PERFECT WEATHER – Surfers assess the waves at Sandy Beach this morning. Waves were between 14- and 20-feet today. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

City Splits Fund Receipts 50-50 with Schools

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

The Assembly gave approval Tuesday to a budget ordinance that shares unanticipated revenues with the school district.

The Assembly also upheld a decision by city staff to deny a public records request filed by an attorney for the Northern Justice Project, an Anchorage law firm, on behalf of a former Sitka police officer.

The Assembly also:

– appointed Jeff Budd to the Sitka Library Commission.

– approved a new liquor license application and premises diagram for Harbor Mountain Brewing Company at 1209A SMC.

– approved renewal of a retail marijuana store license for Weed Dudes at 1321 SMC Suite J and K.

- set the property tax rate for fiscal year 2021 at 6 mills.

– approved a supplemental appropriation for the airport improvement project.

– re-appropriated funds from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2021 for COVID-related expenses.

– directed the planning department to draft an RFP for the sale of 4 acres of city land (Tract A11 in Whitcomb Heights subdivision), for consideration at a future meeting. Pioneer Land Development LLC of Sitka has expressed interest in acquiring 40,000 square feet of land to develop for housing, but the Assembly wants to consider the sale of the entire parcel.

School Funding

The vote was 5-2 on final reading of a budget ordinance that transfers $229,035 in Secure Rural Schools funds to the Sitka School District.

Voting in favor were Kevin Mosher, Kevin Knox, Thor Christianson, Steven Eisenbeisz and Mayor Gary Paxton in favor; Richard Wein and Valorie Nelson voted against. The federal program limits the use of the funds to roads and schools.

The city had not expected to receive the $458,070 in Secure Rural Schools funds for fiscal year 2020, which ends June 30, and neither the city nor school district included SRS funding in the current year’s budget.

Customarily the Assembly votes to split the funds 50-50 between the city and the school district. The school board asked for the same split of the latest SRS funds, citing the need for more full-time counselors in all of the schools.

“We have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic that makes the need for mental health support for our students even more urgent,” Superintendent Mary Wegner said in her letter to the city seeking the funds.

The district currently has full time counselors at Baranof and Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary schools, and two at Sitka High, but none at Blatchley Middle School or Pacific High.

“If there’s ever a time counselors are needed, it’s this year,” said Christianson before the vote.

Mosher said he would vote in favor but was also ready for tougher budget talks with the schools next year.

In voting against the motion, Wein said the school district is eligible for CARES Act funds to help with its expenses, but the city is not. He said the Assembly funded schools “to the cap and then some,” and has requested $430,000 in CARES Act funds.

“My notion is it should be kept in the city,” Wein said. “CARES Act can’t be used for roads but it can be used for schools.”

Paxton agreed with Wein but in the end voted in favor of sharing with the school district. He said the city has already cut $2 million out of the FY21 budget, and badly needs the funds.

“We have to figure out how to pay for roads,” he said, and cited Lincoln Street as the most pressing need.

 

Appeal

The Assembly voted to deny an appeal filed by Northern Justice Project for information related to a particular police department investigation involving Ryan Silva, a former detective with the department. (In a separate case, Silva sued the city and the case was settled with a cash payment of $350,000 to Silva.)

The vote was 5-2 to deny the appeal.

Knox, Christianson, Paxton, Mosher and Eisenbeisz voted in favor of the motion to deny the appeal, and Wein and Nelson voted against.

The agenda item was considered as a quasi-judicial hearing, with each side provided time to argue its position.

Nick Feronti, an attorney for The Northern Justice Project, filed the appeal after the city denied his request for records involving a particular investigation relating to Silva. 

He argued that “public access to public information” is a fundamental right, and that the city had no grounds for denial.

In his written arguments, he said,

“The City and Borough of Sitka denied the public records request at issue based on only one fact. It claimed that the requested ‘records involve an active case that is still under investigation.’ No other facts were listed in the denial. This violates the law.”

The investigation involving Silva has been referred to Alaska State Troopers.

City Clerk Sara Peterson had issued the records denial, saying “These records involve an active case that is still under investigation.” She cited Alaska law that allows for denial if it “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings”; “would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or impartial adjudication”; or “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of a suspect, defendant, victim or witness.”

City Attorney Brian Hanson said it was an active investigation. He said the city grants the “vast majority” of requests for public records.

“There are a handful of occasions when we deny public records requests and it’s always for the same reason,” he said. That is, for police records in an active investigation.

Assembly members had various opinions on the issue.

Nelson said she believes Feronti has the right to the information, and that she would like more information about the police department in general.

Mosher said, “When and if (Silva) is charged he will have every right to that information. He’ll get his day in court.”

Wein favored referring the matter for judicial review as to whether the records should be released or not. He added today the Assembly does not have the “full facts of the case.”

Hanson said the matter has been referred to another agency, but it is still an active investigation.

On a final item the Assembly met in executive session for 20 minutes to discuss a financial matter related to Alaska Pure Sea Salt. When members returned, they voted 7-0 to direct staff to draw up a forbearance agreement with the Sitka-based business, as discussed in executive session.

 

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August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:

 

On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

In appreciation for the willingness of our subscribers to pick up their daily paper at drop-off sites, the Sentinel was free to all readers, and subscriptions were extended without charge.

As of August 1 the Sentinel is once again charging for subscriptions, but the present method of having subscribers pick up their papers at designated sites will continue.

The expiration date of all subscriptions has been extended without charge for an additional four months.

We thank our readers for their support in these uncertain times, and especially those who paid for the paper despite the free offer.

We look forward to the time when we can safely resume home delivery.

To check on the expiration of your subscription or to make a payment please call 747-3219. The subscription email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We also will be mailing out reminder cards.

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– The Sitka Sentinel Staff

 

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Alaska COVID-19 
At a Glance

(updated 11-24-20)

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 12:25 a.m. Tuesday.

New cases as of Monday: 578

Total statewide – 27,669

Total (cumulative) deaths – 115

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 619

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

The City of Sitka posted the following update on COVID-19 cases in Sitka as of 5 p.m. Monday.

Active cases in Sitka – 29

Hospitalizations in Sitka – 3

Cumulative Sitka cases – 176 (155 resident; 21 non-resident)

Cumulative recovered – 147 cumulative

The local case data are from the City of Sitka website.

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20 YEARS AGO
November 2000

Photo caption: A painting by the late Dr. Walt Massey hangs on the wall of the Pioneers Home dining room,. bringing smiles from home administrator Julie Smith and Massey’s son Brian and daughter-in-law Amy, the home’s dietary manager. The painting of early-day Sitka was done in 1971, the year Dr. Massey, an optometrist and artist, died. It originally hung in the Canoe Club and was given by the restaurant’s owner, Frank Richards, to local historian Joe Ashby, who gave it to the Pioneers Home.

50 YEARS AGO
November 1970

Photo  caption: Sitka High School band director James Hope receives a check for $2,000 from American Legion Post 13 Commander Carroll Kohler. The Legion had voted to contribute $1,000 for uniforms and the Auxiliary voted to match that amount. The check was presented at the Legion’s Veterans Day banquet.

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