City to proceed in defending recall

At a Homer City Council special meeting on Tuesday, Anchorage attorney Eric Sanders told the council the city plans to proceed in defending its decision to hold the June 13 recall election.

Council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds, the officials targeted in the recall, filed a suit last week seeking to have the recall election stopped.

Council members Shelly Erickson, Heath Smith and Tom Stroozas and Mayor Bryan Zak met with Sanders in executive session. Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds attended the public portions of the meeting.

With assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union Alaska, the plaintiffs allege that the grounds for the recall are insufficient. The recall organizers cited the council members’ support for two controversial resolutions as a reason for the recall, and Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds said those grounds violate their constitutional right to free speech.

The suit originally had been assigned to Superior Court Judge Pamela Washington. Homer City Attorney Holly Wells filed a peremptory challenge against Washington, and the case has now been assigned to Judge Frank Pfiffner. A date for a hearing has not yet been set, but before being removed from the case, Judge Washington granted a nonopposed motion for expedited hearings. Sanders told the council he will advocate for the city in the recall challenge to avoid bias because of Wells’ prior working relationship with the council.

In a 2011 decision before same-sex couples won the right to marry in 2014, Pfiffner ruled in favor of another ACLU case asserting that same-sex couples are entitled to the same senior citizen property tax exemptions and disabled veteran exemptions as married couples. Pfiffner was appointed to the Superior Court by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell in 2009.

In other developments, Heartbeat of Homer, a political advocacy group supporting the recall, filed to intervene in the case. Judge Pfiffner has not yet ruled on their motion. Stacey Stone, Heartbeat of Homer’s attorney, did not return an email seeking comment on why Heartbeat of Homer wants to intervene.

According to Alaska Public Offices Commission records, two groups have formed to advocate in the recall election, Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall, in support of the recall, and Homer Citizens Against the Recall, opposed.

Recall petition sponsor Michael Fell is the chair and treasurer of Heartbeat of Homer. Its stated purposed is “group assembled re: the recall efforts of certain Homer Assembly members,” an apparent reference to the Homer City Council. The Kenai Peninsula Borough representational body is the assembly. Kesha Etzwiler, Sarah Vance and Tanise Latham are co-chairs of Heartbeat of Homer.

Homer Citizens Against the Recall opposes the recall and states as its purpose to “defeat the Homer City Council recall.” Ron Keffer is the chair, Wendy Wayne is the treasurer and Lynn Takeoka Spence is the deputy treasurer.

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

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