In Special Meeting, Attorney, Public Speak On ACLU Lawsuit Against City
The city of Homer is moving forward with a lawsuit. The city council held a special meeting Tuesday, May 2, to discuss its options.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is backing the suit on behalf of the three council members facing recall: David Lewis, Donna Aderhold, and Catriona Reynolds.
"We met in executive session," explained council member Heath Smith, after the council came out of session. "The city’s legal representation in the lawsuit brought against the city by the ACLU on behalf of council members Aderhold, Lewis, and Reynolds, was transferred from City Attorney Holly Wells to Attorney Eric Sanders and we discussed the status of the case.”
Sanders explained he is representing the city in the suit instead of the city attorney because Wells works with all of the council members on a regular basis, so, it would be difficult to ask her to represent only a few, now.
The three council members facing recall were found to have a conflict of interest in terms of participating in discussions on the lawuit. They were asked to join the audience and were not present during the executive session. However, Sanders addressed them before public comment began.
"The council members that are subject to the recall have every right to contest that and they have done so," said Sanders. "That is their absolute right to do so. So, now we have the council members who have brought an action, which is their only recourse if they want to stop the recall from going forward is to initiate the action they did.”
He explained this is part of a process that began with the clerk certifying the recall petitions on the advice of legal counsel.
“And I will be defending that decision," said Sanders. "The council members themselves were not asked to vote on that. I know there probably is a perception that there is three on one side and three on the other but the way this procedure works is that it doesn’t allow for the council members to vote on these issues as to whether or not there should be a recall. That’s not something that’s delegated to the council.”
The meeting then opened up for public comment, during which only three people spoke. The first was Ron Keffer, who said he didn’t think the council should contest the ACLU’s suit.
He spoke about the time when he first learned what the purpose of the ACLU was in defending first amendment rights.
“The part that I really had trouble dealing with is while the ACLU was defending people’s basic, fundamental, constitutional rights, there was somebody on the other side who thought they didn’t have that right," said Keffer. "I came around to the way of thinking that anytime you diminish one person’s right to freedom of speech or freedom of religion, if you take away their right, you’ve already chipped a chunk out of the rights that everybody in the country has.”
Larry Sloan spoke next and said he wasn’t sure he totally agreed with Keffer. He said of course, so long as the right to free speech is accorded under the Constitution, they should have that right.
"But it’s not an absolute right to do or say what they want, particularly when you’re acting as a representative in a public venue and you’re representing thousands of other people such as the council members are doing," said Sloan. "There are appropriately certain restrictions and laws that confine them to not doing things that would be particularly antagonistic or obnoxious to a significant portion of their constituency, and I think that has to be taken into consideration."
Mike Hawfield, the final speaker, said what bothers him most about the recall is the effect it has on what he called 'the sanctity of the election.' If these council members are recalled, he queried what the effect could be on the voices of those who elected them in the first place.
“I would want to err on the side of freedom," said Hawfield. "The council members who have spoken out on behalf of the petitioners who brought to them a resolution. They had a duty, a responsibility to bring that resolution to the table, they did so and it was acted upon. To me, that’s that. They were elected to bring those petitions to the city council.”
The recall election is currently scheduled for June 13. However, the ACLU filed for expedited consideration of the suit in the hopes of hearing back before that date, so the election can be canceled.