By Mat-Su reporter Rindi White:
The Wasilla City Council on Monday night voted 4-1 to ask city mayor Dianne Keller to resign.
Keller said she has "absolutely no intention of resigning" and will complete her second and final term as city mayor, which ends in October.
"While there are people who have come here tonight who have put pressure on me, there are many more who are city residents. Where's the masses tonight? If it was so egregious and outrageous, we'd have to hold the meeting elsewhere because the fire marshal would have shut us down," Keller said.
Her comments came at the end of a five-hour special city council meeting that focused on examining the results of an investigation the City Council hired a local law firm to do. The investigation examined Keller's and other city employees' dealings with Meritage Development Group, a developer seeking to build two large shopping centers in the city along Parks Highway. The city council paid the firm $23,500 to investigate claims by area businesses that Meritage had unfair access to city plans and that city officials partnered with the developer in trying to force the businesses to agree to a new road across their property. The road would have served the new development.
Richard Payne and Jon Marc Petersen of Denali Law Group, authors of the investigation report, concluded that Keller and her employees gave Meritage an unfair advantage and may have violated state law by threatening to take the property owners' land through eminent domain.
Keller used the meeting as an opportunity to cross-examine Payne, who penned much of the investigation report. In an effort to clear her name, she called into question how much municipal law experience Payne had (five years, plus five years as a state prosecutor) and how many of the conclusions reached in the report were just opinion.
Payne said many of the questions City Council asked were subjective, such as whether Keller and her staff engaged in "wrongdoing," and warranted a response based in part on opinion.
In the end it may have been Keller's speech to the 70 or so people assembled in the audience that prompted the City Council to ultimately ask her to resign. She singled out Windbreak business owner Annette Andres, who led the charge that Keller had acted unfairly. Keller and her friends stopped patronizing the cafe after Andres' complaints. Keller said the accusations were personal and not based on a legitimate fear that the city planned to take their land.
"What I have done is denied myself to have the best bacon-cheeseburger in Alaska since November," Keller said. "If I was truly the woman you have said, I would have directed the Wasilla police department to sit up at your bar and blow (alcohol breath test) all your patrons. But I didn't do that."
Councilman Marty Metiva later said her statements scared "the living daylights" out of him and prompted him to vote in favor of asking Keller to resign.
Metiva provided the fourth vote needed to pass the measure but the council's action isn't enough to make the mayor step down. The City Council can vote a mayor out of office if they can prove she violated her oath of office, but that standard requires being absent from meetings, moving out of the city or being convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors.
While Denali Law Group said Keller might have committed "attempted coersion," Payne said after a discussion with the Palmer District Attorney's office, he concluded that it was unlikely the issue would make it to court.