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As Mayor of Wasilla, Palin Cut Own Duties, Left Trail of Bad Blood
Palin also differed with the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons. The Frontiersman reported at the time that Palin asked Emmons three times in her first weeks in office whether she would agree to remove controversial books. The librarian said she would not. The McCain campaign has confirmed Palin's questions but said that she never demanded removal of any specific books. Palin also fired Emmons on Jan. 30 but reinstated her after an uproar.
Although the town had a $4 million surplus, Palin cut the museum budget by $32,000, and the three older women who worked there quit instead of deciding which would have to go. But Palin dipped into the budget to create the deputy administrator slot, which some council members complained was at odds with her small-government stance. She told city officials not to talk to reporters.
A recall effort in early 1997 fizzled out, but hard feelings lingered. "Working in small towns, I had never seen someone come in and clean house like that in such a precipitous manner. It was pretty scary and emotional," said Dvorak, the city planner, who left after eight months.
Deuser, the former city attorney, said it was upsetting to hear the McCain campaign refer to Palin's takeover as a matter of getting rid of the "good ol' boy network."
"They were just good public servants who did a really admirable job and deserved better," said Deuser, who was replaced in 1997.
Jeff Carney, another local attorney, said Palin was just trying to assert herself against skeptics. Members of the town's old guard "thought they could run over her and were bothered that she could think for herself and make up her own mind up and not do what someone older and wiser told her to do," he said.
In 2006, Palin told the Anchorage Daily News she learned from it all. "At the time, it seemed perplexing that people would object. I was very bold about what needed to be done," she said. "It was rough with a staff who didn't want to be there working with a new boss. I learned you've got to be very discerning early on and decide if you can win them over or not. If you can't, you replace them early on."
Palin's replacements included a public works director who lacked engineering experience but was married to a top aide to a former Republican governor, and she made a former state GOP lawyer city attorney, according to the Daily News. Langill, the former councilwoman, said the new hires fit Palin's management style.
"Sarah always did and still does surround herself with people she gets along well with," she said. "They protect her, and that's what she needs. She has surrounded herself with people who would not allow others to disagree with Sarah. Either you were in favor of everything Sarah was doing or had a black mark by your name."
But things did run more smoothly from then on, and department directors whom Palin hired said she was good at delegating authority and letting them do their job. "She's a quick study," said Don Shiesl, who took over public works in 1998. "She's a heck of a public speaker and she works her magic on people. Give her four years, with some training, and she'll be up to snuff. She's not dumb, she'll be able to catch on to stuff real quick."
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The town's coffers swelled as more stores moved in, letting Palin reap the political benefits of Stein's sales tax and infrastructure upgrades. With her natural charisma putting voters at ease after the initial turbulence, she was reelected in 1999 to the $68,000-a-year job. The budget expanded by nearly half during Palin's tenure as she increased spending on police and public works but kept a lid on city planning and the library, and further reduced the property tax.