The Sitka assembly on Tuesday night was asked to make a donation on behalf of the city to disaster relief in the Philippines – and said no.
Instead, members volunteered to donate part of their own paychecks.
Assembly members Aaron Swanson and Benjamin Miyasato had asked the city to consider making a donation to relief efforts in the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan caused devastating damage earlier this month. The idea received a full-throated endorsement from both City Administrator Mark Gorman and Finance Director Jay Sweeney.
“I’ve received comments very quickly from a number of sources that this would be a good idea in recognition of our Filipino community and the contribution they’ve made to our community here,” Gorman said.
“In my opinion there are just some times when you do something because it is the right thing to do,” Sweeney said. “When I’ve seen the devastation that is in the Philippines, I think of what might happen with a tsunami here, and what comes to mind is ‘Thus, but for the grace of god, go we.’”
Gorman and Sweeney said the city has money available in its nonprofit donation account, and recommended a donation of $500-$1,000.
Miyasato offered a more personal argument.
“I’ve seen first-hand what people [feel], when you hand it out to them, especially when they have absolutely nothing,” Miyasato said. “I’ve been there on the street, in Baghdad, Iraq, helping hand out stuff that United States citizens had collected, and the difference that makes in their lives.”
But other assembly members weren’t so sure. Assembly member Mike Reif asked whether it was the right use of taxpayer money.
“In Sitka we have many communities within the greater community,” Reif said. “And each one of these communities can have devastation occur to them. The obvious ones are the fisher[men]. You have them losing boats, losing life. But do we as a city – the city taxpayers’ dollars – do we take money and then help them out of their situation?”
“Individuals have their homes burn down, a real devastating occurrence to the individual. But do we actually take city taxpayer’s dollars to help them with their plight?”
He was echoed by Deputy Mayor Matt Hunter.
“I cannot think of a better place to donate my own money, however I see this as not being the role of our municipal government, to send money overseas,” Hunter said. “And I will not support doing so with municipal money. I will do it with my own money, and I will write a personal check.
I agree very strongly with everything everyone has said about how well the money could be spent there, but I think this is the wrong way to do the right thing.”
So Reif suggested a solution: that assembly members each donate half of their own monthly stipend.
“If we all really feel that way, I’m more than happy to give one half of one of my monthly checks as a city assembly member to this cause,” Reif said. “If all of us did that, it’s over a thousand bucks.”
Sitka assembly members each receive a $300 monthly stipend.
The proposal caused some confusion about how it could be codified, since it didn’t actually deal with city finances. So the meeting ended without a formal commitment. But it appeared that all six of the assembly members present had agreed to donate $150 each, for a total of $900. Mayor Mim McConnell was absent because of a family emergency.
There was no decision on where the money would go. Administrator Mark Gorman said assembly members could write checks to the City and Borough of Sitka, and his office will choose a charitable organization working on disaster relief in the Philippines.