Organizers of a campaign to recall Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel say they have gathered enough signatures to get a recall vote onto a ballot.
However, the Alaska Supreme Court on Thursday will hear arguments in a case that could keep the recall from moving forward.
Zaletel, a local attorney who represents Midtown, is up for reelection in 2022. Russell Biggs, a local anesthesiologist and Midtown resident who pushed a recall effort against Assembly member Felix Rivera that failed in the April municipal election, filed the petition against Zaletel.
Biggs, in an emailed statement, said that he and other petitioners submitted 4,500 signatures to the municipal clerk’s office on Monday morning.
To make it on the ballot, the recall petition needs enough valid signatures from District 4 voters to make up 25% of the votes cast in the April 2, 2019 election for the Assembly seat, or 2,468 signatures. The municipal clerk must first verify the signatures before the recall effort goes to the Assembly for approval.
Biggs had filed two petitions against Zaletel last year, but the municipal clerk, Barbara Jones, found the stated grounds for recall legally insufficient and rejected the petitions. When Biggs challenged Jones’ decisions in court, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Biggs on one petition, reversing the clerk’s decision to reject it.
That petition claims that Zaletel committed misconduct in office on Aug. 11, 2020 when she violated Emergency Order 15 and knowingly participated in an indoor gathering of more than 15 people at an Assembly meeting during the pandemic.
Under Alaska law, courts do not investigate the claims in a recall petition to determine whether they are true or false. Instead, it is up to the voters to decide whether the allegations are true during the recall vote.
Biggs’ political organization, Reclaim Midtown, on its Facebook page in a post and on Biggs’ website cited several other arguments for recalling Zaletel, including the city’s federal COVID-19 relief spending, crime and the Assembly limiting public access to its chambers last summer due to the pandemic.
After the Superior Court overturned the municipal clerk’s rejection of the recall effort, the city appealed the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for 10:45 a.m. Thursday.
Municipal Attorney Patrick Bergt said that the appeal has been expedited and that the city and Biggs have both asked the court for a decision by Sept. 1.
In a statement Monday, Biggs said, “our petitioners have worked diligently to see this effort through and we feel strongly that the Anchorage Municipality’s obstruction of this effort for over a year was a calculated effort to block a valid citizen initiative via the bureaucratic process and courts.”
Zaletel called the recall effort a “huge waste of taxpayer dollars.”
“Recall for the same grounds was essentially rejected earlier this year,” she said.