Mat-Su

Early voting results favor recall of three Palmer city council members

An effort to unseat three Palmer city council members through a special recall election remained undecided after polls closed Tuesday, with early results favoring recall.

Recall backers accuse Sabrena Combs, Jill Valerius and Brian Daniels of violating the Open Meetings Act by participating in a closed social justice Facebook group. The law generally protects the public’s ability to observe public officials conducting public business.

The Recall Palmer Three group accused the trio of “secretly” planning action on mask mandates and police oversight during “backdoor meetings” on the social media platform. A city-funded investigative report released before the recall effort got underway, however, found the council members participated in discussion with comments and “likes” rather than overtly debating public policy.

Pro-recall votes made up the majority of the roughly 400 ballots cast in-person on Tuesday. The votes favor a recall against all three by a roughly 63% to 37% split, according to unofficial results.

Another 471 early, absentee by-mail, and questioned ballots remain to be counted.

The city canvass board began meeting Wednesday morning to check and tally the remaining ballots. The count was expected to continue into Thursday, according to city manager John Moosey.

An unusually large number of early votes were cast in this election, Moosey said. The cost of holding the special election was between $8,000 and $10,000.

Combs works in community relations for Palmer-based Matanuska Electric Association, Valerius is a doctor who started a medical practice in Palmer, and Daniels is co-owner of 203 Kombucha, a Palmer business.

A city-funded investigative report last September showed the three council members likely violated the law by discussing a proposed mask mandate in the Facebook group, though the lengthy public testimony and debate that followed “remedied the violation.”

If the recall succeeds, the remaining four council members would appoint replacements for the three unseated members. The council already includes one appointed member, so that would leave the body with a majority of appointed rather than elected members.

The city will hold a regular election in October.

If the three council members are recalled, six of seven seats will be open in October, including that of Mayor Steve Carrington, who is filling out the term vacated when former mayor Edna DeVries won election as Matanuska-Susitna Borough mayor.

Nothing in city code prevents recalled city council members from running again in October, Moosey said.

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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