State Troopers file ethics complaints

Union calls for investigation into Gov. Palin's disclosure of personnel file

Posted: Friday, September 05, 2008

The Alaska State Troopers' union wants the state to investigate Gov. Sarah Palin and her staff to determine if they broke state rules or ethics laws by illegally disclosing the governor's ex-brother-in-law's confidential personnel file.

The Public Safety Employees Association released a copy of a complaint it said it filed with the attorney general's office Wednesday. The PSEA represents Trooper Mike Wooten, a key player in the political drama known as Troopergate that's ensnared the governor in questions of possible ethics violations.

Palin has said Wooten - who was suspended for five days in 2006 for misconduct, including illegally shooting a moose and using a Taser on his stepson in a "training capacity" - is a rogue cop who has made threats against her. Wooten's union, the PSEA, has said Wooten, who is stationed outside of Anchorage, has been unfairly targeted by the governor because he went through a bitter divorce with her sister.

PSEA Executive Director John Cyr said "somebody in the Governor's Office has an unhealthy appetite ... for Trooper Wooten's records."

He said the complaint had been in motion for weeks and was not in response to Palin recently being picked as Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate.

The complaint said Palin; Frank Bailey, director of Boards and Commissions; Frank Thompson, division director of the Department of Administration; and Mike Monagle, acting director of the Division of Workers' Compensation in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, should be investigated for allegedly breaking a state ethics act that provides substantial penalties against those "who unlawfully disclose an employee's personnel records."

"Criminal penalties may also apply," the complaint said.

The complaint focuses largely on a recorded phone conversation in February in which Bailey tells Trooper Lt. Rodney Dial there was some "really funny business" in Wooten's workers' compensation claim and that Wooten had "lied on his application."

"(Wooten) said that he didn't have any physical impairments and come to find out he was rated in the military, and that was discovered after he retired (from the military)," Bailey said.

When asked by Dial where he'd gotten that information, Bailey responded: "Well, I'm a little bit reluctant to say but ... over in (the Department of Administration) is ... where we hold workers' comp." He added that Wooten "was caught on an eight-mile snow machining trip ... so we collected statements that we forwarded on to workers' comp there. And so we started seeing the ... application from that point."

"And that's while - while he was a trooper?" Dial asked.

"Correct," Bailey said.

"Really? OK," Dial said.

A retired director of the Department of Administration's Labor Relations Division, Art Chance, said when he worked for the state he never had legal access to state employees workers' compensation records because they were highly restricted. He said Bailey, whom Chance described as a lower-level aide to the governor, never should have had access to Wooten's personnel files.

"I'm pretty confident Frank Bailey broke a law," said Chance, who said he is a Palin supporter. "If I'm a supervisor in the division of widget making, I don't have the right to personnel information outside the division of widget making."

Two weeks ago Palin suspended Bailey, with pay, after she made the phone call public. Palin said she suspended Bailey because it could be perceived that he was applying undue pressure to have Wooten fired on her behalf. Bailey has said no one asked him to make the call.

Palin is under investigation by the state Legislature regarding allegations she tried to pressure her former commissioner of Public Safety, Walt Monegan, to fire Wooten and then fired Monegan after he refused.

The governor has denied any wrongdoing and has said Monegan, who was fired in July, was dismissed for policy reasons. Her private attorney, Thomas Van Flein, also filed a complaint with the state's personnel board, asking for it to investigate the Monegan firing in lieu of the Legislature. In that complaint, Van Flein accused the state troopers of doing a "negligently or deliberately slipshod" investigation into complaints Palin and her family made against Wooten.

Palin's spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, directed questions regarding PSEA's complaint to Van Flein, who did not return calls seeking comment.

But NBC news reported Thursday that the McCain-Palin campaign said Palin had never improperly accessed Wooten's records, and Todd Palin, the governor's husband, had given Bailey information about Wooten that came from divorce proceedings.

"If that is the case, then it may not be a ethics violation. It is just utterly disappointing," Cyr said, adding he still thought an investigation was warranted.

Monagle, who is accused in the PSEA's complaint of trying to obtain Wooten file for the governor two weeks ago but denies those claims, said confidentiality laws limit who has access to workers' compensation records to employees, employers, insurance companies and claim administrators.

As a state employee, Wooten's workers' compensation file could legally be accessed by the governor and her staff - his employers, Monagle said.

"I mean, she is the chief executive officer," Monagle said.

But in practice, Monagle added, only state employees who have a legitimate need for workers' compensation files have access to them, and they aren't distributed "willie nilly."

Monagle said workers' compensation records are held by the Department of Labor and that information is sometimes shared with the Department of Administration's Division of Risk Management.

Neither Bailey nor his lawyer, personal injury attorney Greg Grebe, could be reached for comment Thursday. Bailey was supposed to appear before the Legislature's investigator Wednesday to be deposed, but did not. Grebe was quoted by the Anchorage Daily News as saying the governor and the Legislature needed to agree on who has jurisdiction to investigate the Monegan firing before his client testifies.

The next step in the process for the PSEA's complaint is for the an independent investigator to be hired to review the charges and look into the allegations, according to Assistant Attorney General Judy Bockmon. She said she couldn't comment on any particular complaint.

Bockmon said any complaint involving the governor is referred to the state's personnel board, which is the same board the governor's attorney filed a complaint with on Tuesday. The board must hire an independent investigator to look into the charges and make a report back to the board, Bockmon said. If any evidence of a potential crime was uncovered, it would be forwarded to an appropriate law enforcement agency, she added.

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