PALMER — An impasse following a deadlocked vote has created an opportunity for a first-time council member.
Imran Chaudhry was sworn in as the newest member of the Palmer City Council on Tuesday, following a lengthy process to replace former Deputy Mayor Pete LaFrance, who moved his family to Switzerland.
Chaudhry, who will serve his term between Aug. 27 and when new council members are sworn in on Oct. 7 following the election on Oct. 1, accepted the selection and was sworn in as Palmer’s seventh city council member, the first of Pakistani descent.
“I feel as if the situation I’m in is an American dream, in a sense,” said Chaudhry.
Chaudhry is a 2009 graduate of Palmer High School, and his parents immigrated from Pakistan. He was naturalized as an American citizen at a young age and Chaudhry’s mother Ghulam Bushra attended the meeting and beamed with pride as her son was sworn in as a city council member. Chaudhry thanked his mother and late father for their hard work in providing a better life for he and his siblings, and hopes to become a doctor in the future. Chaudhry said he is excited for the opportunity to serve his city, but has no delusions that he will affect major changes during his short stint on the council, which will span four meetings in total.
“I’ve always wanted to get into politics. I didn’t really see myself jumping into politics this early, but I feel as if something like this can be a perfect stepping stone,” said Chaudhry. “I would love to introduce some things later down the line that might make an impression, especially as it relates to the homeless.”
Currently, Chaudhry is employed at the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association.
Chaudhry was selected after the process to select an interim council member reached an impasse at each of the two meetings scheduled to select a new member. LaFrance officially vacated his seat on June 26, and the council had 45 days to select a replacement according to Palmer Municipal Code. During the July 23 meeting, the existing six council members were tasked with selecting a new member from the five applicants. Following a statement from the three applicants that attended the July 23 meeting, Richard Best, a former Councilman and current Chief of Staff to Representative Ben Carpenter (R-Kenai), and Jill Valerius were the only two applicants that received votes. The vote remained deadlocked at 3-3, and the meeting was adjourned without a selected replacement.
The council held a special meeting on Aug. 6 to vote again and fill the vacant seat, as required by city code. Reaching another tie vote, Chaudhry was reintroduced as a candidate after he was unable to attend the July 23 meeting due to illness. Deputy Mayor Steve Carrington switched his vote from Best to Chaudhry, joining Julie Berberich, Sabrena Combs and David Fuller to select Chaudhry. During discussion, sitting council members felt that rather than selecting Valerius, Best, or taking no action and violating city code, they would select Chaudhry who is not running for either of the vacant council seats in October to give someone new a chance at serving the city of Palmer, however brief the term. At the time of the Aug. 6 meeting, the question remained if Chaudhry would be able to serve the term until the October election. City Clerk Norma Alley had to call Chaudhry, who was traveling, and ask if he would like his opportunity to serve on the council after he had not been selected at the July 23 meeting. Chaudhry asked for 24 hours to consider if he could accept the responsibilities of sitting on the council, as he is currently enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage taking prerequisite classes to attend medical school, a lifelong dream of Chaudhry’s.
Chaudhry voted with his fellow council members on each agenda item, all of which were passed unanimously. One of the items that was voted on had not been presented on the agenda, but came up during City Manager Nathan Wallace’s report. In 2018, Mayor Edna DeVries asked Wallace to explore the possibility of a crosswalk between North and South Valley Way across the Arctic Avenue, due to the high foot traffic from the bike path and nearby elementary schools. Of the $25,000 appropriated for the project, $18,000 was allocated for engineering work. Wallace presented a rendering that would add a raised median on Arctic in between Brew HaHa and Napa on either side of the road. Wallace informed the council that the price tag of the scope of work would exceed the budgeted amount, near $90,000. Councilwoman Linda Combs made a motion to reintroduce the topic when the council begins their budget deliberations later this year, which was passed unanimously.
“I’m glad we’re going to talk about the crosswalk at budget time because I really hesitate to put any more construction in Palmer this year,” said Carrington.
Not yet finished reporting on possible paving projects, Wallace then informed the council that the quote for work to pave a gravel trail from Cope Industrial Way to Gulkana Street also exceeds the budgeted amount. The council included $20,000 in the capital budget for the project, but the bids Wallace received total $49,000. The motion to bring the path paving project back at a later date as an action memorandum passed without objection.
Also on the agenda on Tuesday was the much-debated excessive call ordinance, introduced by concerned citizens hoping to solve a problem of vagrant neighbors. The existing ordinance 19-007 was tabled indefinitely in favor of the new ordinance 19-016, which passed unanimously.
“A concerned citizens group formed in Palmer and approached the Palmer City Council to consider adopting an excessive police response ordinance. The goal of the citizen group was to reduce criminal activity at problem locations in Palmer to which the police frequently respond,” read the ordinance summary.
Following public hearing on May 28, the council decided to update the ordinance language to reflect concerns on enforcement. Violation of the excessive police response ordinance may result in a citation issued to parties responsible. The new ordinance states that an excess of eight calls per calendar year may result in a citation. Police response does not include false information, false alarms, child neglect, or sexual assault. The city will notify homeowners when a home has reached six calls, and after eight calls, the homeowner will be notified that an additional call would result in a citation. The council will hold meetings on Sept. 10 and Sept. 24 before elections in October.