Alaska Governor Sarah Palin didn't violate ethics rules when she fired the state's public safety commissioner, a state investigation concluded.
The Republican vice presidential nominee was exonerated yesterday by a three-person panel charged with investigating ethics complaints against state employees. She was accused of improperly firing Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.
"There is no probable cause, and indeed there is not a scintilla of evidence, to support an Ethics Act claim against the governor and the complaint against her should be dismissed for lack of probable cause," said the report issued late yesterday by an investigator for the state Personnel Board.
A separate probe conducted for a state legislative panel reported Oct. 10 that Palin abused her power in violation of state ethics rules.
Monegan contended he was dismissed July 11 because he refused to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, who was involved in a divorce and custody battle with Palin's sister. Palin, 44, maintains she fired Monegan over budget disagreements.
"The governor has testified that she did not seek the termination of Trooper Wooten after she became governor," according to the report by Tim Petumenos, the panel's investigator.
Regarding the timing of the report, Petumenos said, "If you think this is being done to favor the governor politically, it would have been more favorable to have it released days ago." He added, "I wish it had been released before. I had hoped we would release it last week."
Bill McAllister, a Palin spokesman, said she is "gratified that after four months that she is now finally vindicated."
McCain's presidential campaign released a statement from Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, saying the personnel board "provided a fair and impartial review."
Petumenos is a registered Democrat. The Personnel Board is made up of three political appointees, all of whom were named by the previous governor.
The earlier investigation conducted for the state legislative panel found that Palin abused her authority and violated state ethics rules by letting her husband, Todd, use the governor's office to press for Wooten's firing. Palin refused to cooperate with that investigation, and the McCain campaign denounced it as partisan.
Even so, the Oct. 10 report said Palin's dismissal of Monegan was a "proper and lawful exercise" of her authority to fire department heads for any reason.
At the heart of the dispute is a years-long feud between the Palin family and Wooten. She and her family accused Wooten of using a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson, shooting a moose without a permit, drinking on the job and other acts of misconduct, all of which allegedly occurred before she was elected governor in November 2006.
An investigation by the Alaska state police before Palin became governor sustained some of the claims against Wooten and dismissed the rest. He was put on unpaid leave for five days in 2006. Palin was elected governor later that year.
Palin and her husband gave sworn statements Oct. 24 in the investigation that resulted in Petumenos's report.
Petumenos said the legislative investigator wrongly interpreted the ethics law in finding an abuse of power by Palin. He said he found evidence that Palin and her staff had legitimate concerns about Monegan and his performance and that they were not looking to fire him because of Wooten.
The investigator said he was unsure whether he was able to review all e-mails related to the investigation because Palin and some of her staff conducted state business on their private e-mail accounts. The practice isn't illegal, though it "does not give us the assurance that we were able to locate all of the e-mails," he said.
John Cyr, executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association, the union for state troopers, said in an interview he was disappointed with the findings.
"I was surprised to see the same set of facts portrayed in the last report as a violation of the ethics law and then to see a finding of no wrongdoing today," Cyr said.