Sunday, August 31, 2008

Thrilla in Wasilla: Palin wrestles with city offiicals

See also: Palin learns quick: torture is American

Below, a few newsbytes from Sarah Palin's two terms (1997-2002) as Mayor of Wasilla AK (pop.9780, up 66% since 2000). A small town outside Anchorage is such alien territory that I would not presume to interpret/judge the facts retailed below. A bit of context though: 1) the local outlook is strongly libertarian, which means not only pro-gun but hostile to pesky regulations such as designated bar closing times); and 2) Palin ran as an insurgent on a tax-cutting platform and had to deal at the outset with city officials loyal to her opponent. Plainly she's not afraid of conflict or decisive action, and she seems to have an authoritarian streak; she reminds me a little of Rudy Giuliani. I'd like (okay, fear) to hear what she has to say about torture, suspension of habeas, and FISA.

Of course, Palin was running a town with less than 1/1000 the population of Giuliani's New York (and later moved up to run a state with less the 1/10 of NYC's population).

The source for all the information below is the Anchorage Daily News (ADN).

1. In her first run for Mayor of Wasilla , Palin won by a 616-413 margin, beating an eight-year incumbent (ADN, 10/3/96). She said that she knocked on the door of every registered voter, except a few with vicious dogs, and sent a handwritten letter to every “supervoter,” those who had voted consistently in prior elections. She won reelection in 1999 by a 826 to 255 margin
. Her approval rating as governor was in the high sixties at the time of her selection as McCain’s running mate. It would seem that Alaska voters have consistently seen her as an able executive.

2. Having run an insurgent campaign against a longtime incumbent, Palin began her tenure by asking all four of the city’s top managers, all presumed loyalists to the outgoing mayor,to resign and re-apply for their jobs “in order to test their loyalty to her administration” (one had already resigned upon her election). She also issued a gag order, requiring them to obtain her approval before talking to reporters (ADN 10/26/96)

3. Shortly thereafter, she fired the police chief and the head of the library, asserting that they did not support her goals for the city. Both claimed that they had previously hashed out differences with her and thought they had established willingness to work with her. The police chief, Irl Stambaugh, sued for wrongful termination, claiming that he was fired at the behest of bar owners and the NRA, the former because he favored earlier bar closings as a way to combat alcohol-related traffic accidents,"and the later because he opposed a concealed gun law (ADN 2/22/97). The suit was dismissed on grounds that city officials serve at the Mayor's pleasure.

4. Palin was elected on a platform of cutting taxes and eliminating wasteful spending. In her first year in office, she took aim at the local museum, which three women had been running for more than 15 years on a total budget of $200,000, or about $25 per town resident. Palin cut the budget by $32,000, which meant that the staff of three would have to choose one who would lose her job. All three quit in protest. One of three “gray-haired matrons” Ann Meyers, 65, said, “If the city were broke, it would be different,” but the city was flush with $4 million in reserves at the time. Palin countered that the museum could be run more efficiently and that voters wanted their tax dollars spent on road repair and extending sewer lines. The museum showcases mining material, homestead memorabilia and early Wasilla history (ADN, 8/6/97).

5. Palin is not indiscriminately anti-tax. She began her career on the Wasilla city council by supporting a sales tax to create a police department. As mayor, she upped the sales tax to pay for a new hockey rink and sports complex.

6. A radio clip has been circulating online in which Palin, during her tenure as governor, titters in response to a radio shock jock’s assertion that her political rival, state senate president Lyda Green, a cancer survivor, is “a cancer on the progress of the State of Alaska" and "a bitch." Apparently, Palin’s fondness for far-right broadcast demagoguery goes way back. In 1998, the owner of a local TV station discontinued an independently produced, shoestring-budget local news show notorious for slanted coverage of local politics, because she feared that continuing to air the show would expose her to liability. According to the ADN (10/14/98), "[Station owner] Schatz said she has received complaints that the election coverage is one-sided and has had concerns of her own about particular shows. She cited a New Year's Day spoof newscast that included a skit with a white man dressed up as a pimp pretending to speak like a black man." Palin reacted to the closing of Valley News with disappointment. "She said it presented a conservative view that balanced out more liberal coverage elsewhere."

Win or lose, I suspect that Palin will always have Fox.

Related posts:
Palin learns quick: torture is American
Barracuda Watch
Sarah Palin: No Dan Quayle


  1. This is exactly what the rest of the country needs to know about sarah and NOW....... sigh, I watch them once again USING a natural disaster to their advantage. I am so sick of McSame and Appalling. Can we just vote tomorrow? sigh....

  2. Welcome to small town America.

    Elections come and go...and during the build-up to each one...some officals will come out and announce that this candidate is a "loser" in public and at town hall meetings...then three weeks later...the "loser" wins, and the city official has to figure how he can survive in this world. The simple truth is that you should just keep your mouth shut and vote...but they won't do that. They have to show support for their guy, thus inviting trouble.

    In the case of the museum crew...this is a nice idea that the town started and basically became a town welfare-project for these three older ladies. When the town spends near $200k for an operation like this...there has to be results. I doubt if any tourist comes to this town for the museum. So the old ladies should have drawn a number...rather than get mad....that their welfare job ended.

    Finally, if anyone checked across the US on cop firings...they might be rather shocked that a thousand police chiefs around the US each year...get terminated or told to leave their position. It usually comes down to a test of authority...either the town council wins or the police chief...and in some cases, they are nice enough to give the guy 60 days to find another job and just leave. This is why we all complain about small town police organizations and their various failings.

  3. Can you find what the budget surplus of deficit was when Palin left office? What about talk that the librarian was canned because she wouldn't ban certain books?

  4. I've read that Wasilla had zero debt when she took her mayoral post. When she left, it was 22 million in debt, mostly due to the addition of a sports complex. Tis true?

  5. Re the Wasilla debt: the source below is a longtime Wasilla resident, Anne Kilkenny, who posted a long comment in the Washington Independent at
    Note btw that debt does not equal deficit. Boomtown Wasilla is probably well able to handle this long-term debt.

    Sarah campaigned in Wasilla as a “fiscal conservative”. During her 6
    years as Mayor, she increased general government expenditures by over 33%. During those same 6 years the amount of taxes collected by the City increased by 38%. This was during a period of low inflation
    (1996-2002). She reduced progressive property taxes and increased a regressive sales tax which taxed even food. The tax cuts that she promoted benefited large corporate property owners way more than they benefited residents.

    The huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration
    weren’t enough to fund everything on her wish list though, borrowed
    money was needed, too. She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtedness of over $22 million. What did Mayor Palin encourage the voters to borrow money for? Was it the infrastructure that she said she supported? The sewage treatment plant that the city lacked? or a
    new library? No. $1m for a park. $15m-plus for construction of a
    multi-use sports complex which she rushed through to build on a piece
    of property that the City didn’t even have clear title to, that was
    still in litigation 7 yrs later--to the delight of the lawyers involved! The sports complex itself is a nice addition to the community but a huge money pit, not the profit-generator she claimed it
    would be. She also supported bonds for $5.5m for road projects that
    could have been done in 5-7 yrs without any borrowing.

    CAVEATS (from Kilkenny)
    I am not a statistician. I developed the numbers for the increase in
    spending & taxation 2 years ago (when Palin was running for Governor)
    from information supplied to me by the Finance Director of the City of
    Wasilla, and I can't recall exactly what I adjusted for: did I adjust
    for inflation? for population increases? Right now, it is impossible
    for a private person to get any info out of City Hall--they are
    swamped. So I can't verify my numbers.

  6. a town of 8+ thousand and 1000 or fewer vote for mayor?

  7. Im going to start by saying Im NOT a Palin supporter or a republican. With that said, I cant check your references on this information because the Alaska Daily News web-site doesnt have any articles before 2002 in their archive. so just where did you get this information? Also I hate to agree with the Palin/Republican zombies out there, but I cant find any credible sources out there for the $22,000,000 in debt either. Call me paranoid, but I dont just believe anything without proof.

  8. All of the info in this post is from the Anchorage Daily News on the dates cited. The archives are available on for-pay services Westlaw (which I used), Lexis-Nexis and Factiva. I believe you can go on Nexis w/out an account, do a search and pay $3.00 per clip - at least, this was possible a couple of years ago.
    The $22 million debt figure is widely cited, and stems mainly from a $14.7 million bond issue for the hockey rink and $5.5 million for road construction, both issued in 2002, Palin's last year as mayor. All this is laid out in the 2002 city financial report, available on the Wasilla city website, There's nothing scandalous about the debt. Palin narrowly won a referendum to raise the sales tax a half-cent to pay for the hockey rink. The sales tax accounted for 3/4 of town revenue, and 1/2 cents was a 25% increase, so all other things being equal she boosted town revenue about 19% to pay the debt service. Of course, Republicans do claim that raising taxes always crimps economic activity and therefore reduces revenue long-term, but never mind. Perhaps President Palin would impose a national VAT to pay for universal healthcare?

  9. One can't help but wonder if Anne Kilkenney or any of the commenters here know the difference between "debt" and "deficit." Healthy economies frequently incur long term debt. Wasilla is one of the fastest growing towns in Alaska.