Still no clear winners in Angoon council election

Oct. 2 results clouded with legal questions

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fifteen days after the Angoon city election, the community still doesn't know who won the three open city council seats, and the election is shrouded with questions of legality.

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One-hundred-seventy-five voters participated in the Oct. 2 election in which three former mayors each ran unopposed for three council seats.

The election results remain uncertified and unofficial because the city has lacked enough city council members to establish a quorum.

A seemingly successful write-in campaign left one candidate as an apparent winner, and one race appeared to end in a tie. The outcome of that race could change, however, when three absentee ballots and one question ballot are counted.

During much of Election Day, a sample ballot sat on the registration table with the names of write-in candidates written in by hand, said Lawrence Blood, a government specialist with the state. That sample ballot could violate election laws and has led to unofficial accusations by state officials and local leaders of electioneering.

"Someone ran them as a slate and no one is owning up to it," Blood said.

Blood has a fax of the sample ballot with Lenora Walker's, Jimmy George Jr.'s and Harriet Silva's names written in. Blood said a "concerned citizen" forwarded the sample ballot in question.

Lillian Woodbury, pro-tem city clerk and a city council member, said the sample ballot in question was removed sometime during the afternoon of Election Day and no one knows how it got there.

"It's unfortunate," Blood said. "I have high hopes for Angoon."

Woodbury has been serving as city clerk since the former clerk, Francine Willis, resigned along with her brother Mayor Walter Jack in September.

The three declared candidates running were Maxine Thompson for Seat A, Dan Johnson Jr. for Seat B and Pauline Jim for Seat B.

If the election stands, after certification, the current results show Walker ousted Johnson 83 to 48, and Thompson beat George 73 to 60. With four outstanding ballots, no one knows how the 72-72 tie between Jim and Silva will go.

To avoid a runoff election, Blood said a 40 percent majority is needed.

Woodbury said that, in her memory, no write-in candidate has ever won an election in Angoon.

Walker said she decided to run after the official closing date to file. She said she campaigned for the election going house-to-house, hoping to tell people how she would serve the small Alaska Native community of roughly 450 people.

Walker said she hosted a cake-and-coffee forum and got on the CB radio to call attention to her write-in candidacy, but knew nothing of the tainted sample ballot.

"I feel I have something to offer the community," she said.

Walker hoped to bring government transparency, which she said has been missing for some time in the local government.

"The council needs to be accountable - not just the mayor," she said.

The election remains uncontested, but several expect a challenge to come when the Canvas Committee finally meets to certify the election. Blood said he has received several phone calls from people wanting to know election rules.

Angoon's municipal code requires the election to be certified with an accompanying report by the Canvas Committee, a body of the city council, by noon the first Monday following the election, which was Oct. 8.

Blood said the code fails to mention what happens if the election is not certified in accordance with the mandate.

"It only says what you shall do, not what you shall do if you don't do," Blood said.

Alaska law calls for anyone seeking to contest a municipal election to do it in writing during the certification process. After that process, anyone seeking to contest the election must do so in Juneau Superior Court within 10 days of the board certification, Blood said.

Woodbury expects a quorum on Oct. 23.

"It is a strong possibility," she said.

Even as the apparent winner for Seat B, Walker said she thinks it's OK for any concerned citizen to contest the election.

"It's democratic to contest," she said.

Silva, one of the write-in candidates, declined to comment on the election or its questioned legal viability. George, a write-in candidate, and Jim, whose name ran on the ballot, did not return calls seeking comment on the election or its outcome.

Former Angoon Mayor Floyd Kookesh considered this year's council race to be a chance for the local government to get beyond the financial issues plaguing the city utility and telltale of what's to come for the rural village.

Kookesh said the involvement of past leaders and the write-in candidates were a step in the right direction. Its outcome will make or break the community, he said.

"The conduct of the election is most important," Kookesh said. "If they let a bad election go through, it's bad for the community. They need to make sure it's legal all the way through."

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.



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