The Sitka Assembly on Thursday (5-29-20) formed a CARES Act working group to come up with ideas on how to spend the over $14 million in relief funds headed this way, but some are concerned the group lacks full representation.

Municipal administrator John Leach proposed a relatively lean group,  including Sitka Tribe of Alaska General Manager Lisa Gassman, the city’s Economic Resiliency Task Force chair Garry White, two assembly members — Kevin Knox and Kevin Mosher — and city finance and legal staff. 

Most assembly members approved of the group Leach had assembled. But member Richard Wein felt like the assembly could do the work assigned to the group, as they would make the final decisions on the funding anyway. 

“Since it is the assembly’s responsibility, ultimately, that we act, as assembly as a body, act as the group who will make those decisions and to allow testimony in a very liberal and thoughtful way to hear various people from the community and or their representatives,” he said. “Keep the good ideas, don’t accept the ones that don’t make sense.”

City administrator John Leach said he would carry out either decision. Nevertheless, he said that the group intended to create a framework, similar to how city staff work when they draft the city’s annual budget and present it to the assembly. 

“If it’s this assembly table that helps determine those guidelines and the budgets, that’s fine. The intent was to have a working group do that for you just like our finance staff puts that together with our annual budget, bring it forward in as few ordinances as possible so that we can go operate,” he said.

There also was some concern about representation of more interests. Member Kevin Knox said he hoped they could add a non-profit voice to the discussion.

“The thought was that the group had a representative that was very versed and in-tune with the for-profit sector in Garry White being on the working group, but then also having one other person to bring a…different voice from from the non-profit sector might be helpful within all of this,” he said.

“Listen if you get non-profits in there, you’ve gotta get fishing people in there and the group will just get too large and out of control,” Mayor Gary Paxton said. “They have a voice in the economic resiliency things [task force]. One of the reasons, Kevin [Knox], you’re on there is because we know you’re concerned with and involved in non-profits.”

In the attached memo , administrator Leach wrote the reason non-profits weren’t included was because they were eligible for grants through the CARES Act, and he thought that their direct involvement in the working group might be a conflict of interest.

The working group was approved on a 6-1 with member Richard Wein opposed. The working group will meet twice a week at City Hall. The meetings will be closed to the public, but its budget recommendations will come to the assembly for consideration at future public meetings.