Investigations to cost state

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2008

The on-going investigations of Gov. Sarah Palin mean a sizeable amount of state dollars will soon be in the pockets of a few lawyers.

Exactly how much though, is still unclear.

The state Legislature has allotted $100,000 for its investigation into Palin's firing of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, an affair that's become known as Troopergate.

Palin said Monegan was fired for policy reasons. Monegan said he possibly was fired because he wouldn't dismiss the governor's former brother-in-law, trooper Mike Wooten.

The Legislature's contract pays investigator Steve Branchflower $15,000 a month, plus expenses.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, who heads the council that voted for an investigation, said he thinks the total cost of the Legislature's investigation will wind up being a little more than $50,000.

Elton said that's money well spent.

"I think it's worth it for the Legislature, and I think it's worth it for the governor," Elton said, adding that a proper accounting of the facts surrounding Troopergate will help dispels any rumors and lies circulating about the players involved. "You're much better off with the facts than you are with the blogosphere," Elton said.

Elton said he had no comment for any other state expenditures involving investigations into Palin.

In response to the Legislature's investigation, Palin has hired a private attorney to represent her. Tom Van Flein, of Anchorage, has an initial authorization to charge the state up to $95,000 for his work.

Van Flein said he doesn't know what his final bill for the state will be.

"We are working hard," he said.

Palin also had the attorney general's office do an inquiry into the Monegan firing. And the attorney general's office told Elton on Tuesday that it might fight an attempt from the Legislature to subpoena members of Palin's staff.

Officials at the state Department of Law did not return multiple calls seeking how much state money the department has spent on Troopergate.

In addition to the Legislature's investigator and the governor's attorney, the state will have to pick up the tab for any investigators hired by the Personnel Board, which oversees ethics complaints made against executive branch employees.

When complaints are made against the governor, the Personnel Board is required to hire an independent investigator to examine and pursue an investigation when warranted.

In recent weeks there have been three ethics complaints made publicly against Palin to the three-member Personnel Board, all of whom were appointed by former Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski.

The first ethics complaint filed was early last month by Andrée McLeod, a self-described Republican watchdog, who said she found evidence through a public records request that Palin staffers played favorites in getting a campaign supporter a state job.

Palin disagreed with the allegation, saying the state corrected outdated job requirements that prevented a qualified candidate from moving through the hiring process.

On Sept. 1 the governor filed an ethics disclosure with the Personnel Board. Palin's lawyer has argued that the Personnel Board should have the primary jurisdiction to investigate the Monegan firing.

And the Public Safety Employees Association, the trooper's union, filed a complaint on Sept. 3, seeking an investigation into whether the governor or her staff illegally disclosed the contents of the personnel records of trooper Wooten.

How much state money will be paid to those independent investigators hasn't yet been made public, according to Nicki Neal, the state personnel and labor relations director.

She said her department doesn't have a set budget for independent investigators because they aren't hired very often.

But, Neal said, "we're going to pay for it regardless of how much it winds up costing."

Anchorage attorney Thomas Daniel, who was hired by the Personnel Board to investigate former Alaska Attorney General Gregg Renkes, said the Troopergate investigation will probably cost between $25,000 and $100,000.

The state paid Daniel $58,656.72 for his investigation into Renkes more than three years ago, according to Neal. That investigation was not completed.

Neal said the Personnel Board had the authority to consolidate complaints into one investigation if they are closely enough related.

Personnel Board member Debra English said she could not discuss whether the Troopergate-related complaints would be investigated by a single investigator. The Personnel Board had a private meeting Thursday "to contract for legal services."

• The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or

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