Alaska editorial: Inquiry into Monegan issue must be finished by November election

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008

The investigations of Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan - both the Legislature's and the administration's investigations - need to be finished before the November presidential election. Perhaps that way the voters will end up with some mutually agreed-upon facts with which to judge this curious mess.

The governor's decision to cooperate with her administration's personnel board inquiry, while not surprising since she asked that it be launched, was welcome news Monday. As long as the cooperation is immediate and thorough, her decision should help reveal the story of what happened and to do so prior to Nov. 4.

In a country where the financial system is topsy-turvy, oil prices are jumping like popcorn and thousands of troops are fighting overseas, this might not seem like an issue worthy of all the attention it is getting. After all, the governor has the right to fire or reassign a commissioner. So, initially, it didn't seem all that important whether she did so because the commissioner wasn't on the same policy page or whether she did so because the commissioner resisted firing (or believed he couldn't fire) a bad actor in his department. The governor was in a win-win position. If it turned out that she had pressured Monegan to fire the Alaska State Trooper, her ex-brother-in-law, we could have all cheered, just based on the facts confirmed by the trooper's union representative. How could the troopers have accepted the presence of this person in their ranks?

Now, however, the governor is insisting that Monegan's lack of action with regard to the trooper had nothing to do with her decision to move him along. If the investigations conclude otherwise, it will not reflect well on the governor's veracity.

The legislative investigation was tainted when the senator assigned to organize it made some unwise, speculative comments about what it might uncover. It didn't help to learn that the actual investigator hired by the Legislature is married to a longtime, supportive associate of Monegan's from his days on the Anchorage police force. It is a small state, but, still, this could have been done more carefully. The result is that the governor, her husband and her staff have declined to appear before the legislative panel, which has said it will finish its work by mid-October.

But since the legislative panel apparently won't have access to some key players, we should wait for the report from the governor's preferred investigating agency, the state personnel board, before making conclusions. The personnel board seems like a reasonably apolitical forum, but there is no denying that the board members work for the governor and so the appearance of impartiality is compromised here as well. Of course, all three members of the board were appointed by the former administration, one which displayed little affection for Gov. Palin. She reappointed one of the board members, and one donated to her campaign. Maybe that's balanced by the fact that the personnel board's investigator has donated campaign money to several Democrats.

There could be no end to such second-guessing of motives and agendas. The time for that is over, though. The public just needs some answers.

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