Last Friday, Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan went into a meeting with Governor Sarah Palin's acting chief of staff thinking he was going to be discussing security for the governor's picnic. He left the meeting without a job.
The abrupt firing of Walt Monegan was a shock not only to him but all of the men and women of the Department of Public Safety. The way Monegan was fired raises serious questions about the governor's true motives.
So why was Walt Monegan fired out of the blue? Why would Governor Palin send a surrogate to fire her Public Safety Commissioner and then not have a decent explanation for the public? And why would Monegan's replacement be telling people three days before Monegan got fired, that he was going to become the new Commissioner of Public Safety?
Walt Monegan got fired for all of the wrong reasons. Walt Monegan got fired because he had the audacity to tell Governor Palin no, when apparently nobody is allowed to say no to Governor Palin.
Monegan said no, he couldn't cut his budget because his State Troopers were already being stretched to the limit and public safety suffering. He said no, he couldn't cut his budget because fuel costs for planes, boats and patrol vehicles soaring, while crime in rural Alaska was putting more demands on the Troopers transportation system.
But more alarming than any budget battle, Monegan said no to firing a State Trooper who had divorced Governor Palin's sister because the guy was being maliciously hounded by Palin's family.
And not just that; Monegan's firing came after his Colonel had to reprimand the governor's office for meddling in department personnel affairs.
Monegan's budget battles
When Walt Monegan was appointed, he realized the deep problems at DPS including low morale, understaffed detachments and the lack of a funding commitment to a long term vision.
He also recognized, that along with the strategic plan his department developed and introduced just months ago, there needed to be a commitment of resources to follow through on the public safety needs for Alaskans.
"We want out employees to know that help is on the way; that we are planning to grow our staff to provide both the needed services for this vast state, and the appropriate training necessary to do it", Monegan wrote in his 2008-17 Strategic Plan.
But the Palin administration wanted Monegan to go in another direction. They wanted him to cut corners on a budget that had already fallen behind over the last decade. Under Former Governor Murkwoski there was significant investment made to try and catch up with growing costs but Palin's budgets have again started to starve the agency.
To make matters worse, the change to the state's retirement benefit program adopted by the legislature in 2004 has had a negative effect on the departments ability to recruit new Troopers.
Meanwhile, since Governor Palin appointed Walt Monegan in 2007, she has spent less than one hour in face to face discussions with him about the critical public safety issues in Alaska.
And her fy09 budget for public safety clearly shows the results of her lack of understanding about the challenges that DPS faces.
According to the Legislative Finance Agency, the public safety budget in fy09 was cut by .06% from what the governor originally proposed while the governor's own budget increased 22.6% over what she originally proposed.
The problem for Palin was that Monegan was vocal about his concerns about the growing problems in rural Alaska due to alcohol and drug abuse and recognized that the state needed to invest more in protecting the public.
A few months ago, Monegan warned that Troopers were stretched so thin with no funding support coming from the administration that they might not be able to respond to all calls and even suggested the department prepare a statement for when those situations occurred
Monegan and his department were getting too far out in front of Palin, acting in ways that were independent and contrary to the governor's wishes. Palin needed to replace Monegan with someone who would be seen but not heard while doing the governor's bidding.
That's why Palin replaced Monegan with Chuck Kopp from Kenai, an old Palin family acquaintance who is more likely to follow the governor's line and never say no.
Monegan, ever the good cop, even advocated for a safer Alaska after he was relieved of his duties. In an interview with KTUU on Sunday, two days after he was unceremoniously fired by one of Palin's surrogates, he stated that he informed the administration of a few things that should not be ignored, including the current economic situation in Alaska's rural communities, where he believes poor fishing returns could potentially cause social unrest.
"Thefts increase. Domestic violence increases. When you apply a lot of stress on a situation, money and fuel oil are an absolute hope at some point. And unless we band together as a government to address it head on it could be very bad," Monegan said.
Walt Monegan was fired because he fought too hard. Governor Palin fired Monegan because she understood too little and wanted a puppet as commissioner.
But there was another reason that contributed to Monegan's ouster; a more alarming reason.
Trooper Mike Wooten: Being hunted by the governor
In the fall of 2004, Trooper Mike Wooten had decided the differences between he and his wife Molly of four years had grown to the point of being irreconcilable. His wife just happened to be the younger sister of Sarah Palin.
The beginning of the divorce proceedings set off a chain of bizarre and chilling events that has continued through today. During that time it has resulted in the governor and her family trying to ruin the career of an eight year Alaska State Trooper that has served his state on the SERT Team, Motor Unit and DUI Team.
Beginning in spring of 2005 and for the next ten months, over 25 formal complaints were filed by Palin and Heath family members against Trooper Mike Wooten. From drinking while driving his patrol car to making threats to shooting a moose without a permit.
According to Trooper records, Sarah Palin said that in January and February of 2005, Wooten was drinking while driving. After investigating the complaint, the investigator found that Palin never actually saw what she reported.
In another complaint, Sarah's father said that Wooten made threatening remarks. Again, the investigator found there was no probable way that it could have happened.
In all cases except one, the charges were ruled unfounded after an internal investigation. And the one charge that was valid, Wooten immediately admitted to.
In 2003, Wooten, his wife and a friend were moose hunting. Upon spotting a moose, Wooten instructed his wife to shoot the moose since she had the permit, she refused so Wooten did.
After carting the moose back to town, Sarah's father actually butchered it in his garage, and Wooten shared the meat with both Sarah and Todd Palin as well as her parents. Two years later, during the divorce battle, the family filed a complaint alleging that Wooten had taken that moose illegally. At least they waited until they finished the meat to file the complaint against Wooten.
But it didn't stop there. Threatening phone calls, private detectives that were hired to follow Wooten, notes left on windshields, Todd Palin taking pictures then submitting them to Wooten's supervisor, all designed to intimidate Wooten into backing off from demanding equal child custody rights.
But every time they filed a spurious complaint, the Troopers would bring in an Administrative Investigator who after seeing more than two dozen of these ridiculous and time consuming complaints stated that in all his years he had never seen such a shotgun pattern against one officer.
Meanwhile in court, Wooten prevailed at every turn as Judge Suddock quickly realized there was a concerted effort to damage Wooten. Finally the judge warned that if any of their actions caused Wooten to lose his job or pay in anyway, Molly and her family would be held liable.
After the divorce was final in late 2005 things settled down, until last fall.
At the request of the court, Wooten and his ex-wife were instructed to return to re-visit the custody schedule. Once the paper work started in April of 2008, the complaints and the intimidation started all over again.
But now Wooten wasn't dealing with just Sarah Palin, he was dealing with Governor Sarah Palin.
On April 23, 2008 in written testimony to the court, Palin denied ever making claims against Wooten, when in fact she had emailed a State Trooper Colonel in April of 2005 accusing Wooten of driving drunk.
Twice in the last few months complaints were filed by the governor's office accusing Wooten of improperly using his patrol car. Both times he was visiting his kids at school and both times he had permission from his sargent. The last complaint came in May after Todd Palin saw Wooten pulling out of the school parking lot and six days later the complaint landed on Wooten's supervisor's desk.
During the legislative session this past spring, Palin reportedly told Commissioner Monegan to fire Wooten because he was giving Troopers a bad name. However Monegan said he would do no such thing.
A short time afterwards, it was discovered that confidential material in Wooten's Administrative Investigation file had been released to his ex-wife and her attorney. This drew outrage from the Public Safety Union as well as the Commissioner. AI files are strictly confidential and can only be released with the written signature of the Trooper, but yet no one could explain how the detailed confidential information was released.
Reportedly, both Commissioner Monegan and Colonel Audie Halloway warned that if they found out the file was leaked by the governor's office, they would pursue charges.
Unfortunately, Commissioner Walt Monegan has been fired and word on the street is Colonel Audie Halloway's days are numbered as the new commissioner brings in those who won't object when the governor uses the Troopers as her own private security force.
The most tragic part of this whole story is Trooper Mike Wooten. For the last four years his children have endured inexcusable stress at the hands of the governor and her family. The same governor who has been on television telling Alaskans how important it is to love your kids and spend time with them. Truth be told, Governor Palin should watch her own television commercial.
For eight years, Trooper Mike Wooten has served the people of the State of Alaska by putting his life on the line to protect them from harm. Today the question is; who will protect Wooten from the blatant abuse of power now that the governor has free hands.
Commissioner Walt Monegan was fired because he fought for his employees, he fought for a safer Alaska and he didn't care if he had to fight Governor Palin to do it.
In the mean time, God help Trooper Mike Wooten.