Wasilla councilman sanctioned after trashing hotel room

August 23, 2011 

Wasilla City Councilman Steve Menard is apologizing but will not resign after the city was billed for a Sitka hotel room that Menard apparently drunkenly trashed while on city business.

The Wasilla City Council is requiring Menard to pay the city back the entire cost of his trip to Sitka and forbidding him from any more travel on city business until his term expires in October 2013.

Menard was staying at the Westmark in Sitka earlier this month for a meeting of the Alaska Municipal League. The hotel reported that damage to his room included urine on two mattresses and a chair, vomit on the carpet, ruined bedding, and a burned mattress. It's not clear exactly how it was burned but the hotel bill said there had been smoking in what was a non-smoking room.

The Wasilla City Council met in a closed session at the end of its regular meeting Monday night to decide what to do about it. Before the session began, Menard gave a brief statement, according to an audio recording provided by the city.

"I would like to start off by ..." he began, followed by a long pause. When he resumed his voice was breaking slightly. "Apologizing publicly for my actions in Sitka. The City of Wasilla, my friends and family, I'm truly embarrassed and sorry, truly sorry."

"I sit here before you a humbled man 11 days sober and working a program. And only through the grace of God I will redeem myself. And I thank you," he said.

Menard is a member of one of the best known and most influential families in the Mat-Su. His mother, Linda Menard, is a state senator who represents Wasilla. His father, Curt Menard, was a longtime state legislator and friend of the Palin family who was serving as the Matanuska-Susitna Borough mayor when he died in 2009 after an extended battle with cancer.

Then-Gov. Sarah Palin appointed Steve Menard to fill out his father's term on the Alaska Railroad's board of directors. He is no longer on the railroad board but Gov. Sean Parnell last year appointed him to a public seat on the Alaska Royalty Oil and Gas Development Advisory Board for a term that expires in 2015.

The board does not meet often and hasn't since 2004. It reviews new contracts between the state and refiners for purchase of royalty oil, the state's share of the crude produced on state lands.

Menard, who did not return messages from the Daily News, is a waiter at Evangelo's Restaurant in Wasilla, according to his October 2010 filing with the Alaska Public Offices Commission and a Tuesday interview with a fellow council member, Dianne Woodruff.

Menard had worked in the administration of then-Gov. Palin as an administrative assistant to Palin and later a special assistant to the labor commissioner. Menard was on the Wasilla City Council from 2005 to 2008, before running unsuccessfully for mayor.

He won another city council term last year. The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman editorialized that Menard should admit that he needs help as well as resign from the council after what happened in Sitka. And Wasilla resident John Dewar told the council at Monday night's meeting that he believed Menard was "not fit for public office."

But Anne Kilkenny of Wasilla, who gained national attention in 2008 when her long email casting doubt on Palin's leadership went viral on the Internet, urged the city council on Monday night to show compassion for Menard.

"I ask you, who among you is without sin? Let him be the first to cast the stone. If your goal is to protect and preserve the good reputation of the City of Wasilla then I suggest that you look at enacting an ordinance which forbids the consumption of any quantity of alcohol while on city business," she said.

The Westmark Sitka sent the city of Wasilla a $350 bill for repairs to Menard's room. Westmark Hotel manager Kathy Adams would not comment on Tuesday.

She'd earlier told the Frontiersman that "we actually went light on the charges" and that the room was out of service for three days as a result of what happened. She said her housekeeping manager wanted to charge for new beds.

Adams had told the Frontiersman that Menard had told the hotel to "bill it to the city" and that the Westmark was on the verge of calling the police because the city initially would not pay the $350. The city decided to pay and had Menard reimburse the cost.

The City Council on Monday night directed Menard to also pay back to the city the entire $1,404 cost for him to attend the Sitka meeting, which other Wasilla council members attended as well.

The council also won't allow Menard to travel on city business for the remainder of his term.

Menard has declined to describe exactly what happened in Sitka. He has had documented difficulties with alcohol in the past. Menard was convicted in 2004 for driving under the influence in Fairbanks and in 2007 in Anchorage on a charge of "drunk on licensed premise." He told the Daily News while running for mayor in 2008 that he'd addressed the issue by no longer drinking.

Fellow Wasilla council member Woodruff said in a Tuesday interview that Menard "is a person with an issue and hopefully this will get him the help that he needs." Woodruff said she believes that Menard is now involved in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Woodruff, an outspoken critic of Menard's former boss, Palin, said she has always found Menard to be a good council member.

"He has come up with a lot of good ideas for the city and he's passed some meaningful legislation. I've never seen him do anything that I thought was self-serving, that wasn't meant for the good of the community. So I'm hoping this is a reasonable solution in which he's been properly sanctioned and gets the help he needs and the city benefits still from his expertise," Woodruff said.


Reach Sean Cockerham at scockerham@adn.com or 257-4344.

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