Palin appoints commissioner search committee

Megan Holland

Gov. Sarah Palin has appointed a committee to help select the next Public Safety commissioner, her office said today.

The six-person committee includes two former law enforcement officers, a current officer, two people from the governor's staff and a rural Alaska mayor.

Those named are: Dean Guaneli, a former chief assistant attorney general for the state; John Murphy, a retired U.S. marshal and former head of the Alaska State Troopers; special agent Bob Cockrell; Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Martha Whiting; the governor's chief of staff, Mike Nizich; and her special assistant on public safety, Randy Ruaro

The formation of the committee comes after weeks of political turmoil for the governor following her sudden and largely unexplained firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan on July 11, and the hiring of Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp to take his place. Kopp resigned July 25 following disclosure of a 2005 sexual harassment case and letter of reprimand against him.

When challenged over the Monegan firing, Palin said she wanted a "new direction" for Public Safety, including increased efforts to fill vacant trooper positions and to fight drugs and alcohol in the Bush.

Legislators have opened an investigation into whether Palin fired Monegan because he resisted pressure to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a Palmer-based trooper involved in a nasty divorce from Palin's sister.

The review committee will select two or three people for the governor to consider for the job, said Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow. There is no set timeline, she said.

In the interim, Deputy Commissioner John Glass is heading the department, which has more than 850 employees, including the Alaska State Troopers.