Is the "new direction" for the Department of Public Safety really new?
On Saturday, in the wake of the storm over her firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, Gov. Sarah Palin released several details of a future plan, saying it was the fresh direction she wanted to take the department. The plan includes efforts to hire more Alaska State Troopers and fight alcohol and drugs in Bush Alaska.
The plan was released after legislators, the public and the media called on Palin to explain why she fired Monegan and replaced him with Kenai police chief Chuck Kopp on July 11.
But while Monegan and current troopers employees say many of the plan's highlights are old ideas already being implemented, and that some have been around for multiple administrations, Palin says the ideas need new leadership because she wasn't seeing results from Monegan
"I thought we were on the right track," Monegan said. "I didn't know there were issues."
Palin, though, disputes that. She says she discussed her desires with Monegan multiple times. "I expressed that we wanted results," she said late Monday. "When we are halfway through a term, we've got to make sure the right people are in the right place."
Under Monegan, the department had written a long-range strategic plan that called for annual operating and budgeting plans, a long-range staffing plan, and a recruitment and retention plan, among other reports.
And for the first time since 1999, the department wrote an annual report that was sent to the governor's office last month, Monegan said.
"The boss didn't like it initially, I can tell you that," Monegan said. "I did the cover letter, and the cover letter said, 'Boss, in line with your open and transparent policy, this report contains thorns as well as the rose. It's our shortcomings in areas that are challenged, that we are focusing on. But we want to be upfront with people about it.' And the response was, 'Oh, it makes me look bad.' "
The report has not been signed off on by the governor, and therefore, not released.
Palin, though, said she had several questions about it which Monegan never answered.
"The fact that Mr. Monegan prepared a detailed draft written report of the troopers' activities in 2007 does not change the bottom line or lack of results," she said.
Among the ideas the governor's office released on Saturday was focusing recruiting efforts on National Guard troops and other military members. Recruiters, though, say that has been a longtime strategy of the department.
An idea to first fill the jobs for which troopers are often called to sub in for, such as court service officers, is not a new one either, said Col. Audie Holloway in a phone interview on Monday. He had approached Monegan about a focused plan on it just last month, he said.
And an idea to study the issues of alcohol and drug abuse and crime, particularly in rural Alaska, was already in the works, said Capt. Keith Mallard, who heads the troopers Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement. Two years ago, the department commissioned a study on that from the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
On Monday, Sharon Leighow, spokeswoman for the governor, said the new direction wasn't meant to drastically change the department. "We are not reinventing the wheel. This is not new rhetoric. What is different is the new activity and the new approach to solve existing problems."
Recruitment and alcohol and drugs continue to be problems, the governor said. There are still more than 50 unfilled trooper positions. That number has not changed since she became governor. "We need to have more than plans, not just talk," she said.
Monegan said he and Palin met one-on-one four times in the 17 months he served to discuss what was happening in the department. "She's a busy lady," he said. "If you were to talk to the other commissioners, all of us don't have enough face time with the boss and understandably so, she's so zeroed in on (the gas pipeline). And, her popularity - she is always in demand."
Palin vigorously disputed that. "Walt and I spent much more time together discussing the future and direction of public safety, and my desire for immediate action," she wrote in an e-mail.
"We also talked a heck of a lot about societal ills in rural Alaska," she said late Monday.
She said in addition to regular cabinet meetings, there were dozens of discussions at events throughout the state, time spent together traveling to the Bush, and regular phone calls.
"While I have been busy with AGIA, I pay attention and take care of the state's business on all other fronts as well, and will continue to do so."
Palin has been accused by political rival and administration critic Andrew Halcro of unfairly firing Monegan because he would not fire her ex-brother-in-law, a Palmer-based trooper.
Monegan last week said that he felt pressure from the Palin family and multiple members of the Palin administration to fire Trooper Mike Wooten. Monegan said pressure came from Palin chief of staff Mike Tibbles, Department of Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer and director of boards and commissions Frank Bailey.
On Monday, he said there were others as well, but he would not say who.
The governor denies any wrongdoing, and says she welcomes any questions on the matter. She and her husband, Todd, had complained about the trooper in 2005 but did not try to get him fired since she became governor in late 2006.
Tibbles is not commenting. Leighow said Bailey never had such a conversation with Monegan. And Kreitzer could not recall.
"I would like to think people would stand up and remember what was discussed," Monegan said during a KUDO radio interview Monday. "I can only say it happened."
Monegan has said he doesn't think Wooten was the only reason he was fired but wonders if it was part of the reason.
Monegan last week said his response to them at the time was to back off.
"I kept trying to explain to them why they shouldn't be talking to me about it. ... All personnel actions, if there is ever a lawsuit and I am subpoenaed, I will, and every one should, tell the truth about what was said. ... I cautioned everybody that those conversations are all discoverable. ... That was my way of trying to back them off. Shorten the conversations."
Legislators are calling for a formal inquiry.
On the KUDO show, Monegan said: "Am I accusing the governor of anything? ... No. I think the biggest thing that keeps me up at night is why."