Roger Purcell recall, Houston, Alaska (2010)
Rosemary Burnett was appointed by the Houston City Council to the position of mayor by a vote of 5-2 after Purcell's resignation.
The recall effort was launched in February 2010, with official recall papers filed on March 3.
Kathleen Baken-Barney was a leader in the recall effort. Charlie Seidl was also active in collecting signatures to force the recall election.
Recall organizers mentioned a variety of reasons why they wanted Purcell out of office. These reasons included the assertions that Purcell:
- Traveled to Fairbanks in a police vehicle without council approval.
- Purchased an airline ticket without council approval.
- Authorized the city clerk to file a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission knowing it included a false complaint.
- Used unauthorized blue flashing lights while making a traffic stop.
- Participated in executive sessions without stating the specific topic to be discussed.
Recall petitions in Alaska must cite reasons, and the reason given on the official recall papers was the assertion that Purcell committed "misconduct in office by using emergency lights on a city vehicle while not responding to an emergency." This allegation involved a video that was taken by the camera of a police vehicle Purcell drove to Fairbanks. Charlie Seidl, who was at the time a police sergeant in Houston, downloaded the video from the official vehicle, gave it to a member of the Houston City Council and posted it on YouTube.
Truck delivery expenses
Recall supporters pointed to a trip taken by Purcell and his wife in December 2009 and January 2010 to Nellysford, Virginia, to pick up a used rescue vehicle and bring it back to Houston. The Houston City Council authorized a total expenditure on the trip of $7,835 to cover airfare, fuel, meals and overnight stays. However, the trip to bring the 1991 Mack back to Houston ended up costing $9,893.13, and Purcell declined to make his expense report for the trip public. At a city council meeting in March 2010, Josh Hanford weighed in on the matter by telling the mayor, "I will take that as, willfully, you are hiding this information." Houston's city clerk said that when he called around before the trip to get bids on how much it would cost to ship the truck to Alaska, the bids he got exceeded $10,000.
Animal control in Houston
The way that animal control is handled in Houston antagonized some residents.
- In February 2010, city police officer Sergeant Charlie Seidl shot eight animals at the city's animal shelter.
- Some of the animals had been living at the shelter for months prior to the shooting.
- A former city employee told the press that conditions at the shelter were "unfit for animals or the public."
- Seidl said that Purcell told him to shoot the animals.
- Purcell denied that he issued the order.
- Dennis Lords, chief animal control officer for Houston, was fired after the shootings.
- A part-time city employee who worked at the shelter was also terminated.
- Seidl's job performance was evaluated and, by a narrow vote, the Houston City Council decided not to fire him.
- Seidl went on leave.
- Purcell said that Seidl went on leave because Houston's city attorney was investigating some statements made by Seidl during his performance review.
Conditions at the animal shelter were deemed relevant to deciding whether Purcell had failed to adequately perform his duties as mayor. Those applying for a recall petition must establish, before the recall petition can be authorized, that there are some grounds to believe either that Purcell had failed to adequately perform his duties, was incompetent or had engaged in misconduct.
Path to the ballot
- See also: Laws governing recall in Alaska
On March 22, Houston's city clerk announced that enough signatures had been submitted by recall supporters to qualify the recall question for the ballot. As a result, the city council was required to schedule a recall election.
Alaska law mandates that recall elections take place in the period of 45-75 days after the recall signatures have been submitted to the city clerk. However, Alaskan elections are subject to preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice, and anytime a special election is scheduled, the Department of Justice must approve it. The DOJ's approval process ordinarily takes 90 days.
73 signatures were required to qualify the measure for the ballot. Petitioners had until April 8 to collect the signatures needed to force a recall. However, they collected more than 140 signatures in four days in March, and turned them into election officials.
The first attempt to get a recall going hit a roadblock due to a determination by Houston's city clerk that the recall petition as worded did not give adequate grounds for a recall. A new application for a recall petition was filed on March 3 and was accepted by Houston's city clerk.
The second application for a recall election stated that Purcell turned the emergency lights on in a police vehicle while driving to Fairbanks, and that this represented misconduct.
Houston is a city in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. It is part of the Anchorage, Alaska Metropolitan Statistical Area and its population was estimated to be 1,202 at the 2000 census.
- KTUU, "Houston to hold recall election for Purcell on June 22", April 9, 2010
- Frontiersman, "Houston mayor resigns in surprise move", June 17, 2010
- Anchorage Daily News, "Days before recall vote, Houston mayor will resign", June 18, 2010
- Frontiersman, "Houston, we have a mayor", June 24, 2010
- KTUU, "Houston residents begin process to recall mayor amid controversy", February 9, 2010
- KTUU, "Houston heats up with petition to recall mayor", March 18, 2010
- Frontiersman, "Recall effort targets Purcell", February 11, 2010
- Frontiersman, "Date set for Purcell recall vote", April 10, 2010
- Anchorage Daily News, "Houston mayor defends expenses for delivery of truck", March 12, 2010
- Anchorage Daily News, "Houston mayor pushes to reorganize city's animal control", February 26, 2010
- KTUU, "Houston has enough signatures to go forward with mayoral recall", March 22, 2010
- Frontiersman, "Houston recall is ballot bound", March 22, 2010
- Anchorage Daily News, "Application granted to allow recall of Houston mayor", March 15, 2010
- Frontiersman, "Houston recall on fast track", March 18, 2010
- Frontiersman, "Houston recall fails test", March 5, 2010