Sunday, November 2, 2008

Palin and the public-private divide

According to an interview last month with an Alaska journalist, Sarah Palin sees no distinction between the public and the private. That may explain, in some small way, why she charged the state when her children traveled with her, even to events to which they were not invited and had no clear public function or purpose. Here's an excerpt from the AP story, which was in the Sacramento Bee about 10 days ago.

The charges included costs for hotel and commercial flights for three daughters to join Palin to watch their father in a snowmobile race, and a trip to New York, where the governor attended a five-hour conference and stayed with 17-year-old Bristol for five days and four nights in a luxury hotel.

In all, Palin has charged the state $21,012 for her three daughters' 64 one-way and 12 round-trip commercial flights since she took office in December 2006. In some other cases, she has charged the state for hotel rooms for the girls.

Alaska law does not specifically address expenses for a governor's children. The law allows for payment of expenses for anyone conducting official state business.

As governor, Palin justified having the state pay for the travel of her daughters - Bristol, 17; Willow, 14; and Piper, 7 - by noting on travel forms that the girls had been invited to attend or participate in events on the governor's schedule.

But some organizers of these events said they were surprised when the Palin children showed up uninvited, or said they agreed to a request by the governor to allow the children to attend.

Several other organizers said the children merely accompanied their mother and did not participate. The trips enabled Palin, whose main state office is in the capital of Juneau, to spend more time with her children.

"She said any event she can take her kids to is an event she tries to attend," said Jennifer McCarthy, who helped organize the June 2007 Family Day Celebration picnic in Ketchikan that Piper attended with her parents.

State Finance Director Kim Garnero told The Associated Press she has not reviewed the Palins' travel expense forms, so she could not say whether the daughters' travel with their mother would meet the definition of official business.

This practice sounds a bit dodgy to me, but it does raise an issue that has crossed my mind before. For a workplace to be family-friendly, how far should it go to make travel possible -- indeed, do-able -- for employees who have children? Whether or not Palin acted properly in billing the state of Alaska for her children's travel, what accommodations and perqs should be extended to employees' children in order to keep working parents in the work place and on track in their careers? Does it make a difference if the employer is in the private sector or the public? a civil servant, the governor, or (gasp!) the Vice President?

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