that this total was arrived at by adding up attorney hours spent on fending off complaints — based on the fixed salaries of lawyers in the governor’s office and the Department of Law. The money would have gone to the lawyers no matter what they were doing. The complaints are “just distracting them from other duties,” Murrow said.
In other words, while these lawyers might have been free to do other legal work for the state, the ethics complaints have apparently not had the real world impact Palin has claimed, and didn’t drain money away from cops, teachers, roads and other things.
Sargent's and Erickson's work was up by 12:05 p.m. Wednesday, Alaska time. Alaska blogs and the Anchorage Daily News followed with a cascade of stories that were updated as new information became available.
Late Wednesday, another out-of-state source, the Christian Science Monitor, came up with a story written by Alaska-based reporter, Yereth Rosen, that made a very important point:
If public-records requests are expensive, the Palin administration’s practices help make them so, says Gregg Erickson, a Juneau economist and former state revenue official who publishes a specialized newsletter on Alaska budget issues.
“They have taken the position that a lawyer has to look at every single record before its release. If a lawyer has to look at it and review it, and maybe write a legal opinion on it, well, that’s going to be expensive,” says Mr. Erickson. Court fights also add to the costs, he says.
Citizens and journalists who sought public records have been socked with huge bills. At one point, the Palin administration presented the Associated Press with a bill of $45 million for copies of official state e-mails sent to Palin’s husband, to the McCain campaign, and to federal agencies.
That practice predated Palin’s ascension to the national stage.
In December 2007, when University of Alaska marine scientist Rick Steiner sought reports detailing state biologists’ assessments about then-impending Endangered Species Act protections for polar bears, he received a $468,784 bill from the state. After a few months of haggling, Dr. Steiner turned to the Bush administration. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which had its own copies of state biologists’ reports, readily complied.
“They didn’t charge me a dime,” Steiner says. The reports showed that state biologists, contrary to Palin’s assertion, did not dispute a threatened listing for polar bears, Steiner says.
That and other episodes prove the Alaska Public Records Act should be reformed, says Steiner. Citizens cannot be expected to pay huge fees to view public documents, and secrecy exemptions should be narrowed, he says. Even if the state bears financial costs, he says, “that’s the cost of open government.” Given modern information technology, “it shouldn’t be that expensive at all.” [emphases added]
Alaskan economist Gregg Erickson had made similar observations to those disclosed to Rosen, in an op-ed in the ADN last week:
As Palin's first Juneau press conference as governor was breaking up, she called my wife and me aside. With apparent sincerity she asked us why we had had so much trouble getting public records from previous governors: "Why wouldn't they want you to have the full story about what they were doing?" It struck me at the time as both naive and refreshing.
Two weeks later I discovered a memorandum from a senior state attorney revealing that a top Palin aide had instructed him to keep documents secret from our newsletter even if the legal basis for doing so was weak or problematic. A few weeks after that, Meghan Stapleton, Palin's then-press secretary, told me they were keeping the documents secret because they public might misunderstand them.
Since then Palin has become the most secretive governor in Alaska's history. This month she refused to release even her official schedule or reveal when she is leaving the state. Questions from reporters are often simply ignored, or she answers a different question than the one asked. All the while she continues to mouth the claim that her administration is "open and transparent."
Alaska bloggers, led by Mel Green at Henkimaa, and AK Muckraker at The Mudflats, along with Sean Cockerham at the ADN, are tearing the Palin administration's blatantly dishonest meme to complete shreds. Contrast their honest work with that of Jason Moore and Lori Tipton from KTUU TV:
The cost of complaints just keeps adding up.
New numbers released from the governor's office show the state has spent nearly $2 million investigating ethics complaints against Gov. Sarah Palin and her staff.
These numbers were released to back up Palin's claim that these frivolous ethics complaints have cost taxpayers too much, and one state lawmaker hopes to help change that.
"It cost Alaskans $2 million, your dollars, my dollars, everybody's dollars," said state Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage.
Lynn says he wants to make it harder to file ethics complaints against the governor and is working on a bill aimed at discouraging frivolous complaints by requiring confidentiality.
"What's happening now is people are filing what appear to be frivolous complaints," Lynn said. "And it's all over TV, it's all over the radio, the newspaper and everything before they've had a chance to weigh in on it."
Lynn says Palin's popularity could be fueling more ethics complaints, and with his bill a case would only be made public if the charges are substantiated.
"It appears it is more for political agenda rather than trying to get to the bottom of some ethics complaint," Lynn said.
Some have criticized Lynn, saying whether valid or not, a complaint should not be silenced.
II. Independent commentator and talk show host, Shannyn Moore (her weekly program airs today on KBYR from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.), was attacked this week by Palin's personal attorney, Thomas van Flein, for fully reporting what she has been hearing. Then, Moore was attacked in a very weird ad defamatory op-ed in the ADN that went far over any line, real or imaginary, that Moore was being falsely accused of crossing.
Friday evening Public Television in Anchorage's Anchorage Edition didn't do much better than Moore and Tipton, with KTUU's Steve McDonald and he ADN's Rosemary Shinohara both failing to mention the questions about Palin's dubious claims. The only panelist to acquit himself on the matter of Palin's questionable record on ethics was independent commentator, Paul Jenkins.
Alaska Republican Party propagandist, JoAnn Grimes, wrote falsely that Moore had claimed the FBI is investigating Palin or the Palins. Grimes goes on to print a long string of slander and lies. Why the ADN allowed this beats me.
Moore was awarded the week's Wings of Justice Award, from the prestigious progressive blog and news aggregator, BuzzFlash, and she has certainy not been deterred by Grimes' slanders and van Flein's threats.
III. The signs, so far, are that incoming Gov. Sean Parnell will be as conservative as Palin, perhaps more so. The good news, I guess, is that Parnell has a history of honesty and accessibility. We'll see if this hesitant, fairly modest man can restore Alaskans' confidence in his high office, and erase or patch over the scorched earth remnants of the most divisive political figure in Alaskan, or even recent American, political history.
Alaska's progressive bloggers will be following him closely. hopefully, we'll also be holding all three of our national legislators' feet to the fire on health care reform.
image - contest winner from The Mudflats