Last Tuesday’s meeting of Palmer’s city council was short and subdued following a contentious election the previous week that recalled three of seven council members.
Council members Brian Daniels, Sabrena Combs and Jill Valerius were voted out. The three were accused by local conservative activists of discussing public business with a constituent group, Mat-Su Moms for Social Justice, in a closed FaceBook meeting, which violated the state Open Meetings Act.
City clerk Shelly Acteson said the remaining four members of the council will hold a special meeting next Tuesday to certify the election results, and will meet again in 30 days to name temporary replacements.
Acteson told the council she is also posting a notice to seek applications for people interested in serving on the council until the next regular elections in the fall.
Meanwhile, there were sober reflections voiced on the recall campaign during the meeting. Amy Smith, a Palmer resident, thanking the three outgoing council members for their service and said she regretted the three having to endure a campaign filled with “hate and vitriol, she said.
“There are many people who are standing with you (referreing to Daniels, Combs and Valerius) because you seek to represent more than just one facet of the community,” a reference to politically active conservatives.
City Mayor Steve Carrington agreed it was a tumultuous spring for the city, starting with the January windstorm and then the recall. It is time for things to calm down, he said.
“Kindness should be the rule of our law,” he said.
Council member Carolina Anzilotti also thanked Daniels, Combs and Valerius for their service, as well as Carrington for his remarks.
“I want to commend the mayor for asking us to take the long view,” she said, although the comments were a bit tardy.
Jackie Ivey Goforth, one of two activists who spearheaded the recall, also called for, “a time of healing,” but also poked a stick at the wound in the community.
“If you break the law you face the consequences,” she said during the open audience participation part of the meeting. Goforth also acknowledged she is not a resident of Palmer, living just outside the city limits.
Cindy Hudgins, the second instigator of the recall, said: “There were no lies told in the recall (campaign). Everything we said was the truth,” she said. Hudgins is a resident of Palmer.
Daniels, one of the three recalled council members, said he refuses to apologize over discussions with constituents. He acknowledged that the heated campaign took a toll on his health, creating a great deal of stress, and,
“I was actually relieved when it was over,” he said, even when the results had him being recalled.
Palmer needs to do some soul-searching, Daniels said.
“We need to ask ourselves who will get involved in community leadership,” he said, seeking to represent more than a narrow segment of the community, if there is a risk of becoming the brunt of a recall.
An attorney hired by the city to investigate the original complaint by Goforth and Hudgins found the closed Facebook discussion was a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Although no penalties were proposed recommendations were subsequently made that council members receive training on the state Open Meetings Act and the proper use of social media.
Given the lack of any suggested penalties it’s likely there were other, underlying issues involved in the recall, particularly since the three recalled council members are considered political moderates.
On a more upbeat note, city manager John Moosey reminded the council that Monday, May 2 is “Drive Your Tractor to Work Bay,” celebrating Alaska Agriculture Day and the agricultural roots of the Palmer community.
Also, May 7 and 8 will see Palmer’s airport host its second “Great Alaska Aviation Gathering,” Moosey told the council, with several thousand aviation enthusiasts visiting the community for events and exhibits centered at the Alaska State Fair grounds and Palmer’s city-owned airport.