The Branchflower Report on Palin

Be sure to note that The Barometer was on top of this government ethics issue on July 31, 2008, a full month before Governor Palin was tapped for the vice president’s slot on the Republican ticket.  The report by independent investigator Stephen E. Branchflower into allegations that Governor Palin fired her Commissioner of Public Safety for not firing her former brother-in-law is out, and here’s the news:  (1)  This was one wacky state trooper at the heart of the problem — I’m no prude, but Tasering children and having a beer whilst in your patrol car does cross a a few legal and ethical lines; (2) Governor Palin and the first dude probably should have kept their distance from the investigation into the trooper’s conduct; and (3) the Commissioner of Public Safety was a defiant sort who, serving at the discretion of the Governor, needed to go.  The legal conclusion of Mr. Branchflower’s report is that Governor Palin “abused her power” in violation of an Alaska statute that prohibits the use of power for personal benefit.  The case is a classic one of a step over the line for good intentions.  Fascinatingly, the Branchflower report only references the conduct of the trooper through other’s descriptions of it.  The report concludes that the Governor had no cause for concern and more timely resolution without really exploring the allegations.  Alaska personnel rules may prevent full discussion, but that perception of fairness to the Governor at least warranted an explanation for the restraint on describing the root cause of the Governor’s interactions and demands for action. 

The trooper involved was formerly Governor Palin’s brother-in-law.  This fellow from Wassilla is not blameless,  He had hurled a few threats at the governor and her father.  Extensive interviews also indicate that Governor Palin and her husband were legitimately concerned about the message having such a trooper in the Alaska state force sent to the public.  They were correct in their assessment that the trooper needed to go (although he is still on the force).  However, their relationship with him and her sister should have forced them to do the unnatural:  Step back and let the system handle it all.  Indeed, if the trooper had really hurt someone with his bizarre conduct, the questions about Governor Palin’s failure to take action would have raised allegations of bias the other way.  When caught between personal interests and a legitimate public safety concern, our authority figures need to voice their concerns, document the voicing, and then step back.  Following up on whether steps have been taken is not problematic unless the follow-up turns from inquiry into pressure, however slight or subtle. 

The Branchflower report and Governor Palin’s conduct are not Watergate material.  However, the report provides us with a reminder that those who hold the public trust should not take it lightly.  All citizens, even those who Taser 10-year-olds, are entitled to their due process, even when there are peripheral family squabbles exacerbating the tension.  Work through the lines of authority and then let the system work.  If follow-up shows the system is not working, the public official has the ability to fix the system. Governor Palin did just that with the dismissal of her Commissioner of Public Safety for what the report concludes were some fairly solid reasons.  The problem is that the dismissal follwed on the heels of a little too much follow-up on the state trooper situation by a few too many people.  Even if there was no intention to pressure the Commissioner, the sheer number of contacts could be misinterpreted.  Perception, rather than malfeasance, may well be the problem, but such is the story of public life.   

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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