Small Government Champion?
WASILLA, Alaska — The biggest project that Sarah Palin undertook as mayor of this small town was an indoor sports complex, where locals played hockey, soccer, and basketball, especially during the long, dark Alaskan winters.
The only catch was that the city began building roads and installing utilities for the project before it had unchallenged title to the land. The misstep led to years of litigation and at least $1.3 million in extra costs for a small municipality with a small budget. What was to be Ms. Palin’s legacy has turned into a financial mess that continues to plague Wasilla.
Ms. Palin marched ahead, making the public case for a sales-tax increase and $14.7 million bond issue to pay for the sports center, which was to feature a running track, basketball courts and a hockey rink. At the time, the city’s annual budget was about $20 million. In a March 2002 referendum, residents approved the mayor’s plan by a 20-vote margin, 306 to 286. The city cleared roads, installed utilities and made preparations to build.
Later that year, Ms. Palin’s final one as mayor, the federal judge reversed his own decision and ruled that the property rightfully belonged to Mr. Lundgren. Wasilla had never signed the proper papers, the court ruled.
Mr. Lundgren said he had offered to give smaller parcels to the city free of charge, but the city held out for a larger tract. The former chief of the city finance department, Ted Leonard, says he doesn’t recall such an offer.
After Ms. Palin left office, the city decided to take 80 acres of Mr. Lundgren’s property through eminent domain. An Alaska court confirmed the city’s right to do so and ordered that an arbitrator determine the appropriate price.
Last year, the arbitrator ordered the city to pay $836,378 for the 80-acre parcel, far more than the $126,000 Wasilla originally thought it would pay for a piece of land 65 acres larger. The arbitrator also determined that the city owed Mr. Lundgren $336,000 in interest. Wasilla’s legal bill since the eminent domain action has come to roughly $250,000 so far, according to Mr. Klinkner, the city attorney.
Never mind the jumped-gun and the legal mess and eminent domain abuse that ensued: championing a nearly $15 million dollar public spending project for a rec center for a town of 9,000? That’s about $1,633 per resident: not exactly what I think of when I think of “small government” and “fiscal responsibility.”
I was ridiculed on this site earlier in the week for claiming that Palin was “just another politician.”
Massive public spending projects, hiring lobbyists to win earmarks for her town, for the bridge to nowhere before she was against it — laugh all you want, but it sure looks like politics as usual to me.
H/T: Obsidian Wings