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Sarah Palin's Wasilla Hockey Rink Screw-up

The more we know about Sarah Palin's track record, the scarier it becomes:

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.

"It's too bad that the city of Wasilla didn't do their homework and secure the land before they began construction," said Kathy Wells, a longtime activist here. "She was not your ceremonial mayor; she was in charge of running the city. So it was her job to make sure things were done correctly."

I guess being a small-town mayor is a lot like being a community organizer, except you get a chance to waste lots of tax dollars and show your incompetence, which is exactly what Palin did.

The story is one of pretty basic executive incompetence:

Hockey is much loved in Wasilla, and Ms. Palin, whose son was a star player, wanted to build an indoor rink, with a track, basketball courts and soccer field. In the late 1990s, the city sought a 145-acre parcel owned by the Nature Conservancy, which wanted to sell the land to buy more environmentally sensitive property elsewhere. City officials negotiated a price of $126,000. Months passed without the city's securing a signed purchase agreement, according to the city's attorney, Tom Klinkner of Birch, Horton, Bittner & Cherot.

At the same time, Gary Lundgren, a Fairbanks real-estate investor, was in talks with the Nature Conservancy to buy a larger adjacent property. As discussions between the environmental group and the city dragged on, Mr. Lundgren said, he purchased the entire site for about $1 million.

The city sued Mr. Lundgren and the Nature Conservancy, arguing that Wasilla had had a deal. In 2001, a federal district court judge ruled in Wasilla's favor. Mr. Lundgren appealed, but the city believed it would prevail, according to Mr. Klinkner.

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.

Don't blame the Hockey Mom, she wanted that rink badly.

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.

Mr. Lundgren has appealed the decision, arguing that the arbitrator should have awarded him more interest. "It has been 10 years; it's just insane," said Mr. Lundgren, who now lives in Panama. "All [Ms. Palin] had to do was close the transaction."

Perhaps the bulldog without lipstick would have dotted the 'i's" and crossed the "t's" on this one, but not Palin.

Update: CBS details Palin's hypocrisy in connection with this hickey rink funding:

During Palin's recent convention speech she sharply criticized Senator Barack Obama for wanting to end Bush's tax cuts. She pointed to her sister and husband who are new small business owners in Alaska, "How are they going to be any better off if taxes go up?"

But in fact, the way the hockey rink was built was by raising taxes. Palin funded the project by pushing a special referendum that raised the sales tax by 25 percent. City hall records show the referendum was passed by twenty votes.


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Rating: 2.8/5 (17 votes cast)


Comments (16)

Steve Crickmore:

That Palin left the future Wasilla few thousand taxpayers with a huge debt, when she moved on to the governorship.. fits comfortably into the federal GOP mindset..I have a feeling she is going to be roughed up pretty good when she has to deal with any national economic issues.

McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, speaking in Colorado Springs, Colo., said Fannie and Freddie had "gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers." The companies, however, aren't taxpayer funded but operate as private companies. The takeover may result in a taxpayer bailout during reorganization.

Palin got the question and answer completely backwards (as expected,) and she wants to be vice-president to McCain someone who admits he knows next nothing about economics and espouses the nostrum that smaller government and less regulation is the answer to every problem ..not withstanding, the Saving & Loans crisis, the subprime mortgage crisis, Enron, the lack of a decent national energy grid and the list goes on and on. God help us!

MIke:

How about Sen. Obama's brilliant management of Federally subsidized housing that is no longer usable:
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2037486/posts

500 million down the drain there

Lee Ward[TypeKey Profile Page]:

When did Obama manage Federal Housing?

Answer - nover.

This reeks like Freeper bullshit to me...and if you've got is a Freeper link that links to nothing.

Come on, Mike - with all of the lies McCain is telling he doesn't need your help.

Mike:

Sorry, guess I should posted the original story from the Boston Globe: http:
//www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2008/06/27/grim_proving_ground_for_obamas_housing_policy/

Is that a good enough link for you. Also, I was pointing out the fact the he wasted tax dollars just as you said Palin did. Who said I supported McCain anyway- Not everybody is mainstream Left or Right wingers

Lee Ward[TypeKey Profile Page]:

It is as pointless as the first link, in my view.

Palin managed the budget, expenditure of funds, and contracts for the hockey rink in Wasilla talked about in this post.

First person, directly responsible.

Obama did not manage the budget, expenditure, or contracts connected with the federally subsidized housing mentioned in the Boston Globe piece.

DaveD:

"First person, directly responsible". Thank you Lee. I could not have pointed out the salient difference between Palin and Obama any better myself. I understand though that Obama thought about building a hockey rink once.

Lee Ward[TypeKey Profile Page]:

Yep - the biggest project she undertook as mayor - and she botched it big time.

Mike:

Really I could care less about who managed what until the end of time, all I am concerned with is the wastage of my tax dollars whether it be Republican or Democrat and both have serious problems in that regard.

Baggi:

A job that got done and got done under budget (Where do you ever hear about that in government?) is a failure for Sarah Palin?

Boy, you all must be scrambling.

Larry:


Obviously Palin screwed up on land acquisition. Given her inexperience as a first time Mayor, that doesn't surprise me at all. She recovered fairly well by managing the rest of the project under budget and on time. Guess she learned on the job. This is what all of them do as they climb the ladder.

The only question is can they learn before they screw up too bad. My personal opinion is that both Obama and Palin have the smarts to learn without too much damage. Clearly the three disasters we have had as Presidents in the past 50 years start with JFK, transition through Carter (the worst of the lot) and on to Bush 43, who got in over his head and stayed that way.

Matter of fact, we have four decent, smart candidates unlike past contests that mostly featured dumb and dumber. I voted for dumb twice instead of dumber. I have no love for McCain and Obama's past (Chicago cesspool) worries me along with his total inability to admit a mistake when he changes his mind.

Lee Ward[TypeKey Profile Page]:

"She recovered fairly well by managing the rest of the project under budget and on time."

What are you guys smoking these days?

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.

Where do you guys get that she finished the project? Are you making crap up again?

It appears to me from the story above that she was gone as Mayor before they even broke ground.

Larry and Baggi - show us the evidence that Palin finished the project on time and on budget. If you can't produce it then we can only assume you guys are just plain making this crap up.

Larry:


Without question, land acquisition and associated legal fees were a total cluster. It happens. And from what I can read, Palin made the mistakes with help from staff.

"I can say about the sports complex is that it was done on time and under budget," said Donald Moore, a Palin ally who managed the construction. "It was done legally, and for someone else to say it could have been done differently in a better way, that's strictly their opinion."

That was from the WSJ article I read and where I drew the quote. Moore was obviously referring to everything BUT land acquisition.

For the record, in my wife's home town there is a road going out of town that is supposed to be divided with two lanes on each side. It is that way on each side of a farmer's land who has held out for years in the courts to get more for his land that anyone else was paid. The part that goes through the farmer's land is two lanes, one each way and an obvious bottleneck. Land acquisition for public projects is a very, very touch subject and often a total minefield of conflicting interests.

I am ok with her having made a mistake. Everyone does at some point in their lives.

By the way, google wasilla hockey rink and YOU are at the top Lee. Congratulations.

ts:

The only thing that is abundantly clear from all of this is how little Lee knows about how government entities and public bodies build things. That $14.7 million bond issue is being paid for by a .5 cent increase in the sales tax, which raised the sales tax to a draconian 2.5 cents on the dollar. I agree that there does not appear to be any reason to believe that the city broke ground on the project prior to her departure. It also seems quite clear that the decision to use eminent domain, which is the source of much of the legal costs, rather than just purchasing the property, was made after she left office. Even with all that, it represents less than a 10% overrun in the cost of real property acquisition and capital construction. That is actually pretty good relative to much of government construction, and given the fact that a substantive portion of the additional cost is due to the legal costs over a protracted period, it makes even less of case for poor management on her part or anyone elses.

If you bothered to read Wasilla's annual financial statements (all of which are posted on the Web), you would find the city is in a sound financial position, and has been for years. They have had no trouble servicing the debt associated with the bond issue, nor do they project any in the future. Why, if you looked you would see that the people of Wasilla are spending another half a million just to improve the parking. Clearly they see a value in this facility that you do not.

The city's FY08 budget projected an unreserved balance in the general fund of more than $5 million, which means they could write a check to cover all of this that you are whining about and still have an amount in the bank equal to 27% of their annual operating budget. Not many government entities of any size are on such sound financial footing.

So enjoy your tantrum, but don't seriously expect this to take on significance in the campaign.

Baggi:

Lee, you asked:

"Larry and Baggi - show us the evidence that Palin finished the project on time and on budget. If you can't produce it then we can only assume you guys are just plain making this crap up."

It's in the very article you cited (and linked to). Third paragraph from the bottom. Didn't you read to the end?

Lee Ward[TypeKey Profile Page]:

The city of Wasilla took the property by eminent domain after Palin left office. Palin's million dollar plus screw up came before they even broke ground.

That makes this nothing but bullshit: "A job that got done and got done under budget (Where do you ever hear about that in government?) is a failure for Sarah Palin?" since Palin had nothing to do with getting the job off the ground, much less finished.

and that makes this a bald-faced lie: "She recovered fairly well by managing the rest of the project under budget and on time. Guess she learned on the job"

She did not manage the rest of the job (beyond the screw-ed up land acquisition) - she was out of office.

Spurwing Plover:

Screw the greens their a bigger threat to the enviroment then any developers or industries ever will be SAVE THE ENVIROEMNT FROM THE ENVROMENTALISTS


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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