During a special election slated for Nov. 7, voters will decide if city councilman Josh Hallquist should retain council seat E, or be recalled because of alleged misconduct as a city councilor.
“The actual ballot will contain a sponsor’s statement of the grounds for recall, and following the sponsor’s statement, council member Hallquist may include a statement of 200 words or less,” said City Clerk Susan Bourgeois.
Hallquist declined to respond to an emailed request for comment, despite an offer from The Cordova Times to express his views on the matter.
The recall petition, certified by Bourgeois on Sept. 19, was sponsored by Cordova residents Chris Bolin, Mike Arvidson, Brian Johannessen, Jim Cardwell, Jed Stene, Todd Mair, Robert Silveira, Bill Howard, Mark Wegner, and Robert Smith.
Bolin, who initiated the petition, has lived in Cordova nearly 20 years and has been the city’s lead mechanic for five years. Bolin said he decided to initiate the recall petition due to past dealings with Hallquist, both in Hallquist’s role as a previous city employee and as a council member.
The statement for recall alleges defamation of character, threats to business people in Cordova, and the use of foul/disrespectful language during city council work sessions. In addition, the petition statement cited further allegations of misconduct in office by having defamed Bolin.
Bourgeois said that she reviewed each of the allegations separately to determine the validity of a decision to move forward to a recall election.
“Given the broad definition of misconduct in office, and the Alaska Supreme Court’s instruction to liberally construe the allegations of a petition in order to advance the purposes and design of the political processes, I find two of the three allegations, their truth assumed and taken at face value, fall under the broad umbrella of the grounds for recall set forth in AS 29.26.250 and CMC 2.56.030,” she said.
A total of 136 people signed the petition, but 19 of those names were declared invalid, she said.
“The petition must bear a number of voter signatures equal to 25 percent of the number of votes cast for the office of city council member in the last regular city election – a minimum of 109 signatures in this case, she wrote.
“Consequently, I found the petition bears sufficient signatures.”
Alaska statutes allow for the recall a municipal official in Alaska is limited to recall based upon misconduct in office, incompetence, or the failure to perform their prescribed duties.
“In this case, the recall applicants sought recall due to council member Hallquist’s alleged misconduct in office. Generally, misconduct in office is not defined in the recall statutes or by Cordova Municipal Code,” Bourgeois said.
“Allegation 1 asserts that council member Hallquist made threatening remarks in order to achieve enforcement of tax laws. Allegation 2 alleges that council member Hallquist used vulgar and inappropriate language, including a specific claim that Hallquist referred to city refuse department employees as ‘window lickers.’ These acts, if we presume them to be true, may constitute misconduct,” Bourgeois wrote.
According to Bourgeois, the term window licker is listed in the Urban Dictionary as a derogatory euphemism for a person of mentally challenged status.
“The definition notes further state that, ‘It is offensive and wrong to name a person/people who is mentally challenged a ‘window licker’ or a ‘retard’. Threats of violence, even if general, and slurs against developmentally disabled individuals and directed at city staff may rise to improper behavior, dereliction of duty, or acts performed improperly, given the duties and responsibilities of a seated city council member. Further, under Alaska law and pursuant to the Cordova Municipal Code, every municipal official vows that all acts by the official will be honestly, faithfully, and impartially performed upon taking office,” Bourgeois said.
The third allegation reads that Hallquist committed defamation of character when he allegedly accused Bolin at a public meeting of misusing a city vehicle.
“Here, the allegation references a specific legal violation, that of defamation of character. The petition contains statements alleged to be defamatory, but does not expressly claim that such statements are false. Although sponsors of the petition may be inferring that the statements are false, a city clerk does not have authority to make presumptions of this nature when determining the sufficiency of a petition. As a result, allegation 3 is not sufficient as drafted as it has not been stated with the sufficient particularity to demonstrate misconduct, incompetence, or failure to perform prescribed duties in a manner that enables me to accept this allegation on a recall petition,” Bourgeois wrote.
Bolin said he was investigated when the allegations were made against him by Hallquist for using a city truck for personal business, and the allegations were found unwarranted.