Sitkans join hands during a vigil for the victims of a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida in 2016. (Katherine Rose/KCAW photo)

Equal rights. Electronic health records. The Establishment Clause. Those were some of the many topics discussed at the Tuesday night (12-12-17) meeting of the Sitka Assembly. The four and a half hour meeting saw a packed house of citizens with thoughts to share and students eagerly awaiting the results of a non-discrimination ordinance, which passed unanimously. 

Non-discrimination law passed in Sitka on second reading, 7-0

This is first such law in the city’s general code to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of gender expression and sexual identity, as well as race, religion, age, and disability. Allegations of discrimination in housing, employment, and access to public accommodations can be filed in the local court. 

Read Sitka’s non-discrimination ordinance here, co-sponsored by Kevin Knox and Bob Potrzuski: ORD 2017-42

In second review, the Assembly made one change to the text at the suggestion of Sitka Tribe of Alaska Chair Kathy Hope Erickson. All instances of “tribal member” in the text will read “tribal citizen” instead.

The ordinance was a near carbon copy of Juneau’s equal rights laws, adopted last year by a vote of eight to one.

Cheryl Barnes encouraged the Sitka Assembly to best them. “Our community is generally welcoming and accepting. We can show the world that equality really is a Sitka value. If tonight, you unanimously approve this ordinance you’re one-upping Juneau. So, there’s that,” she said.

The Assembly did pass the ordinance unanimously, but not before raising objections over language they found clunky, even redundant. For instance, the city’s personnel handbook already contains non-discrimination language and the ordinance says it cannot be “construed to diminish” the protections afforded in that handbook. A motion to strike that clause was voted down.

Hospital wants to install a new electronic health records system

They Sitka Assembly also voted on first reading for Sitka Community Hospital to subscribe to a new electronic health records (EHR) system. The software, called CERNER, would be paid through a seven-year contract with hospital funds. Chief of Operations Steve Hartford said the monthly bill is $45,738, about 1.8% of the hospital’s annual budget. The hospital will have to pay an additional capital expenditure of $1.2 million to implement the system. 

Several providers, including Dr. Roger Golub, testified before the Assembly, saying the software upgrade was needed ASAP.

“This is basically an existential issue. If we don’t go with CERNER, if we don’t move on this quickly, we will not be able to give you halfway decent healthcare. There are a bunch of federal regulations that are coming down the pike, which Centriq cannot fulfill. We would have to do them by hand, which would be pretty much impossible,” Golub said.

Centriq is the hospital’s current system and hasn’t been working properly since it was bought by a different vendor a few months ago. The Assembly will give final approval to the hospital’s procurement request at their December 26th meeting.

Building requests for library and St. Michael’s Cathedral given early approval 

The historic St. Michael’s Cathedral in Sitka is having structural problems, including a leaking roof and basement prone to flooding. (Karla James)

St. Michael’s Cathedral, a replica of the historic building lost to a fire in 1966, is being renovated. To help cover the $132,000 cost of the project, Assembly members Steven Eisenbeisz and Bob Potrzuski co-sponsored an ordinance to donate $5000 to the cathedral from the Visitor’s Enhancement Fund.

With a re-write since the November 7th meeting, the ordinance calls for the donation to be deposited into a renovation fund account, separate from the church’s general fund account, and used exclusively on exterior work. City attorney Brian Hanson determined that passed the Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law establishing religion”). The ordinance passed on first reading.

The Assembly also approved, on first reading, keeping the Sitka Public Library expansion project open. Opened in 2016, the new facility came in under budget by approximately $150,000. With final Assembly approval, library staff and board members can spend that money on a wishlist of outstanding projects. That includes donor plaques, landscaping, and the installation of local art, including a totem pole.

Budget requests, board appointments, and persons to be heard

The Assembly also approved, on first reading, several requests from the Gary Paxton Industrial Board for security cameras and the establishment of a tariff schedule for the multi-purpose dock, as well as clean-up money for the Sawmill Farm and other lots. They also directed city staff to seek proposals for a new 9-1-1 call system for Sitka, as the current system has problems.

The deep water dock at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park is near completion. GPIP is now coming up with a management plan and fee schedule. (Karla James/KCAW photo)

The City is preparing their list of priorities to send to the legislature, which the Assembly approved Tuesday night. The document requests partial funding from the state for two “shovel ready” projects: developing a $20 million alternative water source and $17.3 million in upgrades to the Crescent Harbor float and Eliason Harbor electrical system. 

In other business, Michael Nurco was appointed to a three year term on the Port and Harbors Commission and Chief and Financial Administrative Officer Jay Sweeney as a non-voting, ex-officio member to the Sitka Community Hospital Board, as Michael Scarcelli has resigned.  City Administrator Keith Brady was appointed as an alternate.

Several citizens spoke during persons to be heard, on everything from collecting #5 plastics to supporting midwives to raising the minimum age for tobacco sales from 19 to 21. The Sitka Health Summit is building a case for that change.

As a former tobacco addict, Amanda Roberts extended her support for Tobacco 21. “I’m wearing a pendant that has my aunt’s ashes in it. I lost her at the age of 38, which is close to where I’m at now. She was not able to fight that battle. So I definitely feel that raising the age can make a huge difference. There’s a lot of power behind it and there’s positive results in it,” Roberts said.

Over 280 communities in the United States have raised the tobacco sales age to 21. For more information, see our Morning Interview with Roberts here