Lawsuit challenges petition to recall Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera

two assembly members at the Anchorage assembly meeting
Assembly chair Felix Rivera and Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson at the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, where Chief of Staff Jason Bockenstedt announced Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s resignation. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

A group trying to recall Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera said it gathered almost 3,000 valid signatures, more than the number required to put the recall petition on the April ballot.

The petition claims Rivera failed to uphold his duty as chair by continuing an assembly meeting with more people present than COVID-19 emergency orders allowed. In a video recording of the August 11 meeting, Assembly Member Jamie Allard points out there are 17 people in the room, instead of the mandated maximum of 15. 

Russell Biggs, lead sponsor on the petition, said by email that Rivera put “both the public process and the public’s health at risk” by not immediately removing extra people from the meeting chamber.

Biggs said dozens of organizers collected a total of about 5,100 signatures on the recall petition. He said an “independent verification service” certified at least 2,971 meet the validity requirements to be counted.

Rivera said on Friday the recall is more about his policy positions than anything else.

“This recall is about a fringe group of folks who don’t like what I have done, and what the assembly has done, over the last several months,” he said. “And they’re using any excuse they can to get in the door and to take me out.”

Another group is currently suing Rivera in his official capacity for limiting in-person participation in assembly meetings during the shutdown in August.

“On one end, folks are trying to recall me because I allowed two too many people in the room. And on the other end, the same people are suing me in my official capacity as chair, because I didn’t allow enough people in the room,” Rivera said. “So which one is it? You can’t have it both ways.”

Late Tuesday, a group called Midtown Citizens Coalition filed a lawsuit against the municipal clerk, arguing the recall petition’s grounds are legally insufficient and the clerk should not have certified them back in November. Rivera said he has no association with the coalition.

Thomas Amodio, one of the coalition’s attorneys, said the emergency order violation lasted no more than ten minutes. He thinks what’s really driving the recall is anger over Rivera’s support to use CARES Act money to purchase properties for homeless resources.

“You can’t recall them for doing their duty, for showing up in an assembly meeting and voting on something just because they voted some way you didn’t like,” he said.

While that’s not an argument laid out in the recall statement, Biggs said he and other recall supports are angry Rivera and other assembly members voted to allocate CARES Act dollars toward those purchases while businesses struggle during the pandemic.

Rivera said policy disagreements should be settled during elections, not through recall campaigns.

“If these folks don’t like the decisions I’ve made, then they can run against me if I decide to run for re-election and beat me,” he said. “That’s the way that this process should work.”

If the recall signatures are verified in the next week, the petition will go before the Assembly before being added to the April ballot.

Amodio expects the coalition’s case to be heard before the end of January.

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