As Gov. Sarah Palin prepares to leave office, the wait for her e-mails will outlive her.
Thirteen requests for her e-mails, made under state records laws before the November 2008 presidential election, are still pending, according to the acting Alaska attorney general, Richard A. Svobodny.
When it first received the requests, the office of the Republican vice-presidential nominee quoted prices as high as $15 million for copies of state e-mails — not even counting the copying cost. It since has come down, quoting costs more in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 for the larger requests.
State officials said their electronic records system was too dysfunctional to allow them to search, retrieve and provide the records in electronic form.
The state has spent more than $450,000 in staff time searching for e-mails sent and received by Palin, according to a June 16 letter from Svobodny. He was granting yet another extension on the normal 10-day period for responding to public records requests. That extension expires July 31, which will be one week after Palin leaves office. More extensions are expected.
"While I am sympathetic to the need to provide public records as quickly as possible," Svobodny wrote, "I note that in this situation the state — first the agency holding the records and then the Department of Law reviewing them — has been overwhelmed by the numerous and extensive public records requests submitted by various persons and entities since last fall.
"For example, in the last eight months the Department of Law has devoted over 4,000 hours to providing legal review and advice on public records requests at a cost to the state of over $450,000. To put that in context, over those eight months the Department has had the full time equivalent of four people working on public records requests to the exclusion of their normal duties. This effort is unprecedented, unexpected and unbudgeted. The Department of Law, already operating with diminished staff due to the hiring freeze compelled by the recent downturn in state revenues and only recently rescinded, could not have done more."
The requesters of the records include msnbc.com, the Associated Press, Mother Jones magazine, the Anchorage Daily News, the Juneau Empire, NBC News, and CNN, as well as several citizen activists and the Alaska Democratic Party.
They sought e-mails about state environmental decisions, oil policy, the Troopergate investigations, the role of her husband in state decisions, and many other issues.
The records include e-mail sent between the governor and her staff not only on their official e-mail accounts but also on their private Yahoo accounts. Palin and many of her staff were using private accounts. But state courts since have ruled that the correspondence between government officials, about government business, are public records, whether they use their government e-mail accounts or private ones.
In her statement on Friday, Palin decried the cost and time required to respond to ethics investigations and public records requests.
"The State has wasted thousands of hours of your time and shelled out some two million of your dollars to respond to 'opposition research' — that's money not going to fund teachers or troopers — or safer roads," Palin said.
More details are in our earlier story on msnbc.com: Want Palin's e-mails? That'll be $15 million.
You can read all the requests for records, and the initial responses of Gov. Palin's office in this PDF file.