The Sitka Assembly went behind closed doors for nearly three hours Thursday night (09-13-18) to discuss pending healthcare negotiations. As the city comes to the table with the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium over their proposal to buy Sitka Community Hospital, the Assembly wants to hire outside legal counsel.

Their meeting began at 6 p.m. The Assembly entered executive session around 6:30 p.m. They began drafting a Letter of Intent, which is essentially a binding agreement between the city and SEARHC as they come to the negotiation table. Negotiations have not yet begun and could take 4-5 months.

The Assembly was joined in executive session by city administrator Keith Brady, chief financial officer Jay Sweeney, consultant Sarah Cave, and clerk Sara Peterson.

After emerging at 9:30 p.m., the Assembly then directed city staff to hire outside counsel for an amount not exceed $150,000. The attorney was not named, but City Attorney Brian Hanson said he had someone in mind. Paying for his or her legal advice will first require a budget appropriation. The Assembly will review that ordinance on first reading on September 20th.

The vote to hire counsel was 5 to 0. Assembly member Richard Wein called in for the meeting, but had to hang up before the vote. Assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz was not present.

After the Letter of Intent is finalized, Mayor Matthew Hunter stated it will be made available to the public for feedback. Then the Assembly will vote on adopting the letter at a future date.

City Attorney Brian Hanson said that executive session wasn’t legally required, but best practice as the city heads into negotiations with SEARHC. 

Mayor Matthew Hunter and the majority of Assembly members agreed. “It’s imperative that we’re able to protect the city’s interest, and that ultimately means that we have something to negotiate and we have a strategy,” Hunter said. Mayoral candidate Aaron Bean said that he didn’t want SEARHC – as the other party – privy to the city’s conversations.

Plenty disagreed too. Assembly member Richard Wein opposed executive session. Assembly candidate Valorie Nelson said that the Assembly should make their negotiations as public as possible. Assembly candidate Kevin Mosher said he was glad the final version of the letter would be made public. That could happen as early as September 27th.