City Hall – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KSTK News

A public records request has revealed how Wrangell’s elected officials voted to fill a vacant assembly seat. The assembly had voted by text message and the city didn’t disclose how the 3-2 vote went.

Assembly members had two candidates to fill a vacant seat: special education teacher Ryan Howe and nurse practitioner Laura Ballou.

At the June 9 meeting, Assembly members were instructed to send a text message with their preference to the city clerk. A 3-2 vote was announced in Howe’s favor, but not how each assembly member voted. And the record didn’t  reflect the results either.

But Alaska state law says all votes need to be in the open with a clear record of how each member votes. That led to questions from open government experts over the legality of a public body conducting a secret ballot. 

The city clerk defended the move, pointing out that there was a second vote that confirmed Howe’s appointment unanimously during the same meeting. 

The city attorney followed up two weeks later with a five-page memo further defending the legality of the vote, noting that the text messages were preserved. KSTK followed up with  a public records request; the clerk handed over documents revealing the voters’ identities — nearly three weeks after the meeting.

Here’s how it went: the three-member majority supporting Ryan Howe was made up of Assembly members Julie Decker, David Powell and Mayor Steve Prysunka. Assembly members  Anne Morrison and Patti Gilbert had supported Laura Ballou.

Ryan Howe’s term expires in October when Wrangell next holds municipal elections.

The city is set to make another appointment to the assembly in July, after recently accepting a resignation from former assembly member Mya DeLong.