Former Palin Backer: State Ag Director Job Was “Payoff” To Supporter

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In a lengthy investigation into Sarah Palin’s hiring practices as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska published yesterday, the New York Times reported in its lede:

[W]hen there was a vacancy at the top of the State Division of Agriculture, [Palin] appointed a high school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to the $95,000-a-year directorship. A former real estate agent, Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency.

It’s not just the Times that doesn’t appear to think much of Havemeister’s fitness for the job. Nick Carney, who ran the Division of Agriculture under Republican governor Jay Hammond — and who later went on to help launch Palin’s political career — told TPMmuckraker that Palin’s appointment of Havemeister was a “payoff” to a political supporter, that was “characteristic of how Sarah operates.”

Carney described Havemeister, who he knows personally (Carney’s daughter was a high-school classmate of Palin’s and Havemeister’s) as “a very nice gal,” but added: “I don’t believe that she really does have those kinds of skills,” needed to run the agency.

It was Carney who first convinced Palin to run for city council in 1992 — a fact confirmed by another source who was active in Wasilla politics during the period. A council member himself at the time, Carney told TPMmuckraker that he believed the council needed someone who represented non-business interests, which then dominated the council. But once Palin became mayor in 1996, the two fell out over a number of issues, including Carney’s successful opposition to an effort by Palin to appoint to the city council two conservative supporters — both of whom opposed recent council decisions to institute a sales tax and to start a police force.

Carney also shed some light on Palin’s hiring of a city manager, John Cramer, to help her run Wasilla, a few months into her mayoralty. Though the hiring — which Carney described as a first for the city — added $50,000 to Wasilla’s budget, Palin has defended the move in the past as necessary for the fast-growing exurb of Anchorage. Carney backed up that claim, but added that Palin’s own shortcomings as an executive were also a factor in the council’s support for the decision: Palin, he told TPMmuckraker, “had absolutely no management skills and couldn’t manage the city on her own.”