Changes to an agreement between the municipality of Skagway and the Dahl Memorial Clinic board of directors caused strife at a borough assembly meeting last week. The assembly decided to postpone a vote on the agreement because of concerns from clinic board members and employees.
The clinic is owned by the city of Skagway but governed by a board of directors. They receive a significant amount of funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA.
HRSA recently said the bylaws dictating how the city and clinic deal with business matters need to be updated to comply with federal regulations. HRSA put a condition on grants to the clinic, which means it could lose out on current and future funding if the changes aren’t made in a timely manner.
Borough Manager Scott Hahn says the condition hasn’t had any immediate impacts on funding. He says HRSA has approved three grants to the clinic recently.
A borough assembly committee met with the clinic executive committee to come up with changes.
“I don’t believe that either the board president, Cory Thole, or I feel that there was a consensus that came out of that meeting,” said clinic board member Jeremy Simmons.
But Hahn said there was consensus. He asked the assembly to approve the revisions. He said, if there is a problem, then HRSA will point it out.
“It should really move forward, and what’s the harm?” Hahn asked. “I mean if all that’s going to happen is we send it to HRSA and they say ‘no you got it all wrong, please change this or that,’ great, there’s your answer. It’s all efficient, it’s done. No gnashing of teeth or nothing.”
At issue is how much power the assembly and the clinic board have over big decisions. For example, the revised ordinance would give the assembly final say on hiring and firing the clinic director. The clinic board wants authority in those decisions as well.
Clinic Director Shelly O’Boyle said she was worried that proposed changes would take away her protections under the borough personnel policy.
“I’m suddenly not covered by the personnel policy,” she said. “I’m not covered by [the Family and Medical Leave Act], I’m not covered by compassionate leave, I’m not covered by grievance procedures, on and on and on. I mean, that really makes me nervous.”
Hahn said O’Boyle’s contract can be updated to reflect her personnel policy benefits.
“The [borough] attorney has given everybody advice on that and he beleives this is the way to go,” Hahn said. “I’m sorry but this has been covered.”
Assemblyman Gary Hanson suggested the vote on the clinic agreement be postponed to the next meeting. The assembly voted 5 to 1 to postpone, with Angela Grieser voting no.
Hahn says the next step is to schedule a meeting with Borough Attorney Bob Blasco, the assembly and the clinic board to talk over the changes again.
The assembly approved an update to code regarding public votes on municipality leases valued at $5 million or more. The change gets rid of an exemption for leases with the State of Alaska and state agencies. That means a $5 million lease between Skagway and a state agency would now go to a public vote.
Assembly write-in candidate Mavis Irene Henricksen spoke out against that ordinance, saying she trusts the state.
“You’re just complicating government, which is already too damn complicated,” Henricksen said.
But the assembly unanimously approved it.
“There’s a lot of different state agencies,” said Hanson. “[For example,] maybe the state wants to lease some land for a prison. And the people should have a vote on that, if the lease is over $5 million.”
The assembly also approved a resolution to declare October 1st through March 31st a sales tax holiday for retail sales. Skagway has declared a sales tax holiday in the off-season every year since 2001.