Unalaska's political controversy heats as recall petition approved
November 3rd, 2017 | Carey Restino
On the heels of the announcement that members of the Unalaska City Council are under investigation, the political turmoil in Unalaska seems to only be getting more dissonant.
This week, the Unalaska City Clerk Marjorie Veeder approved a recall petition application against Mayor Frank Kelty on the grounds that the mayor attempted to sole-source a land-use agreement at the Unalaska Marine Center.
The petitioner, Ryan Burke, and others who signed the petition application, now have 60 days to gather the needed signatures — 25 percent of those registered city voters who voted in the preceding general election — or 168 signatures.
While the clerk approved one of the grounds for the recall petition, she rejected three others. The petition alleged that Kelty violated his duties when he conducted private discussions and negotiations with a representative of Matson Shipping outside of the public process, when he failed to conduct an executive session and when he failed to comply with provisions regarding setting and changing council agendas.
The city clerk responded that the Unalaska City Code does not prohibit the mayor from conducting private discussions and negotiations outside of the public process unless the discussion is regarding personnel matters, thus negating the first allegation. The allegation that the mayor violated the open meetings act by failing to conduct an executive session was removed from the petition due to the fact that the allegation was not made "with particularity," meaning it did not identify what meeting it was referring to. The third claim that was removed, regarding setting and changing council agendas, was also lacking specifics, the clerk said in a letter to Burke.
With regard to the single allegation that was approved, Veeder said that while the city code did have an exception allowing sole-source disposals of city property, a city council resolution is required for such situations. No city resolutions were passed approving sole-source negotiations, she said.
"Therefore, I conclude that if this allegation is true, it does state a sufficient basis for recall 'with particularity,'" she wrote.
Alaska law is relatively lenient in the grounds it allows recall petitions to be based on. The city clerk, by ruling that the petition application is sufficient, is not ruling on the merit of the allegation. That is up to the voters to decide. Instead, administrators are asked to assume that all allegations brought forward by petitioners are true, and assess them on those grounds to see if they would constitute a violation of the duties of office. If so, a petition is granted.
The petition sponsors who signed along with Veeder may now begin circulating the petition. All signatures must be written in the presence of one of the sponsors, and must be registered voters from the city.
Veeder may appeal the clerk's decision on the three allegations the clerk did not approve to Alaska Superior Court within 30 days.
Meanwhile, some members of the council are under investigation following a long-brewing controversy in which some allege councilmembers — and possibly the mayor — asked then city manager Dave Martinson to discipline Deputy Police Chief Jennifer Shockley for circulating a petition asking city residents to rate their satisfaction with councilmembers.
While the council has the authority to hire and fire its city manager, all decisions regarding city personnel rest with the city manager.
No official announcement has been made regarding who is conducting the investigation, but at least one city councilmember had a warrant served on his computer by an attorney, local radio station KUCB reported.
At a recent council meeting, the council reportedly voted to approve hiring a third-party investigator to look into the matter. The vote was split 3-3, with some arguing that they should let the current inquiry run its course before taking action. Kelty cast the tiebreaker vote in favor of authorizing the interim city manager and city attorney to explore the possibility of contracting for a separate independent investigation.