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Early results in Palmer election show voters in favor of recalling 3 council members, with more ballots left to count

Published: Apr. 19, 2022 at 10:11 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - The polls have closed in a special election that asked whether voters would recall three Palmer City Council members over accusations they violated the Open Meetings Act, and preliminary results Tuesday night showed the “yes” votes ahead.

More people had voted “yes” to recall Palmer City Council members Brian Daniels, Sabrena Combs and Jill Valerius than had voted against the recall, according to early, unofficial results published by election officials on Tuesday evening.

According to those results, the city has not yet tallied more than 400 early, absentee, questioned and special needs ballots. Those will be counted later this week.

The recall initiative was initially launched in the fall of 2021, when recall petitions were filed against four then-sitting council members. The petitions alleged the council members had violated the Open Meetings Act when, in 2020, all four of them participated in a Facebook group that was closed.

The initial petitions were rejected, and subsequent petitions were filed to recall council members Daniels, Combs and Valerius. Palmer voters have had since April 4 to cast their ballot through early voting, and the polls closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, which was the official special election day.

The accusations prompted an independent investigation by a Ketchikan-based law firm into whether participating in the closed Mat-Su Moms for Social Justice Facebook group constituted Open Meetings Act violations. A memo released after the investigation said that while the activity in that group did include likes and comments from the council members, and was related to issues the council might have the power to act on, the investigation did not find that the city council ended up considering or acting on those topics at the time.

“At least one of the streams of communications in October 2020 appears to have violated the OMA,” Scott Brandt-Erichsen with the law firm wrote in the memo. “Even if none of the posts contain sufficient detail to conclude unequivocally that the OMA is being violated by the communication, I recommend that council members not participate in communications by social media.”

According to the preliminary results published Tuesday night, 250 people voted to recall Combs, compared to 149 who had voted against recalling her. There were 253 votes in favor of recalling Daniels, compared to 147 votes for him to keep his seat, and 248 people had voted to recall Valerius compared to 147 votes against recalling her.

The early results show about a 17.7% voter turnout for Palmer, which is higher than the turnout for Palmer’s regular municipal election in October 2021, which was 14.2%.

If all three are recalled, council members will be appointed to take their places until the next election. One current sitting council member, Carolina Anzilotti, was previously appointed to fill a vacancy.

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