A state judge on Monday ruled that a petition to recall Anchorage Assembly chair Felix Rivera can move ahead.
The petition was certified by the city clerk earlier this month and is set to be placed on the April ballot for voters in District 4. It will go to the Assembly at its meeting Tuesday to be moved to the ballot.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby said in her ruling that under Alaska law, the court does not have the ability to investigate the claims against Rivera in the petition and to determine whether they are true or false. Instead, the voters should decide whether the allegations are true during the recall vote.
The recall petition asserts that Rivera failed to perform his prescribed duties as Assembly chair during an August meeting when he did not take action after another Assembly member told him there were too many people in the room under the city’s pandemic emergency order at the time.
A group supporting Rivera challenged the petition in court, arguing that it was approved by the city clerk on legally insufficient grounds and that Rivera, acting as chair, had the discretion to conduct the meeting as he saw fit. They also argued Rivera was taking multiple other steps to comply with the emergency order. If the order was violated at all, it was momentary, they had argued.
Crosby wrote that Alaska’s recall policy, determined by the Supreme Court, the Legislature and the constitution, “mandates that the voters must determine whether Mr. Rivera’s conduct was a reasonable exercise of his discretion under the circumstances, or whether it merits his recall from office.”
Support for his recall grew among a group of residents upset with the Assembly’s actions to manage the pandemic, including its support of the acting mayor’s emergency orders and a controversial vote to approve purchasing buildings for homeless and treatment services.
Some of the recall’s supporters, including former Rivera challenger Christine Hill, have also objected to the fact that that they were denied access to the Assembly chambers to participate in meetings in-person under previous pandemic emergency orders.
“Our 300 petitioner sponsors and 4,999 Midtown residents that signed the recall application are pleased that our voices, which have been ignored by the Assembly, will finally be heard at the ballot box,” petition sponsor Russell Biggs Biggs said in a statement via text.
Rivera called the ruling “disappointing” and said that it points to flaws in state law. He said he did not know whether his supporters would appeal Crosby’s decision.
“Really what this recall is about is a radical group of folks... trying to bully me and bully the Assembly because they don’t like the decisions that we’ve made,” Rivera said Monday night.
Rivera said that there is still a long recall process ahead, and that he is focusing his time and energy on the bigger issues the city is facing, including the global pandemic.