APOC assesses penalty against Heartbeat of Homer; spokesperson of group running for city council

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to list the members of Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall on its most recent registration filing of May 24.

You’re late.

In a July 20 Notice of Penalty letter to Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall, that was the message the Alaska Public Offices Commission sent when it assessed a penalty of $725 against the political group that registered to advocate for recalling three Homer City Council members. In the letter, APOC claimed that Heartbeat of Homer filed Independent Expenditure, or IE, reports 29 days late.

In related news, on Tuesday, Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall co-chair and spokesperson Sarah Vance filed to run for one of the two 3-year Homer City Council seats currently held by David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds, two of the council members challenged in the recall along with Donna Aderhold. Lewis and Reynolds both said they do not plan to run for re-election. Aderhold’s seat expires in October 2018.

According to the APOC letter, in a July 10 IE report, Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall reported expenditures made June 1 and June 10. Three corrected reports also show expenditures made June 12 and June 15. Political groups can report expenditures made over a short period of time, but the reports must be made within 10 days of the first expenditure, said Tom Lopez, APOC campaign disclosure coordinator. The IE reports were filed by Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall chairman and treasurer Michael Fell, the organizer of the recall campaign. According to an amended registration form of May 24, co-chairs are Kesha Etzwiler and Sarah Vance and the deputy treasurer is Coletta Walker. In an email, Etzwiler said she had requested that she not be listed as a co-chair. Former co-chair Tanise Latham left the group in mid-May.

The group uses an erroneous name for the Homer City Council. The title of the Kenai Peninsula Borough governing body is the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. “Heartbeat of Homer” also is the name of a citizen’s group with a current Facebook page.

Lopez said the late filing was the third strike against Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall. On May 16, APOC issued a notice of violation for a late report, but because it was the group’s first error, APOC did not assess a penalty. When Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall missed the deadline for another May 16 expenditure by two days, APOC assessed a $50 penalty. The fine for late reports is $50 a day, but because it was the group’s first election cycle, APOC reduced the penalty by half. It applied the same reduction for the July 10 late report.

Fell and other citizens filed a recall petition against council members Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds, claiming they were unfit for office because they backed the so-called “inclusivity” or “sanctuary city” resolution, and that they used their office as a platform for political activism. In a campaign flyer, Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall urged voters to recall the three council members and “vote yes for accountability, vote yes for responsibility, vote yes for transparency.”

The recall failed and citizens voted “no” by 56 percent for Reynolds and 57 percent for Aderhold and Lewis.

Lopez said APOC officials noticed the late expenditures when they reviewed Heartbeat of Homer’s 30-day campaign disclosure report. APOC learned Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall had run radio ads, but did not see that information on earlier expenditure reports. That campaign disclosure report showed $515 in payments to Peninsula Communications. In its final campaign disclosure reports dated July 11, Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall reported spending $10,339.71, including a final expenditure to zero out its income of $621.18 for “legal defense fund.”

Before the election, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union- Alaska, Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the grounds for recall, claiming it violated their right to free speech. An Anchorage judge denied the suit and let the election proceed.

Heartbeat of Homer had the right to defend the recall and thus could set up a legal fund, Lopez said.

“The right to have the election was challenged,” he said.

Heartbeat of Homer’s lawyer, Stacey Stone, also wrote a letter on its behalf claiming an ethics violation when the three council members voted to affirm the Canvass Board’s tally of the June 13 recall election. Heartbeat of Homer sent that letter to KBBI reporter Aaron Bolton, who reported on the complaint. City ethics rules require all parties to an ethics complaint to keep the complaint confidential. Stone said she did not send the complaint to any media.

Lopez said he would have no way of knowing if the Heartbeat of Homer legal fund was used to file an ethics complaint.

“I assumed this fund was created when they hired their attorney to defend the election,” he said. “I have no way of knowing if they diverted any of those monies to the ethics complaint.”

Heartbeat of Homer has appealed the first penalty of $50, Lopez said. They have 30 days to respond to the July 20 notice either by paying the penalties or appealing them. As of July 27, Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall had not replied with an appeal or a payment.

In an email on July 29, Stone wrote that a notice of penalty is not a final determination by APOC. She said the notices of penalty are being appealed to APOC.

Another political group formed in opposition to the recall campaign, Homer Citizens Against the Recall. Wendy Wayne was that group’s treasurer. Lopez said Homer Citizens Against the Recall filed all its reports on time. Homer Citizens Against the Recall received $8,389.43 in contributions and spent the same amount. It ended up with $1,455.99 in unspent contributions, and zeroed out its account by donating that amount to the Homer Foundation.

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