Confidential records will be shared in new Palin probe

UNANIMOUS: Panel gives independent counsel access.

October 17, 2008 

A legislative panel agreed Thursday to share confidential personnel records with the lawyer who is leading a second abuse-of-power investigation into Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of her public safety commissioner. The Legislative Council voted unanimously to provide the confidential documents to the Personnel Board's independent counsel, Tim Petumenos, who is investigating Palin's firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan.

Petumenos did not attend the brief session in Anchorage on Thursday and did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Last week, an investigator for the Legislative Council found that Palin was within her right to fire Monegan but had violated ethics laws by trying to get her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired.

The probe began before Palin became the GOP vice presidential nominee, but it has taken on broader political implications since then.

Palin originally agreed to cooperate with the Legislature's investigation. But after becoming John McCain's running mate, she said the probe had become too partisan and filed a complaint against herself with the Personnel Board, saying it has the proper authority to investigate ethics allegations against the governor.

Democratic state Sen. Kim Elton, chairman of the Legislative Council, said it was important to share the confidential information to ensure that critical data was not segregated. The council published its findings last week but not the confidential matter.

"I can't speak to whether it will speed up Mr. Petumenos' investigation," Elton said. "I do have to believe that the public component of the report contains most of the information that is pertinent, but conclusions that were drawn in volume one -- the public component -- are backed up by some of the material that has to remain confidential by law."

Under the agreement, neither Petumenos nor the Personnel Board are allowed to reveal contents of the confidential documents without approval from the Legislative Council. That last-minute condition bothered Republican state Rep. Bill Stoltze, who participated by teleconference but didn't vote.

"I just thought we shouldn't put another restriction of confidentiality on this thing," Stoltze told The Associated Press after the meeting. "I thought it was unnecessary and it put out the perception that we're trying to create yet another barrier to public access."

A report by Stephen Branchflower, the council's investigator, concluded that Palin unlawfully abused her power by trying to have her former brother-in-law fired, but it was largely toothless. State lawmakers have no authority to sanction Palin for ethical misconduct. That's up to the three-member Personnel Board, which is appointed by the governor.

Two members are holdovers from the previous governor and Palin reappointed the third.

Members of the board can be fired by the governor for cause.

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