Claiming that ample evidence exists that Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor John Williams and assembly member Gary Superman should be removed from office, a group of citizens has begun the formal process for seeking their recall.
Applications for two recall votes were submitted Tuesday to Borough Clerk Sherry Biggs. If approved, recall petition papers would be prepared that could lead to a special election sometime next year.
Kenai resident Herman Fandell is the prime sponsor of the move to recall Williams. Ninilchik resident Ruby Kime is the alternate. Meanwhile, Nikiski residents Vicki Pate and James Mallott are the prime and alternate sponsors of the move to recall Superman of Nikiski. The four are members the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers (ACT), a group that over the past couple of years has gone to battle via the ballot box with the assembly over its taxation and spending powers and successfully led initiative drives to cap the sales tax rate and limit the amount the assembly can spend on capital projects without a public vote.
The applications claim Williams and Superman violated their oaths of office, the Alaska Constitution and state statutes: Williams for “repeatedly ignoring and even actively campaigning against” the expressed will of the people, and Superman for voting last June to pass Ordinance 2009-09 that increased the boroughwide sales tax from 2 percent to 3 percent in the absence of a public vote.
Williams also was accused of thwarting initiative petition efforts by repeatedly and selectively ignoring state statutes and borough code “using obscure and irrelevant court decisions that poorly support his position, thereby denying citizens their constitutional right to petition their government.”
The application said Williams’ actions had left citizens with little in the way of options save lawsuit or recall.
Reached in northern Illinois, where he was visiting his daughter, Fandell said it was hard to discuss long-distance why he believes Williams, who he has known since 1968, should be removed from office in a recall election. However, his main objections seem to stem from long-held disagreements with Williams’ positions and an opposition to the mayor’s efforts to have the assembly consider increases to taxes and other measures. Fandell said he worries that tax increases could become law before the next regular election in the fall of 2008.
“We’re the ones who foot the bill,” Fandell said.
He also noted that Williams won his office “by a slim margin,” and he opposed the “fringe benefits” enjoyed by borough staff, including Williams. Williams, however, has declined to take any fringe benefits associated with his job.
It is questionable whether any of Fandell’s assertions rise to a level of justifying recall. Borough Attorney Colette Thompson said the criteria for recall are misconduct in office, incompetence or failure to perform prescribed duties of the office. She said the applications were under review and declined comments on specifics.
Superman was further accused of violating state statute when he approved the ballot language for this fall’s Proposition 2, a referendum on the 2005 tax measure, and that he violated borough code by voting on two capital project spending measures this year that exceeded the $1 million spending cap approved by voters last year. They regarded acquisition of equipment for South Peninsula Hospital and the award of a contract to repair Spruce Creek Bridge near Seward.
The assembly approved both, relying on the advice of the borough attorney that it was on firm legal ground.
In an interview Wednesday, Superman said he has been locking horns with ACT members for years and wasn’t surprised it had come to a recall effort. He said after years of listening to a parade of people “slinging epithets and unfounded accusations,” he’d begun to answer back, often strongly, from his forum on the assembly.
“I think that has caught their ire,” he said. “But that’s just the way it is. We are on opposite ends of the spectrum on many issues.”
He said ACT was all about limiting the constitutional and statutory powers of the assembly.
“Do we want to move more toward a petition-driven vote on everything, or maintain a representative democracy?” he asked.
In a press release Tuesday, ACT Vice President Vicki Pate said there are proper procedures by which elected officials could change law.
“Disdain for and total disregard of the law is not one of them,” she said. “There are consequences when elected public officials break the law. Recall is the proper channel for punishing such wrongdoing.”
In the same press release, ACT President Mike McBride, of Nikiski, said, “There are a whole list of unlawful acts performed by certain members of the borough assembly and the administration that will come out as the recall process moves forward.”
Williams said the accusations leveled by the group were completely inaccurate, unsubstantiated and untrue. In regard to assertions by ACT that he influenced past decisions in the clerk’s office to deny initiative applications, Williams said the clerk did not work for him, but for the assembly, lending credence, he added, to the assertion that ACT members simply don’t understand how the borough government operates.
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