead law enforcement officer ended because of policy differences.

The inquiry looked into the dismissal of Monegan, who said he lost his job because he resisted pressure to fire a state trooper involved in a bitter divorce and custody battle with the governor’s sister.

“I feel vindicated,” Monegan had said late Friday. “It sounds like they’ve validated my belief and opinions. And that tells me I’m not totally out in left field.”

On Monday, Monegan said the controversy “really isn’t about me.”

“I think that we’re more concerned about our governor,” he added, “and I think she took a big blow to her credibility and more significantly to her promises of being open and transparent.”

Asked how he planned to vote in the November elections, Monegan said he didn’t want to say, telling his interviewer that’s why they “put those little curtains around” the polling booth.

Most would agree that Monegan is truly a class act. And the story of who Sarah Palin chose to replace him is one I covered quite a bit before Sarah’s VP nod. Chuck Kopp stepped into the very big shoes of Walt Monegan, and remained there for two whole weeks before slinking away with a $10,000 severance check, embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal. He wasn’t properly vetted. Is anyone surprised?

Aside from what it says about Sarah and Todd Palin, the Trooper-Gate report also appears to paint Mike Tibbles — the governor’s former chief of staff, who’s now running Ted Stevens’ Senate re-election campaign — as shockingly incompetent. And that’s the best case scenario for Sarah Palin.

To explain: Steve Branchflower writes on page 113 of the report that Walt Monegan told him about a conversation between Monegan and Tibbles, shortly after Palin was inaugurated as governor in January 2007. According to Monegan, Tibbles asked Monegan to consider hiring Chuck Kopp, formerly the police chief of Kenai, for a job in the public safety department.

As a result, said Monegan, he met with Kopp. When Monegan asked Kopp whether there was anything in Kopp’s background that Monegan should be aware of before hiring him, Kopp revealed that, as Kenai police chief, he had been reprimanded over a sexual harassment allegation, though he maintained that it was bogus.

Monegan told Branchflower that the next day, he talked to Tibbles. “I disclosed what Chuck had told me,” said Monegan. Tibbles responded that, in that case, they had “better steer clear from [Kopp] for a while.”

If by “steer clear,” Tibbles meant “Hire him to be the head of the Department of Public Safety for the State of Alaska, then they stuck to the plan.

Just two weeks later, Branchflower writes, Kopp resigned the post, when the sexual harrassment reprimand surfaced. Adds Branchflower: “Apparently, that was a fact that the governor’s office did not know about when Mr. Kopp was offered the commissioner’s job.”

Indeed, at the time, the governor’s office said publicly that at the time Kopp was hired, the governor knew of the allegation but understood it to be baseless, and was unaware of the letter of reprimand.

But the report suggests that Tibbles — who, just four days before Kopp’s hiring, was announced as Stevens’ campaign manager — did know about the reprimand, because Monegan had told him about it back in January 2007.

In other words, if Branchflower is correct, Tibbles failed to pass on to his colleagues in the governor’s office his knowledge of Kopp’s reprimand, setting them up to hire, for a high-profile position, a man with a significant black mark on his record.

It’s also possible, of course, that Branchflower has erred in writing that the governor’s office didn’t know about Kopp’s reprimand when it hired him. Perhaps Tibbles did pass along the information, but Palin and her aides, in their haste to find a replacement for Monegan, decided to overlook it and hire Kopp anyway, trusting that the issue would not resurface.

So either Palin’s chief of staff was jaw-droppingly incompetent, or she knowingly hired as the state’s top law enforcement official a man who had been reprimanded for sexual harassment, then lied to the press about it.

And when Chuck Kopp resigned his post, what did he have to say for himself? How did he apologize to the people of Alaska? “The recent media firestorm has been detrimental to the Department of Public Safety mission, the citizens of Alaska and my family,” Kopp said. “While I have been portrayed in a negative light, my personal worth is now in the person of Jesus Christ.”

A big slab of “blame the media” with a side helping of Jesus Christ. All because of a vetting problem.

So, was it:

a) incompetence

b) bad judgment followed by a cover-up

c) a and b

Have we taken this quiz before?





Sarah Palin’s Vetting Problem.

31 08 2008

On my first post that surreal morning when I awoke to the news of Sarah Palin’s unlikely choice as VP candidate, before I had even made a cup of coffee, or rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, I said, “Didn’t McCain hire a fact checker?”  Was she vetted….at all?

It’s been over 48 hours, and now….seriously…was she vetted at all?  The possibility that the answer is no, is almost inconceivable.  But we Alaskans have found out that background checks are sometimes optional when hiring important government officials.  Just look at Palin’s unlikely and inappropriate choice of Chuck Koppto replace Dept. of Public Safety Chief, Walt Monegan, the center of the “Troopergate” controversy.

As soon as Kopp appeared before the public….literally on day one, something smelled fishy.  The revelation of a previous sexual harassment charge and subsequent reprimand and reassignment reared its ugly head. And Alaskans were left asking ourselves, “Didn’t Palin vet this guy?”  If she did, obviously not well enough.  Kopp’s explanation, after his now iconic denial, “I am not a sex harasser!” was that no one had asked him, so he didn’t volunteer the information…figuring that everyone already knew.

So, is it possible that since no one askedSarah Palin if she was in the middle of an ongoing ethics investigation, she just didn’t feel obligated to volunteer that information?  I mean, no one ASKed her if she was, or what the investigation might find, or if there were any other skeletons in her closet that might come out and start dancing in front of the national media.   I mean all you’d have to do is read the Anchorage Daily News and there it all is.  They obviously knew and it didn’t bother THEM…so….why mention it?  And sitting in the private jet, flying out to accept the nomination, did she think “Oooo.  It’ll sound really good if I said I stopped that Bridge to Nowhere!  I’ll say THAT. No one will check, I bet.”

Because, now, a scant two days after the nomination, the “gates” are already starting to swing open:  Troopergate, Bridgegate, and now Babygate.  Babygate?  I’ve stayed away from this one because, frankly, I don’t know anything for sure, and I don’t want to speculate about the smarmiest of ‘gates’ yet.  I’ll leave that to the professionals at the National Enquirer.  The rumors, though,  say one of two things:  either Sarah’s new baby is actually NOT her baby at all, but her 17-year old daughter Bristol’s baby, or the new baby is hers, but Bristol, a senior in high school is now pregnant.  Ugh, either way.

If the first case is true, then the grandma governor has been perpetrating a blatant lie on her constituents, and now the world.  If the second is true, then what 44-year old woman in her right mind would have travelled so late in her pregnancy and after her water broke and labor had begun, delivered a speech in Texas, boarded an Alaska Airlines flight with a stop-over in Seattle and bypassed the two main Anchorage Hospitals that are minutes from the airport to deliver in the local hospital near her home, almost an hour away by car.  In either case, bad judgement.

But now the cleanup crew has started.  Palin’s praise of the Obama energy plan that was on her website?  Scrubbed.  Photos on the website during the time period she was supposedly to have been pregnant? Allegedly scrubbed too.  John McCain’s organized vetting team?  Supposedly on their way to Alaska right now.  (Note to McCain staffers:  Vet FIRST…it works out better that way.)  The National Enquirer?  Supposedly all over this already. Photos of the pregnant (or not) Palin are circulating everywhere. One thing is certain, the rumor mill has started, and there’s no getting this toothpaste back in the tube.

And if it’s true that Palin did not undergo a vetting process, then what are we all to think of a presidential candidate, the oldest ever, with a history of cancer, choosing a running mate he had spoken to only once before offering her the nomination, and not even vetting this candidate?  If this is true, then the choice was not ‘bold’ or ‘exciting’ or ‘a maverick choosing a maverick’.  It demonstrates not just poor judgement, but recklessness.

Keep watching because the Palin onion is going to be peeled in the national media in the coming weeks, layer by agonizing layer.  Welcome to Veepgate.

UPDATE:  Press releases of Palin’s response to Obama’s energy plan still available HERE (Hat tip to Clever Else)





The Great Alaska Kopp-Out.

25 07 2008

Word is out.  Chuck Kopp, the new Commissioner of Public Safety is now the new ex-Commissioner of Public Safety.  That was quick.

Yesterday, despite the outing of past allegations of sexual harassment, Kopp said he had absolutely no intention of stepping down,  and today a resignation?  Methinks there may have been more skeletons knocking on that closet door, or the Governor sharpened up the axe and handed him his head wrapped in a pink slip, with the opportunity to “resign”. 

The excuse reason given at the joint press conference today?  Play along.

A)  “This is too much of a distraction from more important things we need to be focusing on.” 

OR

B)  “This has been too hard on my family.”

The answer is both, but with a twist.

“The recent media firestorm has been detrimental to the Department of Public Safety mission, the citizens of Alaska and my family,” Kopp said. “While I have been portrayed in a negative light, my personal worth is now in the person of Jesus Christ.”

Ahh.  We’ve got a big helping of “Blame the Media” and a dash of Jesus thrown in for good measure.  Nice try.

The Governor’s thoughts?

“We’re going to move forward now,” Palin said. “This has been brutal on a good family.”   “This has been a tumultuous week in the Department of Public Safety, and as your governor, I apologize.”

Move forward?  I’m sure that’s Palin’s firm hope, but there are still investigations to come about why Monegan got fired in the first place.  This little diversion was not the main issue.  This was just the lesson on fully vetting potential commissioners before you hire them.   But, Sarah does win a style point for the apology.  More than I can say for Kopp.

Now, the question is…who’s next?  Hey, I hear Walt Monegan is looking for a job…





Good Cop/Bad Kopp? The Palin Train Wreck Continues.

25 07 2008

 

Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any more smarmy…  Prepare for the next chapter of Sarah-Gate. (sliding glasses down on nose, and opening book)  Are you comfortable?  Good.

When we last left the Governor, she was busy denying allegations that she fired the popular and beloved Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan becuase he refused to dismiss Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten, her ex-brother-in-law of questionable character,  and currently embroiled in a nasty custody battle with her younger sister.  She said neither she nor any staff or family member pressured him to axe Wooten.  But Monegan said she, her husband, and staff members did.  Hmmmm.  Investigation by the Legislature?  Very likely.

The scene today features the Governor (again) and also the man slated to replace (Good Cop) Walt Monegan as Commissioner of Public Safety – Chuck Kopp.  It seems that Chuck Kopp has a skeleton in his closet in the form of a sexual harrassment complaint filed against him when he was Chief of Police in Kenai.  Despite his little gem of a quote, “I am not a sex harrasser”, what Kopp describes as “hugging a friend”, was apparently not interpreted as such by the woman on the receiving end.  She complained of unwanted hugging and a kiss, and the result was an investigation, an official letter of reprimand, and Kopp being removed as her boss.  One wonders in this day and age, how anyone doesn’t know that it’s not OK to hug or kiss people who work for you.  But I digress…

So, the people of Alaska asked themselves, “How could this be?  How could a man be offered up to the state to lead the Department of Public Safety, and deal with matters of….well….the LAW, and have this nasty accusation, investigation, letter of reprimand, and reassignment hanging over his head?  And this guy is supposed to replace the likes of Walt Monegan?  What was the Governor thinking?”

We hear the answer today from Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow.  Here’s how it plays out in my screenplay:

Leighow: The Governor didn’t know.

Chuck Kopp:  Yes, she did know.  She knew about the whole thing in 2006 when I was on her transition team.

Leighow:  Well, she didn’t know about the letter.  She knew about the other stuff but thought it went nowhere.  Nothing was said about a letter.  The Governor found out about it at the press conference on Tuesday, just like everyone else.

Chuck Kopp:  Well, no one ASKED me about the letter.  It just never came up in the interview. So, I didn’t mention it.

HUH?  Sooo…..no one bothered to ASK him, and he never offered.  When hiring people, doesn’t one generally ask about such things?  Don’t you do a background check?  Don’t you want to know if you’re going to have egg on your face, and risk public humiliation and scandal?  If the media managed to pry it out of him using the strongarm tactic of…asking…wouldn’t it have worked for the Governor?   The mind reels.

Back to Kopp. According to the ADN:

He does not consider the letter of reprimand a validation of sexual harassment. He considers it a “letter of instruction” for future dealings with employees.”

He does not consider the letter of reprimand a validation of sexual harassment. He considers it a “letter of instruction”???   Yeah, and Walt Monegan wasn’t “fired”, he was just offered a lesser position and turned it down.  And it’s not really a rainy summer….there’s just a lot of water falling from the sky.

Well, that’s all we have time for tonight (closing book).  We’ll see what happens in the next chapter.  Will the investigation into the firing of Walt Monegan be declared?  Will Chuck Kopp’s name ever actually be submitted to the Legislature for confirmation? If so, what then??  We’ll just have to wait and see.

 





Palin’s Power Trip – The Plot Thickens

19 07 2008

Break out the hip waders.  The mud storm over the Governor’s mysterious termination of Walt Monegan continues, with no signs of letting up.  The more we learn, the smarmier it gets.

Recall yesterday, when Governor Sarah Palin released a statement that included the following:

To allege that I, or any member of my family, requested, received or released confidential personnel information on an Alaska State Trooper, or directed disciplinary action be taken against any employee of the Department of Public Safety, is, quite simply, outrageous.

Well, newly ex-commissioner Walt Monegan has spilled the beans, stating “They can’t fire me twice.”  According to the Anchorage Daily News, Monegan says he was pressured to fire Trooper Mike Wooten, a cop of questionable character, and ex-husband of Palin’s sister Molly.  Ugly divorces are nasty, but ugly child custody battles are nastier.  Ask anyone who’s had the misfortune of being involved in one, or knowing someone who has.  We Alaskans are now privy to more information than we ever needed or wanted to know about Mike & Molly and the divorce from Hell.  It’s all out there in black & white – Drunk driving, foul language, illegal moose hunting, extramarital affair, neighbors peeking in windows, private investigators, death threats, snowmachining on sick days, verbal abuse, and yes, dry tasering an 11-year old so he could see what it felt like. 

But the real issue at hand is:  Did Palin fire Walt Monegan because he refused to can Trooper Wooten, and settle an old personal Palin family score?

She says no.  He says maybe.  Discuss.

According to Walt Monegan, in addition to discussions with Palin herself, he was pressured by Palin’s former chief-of-staff (and current campaign manager for Sen. Ted Stevens) Mike Tibbles, Department of Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer, and director of boards and commissions Frank Bailey.  And what did these three have to say?  The classic trifecta:  No comment.  It never happened.  I don’t recall.

‘First Dude’ Todd Palin, who admitted having a conversation about Wooten with Monegan right after he was hired said, “I know I’ve never told him to fire Wooten.”  So….does Todd Palin actually have the power to ‘tell’ or ‘not tell’ the Commissioner of Public Safety to do ANYthing?  Disturbing also is the fact that this meeting with Monegan took place in the Governor’s office.  So, although it wasn’t “telling”, it sure sounds like “pressuring”, especially in light of the fact that calls, complaints and coversations had been occuring from the point of his hire until a month or two before his unexplained termination.

Let’s go back and parse the Governor’s statement.

To allege that I, or any member of my family, requested, received or released confidential personnel information on an Alaska State Trooper, or directed disciplinary action be taken against any employee of the Department of Public Safety, is, quite simply, outrageous.

This gets back to the telling vs. pressuring point.  No one may have “directed” that Wooten be fired, but there’s a lot of grey area, and plenty of room for inappropriate behavior on the part of the Governor, her husband, and her staff.  They march on a slippery slope.

And if, as reported, material from Wooten’s confidential Administrative Investigation file is now in the hands of Palin’s sister Molly McCann and her attorney, wouldn’t that mean, contrary to the Governor’s statement, that a member of her family DID receive confidential personnel information on an Alaska State Trooper?  So far, no one can imagine how that can possibly have happened (blink blink).  We wait for the next leak.

Speaking of parsing words… Monegan’s replacement, Chuck Kopp, answering questions about a sexual harrassment charge in his past says (my emphasis),  “There is absolutely nothing in my record that I’m ashamed of.”   Stay tuned.





Palin’s Power Trip – Off With Their Heads!

17 07 2008

Is this it? I’ve been wondering what it will be that sinks the so-far unsinkable ship of Sarah Palin. So far, despite little chinks here and there in her teflon armor, Sarah the Magnificent has emerged fairly unscathed. Until now, perhaps.

There’s been all sorts of buzz and inuendo and rumor about the real reason Sarah Palin fired Commissioner of Public Safety, Walt Monegan. The administration’s official reason was that they wanted to “go in a new direction”. Alaska Public Safety in a new direction? Like….letting the criminals go free? Abandoning rural Alaska to fend for itself? Martial Law? Anyone who’s been paying attention has been pretty impressed with Walt Monagan’s integrity, work ethic and genuine commitment to the Troopers and the people of Alaska. New direction? We didn’t get it.

Palin buddy and brand-new Commissioner of Public Safety Chuck Kopp, (who replaces Monegan, the ‘chucked cop’) made a statement mumbling something about “looking forward to moving forward” and not commenting on prior leadership…which is code for “There’s a story here, and I’m not going to tell you what it is.” That usually means the story is worth knowing. Bloggers and other interested parties began pricking up their ears, and waiting for the inevitable leak.

Well, the leak turned out to be a tsunami in the form of a blog post from Andrew Halcro titled “Why Walt Monegan Got Fired: Palin’s Abuse of Power.” I strongly urge everyone to read it. Here’s the gist of what he claims.

Palin wanted Monagan to cut the budget for the State Troopers. Already underfunded and stretched to the breaking point, he said no. (gasp)

But the second, and far creepier reason, the one that surely will be setting the blogosphere on fire and accelerating her fall from the ivory tower if it is substantiated, is this. Let me preface this by saying that no…I’m not making this up. Stay with me. Sarah Palin’s younger sister Molly used to be married to Mike Wooten. Mike Wooten has been an Alaska State Trooper for the last 8 years. Molly and Mike went through a messy divorce. The Palins were not pleased. Halcro relates a truly bizarre series of events that can only be described as ‘stalking behavior’ committed by the Palin family against Trooper Wooten. Notes on windshields, threatening phone calls, Todd Palin (Sarah’s husband and Alaksa’s ‘First Dude’) taking pictures and sending them to Wooten’s supervisor. There were a total of 25 complaints filed against Wooten. Each time, an Administrative Investigator would review the complaint, find it unfounded or not substantiated, and dismiss it. The other side of the story is that Wooten is no angel…extramarital affair, dry tasering his step-son (he says at his step-son’s request),…..it goes on and on. Another Alaskan political bad movie.

Fast forward to 2008. Now, Sarah Palin is the Governor.

“Twice in the last few months complaints were filed by the governor’s office accusing Wooten of improperly using his patrol car. Both times he was visiting his kids at school and both times he had permission from his sargent. The last complaint came in May after Todd Palin saw Wooten pulling out of the school parking lot and six days later the complaint landed on Wooten’s supervisor’s desk.

During the legislative session this past spring, Palin reportedly told Commissioner Monegan to fire Wooten because he was giving Troopers a bad name. However Monegan said he would do no such thing.

A short time afterwards, it was discovered that confidential material in Wooten’s Administrative Investigation file had been released to his ex-wife and her attorney. This drew outrage from the Public Safety Union as well as the Commissioner. AI files are strictly confidential and can only be released with the written signature of the Trooper, but yet no one could explain how the detailed confidential information was released.

Reportedly, both Commissioner Monegan and Colonel Audie Halloway warned that if they found out the file was leaked by the governor’s office, they would pursue charges.

Unfortunately, Commissioner Walt Monegan has been fired and word on the street is Colonel Audie Halloway’s days are numbered as the new commissioner brings in those who won’t object when the governor uses the Troopers as her own private security force.”

You may now pick your chin up off the desk.

Where will this all go from here? Local mainstream media is picking up the story, as is the Associated Press. Will this little nugget be featured in the upcoming Wall Street Journal article on Palin? How about People Magazine? Is the image of the squeaky-clean, hockey mom who hands out cash forever sullied? Have her VP chances just gone up in a puff of smoke? Will she be thrown under the Straight Talk Express Bus?? One can only wait and speculate. In addition to Halcro, Celtic Diva is hot on the trail with a report from the latest press conference, as is Anchorage talk radio, including KUDO 1080am which should have plenty to say tomorrow.

Governor Palin herself has just released a statement. “critics have taken this to rediculous extremes”, “false allegations”, “outrageous” and my favorite, “It is unfortunate, as we seek to address a growing energy crisis in this state, that this matter has been raised now.” Yes, perhaps it would have been more polite to wait until we have a gas line to talk about why Monegan was fired? Nice try. You can read the governor’s entire statement HERE.

And to Ethan Berkowitz and Diane Benson, I say, lean back, enjoy the popcorn and see how Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell fares in his House race if Palin goes from Queen of Light, to millstone around the neck.

We live in interesing times.