As they prepare to finally cough up more than 24,000 pages of Sarah Palin's emails gleaned from her brief, odd stint as governor, Alaska officials tut-tut they are going to withhold 2,415 pages from the public. Why? Those communications are privileged, personal or somehow exempt from Alaska's disclosure laws. Or so they say.
How convenient. Guess where the good stuff will be. No, really. Guess. Now, you might wonder, as I do, how emails sent or received by a governor or her minions on state time, using state resources, yakking about state business can be personal or exempt from disclosure laws. But state officials say there is the right to privacy thing and the attorney-client privilege thing and the "deliberative process" thing. Apparently -- and it was a shock to me -- there is no public's right to know thing.
Who made these decisions? It turns out state lawyers and folks in the governor's office -- where some, it turns out, worked for Palin but now work for Gov. Sean Parnell, who was Palin's lieutenant governor -- made the calls on those 2,415 emails. Not an impartial panel of citizens and lawyers, or folks lacking direct or indirect ties to the authors of the emails or any court. Just insiders.
Activist Andree McLeod, a much-maligned Palin critic, has been seeking the emails forever.
"I don't hold out much hope that all of these emails haven't been scrubbed of any incriminating information," she told the Daily News.
Who in their right mind would?
It would seem to me, and I'm no lawyer, that if a governor offers even a grocery list or a snarky attack on state time, using state resources, it should be -- tough noogies -- the public's business. And privileged? Gimme a break. Given the opportunity, how often will officials choose to confuse privileged with embarrassing? Too often, I'm thinking.
Despite a public records law that insists generally on the release of requested public documents within 10 days, the emails in question were requested nearly three years ago by the news media and various individuals as Palin bolted from Alaska to run for vice president with another faux Republican, then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.
The Palin administration, by any standards the antithesis of not only good government, but open government, as well, did what it could to shield its boss. It threw up a Green Bay Packers-class defense and stalled until the clock ran out. Oh, there are too many public records requests, officials lamented. We do not have the computers or the software or the time or the people or the expertise," they said. It will cost a million dollars per request, they said, because it is just so, so complicated. Oh, me. Oh, my. When Palin bailed, the Parnell administration picked up the ball.
You would think in a state with a $40 billion Permanent Fund, a $13 billion annual operating budget, a $3.1 billion capital budget and $15 billion or so stashed in various accounts that somebody could find money for a computer system to retrieve, sort out and, if necessary, redact, emails and public documents quickly when they are requested. You would be wrong.
It is easier, I suppose, to invent excuses for keeping the documents secret and retaining cost as a chilling factor. Those who asked for the records, for instance, must pay $725 for copying each of the 55-pound boxes of documents -- plus hundreds more for shipping.
Count me among those who thought the Parnell administration would redact some of this and trim some of that, but in the end it would go out of its way to ensure the emails finally -- finally! -- were released in a form that makes sense; that we'd learn new, important details about Palin and her brief administration. Recently I thought that. OK, I was a dummy. I'm betting we'll be lucky to read in the released emails: "M ... told Todd ... green ... waterwings," or "... fat, bald, son ... media ... bat," or "I ... his ... stupid ... hair."
Of course, if you want more, you can appeal administratively or go to court at great expense.
All of that points to this: Alaska's public records law is not protecting the public's right to know a thing. It must be fixed. This lengthy, ongoing email sham is the kind of thing that corrodes the public's trust in government.
More than that, it stinks.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.