Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson on Wednesday certified a recall petiton against Homer City Council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds. Johnson set a special election for June 13. Recall organizers on March 31 turned in signature petitions.
In a memorandum, Johnson wrote that recall organizers turned in 15 packets for each council member. There were 437 verified signatures to recall Aderhold and 436 to recall Lewis and Reynolds, well above the 373 threshhold.
Johnson also had to certify if the grounds for recall adhered to state law. In consulting with city attorney Holly Wells, the clerk wrote that the grounds are “to be liberally construed in favor of access to the recall process.” She found allegations two and three sufficient, but the petition’s major premise, that the council members participated in prohibited political activity, insufficient.
“Sufficient” in this sense means the allegations are “clear enough so that the legal provisions at issue may be identified” and debatable enough that the allegation can be presented to the voters, Johnson wrote.
The first allegation claims Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds are “unfit for public office, as evident by their individual efforts in preparation of Resolution 16-121 and 17-019, the text of which stands in clear and obvious violation of Homer City Code.”
Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds did not engage in prohibited political activity because they did not attempt to influence the nomination of a person to political office or any ballot proposition, Johnson wrote.
Resolution 16-121 supported the Standing Rock Lakota tribe and opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline. It passed 4-3, with Homer Mayor Bryan Zak breaking a tie vote that Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds also voted yes on. Resolution 17-019, which its sponsors called an “inclusivity” resolution and opponents claimed was a “sanctuary city” resolution failed 5-1, with only Reynolds voting yes.
Johnson did find two other allegations sufficient, that the council members violated their oath of office by sponsoring the resolutions and did not act impartially and that they engaged in misconduct that may have caused economic damage to the city.
Allegation 2 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.” Allegation 3 says the council members damaged the city by sponsoring the “inclusivity” resolution and that this caused economic harm to the city.
The city attorney wrote that there is no legal definition of “impartiality,” but that defining it as “acting neutrally” makes little sense given that council members are elected to advocate for or against laws and policies. However, lacking a clear definition, that should be up to the voters to interpret, Wells wrote.
It also will be up to the voters to determine if any economic damage done by publicizing a draft resolution of 17-019 was caused by the council members.
Earlier in the week, the recall effort’s main sponsor, Michael Fell, said he had no comment on the filing of the petition. While Fell has spoken on the record to conservative political bloggers about the recall effort, he said he did not want to speak to the Homer News.
“The petition speaks for itself,” is all Fell said.
Because the memo certifying the recall petition was released late Wednesday afternoon, the Homer News did not have a chance to contact any of the parties involved before going to press.
“I don’t care anymore,” said council member Lewis in response to the petition filing earlier in the week. “I think it’s a complete waste of money, but that’s beside the point. Everyone can go do what they want. I will be there until I’m either kicked off or my term’s out. Either way, I’m done this year.”
The city budgets for two elections yearly at a cost of $5,400 an election, Johnson said.
Reynolds said that given the enthusiasm and momentum of the recall movement it seemed inevitable that they would turn in signatures.
“They’ve obviously been working hard on their petition and signature gathering,” Aderhold added. “We’ll see what happens next.”
Reynolds said she didn’t do anything wrong in backing the “inclusivity” resolution. She said she continues to see the value in advocating for “those who are vulnerable and who experience discrimination,” she said.
“There are some things I could have laid out better, been more strategic,” she said. “That doesn’t make it unethical or close to it. It just makes it clumsy.”
With an increased workload in her new position as director of Kachemak Bay Family Planning, and as a way to reduce the negativity surrounding the recall movement, Reynolds said she considered resigning. “A couple of people I respect, when I ran that by them, they said, ‘No, don’t do that. Then they’ve won,’” Reynolds said.
“They’ve tried to make it really personal, but one of my tasks is to not take it personal.”
Reynolds said she sees the situation as “lose-lose” no matter what happens.
“I think that the council’s better served by all of us continuing to serve our terms,” she said.
Aderhold and Reynolds said some people they’ve talked to have discussed some sort of community mediation or conversation to hash out differences short of a recall election.
Aderhold said she didn’t think it is her role to set that up.
“I feel like as an elected official, if someone wants to reach out to me, they have the means to do that. If they were interested in having a conversation, they certainly could have reached out,” Aderhold said.
One recall signer did call her to talk, but that was the only person to do so.
Aderhold also wanted to be cautious about not violating the First Amendment rights of citizens by trying to persuade them not to do anything involving the recall process.
In her March memo, the city attorney also raised another free speech issue: that of council members.
“The city should also be aware that issuance of the Recall Petition on the grounds provided by the sponsors exposes the city to constitutional challenges based upon protections afforded speech under the Alaska and United State Constitutions,” Wells wrote.
Aderhold said she agreed with Wells’ memo and her observation about constitutional concerns.
Reynolds said there “absolutely” is a free speech issue.
“Why would anyone ever want to run for city council if you bring something to the council for the fear it might lead to a recall situation?” she asked.
The terms of Lewis and Reynolds end in October. Aderhold’s term is good until October 2018.
A special meeting of the Homer City Council is set for June 19 to certify the election. The memorandum regarding the recall petition is on the council agenda under “announcements” as an informational memorandum.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.