The role of the port commission, offering paid family leave and discussions with White Pass were just a few of the topics covered at a Skagway Borough Assembly meeting that stretched almost four hours Thursday night.
Skagway leaders are thinking about asking for Lt. Governor Byron Mallot’s help in moving along port discussions between the city and the parties that lease and sub-lease the municipality’s ore terminal property. Skagway lobbyist John Walsh said he met briefly with Mallot to say they may ask for his help.
“What I would be looking for is him helping us begin the dialogue in a manner that’s appropriate to all parties,” Walshs said. “And then it’s up to us to advance it. Some people might not want to be at the table, he has as second in command he has a little bit higher level of presence than a particular commissioner or sub agency. I think that would help set a tone.”
The municipality is working with a tight time frame to leverage state grant funds to clean up legacy contamination in the ore basin and renovate the port. Officials have been corresponding with White Pass to try to tackle that discussion.
White Pass sent the municipality a letter this week saying a ‘major issue’ needs to be resolved first: the cooperation and commitment of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which owns the ore terminal facility and subleases the property it’s on.
Mayor Mark Schaefer drew up a letter to send to White Pass and AIDEA proposing a meeting in April. But the assembly did not approve it Thursday, partly because the group only had a few hours to review the letter before the meeting.
“I didn’t have the time to look at it thoroughly until this conversation that just occurred,” said Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr.
Another reason the assembly chose to delay the letter is because of another letter the mayor plans to send to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Schaefer said the letter would summarize what the borough sees as ‘discrepancies’ in communication from DEC about environmental violations at the ore terminal.
The assembly also chose to delay action on a paid family leave resolution. If the personnel policy revision is adopted, municipality employees would be entitled to six weeks of paid family leave. The proposal to implement that benefit came from Assembly Member Jay Burnham.
Assemblyman Spencer Morgan asked if there are other Alaska cities that have this kind of policy. Borough clerk Emily Deach said she had not heard from any other Alaska clerks with similar policies.
“I did ask all the clerks, and they came back with ‘no, nobody does it.’ I was told California required employers pay for leave, but that’s sick leave, which we do already.”
Deach said the only example she could find was from Austin, Texas. Steve Burnham Jr. pointed out that other countries around the world have paid family leave requirements.
“Progressively looking at this is something other countries are doing for their employees to improve their quality of life. So it at least deserves some further attention.”
The assembly members seemed open to the policy, but referred it to the civic affairs committee for review before adoption.
Some of the most heated comments of the meeting were in response to a proposed ordinance revising the code that governs the port commission. The changes further clarify the commission’s role as an advisory board to the assembly and manager and the assembly’s power over the commission.
The changes were recommended by Borough Attorney Bob Blasco. They follow an incident last year in which Port Commissioner Steve Hites talked to cruise line representatives about the future of Skagway’s port. Some assembly members saw Hites’ actions as out-of-line.
Port commission chair Tim Bourcy objected to the proposed code revisions, which he said would ‘muzzle’ the commission.
“I think it’s fairly clear that you guys don’t really want the port commission,” Bourcy said.
Assembly members Tim Cochran and Spencer Morgan also spoke against the ordinance.
“I would prefer to let them do their job to the best of their abilities and not take away their abilities with this ordinance,” Morgan said. “I’m just bummed I couldn’t have gotten this ordinance in paper form so I could use it to start my woodstove with. I just, I’m kind of shocked by this ordinance. The more I read through it the more frustrated I got with it.”
But Steve Burnham Jr. said the intent of the revision is clarify the port commission’s role, which he doesn’t see as a problem. He suggested sending the ordinance to the commission and asking for their input.
The assembly voted 3-to-3 to pass the first reading of the ordinance. Mayor Schaefer broke the tie, voting in favor, for the sake of sending it to the port commission for comment.
The assembly will have a second reading of the ordinance at its next meeting, scheduled for April 7.