Sunday, 24 January 2010

Sarah Palin's gift to Alaska

Alaska has very strange laws and their judges make some strange decisions. Andree McLeod filed a lawsuit in October 2008 regarding Sarah Palin's use of private e-mail accounts to conduct state business. This practice keeps communications out of the public records. Not an example of open and transparent government, which was one of the cornerstones of Sarah Palin's campaign for governor of Alaska.

Not surprisingly, Andree lost. Superior Court Judge Patrick McKay ruled in favour of former governor Sarah Palin. It may not have any bearing on this case, but it's interesting to know that Judge McKay has two charges of drunk driving against him. He was arrested in 1988 and again in August 2009.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Patrick McKay has been charged with drunk driving.

The officer put the 56-year-old judge under arrest and took him to the Anchorage Jail where he was later released on $500 bail. His arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 14.

This is the second time McKay has been charged with drunk driving. In 1988, he was convicted and served the mandatory three days in jail.

McKay has been a Superior Court judge since 2005 when he was appointed by Gov. Frank Murkowski.


One issue Sarah Palin exploited during her campaign in 2006 was ethics. Her first legislative action after taking office was to push for a bipartisan ethics reform bill. But openness and transparency didn't apply to her and neither did the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. When Alaskans took issue with their governor's conduct, they were branded partisan, malicious and frivolous in Sarah Palin's many irate press releases.

One of the reasons she gave for her resignation last summer was the number of such "malicious" attacks, even though she got away with the majority of the ethics complaints against her and managed to spin the ones where she had to repay the state for her children's travel on the state's dime, for example.

Sarah Palin said she was resigning for the good of Alaska. Her legacy of "putting Alaska's interests first" continues to have precisely the opposite effect. Her histrionics inspired some lawmakers to propose changes to the ethics rules, which would result in less transparency, less accountability and avoidance of responsibility in the part of public officals. They proposed that any ethics complaints should remain secret until the Personnel Board decided to publish their findings and that any person filing a complaint should remain bound by confidentiality or risk having it summarily dismissed.

Sarah Palin made quite a song and dance about the huge financial burden imposed on herself and her family as a result of the ethics complaints against her. In order to remedy that, she started a "legal" fund to collect money from her misguided supporters. The trust document was written in such a way as to make the money available to herself and members of her family for any purpose. Ironically, the fund is frozen, pending the outcome of an ethics complaint.

Some of the changes proposed by the lawmakers above would make any worries about taking responsibility and footing the bill for wrongdoing a thing of the past.
(2) 9 AAC 52.040 is proposed to be changed by adding new provisions establishing standards for the conditions when the acceptance or approval of state money to pay on behalf of, or reimburse a public officer for, expenses incurred for professional legal services to defend against a complaint brought under the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act (AS 39.52) may occur, including when the public officer is exonerated of any violation of the Act.
The much maligned but tenacious Andree McLeod took exception to this proposal:

The AEBEA states that: (7) compliance with a code of ethics is an individual responsibility; thus all who serve the state have a solemn responsibility to avoid improper conduct and prevent improper behavior by colleagues and subordinates. That individual responsibility includes the individual's choice to seek legal council, thereby, they alone should be responsible for expenses incurred by their choice. Secondly, these past 15 months or so have shown, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that there is an inherent and systemic breach in the way and manner ethics complaints are processed, and summarily dismissed. The biased and subjective manner in which the Department of Law deals with ethics complaints is one that must be drastically changed before any state funds are appropriated to cover legal expenses of public officials who conduct themselves unethically. Instead, they are protected and defended by a flawed and corrupt complaint process where the person(s) investigating the misconduct of other public officials is situated within the chain of command of their bosses and their bosses' bosses. The reports that dismiss every complaint I have filed are the best examples that illustrate the dysfunctions that occur when "the Fox Watches the Hen House".

Another proposal is about gifts of travel:
5) 9 AAC 52.060 is proposed to be changed to clarify the application of AS 39.52.130, addressing gifts to a public officer. 9 AAC 52.060(b) currently permits agency heads to determine that a gift of travel received by an employee traveling on state business is a gift to the state, not a personal gift to the employee. The proposed amendment would clarify that the individual employee does not have to submit a disclosure for pre-approved state travel relating to offers by others made in advance to pay travel expenses of a state employee to facilitate state business.
Andree chips in again:

"The important question I have is: Had this regulation (5) been in place already...would it have meant that Kris Perry would NOT have had to claim as gifts all those gifts of travel, lodging, and meals she claimed from the McCain and Chambliss campaigns?"

I submit by example: Kris Perry claimed over $15,000 in gifts for travel, lodging, etc. from the McCain and Chambliss campaigns while she "facilitated state business" and traveled from one end of the country to the other on the very partisan very political Republican vice-presidential campaign trail. Were this regulation in place…the public would NEVER have known the extent of those gratuities that were offered and accepted by this governor's staffer. Keeping these kinds of gifts a secret and under the cloak of secrecy is unacceptable, does not serve the Alaskan public's better interests, and totally violates the intent and objectives of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act, AND the Alaska Public Official Financial Disclosure Act.

These changes happen to come along at the same time a governor decided to pursue interests other than being governor. The premise of most of my complaints is found within the many conflicts of interests that resulted because of Sarah Palin's extra curricular activites that had absolutely nothing to do with her role as governor. These changes to the AEBEA regulations do nothing to better define, refine, avoid and resolve those conflicts of interests.

Andree, unlike the ex-governor, sticks to her guns when it comes to the true purpose of ethics rules:

The AG and his staff's time would be better spent on finding ways to make the ethics complaint process free from the biases inherent in the system currently in place….and strengthen the statutes, policies, procedures, and protocols in place to address the chaos that ensues when a governor chooses to put their personal and political interests before the interests of the public when they make deals with other Outside interests and abandon the Office of the Governor and its constitutional duties…to follow their self-proclaimed providential destinies. These regulation changes above merely weaken the AEBEA and its intent…and should be thrown out. Time would be better spent to find ways to better enforce the good ethics laws already in place.

Sarah Palin made a mockery of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. The lawmakers had a golden opportunity to address some of the flaws in the act, such as governors being investigated by their own appointees, a clear example of conflict of interests. Instead, they are doing their very best to ensure that present and future governors and other public officials can indulge in unethical behaviour in lawful secrecy and be paid by the state to do so.

Only in Sarah Palin's Alaska!

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