Paxton States Goals For Term as Mayor

Sentinel Staff Writer
    As a new mayor and two new Assembly members took office at the regular Assembly meeting Tuesday night, the three departing members gave short, and at times emotional, speeches.
    “How beautiful it is to live in a democracy,” said Matt Hunter, who was choked up before casting his last vote as mayor. Hunter was on the Assembly for four years before serving two years as mayor.
    The vote was unanimous to certify the results of the election. Gary Paxton won the race for mayor, and Kevin Mosher and Valorie Nelson won the two open Assembly seats.

AT LEFT: Gary Paxton is sworn in as Sitka’s mayor Tuesday night at Harrigan Centennial Hall. AT RIGHT: Valorie Nelson and Kevin Mosher are sworn in as they begin their three-year Assembly terms. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

    Hunter, Bob Potrzuski and Ben Miyasato gave their parting remarks as they received certificates of thanks for their service.
    “It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Potrzuski, who was winding up his three-year term on the Assembly. “I marvel at what a dirt-poor kid from the city of Detroit has been able to do ...”
    A retired school teacher, Potrzuski said, “It’s been meaningful to serve with four former students – I never would’ve predicted I would have an opportunity to share a whole different experience with these four men.”
    Miyasato, who has been on the Assembly the past year and who ran for mayor this year, thanked all those who voted in the election, and also all of the candidates.
    “It is never easy running for office, it is never easy losing,” he said. “With that being said I want people to run for office. ... It’s been an honor and a privilege.”
    He expressed his good wishes for the new mayor and Assembly, and his desire to see a freeze on taxes and utility rate increases; for the Sitka permanent fund not to be used for self-financing projects; and for items discussed in executive session to stay private.
    The out-going Assembly quickly finished up business with votes in favor of supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2018 and 2019, including legal expenses for a lawsuit and personnel complaints in the police department.
    The terms of four Assembly members – Kevin Knox, Aaron Bean, Richard Wein and Steve Eisenbeisz – are continuing through the transition.

New Assembly Business
    Paxton picked up the gavel to preside for the second part of the meeting. Knox was traveling, and participated on the first few items by teleconference.
    Paxton said he appreciated Hunter’s civility and respect in his role as mayor, and is committed to carry on those values.
    “Civility is sort of easy – how we treat each other: colleagially, friendly and do the city’s business,” Paxton said. “We have a great city staff. Every day our city runs better than most cities in the country. (We can) empower them by saying we’re behind them, and do that with our citizens.”
    He said he would like to see “trust” added as well, which he said is more of a challenge.
    “We have to ... reduce some of the negativity and wish the best in each other,” the mayor said. “I want to do everything I can on the Assembly to increase our trust.”
    He said he believes meetings should be shorter than they have been in recent years, and that some items should not take a lot of discussion.
    “Four-hour meetings don’t lead to good decisions late at night,” he said. “Some are routine matters, we can deal with them (with) dispatch, and save our time and energy for the stuff that’s most important.”
    There were a few moments of tension when Paxton expressed some impatience with Wein’s questioning on “housekeeping” code change on procurement policies.
    Wein responded, “I have a strong belief in transparency. Generally people at home are not seeing it if we just vote, and vote. Three minutes of explanation is something that’s good, in my humble opinion.”
    Bean agreed, “Dr. Wein’s questions and comments are things people who voted for him would like to hear.”
    “I appreciate the discussion, I appreciate the comments,” Paxton said, before calling for the vote.

Hospital Executive Session
    The meeting ended just before 10 p.m., and included a brief reception with a cake for out-going and incoming Assembly members, their families, and the public. But most of the meeting time – 8:15 to 9:30 p.m. – was spent with the Assembly behind closed doors to discuss roles in Phase III of the Sitka Community Hospital Request for Proposals process. City Attorney Brian Hanson, City Administrator Keith Brady, city clerk Sara Peterson, consultant Sarah Cave and Chief Administrative and Finance Officer Jay Sweeney also took part in the executive session.
    When they returned to open session, Paxton announced that the city’s negotiating team would include Sitka Community Hospital CEO Rob Allen and Dr. Roger Golub, representing the hospital’s medical staff.
    Paxton said his expectation is that the discussions would take place in public as much as possible, and asked for the negotiating team to update the Assembly in the upcoming month.

Airplane Float and Airport Terminal
    The Assembly took a few more steps in the project to build a new float plane dock in Sitka Channel. A site has been chosen on Japonski Island.
    The city hopes to build the project using mostly funds from the Federal Aviation Administration, and land transferred by the state.
    The Assembly unanimously approved a resolution to authorize the administrator to seek a letter of commitment from the state to acquire the land, which is northwest of Mt. Edgecumbe High School.
    “This resolution will help reiterate with the governor, the Legislature, DOE and anyone else the need of the city to acquire this property for a seaplane base,” Brady wrote to the Assembly.
    The resolution says that the project is eligible for up to 100 percent federal funding.
    On a separate item, the Assembly approved on first reading a $50,000 appropriation as an initial expenditure for acquiring the land. It will be up for final reading Nov. 8.
    On another aviation issue the Assembly passed a resolution to support the state DOT in seeking Airport Improvement Program grant funding for the airport terminal building improvement project.
    The Assembly has already voted in favor of issuing $4 million in revenue bonds for the project, and is applying for federal funding for the TSA facility part of the project. The resolution passed Tuesday night relates to $10.2 million in grants for other improvements to the terminal.
    The revenue bonds are expected to be covered through the passenger facility charges assessed on enplaning passengers.

Senior Exemption
    The Assembly heard public testimony about the senior sales tax exemption, which was reinstated with passage of the proposition on the Oct. 2 ballot. City officials have said that until the city sets up a new system, eligible shoppers will have to show ID when making purchases.
    Max Rule, chief operating officer of Hames Corp., said he was concerned that the burden was being placed on checkers, and asked the city to allow seniors to use their old ID number.
    “I’m really concerned,” he said. “Checking is a high stress job; I’m concerned customers will be frustrated with the process and will take their anger out on young employees.”
    City staff said they’re working on a system that will include a tag and bar code on a key ring.
    A few members of the public said requiring an ID was a problem for some seniors, particularly those who can’t afford to pay for ID, or don’t want to wait in line at the DMV.
    “We want to go back to the system you have,” Ann Bills said.
    At the end of the meeting, downtown merchant Shirley Robards voiced similar concerns, and said it was the will of voters to return to the old system.
    Brady said there will be a transition period, until a new system is put into place.

Hospital Reports
    The nursing home staff at Sitka Community Hospital was honored for their long-term care quality achievement from a state nursing home organization.
    Hospital CEO Rob Allen reported that the hospital had a good August, and now has about $4.1 million in cash. A site visit is scheduled for the new CERNER medical records system, Allen said.
    A visit is also scheduled, at which the Public Employees Retirement System will give the staff a chance to find out “where they are, and what can happen as the merger unfolds.”
    The prospective merger is making recruitment difficult for the hospital, Allen said. “We’re monitoring it and working on backup plans.”
Other Business
    In other business, the Assembly appointed Loyd Platson to the Police and Fire Commission, and changed the date for the Nov. 13 Assembly meeting to Nov. 8. They scheduled a work session for 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 17, for “goal setting and team building,” with John Holst as the facilitator.
    In the annual officer election committee liaison assignments, Eisenbeisz was named deputy mayor; and Nelson vice deputy mayor; Knox - Port and Harbors, Parks and Recreation; Paxton - Sitka Economic Development Association; Nelson - Local Emergency Planning, Police and Fire, Historic Preservation; Wein - Sitka Community Hospital, Investment, Health Needs and Human Services, Library; Bean - Planning Commission; Eisenbeisz - Tree and Landscape, Sitka Community Hospital (alternate); Mosher - Gary Paxton Industrial Park, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, School Board.
    Since both Wein and Eisenbeisz stated their preference for the SCH position, there was a vote on who would be primary liaison. Wein, a doctor who formerly worked at the hospital, won the vote and Eisenbeisz was named alternate.

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At a Glance

(updated 9-12-2023)

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 8:57 a.m. Tuesday, September 12.

New cases as of Tuesday: 278

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 301,513

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,485

Case Rate per 100,000 – 38.14

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

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 152.50

Cases in last 7 days – 13

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,575

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






September 2003

After the season-opening Ketchikan High School swim meet last week, Sitka High swimmer Matt Way is ranked first in the state in the100-meter breaststroke, while Carrington Gorman is ranked second in the 50-meter freestyle.



September 1973

From Around Town: Sitka Historical Society met Sunday at the Centennial Building with the people who had hosted the Historical Room during tour ship visits here. The ladies of the society served a nice Russian Tea from their samovar, and passed around Russian tea cakes.