Recall effort initiated
Update, Thursday, July 21 4 p.m .:
Haines Borough clerk Julie Cozzi on Thursday afternoon rejected the application for the recall of assemblyman Steve Vick, on the recommendation of borough attorney Brooks Chandler. Chandler in a memo wrote the only “required duty” in the portion of borough code cited in the rejected application was for the assembly to “order an investigation” before certifying the election of Greg Goodman. Chandler said an investigation was ordered. Cozzi also rejected the charge pertaining to the Goodman certification on the recall applications for Joanne Waterman and Daymond Hoffman. She approved the recall applications for Waterman and Hoffman on the single charge they failed to perform their duties when they voted June 13 to set a special election instead of filling the vacant seat within 30 days.
A local citizens’ group on July 15 filed applications for recall of Haines Borough Assembly members Daymond Hoffman, Steve Vick and Joanne Waterman.
The Haines Recall Committee officially filed the paperwork with the Alaska Public Offices Commission and the borough to initiate the recall effort. Resident Jim Shook is named as chairman.
Assembly members Jerry Lapp and Scott Rossman are exempt from recall efforts because according to Alaska State Statute, a recall petition cannot be filed against any official with fewer than 180 days before the end of their term. Lapp’s and Rossman’s assembly seats are up for election in October.
According to state statute, "Grounds for recall are misconduct in office, incompetence, or failure to perform prescribed duties."
Shook said the recall effort addresses the controversy of assembly seat "E," that has since October been playing out in assembly meetings and the court.
In that election former Haines Police chief Greg Goodman defeated write-in candidate Karen Hess, who contested that Goodman did not meet borough residency requirements. The assembly considered the issue, but voted 4-2, with Lapp and Rossman voting in opposition, to certify Goodman as the winner. Hess then filed suit and in May a Juneau Superior Court judged ruled that Goodman did not meet borough residency requirements.
Goodman vacated the seat and the assembly announced they would appoint someone to fill the seat until this October’s election. Eleven people submitted letters of interest for an appointment to the open seat.
At a meeting on June 13, the five remaining members of the assembly could not agree on a candidate to reach the necessary four votes for an appointment. Instead, the assembly moved to fill the vacancy with an October special election. The move violated borough code that requires vacancies to be filled within 30 days. Vick was the only member that voted against filling the seat through an election.
The recall applications contend Waterman, Hoffman and Vick failed to perform their required duties because they voted to certify Goodman in October, "rejecting the contest of election prior to completion of the investigation as required by Haines Borough Code HBC 2.68.540."
That code reads "…the assembly shall order an investigation to be made by the borough attorney, clerk and manager. All investigation proceedings shall be conducted publicly..."
The assembly held a public meeting in the Haines Borough Public Library to interview Goodman before voting to certify his election.
Vick said he doesn’t understand how the matter could be used as a recallable offense.
"We did an investigation with Goodman, there in public, it was recorded and documented," Vick said. "It’s just not accurate what the application is saying."
Borough attorney Brooks Chandler on Wednesday agreed.
"Fact is that an investigation was completed prior to the assembly vote," Chandler said. "But an erroneous fact in a recall application may or may not result in rejection of the application."
Chandler said there was some confusion shortly before that investigation that may have lead some to believe the assembly did not conduct a complete investigation. The borough had contacted the state Division of Elections to request copies of Goodman’s voting records to examine his residency history. Chandler’s advice to the assembly was that they not certify the election until they were able to view the records.
Unknown to many people, Chandler said, the records arrived moments before the public meeting at the library.
"The information was received from division of elections before the assembly voted, but many people may not have realized that because of what I wrote in my memo," Chandler said.
Vick said while the assembly may have made a decision that was eventually overturned by a judge, the assembly followed proper procedure and no member failed in their duties.
"The recourse for recall just isn’t there," Vick said.
Waterman and Hoffman are also facing recall on the grounds of failing to perform their duties when they violated city code on June 13 by not filling the vacant seat. Lapp and Rossman joined in that vote.
Borough clerk Julie Cozzi said Wednesday the applications are under "legal review" by Chandler. She is awaiting advice from Chandler before deciding whether to accept or reject the applications. If she determines they are sufficient, she said she will draw up the official petitions needed to gather signatures from the public. Each petition will need at least 275 signatures by August 12, that Cozzi will have to certify, and then the recall will proceed to the October election.
A recall question would appear on the ballot, asking if a specific person should be recalled. If the question gets a majority of "yes" answers, the seat is vacated and another special election would be scheduled to elect someone to the empty seats, according to Cozzi. If each of the three recall efforts is successful, the assembly could potentially, on Oct. 4, have only three members seated. Four members are needed for the assembly to have a quorum.
Additionally, the assembly could be facing one of the same dilemmas that got them to this point; code states an empty assembly seat must be filled within 30 days. But there is also a requirement of 45 days’ notice before a special election can be held. However, without a quorum, the assembly cannot meet or take any action.
Cozzi said she will plan for any eventuality, depending on how the recall efforts progress.
"I plan to have answers well before we get to that point," she said. "It’s uncharted territory for many of us."
Shook said he reluctantly agreed to be named chairman for the recall committee, but emphasized the recall petition effort is the work of many in the community.
"This has nothing to do with politics, parties or philosophy," Shook said. "I don’t enjoy this at all. But this is simply addressing the rule of law and the law was not followed. I ask the general public that if they believe in the rule of law, regardless of their party affiliation or philosophy, that they sign the petition."
Vick said he thinks the recall efforts are partisan and political. He’s curious to see if the committee will attempt to recall Lapp or Rossman for their June 13 votes if either wins re-election in October and when they become eligible for recall.
"If the committee doesn’t do that, then their intention is obvious," Vick said.
Waterman said she respects the voter-driven recall process and is not taking the effort personally.
"I think they’re doing what they think is best for the community they live in," she said.
Waterman said of the Goodman decision that the assembly made the best
decision it could with the information given to them at the time. She said in regards to election issues, she has always supported the wishes of the majority of voters.
"I stand behind my votes. From the time I took my assembly seat I
have always voted in support of the voters," she said. "I voted to seat Goodman because the majority of voters at the time wanted him."
Mayor Jan Hill, who has been criticized by some for not forcing the assembly to stay in session on June 13 until they could agree on someone to appoint to the seat, said the recall effort is distracting but understandable.
"I think it is unfortunate but I understand what has prompted this by the public and they have every right to do this," she said.
Hill said she does not think she could have forced an appointment on June 13, and without a sixth member to cause a tie, she had no voting power to influence the outcome.
Lapp said he was not surprised that a recall effort took shape, but he thinks the move to certify Goodman was a more serious breach of duties than violating code by not filling the empty seat within 30 days. Lapp plans to run for re-election.
"Maybe one of these days we’ll get back to a normal election," he said.