Assembly member Phyllis Hackett, who works for the non-profit Southeast Alaska Independent Living, was the most vocal opponent of the proposed new application guidelines.

On Tuesday, however, her tone had changed. “It was one of the best processes I’ve been through, and came out feeling like we really had worked together well. And so I applaud you two for working with me in that way, as well.”

Two weeks ago it did not seem possible to close the gap between the opinions of Westover and Crews, the ordinance’s sponsors, and Hackett. Mayor Westover cited some training she received as a student in Sitka’s High School.

“I had Ben Grussendorf for American Government my junior and senior years. And one of the biggest aspects of his teaching that I remember was the art of compromise. And I think he lived that in his life. I went in there with an open mind of doing that. Gosh – kumbaya! – I did, I walked away feeling very pleased with the document.”

Nonprofit grant applicants next year will be categorized into four areas: Human Services, Cultural and Educational Services, Community Development, and Special Emergency. Applicants will have to identify sources of matching funds, and describe specifically how municipal grant monies will be spent. Grant funds may not be spent to pay tax debt; however, a contentious restriction against staff salaries has been removed.

Other Assembly action Tuesday…

A new sea salt company got a boost from the assembly in the form of a $106,000 loan from the economic development fund. For the last several years, Jim and Darcy Michener have been running a cottage-industry called Alaska Pure, manufacturing a flaked sea salt for the high-end restaurant trade.

Before deliberation even began on the issue, assembly member Thor Christianson motioned to lower the interest rate by 2 points, to 3.5 percent.

“Our goal with these loans is different than a bank. A bank’s job is to get the best return on their investment that they can – whatever the market will bear. Whereas our goal is to encourage new businesses and give them every possible chance to succeed. And we get the fund repaid and we get it perpetual – which the 3.5 percent does, and these days is a decent return on investment. So, I hope we can do it this way.”

The assembly agreed. Mayor Westover, however, said she could find no mention of collateral in the loan documents. Interim finance director Jay Sweeney responded that some of the equipment the Michener’s planned on buying would be collateralized.

However, the biggest stake for the couple was their own investment.

“He has a lot of skin in the game. He and his wife are putting a lot of their own funds at risk in this venture.”

Sweeney said the Micheners were funding about one-third of their expansion with their own money. The Micheners have been developing their sea salt business slowly. The only other manufacturer of flake-style sea salt is in Britain. Michener told the assembly that an Alaska brand had a good chance of success domestically. He read some rave reviews from Seattle chefs whom he already supplies.

This was from Holly Smith, at Café Juanita.

“Hello, as you know we love your Alaskan sea salt at Café Juanita. As a staple, and one that helped elevate the food on a daily basis. Not only do our customers remark on its great flavor and texture, but when I competed on Iron Chef America, Alton Brown was quite enamored with the product. He made a point to taste the salt, and remarked how cool it was.”

Michener said Alaska Pure is also used in the restaurant on top of the Space Needle.

In other business Tuesday night, the assembly authorized municipal administrator Jim Dinley to hire interim finance director Jay Sweeney to the job on a permanent basis. Sweeney, who had been Sitka’s finance director from 1992-1995, was working under an interim contract arranged by a professional headhunting firm called Robert Half Management Resources.

The contract buyout will cost the city just under $21,000, however assembly members agreed that this was probably less than the cost of national candidate search.

Mayor Westover’s response was one word: “Yahoo!”

Sweeney will receive a starting salary of $102,000, with a 2.5 percent raise after six months. He’ll bring his wife, Amy, back to Sitka, along with two young children.

The assembly also heard several interesting reports from local nonprofits. Sitka Trailworks board members and director Deb Lyons presented the assembly with a check for $38,000 in matching funds for construction of the Cross Trail. Also, Sitka Sound Science Center director Lisa Busch announced that the center’s hatchery was ramping back up: The center has hired away NSRAA  operations manager Lon Garrison to run its aquaculture programs.
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