Application granted to allow recall of Houston mayor

Rindi White

WASILLA -- Houston City Clerk Steven Cunningham on Monday granted an application to recall embattled Houston Mayor Roger Purcell.

This is the second application filed against Purcell. Cunningham tossed out an earlier application because it wasn't specific enough, he said. This new application focused on a single error its sponsors say Purcell made: using emergency lights on a city police vehicle while he and his wife, Bianca, drove to Fairbanks in December to deliver a grant application.

The application sponsors now have until April 8 to gather signatures from 73 registered city voters. If they do, the City Council must consider holding a special election on the recall. Cunningham said an election could be held in June at the earliest.

Portions of the Purcells' trip to Fairbanks was captured by a camera mounted on the police vehicle. Former city police officer Charlie Seidl said previously that the camera is activated only when the vehicle's emergency lights are turned on. The videos, posted on Internet video site YouTube, show a few seconds in which red and blue flashing lights are flipped on but otherwise show mostly a snowy road and a few other vehicles moving.

Purcell disputes that the video footage shows him improperly using a police vehicle.

"I did not use lights and sirens on the way up there," he said. "A two-second flashing of lights? That's what this whole recall is."

Application sponsor Kathleen Baken-Barney said she filed to recall Purcell not because she was especially peeved about his use of emergency lights but because she was frustrated at the direction the city was going under his leadership.

A 22-year resident of the city who works at Houston High, Baken-Barney said she didn't like the amount of negative news coverage the city was generating -- caused, she said, by Purcell.

"The sooner Purcell is out of office, the better the community will start looking to the rest of the Mat-Su," she said. Eleven other people co- sponsored the application.

Houston's politics are often in tumult and this isn't the first time residents have petitioned to recall a public official. Purcell faced two applications in 2008, shortly after he was elected to the City Council. He was appointed mayor in October 2008. In recent weeks, the city has been in headlines over the shooting of dogs and cats at the animal shelter, the firing of a police officer and a trip to Virginia and back at city expense that the Purcells took to pick up and deliver a rescue vehicle for the town.

Purcell said he thinks the recall effort is wasteful. His three-year council term ends in October. Voters could toss him out then if he runs for re-election, a decision he has not made public yet.

As for the recall, Purcell said he might challenge it in court. If he doesn't, he might write a 200-word rebuttal to the allegations that would also appear on the special- election ballot.

Find Rindi White online at or call her in Wasilla at 907-352-6709.