NSB mayor recall petitioners seek clerk certification
Before any further action can be taken on the petition to recall North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower, it must be certified by Borough Clerk Sheila Burke.
That was the conclusion that followed a lengthy executive session at Tuesday's regular meeting of the assembly in Barrow.
While there had been another executive session on the agenda to discuss the investigation into allegations of ethics violations by the mayor, this separate session was proposed only at the start of the meeting,
Roy Ahmaogak brought the idea before the assembly alongside members of the People for Responsible Government group that started the recall petition.
"We're hitting snags and I'd like to ask if we can have an executive session with the assembly if that's possible to get you guys up to speed with where we're at," he said.
The group was concerned with the way the petition had been handled by borough and assembly representatives since it was filed Dec. 18.
According to Alaska state statutes, the petition should have been reviewed and certified or not certified by the borough clerk within 10 days of being filed — by Dec. 28.
Its certification should in part depend on whether or not there were enough signatories to meet the minimums needed for a valid petition.
The "snags" came after a handful of the signatories wrote down their post office box numbers or villages instead of physical addresses on the petition; some type of location is required alongside a voter name, signature, and date.
"The borough voting district carries villages, though," said group member Dora Arey. "And the majority of the insufficient voting names have been stated because it does not match a physical address. We feel that that itself is inconsistent with the law. I would like the assembly to consider accepting all those 89 signatures because they are all registered voters on the North Slope and live in the villages."
The clerk sought legal advice from acting attorney Teresa Bowen, who is an employee of the borough.
Initially, it looked to the borough's legal staff as though the petition may not be certifiable according to borough code, which seemed to indicate a certain number of signatures were invalid. The group then cited election law that hadn't been considered initially, and provided additional signatures.
"When this petition originally came in, I was actually looking at it and I considered what the borough code said along with what the state law said. I did not consider all the election case law behind it. So, they provided us with the case law challenging the decertification of 89 signatures that I was not able to consider at that time," said Bowen. "They then supplemented the petition with sufficient signatures. .... They cited a new law that was rendered moot when they provided additional signatures that met the legal requirement."
The group was concerned that Bowen, as a borough employee, may have been unduly influencing the certification of the petition.
"How it works under law usually is that the clerk is responsible but she seeks guidance from the law department," said Bowen. "She requests a legal opinion and we provide the legal opinion. This is a legal process therefore the borough clerk's — while they are ultimately responsible for certifying it — do request legal advice."
Bowen said that after she'd considered the election law the group cited alongside the additional signatures, she put forward a new memo to the clerk the same day as the assembly meeting. Burke said she would now make the petition a priority.
"At the executive session, there was concern about a perceived conflict of interest with my representation of the borough in this matter," Bowen said after the executive session had concluded.
"I believe the matter is resolved at this point. I provided Ms. Burke a legal opinion regarding the recall petition. She has to be the one to make a determination on it. The borough attorney, the assembly, no member of the borough can certify it except Sheila who is a borough assembly employee. She must be the one so she has to have time to read it, consider it, and make her own determination based on my advice. So, at this point that is what will occur and then the assembly can decide what it's going to do as a future action whether it's schedule a special meeting or go to the next scheduled meeting."