ALL IN THE SAME TACO BOAT – Sitkans, many wearing face masks, line up this afternoon at the Sitka Elks Lodge food booth. With the pandemic, most of this year’s Sitka Independence Day events have been modified, but not entirely canceled. The American Legion and Sizzling Chow Cuisine also will have outdoor food booths. While there’s no downtown parade, there is a parade of classic cars that will tour Sitka streets beginning at 1 p.m. at Whale Park. A sing-along and military salute will take place on Totem Square 7 p.m. Friday and a fireworks display will take place 11:30 Friday night over Sitka Channel, with spectators asked to follow social distancing recommendations. The Rotary Club is holding its annual Duck Race on the fourth. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Working Group Plan Gets Assembly’s OK

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

The Assembly on Thursday voted 6-1 to approve City Administrator John Leach’s plan for a “working group” to propose a framework for spending the estimated $9.5 million remaining in the city’s $14 million grant of CARES Act funds.

“This working group is just going to develop a funding framework and budget for Assembly consideration, modification and approval, if possible,” Leach said after the meeting Thursday night. “There are still opportunities for public testimony and adequate representation before anything is passed.”

The Assembly has already committed up to $4.5 million from the funds to a program of subsidies on moorage and utility bills for individuals and businesses. The ordinance will be up for final reading June 9.

The vote was 6-1 Thursday night in favor of a working group with the makeup previously proposed by Leach.

The members will be:

-- John Leach, city administrator.

–- Lisa Gassman, Sitka Tribe of Alaska general manager.

–- Kevin Mosher and Kevin Knox, Assembly members.

-– Jay Sweeney and Melissa Haley, from the city finance department.

-– Brian Hanson, city attorney.

–- Melissa Henshaw, deputy city clerk.

-– Garry White, Sitka Economic Development Association director who also represents the ad hoc Sitka Economic Resiliency Task Force. 

The task force, with members from Sitka’s economic sectors, has been meeting every other week to discuss impacts and opportunities related to the pandemic.

Voting in favor of the plan were Steven Eisenbeisz, Valorie Nelson, Thor Christianson, Kevin Knox, Kevin Mosher and Mayor Gary Paxton. Richard Wein voted against it.

The general role of the group would be to propose criteria and spending categories, with a budget for each category. The Assembly would take testimony from the public on the group’s recommendations, and make final decisions.

Those voting in favor said the Assembly often delegates tasks to committees and commissions with recommendations forwarded for a final decision by the Assembly.

Public testimony would be heard at the Assembly level, not at the working group meetings.

“We are the (decision making) body but we have groups send up recommendations to us,” Eisenbeisz said. “I’m in support of the working group and in support of the working group John Leach has laid out.”

Leach had previously outlined his working group proposal at an Assembly work session, and received the go ahead to put his plan in motion. He halted its work after receiving objections from the public about the composition of the group, and called the special meeting to get Assembly direction on the issue.

The administrator told the Assembly that among the available options were approval of a working group as he had originally proposed, or “leave all CARES Act funding design and disbursement to the Assembly.”

Wein, who voted against the working group motion, favored the Assembly route.

He said he was willing to hold as many Assembly meetings as needed, because the decision ultimately is the Assembly’s responsibility.

“If we can bring the community in to give testimony, it helps us better understand how the community is (feeling),” he said.

There was no discussion at the meeting about whether the working group meetings would be open to the public. 

The Assembly has already passed an ordinance on introduction that would distribute up to $4.5 million to provide relief on moorage and utility payments for businesses and citizens affected by the pandemic. The rest is available for economic relief purposes, subject to guidelines in the federal legislation.

Before shutting down his first working group, Leach issued a memo to that committee recommending consideration of grants to businesses and nonprofits; virus mitigation (e.g. PPE, IT upgrades, testing); rent/mortgage/ lease assistance; and new programs. Those could include ones to help homeless people, help with childcare and food delivery.

At the time he said he would like to start distributing funds before the July 1 disbursement of the second tranche of funding.

The Assembly members agreed at Thursday’s meeting that it would not be fair to have a representative from the nonprofit sector on the working group without having a representative from every other sector. Leach had said that having a nonprofit representative on the group would present a conflict of interest, as they will also be under consideration as grant recipients.

Only one member of the public was at the meeting Thursday. George Paul spoke in favor of Wein’s suggestion for the Assembly to lead the process, and take suggestions from the public.

Christianson commented that one of the things he likes best about the committee process is that members could perform “vetting” to make sure the suggestions for funding are in line with allowable CARES Act uses.

“We have to be careful with it, but at the same time get it out there so it can do what it’s supposed to do,” he added today.

The Assembly members agreed at Thursday’s meeting that it would not be fair to have a representative from the nonprofit sector on the working group without having a representative from every other sector. Leach had said that having a nonprofit representative on the group would present a conflict of interest, as they will also be under consideration as grant recipients.

Only one member of the public was at the meeting Thursday. George Paul spoke in favor of Wein’s suggestion for the Assembly to lead the process, and take suggestions from the public.

Christianson commented that one of the things he likes best about the committee process is that members could perform “vetting” to make sure the suggestions for funding are in line with allowable CARES Act uses.

“We have to be careful with it, but at the same time get it out there so it can do what it’s supposed to do,” he added today.

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-2-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 11:15 a.m. Wednesday.

New cases as of Monday: 39

Total statewide – 1,017

Total (cumulative) deaths – 14

Active cases in Sitka – 8 (6 resident; 2 non-resident)

Recovered cases in Sitka – 10 (7 resident; 3 non-resident)

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 68.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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