Group files recall application against three council members
Recalling or attempting to recall three Homer City Council members could potentially throw a wrench in the machinery of city council business. Under city code, it takes four council members to form a quorum and to take an action. In the event of a 3-3 tie, the mayor breaks a tie — but only if all six members vote.
If successful, a recall petition would be submitted to the city council to set an election. The proposed recall of three council members raises some questions that Homer City Clerk Johnson said she did not know the answer to and would discuss with the city attorney:
• If three council members are the subject of a recall, would they have to recuse themselves because of conflict of interest from any discussion of the recall vote?
• If recused, and with only three members of the six-member council remaining — an insufficient number to take action — could the council take any action on the recall election?
• If all three council members were recalled in an election, and again with only three members remaining, how could the council vote to certify the election?
• If all three council members were recalled, how could the remaining council take action to vote on replacements?
• If all three council members were recalled, how could the council meet to take any action on other city business, including certifying the October election?
• If all three council members were recalled, would that in effect shut down the city council?
Johnson said there is a necessity provision in city code that can allow for action in the event of a lack of a full quorum, but that she would have to discuss that with the city attorney. There also is a provision in code allowing the council to meet with less than a three-member quorum to appoint a qualified person to constitute a quorum.
A group of 10 Homer citizens on Monday filed an application for a recall petition against Homer City Council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds. The three council members sponsored an inclusivity resolution at the Feb. 27 council meeting, although only Reynolds voted for Resolution 17-019. Following almost three hours of public testimony, most of it against the resolution, it failed 5-1. The application cites their sponsorship for that resolution as well as Resolution 16-121, a resolution supporting the Standing Rock Lakota tribe and opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline, as grounds for recall. Resolution 16-121 passed 4-3, with Homer Mayor Bryan Zak breaking a tie vote that Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds also voted yes on.
“I don’t feel I did anything wrong,” Lewis wrote in an email. “I did not support the last one (17-019) and they should put their big boy pants on. Democracy is messy and everyone has a right to free speech.”
“This is hard in several ways. In particular, my love for our community and my desire for the well-being of the Homer community runs deep,” Reynolds wrote in an email. “To be accused of having intentions to divide or harm the community is so far from the truth.”
“I reject the allegations of the referenced petition unequivocally. None of my actions meet the grounds for recall under AS 29.26.250,” Aderhold said, referencing the section of state law regarding recall of public officials.
The application is the first step in the recall process laid out in Alaska Statutes and adopted in city code as Homer’s process. That law requires 10 Homer residents to sign an application stating why the council members should be recalled. Grounds include misconduct in office, incompetence or failure to perform prescribed duties. If the application is approved by the city cleark, the petition organizers would have 60 days — less for Lewis and Reynolds — from the date the recall petition is issued to gather 373 signatures, or 25 percent of the 1,490 people who voted in the last city election. The recall election could not be held within 75 days of the Oct. 3 regular election.
Since the terms of office for Lewis and Reynolds end on Oct. 9, the next council meeting after the Oct. 3 election, a provision of the recall process says that a recall election cannot be held within 180 days of the end of office. That means signatures for Lewis and Reynolds would have to be turned in by April 11. Aderhold’s term ends in 2018.
City Clerk Jo Johnson said she will review the application and consult with city attorney Holly Welles to determine if it’s valid. If determined to be acceptable, recall petitions would be issued for each council member, Johnson said, meaning petitioners would have to get 373 signatures on each petition.
Michael Fell is the contact for the recall application. Reached by telephone, Fell said he did not want to comment on the application. Attempts to contact other signers of the application were unsuccesful.
The application alleges that “Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds are each proven unfit for office, as evident by their individual efforts in preparation of Resolution 16-121 and 17-109, the text of which stands in clear and obvious violation of Homer City Code Title 1.”
The application cites Title 1.18.030, which says that “a city official may not take an active part in a political campaign or other political activity when on duty.” Title 1.18 is the city’s code setting rules for conflict of interest, partiality and code of ethics. City officials in the past have run for other political office while serving in an elected position, as former Homer Mayor Beth Wythe did in August 2016 when she ran against Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, for the Republican Party nomination to represent District 31 in the state House. Wythe did not campaign while on duty.
The application also says, “Whereas the use of City Council office as a platform for broadcasting political activism is unlawful, unethical and outside the bounds of permissible conduct in public service.”
It alleges Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds committed misconduct in office “by the irreparable damage done by draft Resolution 17-019 being made public and widely distributed on social and news media, and publicly promoted as conspicuously drafted by and representing the city of Homer. This action has further caused economic harm and financial loss to the city of Homer.”
If the recall group is successful in getting enough signatures to force an election, targeting three council members also raises questions about getting a sufficient quorum to set a date for the recall (see story, this page). Reynolds noted a recall would lead to expenses to the taxpayers, such as city attorney time and the cost of a special election.
“It’s unfortunate,” she said. “As one of the main stated concerns about the inclusivity resolution was waste of time and money, and that resolutions typically cost zero to little, this recall petition application goes counter to that complaint.”
The application refers to an unofficial draft of the resolution that citizen activist Jeremiah Emmerson circulated on Facebook. Hal Spence, a member of Citizens AKtion Network, an ad hoc group concerned about the election of President Donald Trump, wrote the draft. That draft included whereas clauses critical of Trump, saying for example that during his campaign he “made statements offensive and harmful to the rights of women, immigrants, religious, racial and ethnic minorities, veterans, the disabled, LGBTQ citizens and the general public.”
Although the application doesn’t mention it, Title 1 defines political activity as “any act for the purpose of influencing the nomination or election of any person to public office, or for the purpose of influencing the outcome of any ballot proposition of question.”
“Influencing nomination or election was never my purpose or intention,” Reynolds said of her support for the resolutions.
Title 1’s introduction says that its purpose “is to set reasonable standards of conduct for City officials and the City Manager so that the public may be assured that its trust in such persons is well placed.” It also says, “recognizing that Homer is a small community, with a limited number of people interested in serving as community leaders, it is not the intent of this chapter to set unreasonable barriers that will serve only to deter aspirants from public service.”
The draft of Resolution 17-109 was widely discussed on social media. It also was written about in Must Read Alaska, a political blog by Suzanne Downing, a Republican Party activist and former speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. The Associated Press also wrote a story about the official resolution that was picked up by national and international media.
Lewis said he, Aderhold and Reynolds didn’t write the draft or share it on social media. That draft had no city-issued number, and Aderhold and Reynolds rewrote the draft to take out the statements naming Trump. The only official version included in the Feb. 27 agenda was Resolution 17-019.
“They should complain about all of those people who shared the draft that we didn’t write or post,” Lewis said of the recall organizers.
About 100 people spoke on the resolution at the Feb. 27 meeting, with about 65 opposing it. Many people objected to an inclusivity section, not because of its intent, but the perceived need. They said Homer is a welcoming, inclusive community, although several people belonging to ethnic or religious minorities claimed personal experience of discrimination and harassment.
The resolution declared that the council and the city “rejects expressions of fear and hate wherever they may exist, and specifically rejects harassment of women, immigrants, religious minorities, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer) individuals, and nonviolent political groups.” It also says that the city “embraces all peoples regardless of skin color, country of birth, faith, sex, gender, marital status, political ideology, or abilities.”
Some said the resolution amounted to making Homer a “sanctuary” city that would offer refuge to undocumented immigrants. One section says that the city “will resist any and all efforts to profile vulnerable populations” and another said the city will “declare itself a safety net for the most vulnerable members of and visitors to our community.”
It also said the city would cooperate in detaining undocumented immigrants “when court-issued federal warrants are delivered.”
The first city recall election happened in 1965, when 152 citizens signed a petition to remove Homer’s first mayor, Ralph Cowles. That petition claimed Cowles “unjustly limited debate,” “poorly administered the city,” “personally spearheaded the enactment of a restrictive gravel ordinance covering the Homer Spit” and “has been discourteous and rude to Homer citizens.” In an election held that October, the recall failed by a vote of 194-157. Decades later, the Homer City Council named its council chambers after Cowles.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.