Wasilla (Alaska), Sept.15 : Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin has claimed that her time as mayor of Wasilla taught her how to be a leader and grounded her in the real needs of voters, but a visit to this former mining supply post 40 miles north of Alaska capital Anchorage shows otherwise.
According to the Washington Post, the universe of the mayor of Wasilla is sharply circumscribed and limited Palin's exposure to issues such as health care, social services, the environment and education.
Firefighting and schools are the two of the main elements of local governance, and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the regional government for a huge swath of central Alaska, handles them.
The state has jurisdiction over social services and environmental regulations such as storm water management for building projects.
With so many government services in the state subsidized by oil revenue, and with no need to provide for local schools, Wasilla has also made do with a very low property tax rate -- cut altogether by Palin's successor -- sparing it from the tax battles that localities elsewhere must deal with.
Instead, the city collects a 2 percent sales tax, the bulk of which is paid by people who live outside town and shop at its big-box stores.
The mayor oversees a police department created three years before Palin took office; the public works department; the parks and recreation department; a planning office; a library; and a small history museum. Council meetings are in the low-ceilinged basement of the town hall, a former school, and often the only residents who show up to testify are two gadflies.
When Palin was mayor, the population was just 5,500 and she limited her duties further by hiring a deputy administrator to handle much of the town's day-to-day management.
Her top achievement as mayor was the construction of an ice rink, a project that landed in the courts and cost the city more than expected.
Arriving in office, Palin herself played down the demands of the job in response to residents who worried that her move to oust veteran officials would leave the town in the lurch. "It's not rocket science," Palin said, according to the town newspaper, the Frontiersman. "It's six million dollars and 53 employees."
Further constraining City Hall's role is the frontier philosophy that has prevailed in Wasilla, a town that was founded in 1917 as a stop along the new railroad from Anchorage to the gold mines further north. The light hand of government is evident in the town's commercial core, essentially a haphazard succession of big-box stores, fast-food restaurants and shopping plazas.
Most residents live in ranch houses scattered through the woods. Churches, offices, stores and most other buildings are made of corrugated metal or composite materials. Standing in contrast to the utilitarian architecture are the lakes and majestic peaks.
Many of those in town were astonished to learn that Palin had been named McCain's running mate six years after leaving City Hall.