Wasilla mayor sets rules for national media

ATTENTION: With former mayor in spotlight, city faces increased exposure.

September 3, 2008 

WASILLA -- It was Day 5 of the new order, the one where former mayor and current Gov. Sarah Palin is running for vice president of the U.S. and every media outlet in the country has set its GPS coordinates for the Mat-Su Borough.

Mayor Dianne Keller, swamped with requests for interviews and information, called a press conference in self defense Tuesday to establish some ground rules. She didn't bother to invite locals.

About 15 reporters showed up at Wasilla's Iditapark near the fire station and peppered Keller with questions from seats at picnic tables. A parks and recreation crew swept the ground, then watched from a distance.

CBS and ABC news were there. The L.A. Times, Politico, the Washington Independent and at least four Japanese outlets.

The rules? If you want to ask questions about Palin, file requests in advance, 10-minute interviews, mornings only. Any records requests require a form filed with the city clerk. And no long-distance phone calls will be returned.

"We are a small city with a small staff and our residents and business community expect us to fill their needs as well as the needs of the media," Keller said.

From the picnic tables, reporters asked for basic details about Wasilla, about how Palin's political career got started, how she treated staff when she was mayor. And what about local taxes?

Keller said she never hung out with Palin but intends to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket. With little prompting, she repeated the McCain campaign talking point about Palin having "more executive experience than anybody on the ticket."

Being mayor of Wasilla is akin to running the country, Keller said: Both involve picking good advisors.

A reporter asked Keller about rumors Mayor Palin once wanted to pull certain books off library shelves.

Keller told him to file a records request.

SIDESHOW

The Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce held its normal lunch forum Tuesday and introduced four Wasilla City Council candidates. Normal if you don't count the camera crew from The Today Show and NBC News that showed up to record the excitement.

The candidates shared their views on remedying traffic problems and dealt with a misbehaving microphone but the high spot was executive director Cheryl Metiva pulling the Chamber's weekly prize winners.

Cool under pressure, Metiva read off ticket numbers with a camera squared inches from her face.

"What do you think, folks, is this my best side?" she vamped as Emmy-award winning NBC reporter John Larson leaned against a nearby wall. In another life, Larson was news director at KTUU-Channel 2 in Anchorage, so he is used to Alaska ways.

The prizes? Newly printed "Sarah rocks the vote 2008" mugs and "Sarah's Got Game" t-shirts. At the sight of them, the crowd cheered and whistled -- all dutifully caught on tape for national viewers.

STEADY

Keller's new rules for dealing with media questions about Palin went into effect Tuesday afternoon, but city clerk Kristie Smithers and her staff started juggling questions and requests from reporters as soon as they opened for business.

"Just steady, not overwhelming," is how Smithers described traffic at city hall Tuesday. Nearly all the questions put to Smithers, deputy clerk Jamie Newman and a temporary brought in to share the load, involved Palin's term as mayor.

Requests for actual records have to be submitted in writing and the city has 10 days to respond, but Smithers said her office had filled 17 of the 18 requests received by 3 p.m.


Find Daily News reporter Zaz Hollander online at www.adn.com/contact/zhollander or call 352-6711. Find Rindi White online at www.adn.com/contact/rwhite or call 352-6709.

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