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Politics

North Slope Borough mayor ousted in recall election

  • Author: Lisa Demer
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published April 5, 2016

Voters ousted North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower in Tuesday's hotly fought recall election over what some called unethical acts in office.

In unofficial borough results, 62 percent of the voters agreed to recall Brower, with 38 percent voting against the recall. Of 1,498 ballots counted Tuesday night, 928 were yes votes – agreeing to push her out early -- and 570 were no.

Another 141 absentee ballots and 97 questioned ballots remained to be checked and, if the voters were eligible, counted. There are about 4,500 registered voters in the remote borough.

Efforts to reach Brower Tuesday night weren't successful. David Fauske, a Brower supporter who works for her in the borough office, said she was with family and not ready to speak about the election.

Beverly Hugo, one of the recall backers, was at her neighbor and fellow organizer Dora Arey's home Tuesday evening for a gathering with hot soup and rolls. Hugo said the Brower administration played out like a soap opera and residents were tired of it.

"The will of the people is pretty powerful, like my brother says," Hugo said. "When they stopped us from hunting our seasonal ducks, we all banded together and we had a duck-in."

The recall campaign was like that, with rallies and bake sale fundraisers, Facebook posts and heated conversations over the VHF radio. Her husband and other volunteers gave rides to the polls on Tuesday. Hugo, a teacher, took personal leave and spent the day as a poll watcher at the Browerville precinct, one of two in Barrow.

"With blind faith, we just go," Hugo said.

Most of the borough voters live in Barrow and both precincts there went big for recall. Only the village of Point Hope, where the vote was 31 for recall and 33 against, backed Brower. In Wainwright, ballots split 59-59.

Those trying to recall Brower raised nearly $16,000 as of a week ago, much of it from sales of food such caribou and gravy stew — aluutagaaq in Inupiaq — and cake walks, the low-key school carnival game with cakes as the prize. Individuals gave as well, including Anthony Edwardsen, president of Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp., the Barrow village corporation, who gave $400. UIC Construction recently protested its failure to win a borough bid on a big school project. Members of the Eric Tyson family in Anchorage gave $3,000 combined, according to the latest campaign report of People for Responsible Government, the anti-Brower campaign group.

People for Responsible Government sent out a mailer urging people to vote yes, took out ads in the Arctic Sounder newspaper, and put up attention-grabbing red yard signs, including one playfully guarded by an oversized stuffed Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Brower had campaign donors too, mainly borough employees and a lobbyist. As of a week before the election, Friends of Mayor Charlotte Brower had raised $12,400. Out of 36 contributions, 20 came from current borough employees, including some of Brower's grown children. Borough lobbyist Sam Kito Jr. gave two $500 contributions. The pro-Brower group also took out Sounder ads, bought "Vote No" signs and sent out mailers.

Brower, from Selawik in the Northwest Arctic, urged voters to look to her record of improvements in the borough including creation of a fund to build affordable housing and the opening of child care centers in Barrow and Nuiqsut.

She is in the midst of her second term as mayor. Brower has been under fire since last summer when reports first surfaced that her office had spent more than $800,000 since her election in 2011 on gifts to local groups, sports teams and individuals, including to members of her family. Even more spending was detailed in a second batch of public records released last year.

The recall effort singled out $8,405 spent by the borough to send Brower's grandchildren to a basketball camp in California, $7,000 paid to a daughter for two sealskin vests and violations of campaign laws identified by the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Brower said in a statement on the ballot that she agreed the borough spent too much on that basketball camp and the money was returned. She said she asked the Borough Assembly to investigate her administration, which it did. Purchases of crafts now must be competitively bid, she said.

The Borough Assembly investigation hasn't been released, however.

The election results are scheduled to be certified and the remaining ballots counted on April 12, said borough clerk Sheila Burke. A special election to pick a replacement will be held within 60 days of the election certification. The assembly will name an acting mayor until that happens.

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