Also published at my web magazine, The Public Record.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is maneuvering to stop an investigation into an alleged abuse of power, in part, by claiming that she has an unlimited right to pry into the personnel records of all state employees, including the state trooper who divorced her sister.
Palin’s new position was summed up in a Sept. 9 letter from Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg to the state legislature, which has authorized an independent counsel probe into whether Palin and her staff illegally accessed confidential personnel records of her ex-brother-in-law, state trooper Mike Wooten.
The probe also focuses on Palin’s firing of state Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan in July after he refused to fire Wooten.
Colberg’s argument is that Palin can access confidential files of any state employee she chooses and thus the allegation that she got unauthorized access to Wooten’s personnel records – by whatever means – is moot.
“It does not violate the State Personnel Act for Department of Administration Staff to provide confidential personnel information to the governor or her staff — or for the governor or her staff to receive that information — in the course and scope of their official duties,” the attorney general wrote.
“The governor or her staff may, in the course and scope of their official duties, review a confidential personnel file to ensure, for example, that an employee is adequately supervised, appropriately evaluated, and appropriately disciplined. In appropriate cases, the governor may also direct the termination of a state employee.”
This legal analysis appears to be an attempt to provide Palin and her staffers with legal cover for allegedly disseminating confidential information about Wooten in a campaign to get him fired.
However, John Cyr, executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association which represents Alaska State Troopers, disputes the notion of that Palin can have unlimited access to all state employee records.
“It is illegal to access employee medical and personnel files unless it’s on a ‘need to know basis,’” Cyr said about Palin's assertion of this unlimited authority. “This is outrageous.”
Palin’s new defense line became necessary when it turned out that an earlier claim that Wooten’s personnel file was public record through his divorce/custody case with Palin’s sister turned out to be untrue.
Palin, her private attorney Thomas Van Flein and McCain campaign officials had said Wooten released his confidential medical and employment records as part of those proceedings. Palin’s office even posted Wooten’s Feb. 7 agreement to release those records as part of the case discovery.
Learned Derogatory Information
Palin and her husband, Todd, presumably learned some derogatory information about Wooten from her sister, Molly McCann, who received the information via the discovery process.
However, the Palins appear to have been mistaken that Wooten’s personnel record had been released into the official court record where it would become public information.
Wooten’s personnel file was never introduced as evidence in the divorce/custody case because he entered into a settlement agreement with his ex-wife over custody of their young children, according to Palin’s sister’s attorney, Roberta Erwin.
“It doesn’t become part of the court record unless you file exhibits; we never got that far,” Erwin said in an interview.