A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Anne Kilkenny’s Sarah Palin E-Mail


Q:What about that Anne Kilkenny e-mail?

A:The facts in the e-mail message about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are mostly correct.

FULL QUESTION

I stumbled across a letter from a woman by the name of Anne Kilkenny (I think). It’s all over the Internet and the woman claims to be from Palin’s home town and gives personal information about the VP nominee. Is there any way to look into the legitimacy of this letter? It seems to be legitimate, but I usually only trust the articles you write.

Read the full Letter from Anne Kilkenny

FULL ANSWER

This e-mail was indeed written by a woman named Anne Kilkenny, a resident of Wasilla, who sent it to friends soon after Sen. John McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate. We have been in e-mail contact with her. Her remarks have been distributed to countless people and reside on innumerable Web sites, and we continue to be asked about their veracity by our readers.
 
We found that most of Kilkenny’s main factual claims are correct, or very close. Kilkenny’s own views, such as, "She’s not very tolerant of divergent opinions," are a big part of the e-mail, as well. The author is a Democrat and not a fan of Palin’s, but she’s forthcoming about that and has a few positive things to say about Palin too, calling her "smart" and "energetic and hardworking."

We’ll go through some of her major factual allegations about Palin, and leave the opinion out.

Substitute Mayor?
Kilkenny: During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running this small city was turned over to an administrator. She had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.

It has been reported that Palin’s first year as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, was "turbulent," according to The Seattle Times, and questions were raised about Palin’s firings of city staff. This eventually led to talk of a recall:

The Seattle-Times (Sept. 7): She became embroiled in personnel challenges, a thwarted attempt to pack the City Council and a standoff with her local newspaper. Her first months were so contentious and polarizing that critics started talking recall. … But the situation calmed, and rather than being recalled, Palin was re-elected. She later acknowledged, "I grew tremendously in my early months as mayor."

According to The Anchorage Daily News, it’s true that when Palin became mayor she hired a deputy administrator, paying him $50,000 a year. Whether it was at the behest of Republican bigwigs, as Kilkenny and others have claimed, we can’t say. Palin argued that the hire was necessary to keep up with Wasilla’s growth rate.

The Palin Firings

Kilkenny accuses Palin of firing many people for inappropriate reasons:
Kilkenny: As Mayor, Sarah fired Wasilla’s Police Chief because he "intimidated" her, she told the press. As Governor, her recent firing of Alaska’s top cop has the ring of familiarity about it. He served at her pleasure and she had every legal right to fire him, but it’s pretty clear that an important factor in her decision to fire him was because he wouldn’t fire her sister’s ex-husband, a State Trooper. Under investigation for abuse of power, she has had to admit that more than 2 dozen contacts were made between her staff and family to the person that she later fired, pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law. She tried to replace the man she fired with a man who she knew had been reprimanded for sexual harassment; when this caused a public furor, she withdrew her support.
While Kilkenny’s e-mail was sent prior to the release of the state’s legislative investigation report, the report shows a number of her facts to be correct. It’s true that Palin, her family and her staff called police commissioner Walter Monegan about Trooper Wooten numerous times – over 30, according to The New York Times. It’s also true that Monegan’s replacement, Chuck Kopp, resigned after it became known that he was the subject of a 2005 sexual harassment complaint. Palin knew of the complaint before she appointed Kopp, but believed it to be unsubstantiated, her spokeswoman said at the time.
 
Kilkenny’s also right when she says that Palin had a legal right to fire Monegan.  But, according to the investigation, his failure to fire Alaska state trooper Michael Wooten, who was involved in a tumultuous divorce with Palin’s sister, was a "contributing factor" in Monegan’s firing. The report continues:

Legislative Investigation Report:  Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda … to get Trooper Michael Wooten fired.

Palin was formally found to have abused her power, violating the executive state ethics act. It will be up to the Alaska state Legislature to determine what action, if any, will be taken.

Kilkenny: While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin’s attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.
As reported in an earlier article, we found that while the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, was fired, Emmons was told only that Palin didn’t believe the librarian supported her. She was also re-hired the next day and never claimed that Palin threatened to oust her for refusing to ban books. On the other hand, Palin had raised the subject of banning books with Emmons two or three times in as many months. According to a report in Wasilla’s local paper at the time, Palin’s inquiry was general, asking Emmons how she’d react if Palin wanted a book removed from the collection. Palin has said she was posing a "rhetorical question" asked "in the context of professionalism regarding the library policy that is in place in our city."

Kilkenny: Palin fired most of the experienced staff she inherited…She abruptly fired her loyal City Administrator.

It’s true that when Palin first became mayor "the public works director, city planner, museum director and others were forced out," and "the police chief, Irl Stambaugh, was later fired outright," according to The New York Times. The Times also reported that Palin fired City Administrator John Cramer, though it was toward the end of her second term as mayor.

Fiscal Claims

Kilkenny: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.

We read through documents provided by the City of Wasilla and found Kilkenny was mostly right, but off on some points:

  • Wasilla’s "general government" expenditures increased by 23 percent (7 percent when adjusted for inflation); overall expenditures increased by 35 percent (18 percent in constant dollars).
  • We found that, when adjusted for inflation, the city’s tax revenues increased by 29 percent, not 38 percent as Kilkenny said.
  • Property taxes did go down (Kilkenny’s right)
  • The city sales tax, which applies to food, did go up (Kilkenny’s right again) from 2 percent to 2.5 percent.
Kilkenny: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?…$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.
  • Actually, Wasilla had a debt of $1.2 million the fiscal year prior to Palin’s arrival (not zero, as Kilkenny claims). But when Palin left, the city had a debt of $24.8 million – a $23.6 million increase (close to, but a bit larger than Kilkenny states).
  • The sports center cost $14.7 million, and road projects, $5.5 million. (Kilkenny is basically on target here.)

We would add that Palin proceeded with the sports complex even though the city didn’t have clear title to the land, triggering litigation that continues to this day and costing the city an extra $1 million-plus (Kilkenny is accurate here, as well).

Other Items 
Kilkenny: As Mayor, she had her hand stuck out as far as anyone for pork from Senator Ted Stevens. Lately, she has castigated his pork-barrel politics and publicly humiliated him. She only opposed the "bridge to nowhere" after it became clear that it would be unwise not to.

It’s true that Palin has, as of late, spoken out against pork-barrel projects and that her position has taken a 180-degree turn regarding the Gravina Island bridge project. Gov. Palin currently has an outstanding request to Stevens’ office for $160.5 million in earmarks for 2008 and $198 million in 2009.

Kilkenny:When Sarah’s mother-in-law, a highly respected member of the community and experienced manager, ran for Mayor, Sarah refused to endorse her.

This is true. According to The New York Times, when Palin’s mother-in-law (technically stepmother-in-law), Faye Palin, ran for mayor of Wasilla, the two did not see eye-to-eye over abortion rights. As a result, Sarah Palin, opposed to abortion rights, supported her mother-in-law’s challenger, Dianne Keller. Keller won the election.

Overall, Kilkenny’s facts are more right than not, and we found no real whoppers. Still, we feel obliged to remind our readers that, as we’ve warned previously, chain e-mails are almost always replete with deceptions. This one, which is both more accurate and less sensational than most, is an exception.

Keep your guard up.

Emi Kolawole

 

Sources

Kizzia, Tom. "‘Fresh face’ launched, carries Palin’s career." The Anchorage Daily News. 23 Oct. 2006: A1.

Armstrong, Ken. "Inside Palin’s turbulent first year as mayor." The Seattle Times. 7 Sep. 2008. 

Holland, Megan. "Kopp denies account of sexual harassment." The Anchorage Daily News. 16 Jul. 2008.

Komarnitsky, S.J.. "New Wasilla Mayor Asks City’s Managers to Resign." The Anchorage Daily News. 26 Oct. 1996.