WASILLA — The Wasilla City Council denied Emergency Order 20-35 at their Monday meeting by a 3-2 vote. The Emergency Order would have waived the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots cast in the mayoral runoff election, but had to receive unanimous support from the Council to pass as an emergency order from Mayor Bert Cottle.
“While not our normal practice, because of the pandemic I was able to reach each voter, explain that the signature requirement was still required by our code. In all instances the voters were elderly and confused because they had just received their notice from the state saying a witness signature was not required, seven of those have come in and adhered. We’re expecting another tomorrow,” said Wasilla Clerk Jamie Newman.
Wasilla City Attorney Holly Wells explained that the measure was drafted to protect the city from potential litigation after the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in favor of removing the witness signature requirement for the state ballots due to COVID-19. Wells said that they were hoping to protect city of Wasilla voters, even those who could be quarantined due to positive tests.
“If this ordinance passes, what it would do is protect the integrity of this runoff election and ensure that there are no voter rights that have been violated so there is no chance of a claim against the city in that regard,” said Wells. “We adopted the process, as you heard from the clerk, to make sure that anyone who was simply failing to sign due to confusion caused by the state election and the release of an email and a postcard by the state saying you would no longer need your witness signature, let’s make sure that we try to address those so we’re being very fact specific and really aiming at a solution that makes sense for the city of Wasilla and is no broader than it needs to be.”
Newly sworn-in council member Tim Johnson noted his hesitance, but said that he would be in support. Councilman Tim Burney did not express support, and was one of two ‘no’ votes along with Councilman James Harvey.
“There are ways to get witness signatures. I don’t think it’s an impossibility for anybody so I just don’t think this is something that first should’ve came to the floor, second we should be voting on, and third should be passing,” said Burney. “I think there was an assumption there that judges are impartial, that’s pretty much all I have to say about that. I just don’t think this is the right way to go, I really do not. I think this is setting a bad precedent for the city.”
While Burney expressed his disapproval with the emergency order, Simon Brown II urged him to vote in favor.
“I think with all the confusion, we don’t want to disenfranchise any voter or have any confusion going and I hope everyone will support this for this emergency ordinance so all will be included and then we can work on a better way to do it in the future,” said Brown II.
Wasilla Finance Director Troy Tankersly provided an update on the COVID-19 grant funding to date. The Council passed Ordinance 20-38 unanimously on Monday, opening up phase four of Wasilla’s small business grant application program on Tuesday, October 27, which includes utility assistance through the Matanuska Electric Association and Enstar.
“We’ll be through the 80 percent requirement to get the second check and the second check is for $5 million and then that will give you money going forward if they extend the program and we think there’s a chance they will extend the program and so you’ll still have money in the bank to keep doing what you’re doing, but we should be almost at the end of the $8 million mark by the end of the calendar year,” said Mayor Cottle.
Tankersly said that approximately $3.4 million had been expended through Monday. Wasilla has paid out $1.9 million to small businesses in the first three phases, $590,000 to Wasilla residents for Personal Protective Equipment, $720,000 for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation rent assistance and $203,000 in city mitigation.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t extend some gratitude to you and your administration,” said Burney. “It’s got to be a yeoman’s effort to put all this together so I just want to thank you guys for all your work on this.”
After six years as the Mayor of Wasilla, Bert Cottle gaveled out of his final meeting on Monday. Before the meeting finished, Cottle reminded citizens to vote and said that the new Mayor will take office on 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, November 1. Cottle thanked each one of his staff members, directors, and clerk staff.
“With this staff Wasilla has grown and prospered with a new library, the new police department, new parks, moving the veterans wall, moving the train depot and expanding the airport to name a few. And finally, I would like to thank all the residents of Wasilla who have supported the sales tax increases to forward fund the library and police department, saving us over $6 million in interest and handling fees,” said Cottle. “They’ve all done a great job and they’ve made me look really good for the last nine years so I just wanted to thank all my staff and the public for supporting us in all our endeavors. So we’ve done good and I’m going to miss everybody here.”