Governor fires state's top cop

Police commissioner says news he would be replaced unexpected

Posted: Monday, July 14, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Walt Monegan, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, has been fired.

Gov. Sarah Palin appointed Monegan after her election in 2006. On Friday, Palin's chief of staff told Monegan he was being replaced.

Monegan, a former Anchorage police chief, said the news was unexpected.

"If the governor was upset with me for one thing or another, it had never been communicated to me," he told the Anchorage Daily News.

Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the governor is now at the halfway point of her term and it's natural for her to make changes.

The governor wanted the public safety department headed in a new direction, Leighow said.

"The governor feels that the department of public safety could be better served under new management," she said.

Monegan was offered a different job, as executive director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, but he turned it down.

This is not the first time Monegan has lost his job. In 2006, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich asked him to leave his post as police chief early. At the time, Begich had just won re-election and was restructuring department leadership.

The head of the union that represents state troopers, one of the agencies Monegan oversaw, said replacing him was the wrong move and that troopers were happy with department leadership "for the first time in years."

Palin has called for cuts to the public safety budget, while Monegan wanted more troopers, said John Cyr, executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association.

"Her basic mission is to cut the basic cost of government," he said. "I understand that. But when you do that with public safety, that means that people are less safe in their homes."

Leighow said she wasn't aware of budget decisions playing a role in Monegan's dismissal and that Palin is looking to trim spending across all departments.

"The governor supports fully funding trooper positions," Leighow said.

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