Is it too easy to recall local city council or assembly members?
Two who serve on the Homer, Alaska City Council think so, and they’ve written a resolution asking the Legislature to put stiffer sideboards around recall efforts.
Three members of the Homer City Council faced a contentious recall election in June after they circulated a resolution that many saw as partisan national politics invading the quaint little fishing-and-arts town along Kachemak Bay. The kerfuffle was over whether Homer should become a sanctuary city.
One of the members who faced recall, Donna Aderhold, believes it’s too easy to launch a recall election. She and council member Heath Smith will introduce a resolution at the Aug. 28 meeting to ask the Alaska Legislature to tighten the standards for recall elections.
The draft resolution states that recall elections concerning municipal and local elected officials have recently been held or contemplated in the City of Homer, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the City of Haines, City of Cordova, and the Petersburg Borough.
(It was actually the Haines Borough Assembly that had a recall election in August. The three subjects of that election, Tom Morphet, Heather Lende and Tresham Gregg, who were accused of violating the Open Meetings Act, survived the vote.)
In July a group of Petersburg residents turned in a recall petition for assembly members Jeigh Stanton Gregor, Nancy Strand, Kurt Wohlhueter, and Eric Castro. That recall effort was also about Open Meetings Act violations, but borough attorney Sara Heideman disputed the allegation and the recall never made it to the ballot.
“The standards for what constitutes both an action that would justify recall and how a local municipal official should evaluate the recall petition’s sufficiency are not clearly defined in the Alaska Statutes, leading to a wide range of interpretations,” Resolution 17-078 reads.
The standard for “misconduct in office” is vague, Aderhold and Smith say. Further, city clerks are not lawyers, but must make decisions about whether a misconduct is great enough to justify a recall.
The resolution makes reference to a 1984 Alaska Supreme Court statement that recommended the Legislature clarify the intent of the legal provisions governing recall elections, saying, “The need for judicial participation in the recall process could be decreased by more carefully drawn statutes.”
The judicial system came into play in Homer only when the three council members facing recall enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union to help them sue the city and stop the election. They lost that battle in court, but voters ultimately retained them in office.