Council amends recount procedure, takes other actions

Prompted by what Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson called “an inordinate amount of confusion” in city election recount procedures that came about from a recount last October, the Homer City Council on Monday passed unanimously an amendment to the city code clarifying election procedures. Previously, the code referred to Alaska Statutes for the process in doing a recount. The amendment establishes in city code recount procedures.
In the October city election, fourth-place city council candidate Justin Arnold requested a recount after the city elections canvass board found that Bryan Zak had an 11-vote lead over Corbin Arno and thus won re-election. Arnold insisted on a hand recount, and after Johnson consulted with city attorney Tom Klinkner, he was allowed to do his own hand recount. Arno gained one more vote in the recount.
Among other changes, the new ordinance stipulates that ballots shall remain in the custody of the clerk and that “the highest degree of care shall be exercised to protect the ballots against alteration, mutilation or loss.”
Arnold spoke at a hearing on the recount amendment Monday.
“The main thing I think they’re doing here is the entire recount is going to be done by the canvass board,” he said. “I wanted a hand recount verified by the canvass board to prove these machines are incorrect.”
The recount amendment also establishes that a deposit of $250 be made by a candidate requesting a recount. That fee would be waived if the difference was 20 votes or less between candidates.
The council also passed an ordinance changing city code to allow accessory dwellings on lots zoned rural residential and serviced by city water and sewer. Previously, accessory dwellings required a conditional use permit. Council member Beau Burgess had earlier introduced an amendment that also would allow accessory dwellings on rural residential lots more than 1-acre in size.
In the committee of the whole meeting before the regular meeting, planning technician Julie Engebretsen passed on a recommendation from the Homer Advisory Planning Commission opposing Burgess’ amendment. The planning commission had been concerned that there would be no city check in the system to make sure septic systems on large lots complied with Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation regulations, Engebretsen said.
Burgess said there already was oversight on septic systems: the DEC. He said he thought the intent of the ordinance was to reduce red tape.
“In my mind, it’s presenting an extra step in a bureaucracy that’s not necessary,” Burgess said of having both a city and state agency review the same lot.
In a special meeting, the city council, mayor and city attorney also met in executive session as the Board of Ethics to consider two ethics complaints filed by unnamed citizens. Under the city’s ethics code, complaints are confidential and city officials cannot discuss the complaint, including the section of city code alleged to have been violated or the officials alleged to have violated city code. Monday night’s meeting was an initial review of the complaints and not a formal investigation or deliberation. The complainant and respondent can attend an executive session where the ethics board investigates the matter but not during the initial review and deliberation.
In other action, the council also:
• Approved an appointment by the mayor of Shelly Erickson to the Homer Advisory Planning Commission;
• Postponed action on a resolution changing lease policy procedures that would have eliminated the citizen Lease Committee;
• Awarded a contract of $51,466 to purchase two Public Works vehicles from Kendall Ford, Wasilla; and
• Postponed voting on an ordinance changing the city ethics code to add a 5-year statute of limitations. Because the ordinance was substantially changed in an amendment adding a year after discovery of a violation, the city attorney advised holding another public hearing.
That hearing will be held at the next meeting of the council at 6 p.m. April 28 in the Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.