An Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday against three Homer City Council members seeking to halt a recall election next month. Council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds are subjects of a recall election sparked over two resolutions they crafted and sponsored. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska represented the council members and is still weighing the possibility of an appeal.
Superior Court Judge Erin Marston’s ruling found that recall petitioners seeking to oust the three council members correctly followed the process. Elected officials in Alaska are able to be recalled for misconduct in office, incompetence or failure to perform their duties.
Attorney Tom Amodio has defended targets of recall efforts, including former state Senator Scott Ogan. Amodio explained that courts, much like Marston’s ruling, typically don’t dive into the facts of the stated grounds for a recall.
“They alleged that I did something I didn’t do. The court said ‘No, we don’t really look at the facts. We don’t really dig into it. That’s not our job. That’s the voter’s job.’ They have to determine who to believe,” Amodio said. “Both sides are given a chance in the electoral process to give a statement.”
The ACLU sued the city over City Clerk Jo Johnson’s certification of the three petitions – arguing it infringed on the council members right to freedom of speech. Petitioners claim that by crafting and sponsoring separate resolutions on the Dakota Access Pipeline and inclusivity, council members engaged in political activity and violated their oath of office. They also say irreparable economic harm was inflicted on the city after a draft of the inclusivity resolution was shared on social media.
Judge Marston said Johnson was correct to certify the petitions and let voters weigh the merits of the claims. He said Johnson’s only role was to decide if the claims would be grounds for recall if found true.
All three council members had one word for Marston’s ruling, “disappointing.”
“He has now opened it up so that anyone can basically do a recall for any reason,” council member Lewis said.
Lewis’ term is up in October and he said he’s not running for election if he survives the recall.
“I had never planned. After more than nine years, it’s more than enough,” Lewis added.
Council member Reynolds’ term is also up in October and she said the recall effort has been exhausting. She said it has convinced her to take a year off, before running for office again.
Aderhold’s term is up next year and she said it’s too early to know if this will affect her decision to run. But, she said the recall process should be cause for concern.
“It gives me concern about the integrity of our election process when a recall can be brought forth when elected officials are doing their jobs,” Aderhold asserted.
The ACLU is still deciding whether to appeal the case. Lewis and Aderhold are weighing that option. Reynolds said she will not take part in an appeal.
“Time and energy right now is better devoted to just pushing back against the recall itself and devoting the next little bit of time working towards that election,” Reynolds said.
Pro-recall group and political action committee Heartbeat of Homer intervened in the case. Spokeswoman Sarah Vance said the group will stay active leading up to the special election.
The recall election is scheduled for June 13. If all three members are recalled, the council would be one member shy of a quorum. It would have to appoint someone to one vacant seat within seven days of the election’s certification. Community members would be able to apply for remaining spots on the panel. Those seats would need to be filled by July 19.