Mat-Su

Palmer residents vote to recall 3 council members over closed Facebook group participation

Three Palmer city council members are being recalled, according to updated results of a special election held this week.

A majority of voters backed the recall of Sabrena Combs, Jill Valerius and Brian Daniels after an unofficial ballot count wrapped up Friday.

Recall supporters accused Combs, Valerius and 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.

Pro-recall votes made up the majority of the roughly 400 ballots cast in-person on Tuesday. The votes favored 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 remained to be counted after polls closed.

With those ballots counted, the unofficial tally Friday was 499 votes to 371 votes in favor of recalling Combs; 493 to 373 in favor of recalling Valerius; and 498 to 373 in favor of recalling Daniels.

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.

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.

Discussion on a proposed mask mandate appeared to violate the law, the report found, but any violation was mediated by extensive public debate on the topic before the council rejected the proposed mandate.

An unusually large number of early votes were cast in this election, city officials say. They estimated the cost of holding the special election at between $8,000 and $10,000.

The removal of the three members means four of seven council seats will be appointed, rather than elected, until the next general election in October.

The remaining four council members will appoint replacements for the three unseated members. The council already includes one appointed member.

The election results will be certified May 3.

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.

Sponsored