Alaska News

Purcell says he resigned to save him, city cash

WASILLA -- Rather than spend his money battling a special election meant to unseat him, Houston Mayor Roger Purcell said he's saving himself some cash by stepping down Monday.

"I knew they (recall supporters) had been spending a lot of money on advertising. I have three months left to go and I didn't want to spend all the money it was going to take to stay on as mayor," Purcell said Friday.

The group formed to recall Purcell, Houston Citizens for Integrity, reported raising $675 for the recall election in its seven-day report. In that report, the group stated it had spent $50.

The recall election was scheduled for Tuesday. But it was canceled Thursday after Purcell wrote a letter of resignation. He will remain on the Houston City Council until October, when his three-year term ends.

Purcell said his resignation also saved the city money. Without Tuesday's election, there's no need to hire election officials to work polls and review ballots.

Steven Cunningham, city clerk, this spring estimated the election would cost more than $10,000, but on Friday said he had cut that cost dramatically by printing ballots himself and hand-perforating them. He estimated he'd spent $250 to $350 so far, mostly on printing costs. He estimated the total cost to hold the election would have been about $1,500.

He spent another $3,700 getting legal opinions on two recall applications filed against Purcell.

Deputy Mayor Lance Wilson will be the interim mayor next week until City Council chooses a replacement. The council picks one of its own to serve as mayor and run the city. It is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday to decide who that will be. The mayor's term ends in October.

Purcell's leadership of the city of 1,755 residents has been filled with public battles. He took on the Municipality of Anchorage when a municipal board tried to shelve the Knik Arm Bridge project, and he volunteered the city as the spot from where the Alaska Railroad could begin its spur line to borough-owned Port MacKenzie. He said both projects will boost the city's economy if they're built.

He also faced battles on the home front, where some of his plans weren't popular. In February, he got into a public spat with the city police officer over the killing of eight dogs and cats at the city animal shelter. The officer said Purcell told him to shoot the animals, which had been at the shelter for months. Purcell denies giving that order. Several layoffs followed, including that of the officer who shot the animals, and the city nearly disbanded the police department shortly afterward to cut costs.

Purcell also took heat for buying a used rescue truck, which had previously been used as a trash truck, and driving it from Virginia to Alaska to save on shipping costs. The recall he was facing stemmed from a December incident in which he and his wife drove a new city police car to Fairbanks to deliver a grant application, apparently at one point turning on the vehicle's overhead flashing lights. Purcell denied that he used the lights to pass anyone, and said he hadn't "done anything recallable."

The public battles have been disheartening, said Purcell.

"It's not just me; it's all the mayors that have been there. Every mayor that's been in there has been attacked ruthlessly," Purcell said, adding that many have faced their own recall battles, although no other recall applications made it to the election stage.

Purcell himself filed one of those recall challenges against former mayor Dale Adams.

But who will lead the city to more stable ground?

Wilson said he's not sure he's interested in being mayor of the city right now. He joined the council to "deliver city services and keep taxes in line," he said, but he and other council members have been disheartened by the wave of bitterness from city residents who criticize how the city is run.

"This has gotten to be very, very personal," he said. "It's to the point where I don't know if I want to serve at all."

Find Rindi White online at adn.com/contact/rwhite or call her in Wasilla at 907-352-6709.

By RINDI WHITE

rwhite@adn.com

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