Recall election by wide margin fails in final count

At a special meeting Monday afternoon, the Homer City Council certified the results of the June 13 special election that asked if voters wanted to recall council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds.

By margins of 223 or more, voters overwhelmingly defeated the recall. The council signed off on a 4.5-hour meeting of the Special Election Canvass board in which city clerks and board officials counted 844 absentee and other ballots, but, because of a discrepancy between the number of voters and votes logged, also recounted last Tuesday’s voting.

Monday’s meeting also became a call for healing by some citizens. Mayor Bryan Zak at the end asked the council members to pose with him in a group hug — a gesture that brought about a standing ovation from the 20 or so people who attended the meeting.

“Real reconciliation requires conversations, conversations in which each side listens carefully to the other — the listening usually is much more important and effective than the talking — and in which the two sides work to build mutual respect,” Ron Keffer, chair of Homer Citizens Against the Recall, said at Monday’s special council meeting.

Wearing a robe given to council members by its sister city in Japan, Teshio, former council member Francie Roberts said the orange jacket was a gift of friendship to strengthen the bonds of friendship.

“Homer itself needs to think about this idea. It is time to cease casting blame from both sides of the recall issue and begin working together,” Roberts said.

“Working together does not mean each of us has to agree all of the time. Working together means not presenting your viewpoint by criticizing another person.”

The recall vote ended a contentious political debate that had roiled Homer since February, when a draft came out on social media of what supporters called an “inclusivity” resolution and opponents called a “sanctuary city” resolution.

“I was hoping that the ‘no’ vote would be decisive,” Reynolds said last Friday after hearing of the final count. “It feels like a pretty clear message about how the community feels about the recall.”

Aderhold said in a phone interview she was glad the three-month long recall process was over.

“It feels good. I’m glad that the community understands that there was no misconduct in office,” she said. “I will be very happy to get back to work on the council.”

In a statement released before final results came in, Sarah Vance, a spokesperson for Heartbeat of Homer, the group that organized to recall the council members, congratulated “everyone for speaking up at the ballot box on this important issue.”

She also said Heartbeat of Homer extends a hand to the council members, commending them for their volunteer efforts and commitment to the community.

Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds sponsored Resolution 17-019. An initial, unofficial draft that had whereas clauses critical of President Donald Trump generated a backlash when the resolution came up before the council. It failed 5-1, with only Reynolds voting for it.

But the resolution prompted a group lead by Michael Fell, Larry Zuccaro and Larri Fancher to petition for a recall. Alaska law allows a recall “for misconduct in office, incompetence or failure to perform prescribed duties.” The group got enough signatures and forced the recall vote.

Vance saw the recall election as a win, she said.

“Every time we take a stand to hold our leaders accountable, take responsibility for our own actions, and defend truth, we win!” she said. “Thank you to everyone who participated in this tumultuous recall; your efforts have not gone unnoticed.”

Lewis, a three-term council member whose term ends in October, was less optimistic.

“I just hope the whole thing is over, period, but I doubt it,” Lewis said.

He mentioned a motion filed by Heartbeat of Homer to recover about $9,500 in legal costs as an intervenor in Aderhold et al. v. City of Homer, the lawsuit the targeted council members filed to stop the election. With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union Alaska, the three filed a suit alleging the grounds of the recall violated their freedom of speech. Judge Erin Marston last month denied their motion to stop the election.

On June 14, one day after the election, Eric Sanders, an attorney hired by the city to defend the city clerk’s decision to allow the recall election, released a statement saying the city and the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss the lawsuit in return for them not filing an appeal and the city not pressing for legal costs.

ACLU Alaska will cover the legal costs of Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds. ACLU and the plaintiffs contemplated pursuing the issue on principle, but after discussing the case, decided not to.

Eric Glatt, the ACLU attorney who represented the council members, said besides the free speech issue, “The state of Alaska has decided we don’t want to be a state where we can recall elected officials for any reason,” he said. “We do continue to believe both of those are serious issues, and both need to be explored and ruled on.”

City Manager Katie Koester said the city has not yet received Sanders’ bill, but that such legal costs are included in the city’s budget. The city also included the cost of holding two elections, about $5,400, in its budget. That leaves money to pay for the October election, but only if there is not a runoff.

Sanders noted that the city might not have been able to recover partial attorney’s fees because of Alaska Statute 09.60.010. That says a plaintiff who files a civil action concerning U.S. or Alaska constitutional rights cannot be ordered to pay attorney fees if the plaintiff does not prevail.

On Friday afternoon as the canvass board methodically reviewed and tallied ballots, about a dozen people watched over the afternoon, many of them with Heartbeat of Homer. The process had a bit of the drama of waiting for the College of Cardinals to announce a new Pope. No white smoke puffs announced the results, just City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen sitting at a table.

Counting of the absentee and other outstanding ballots got delayed when the city clerk’s office discovered an 18-vote discrepancy between the number of people voting on Tuesday and the number of ballots counted.

City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen advised the canvass board to do a recount of ballots cast in Homer Precincts 1 and 2 on June 13. At one point it looked like the final voting might have to continue into Saturday, but the board finished its count about 4:40 p.m. after starting at 1 p.m.

“When they told me I had to sleep another night, that was kind of a curve ball I didn’t expect,” Reynolds said. “I am so done with this roller coaster.”

In a memo to the canvass board on June 16, Jacobsen said the clerk’s office discovered the discrepancy when staff reviewed on Wednesday precinct voter registers and ballots recorded in optical scanning voting machines.

In precinct 2, 488 voters signed the register, but 477 ballots were cast, an 11-vote undercount. In precinct 1, 601 voters signed the register, but 594 ballots were cast, a 7-ballot undercount.

Jacobsen wrote that the undercount happened when poll workers reported the optical scan units not taking the ballots and multiple attempts having to be made. Jacobsen contacted the Alaska Division of Election for advice, and she wrote that she was told to push a button on the machine and the voter could insert the ballot and it would go through. Jacobsen, recently appointed City Clerk, but before that a deputy clerk, said this was the first time she had seen such a discrepancy.

“In hindsight I believe the advice I received from the DOE (Division of Elections) was not correct for the situation that we were experiencing, and that is what caused the discrepancies on election day,” Jacobsen wrote.

Aderhold said she hoped the city could begin to heal from the divisive election.

“I have some healing to do myself. I do hope we can come back together. There’s been a lot of hurtful things said in this community. I didn’t think the city of Homer was like that,” she said. “To say ugly things isn’t the community I thought we were. That’s part of what we need to come to terms with, is the words people used toward each other.”

That bitterness prompted Reynolds to decide not to run for re-election in October. Along with Lewis, her term ends then. Lewis had said before the recall that three terms was enough and he didn’t want to run again.

“I think a campaign right now would be pretty toxic,” Reynolds said. “I can’t imagine the conversation and language used about me would be any different than the language used during the recall.”

Reynolds, an immigrant and now a naturalized U.S. citizen born in the United Kingdom, said some people said she should “move back to England where she belongs.”

“This has been pretty horrendous. Now that it’s done, for me it’s only surfacing how hard it has been to walk around holding heads up high and functioning,” Reynolds said.

In the recall election, for the Homer precincts the “no” votes got more votes than President Donald Trump in November (779) and more votes than “yes” for Ballot Measure 2 legalizing commercial cannabis (850).

With 849 more votes counted last Friday on top of 1,087 votes cast on June 13, and with a 42 percent voter turn out, the final results are:

Shall Donna Aderhold be recalled?

Yes: 825 votes or 43 percent

No: 1,099 votes or 57 percent

Shall David Lewis be recalled?

Yes: 825 votes or 43 percent

No: 1,098 votes or 57 percent

Shall Catriona Reynolds be recalled?

Yes: 850 votes or 44 percent

No: 1,073 votes or 56 percent

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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