This site is devoted to increasing public awareness of police misconduct and detainee abuse in addition to providing support for victims of police misconduct and detainee abuse. If you or someone you know have witnessed abuse or have been abused, please let us know.


This site is an archive of older content.

Please feel free to visit our new effort at

Thank you for visiting.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Problem With The Palin Troopergate

UPDATED: 7:08pm 10/10/08

I doubt there are many readers of this site who are not familiar with the ethics investigation into allegations that people within Alaska governor Sarah Palin's administration put undue pressure on public safety commissioner Walt Monegan to fire Palin's ex-brother in law over allegations of police misconduct that started during a contentious divorce between Alaska State Patrol Trooper Mike Wooten and Palin's sister. Allegedly, after repeatedly refusing to fire Wooten, Palin fired Monegan over supposed budgetary differences.

Of course, many may wonder where the problem is, after all, there are accusations of police misconduct that have been leveled against Trooper Wooten so the governor should supposedly be able to discipline him as she sees fit, right? And if her own appointed public safety commissioner refuses to do it, she should also be able to replace him with someone that would, right?

Well... no.

The reason why such allegations would be, at the least, a lapse of governmental ethics and, at worst, an outright violation of law are because of the nearly universal (in America at least) protections that civil service employees have against practices of cronyism and partisanship that have existed since the late 1800's. The concept of civil service protections were developed in response to the system of political spoils that encouraged the practice of cronyism and patronage within the US government whereupon politicians would replace civil service employees and appointed officials with the people who helped put them in office after every election.

There were many problems with such a system in that it was very susceptible to corruption and could be subverted into a system designed to punish the opponents of a given politician while exposing the public to risks associated with incompetence within public office. After all, imagine a mayor who could replace a police department with a bunch of friends and political allies and then use that department to harass his opponents at will. (Of course, this is still alleged to happen on occasion, but for different reasons I'll get into in another post.)

The system of public service employee protections is supposedly designed to simply ensure that a civil service employee or appointed official is never fired for political or personal reasons and may only be disciplined or fired for "just cause", that being a demonstrable and provable charge of misconduct or other justifiable reason, like a layoff for budgetary reasons.

This is done by forcing public officials to hold Loudermill hearings upon sustained charges of misconduct which allow the charged employee to make a case against the charges claimed against him or her and an appeal process that allows the employee to plead his or her case before a quasi-judiciary commission of non-partisan officials which, if successful, can force the government to rehire the employee with back-pay or otherwise penalize the government for disciplining a civil service employee without demonstrable just cause.

Of course, many argue that this system as become perverted after being staffed primarily with officials who have bias towards civil service employees and consistently side against government officials who are merely trying to clean up corruption within public service departments, such as the practice of staffing public safety commissions with ex-police officers who side with police officers accused of misconduct. Others also charge that such practices should be a two-way street, preventing civil servants from partisan activities that would hold elected officials beholden to those civil servants, (a matter of allowing public employees to elect their own boss), such as the way police unions allow police officers to use their office to help elect public officials who would be in charge of their departments, which is something these protections do not do.

However, these protections do exist for a reason, to prevent the manipulation of public offices by politicians for political and personal gain and the allegations laid against Sarah Palin's administration amount to just that, the use of her office for personal gain by way of the efforts on her behalf by her family and staff to punish a civil service employee for divorcing Palin's sister and, when that failed, by her administration's firing of an appointed official without just cause due to his refusal to perform a possibly illegal act of disciplining an officer without demonstrable just cause.

This is the heart of the issue, of the charges laid against Palin's administration, that it punished an appointed official for refusing to do something quite questionable, and possibly illegal, on that administration's behalf... all because of a possibly personal vendetta.

Regardless as to whether you agree with the system of protections that civil service employees enjoy which private sector employees do not, they do exist for a reason and, in fact, for the very same reason that Sarah Palin's administration is accused of violating. Even though these protections may make it difficult for governments to discipline police officers for alleged acts of misconduct, they are meant to protect our system government from manipulation by politicians for personal gain and we would be more at risk of corruption if that system didn't exist.

In the end, the investigation launched by the bipartisan committee of legislators in Alaska found that Sarah Palin did, in fact, abuse the authority of her office by way of her efforts to have officer Wooten fired. It was not her dismissal of Monegan that was a violation of Alaska's ethics statutes, but her efforts to bypass civil service protections in an effort to fire that Wooten which led to her firing Monegan which, ultimately, was sadly ironic since Monegan was attempting to prevent the governor from violating that statute by informing her that Wooten could not be fired based on the accusations of misconduct that had already been investigated and addressed.

To do so was, ultimately, an act of abusing a public office for personal gains which is what civil service protection statutes were designed to prevent.

No comments:

Clicky Web Analytics