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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