WMC board special election set for August
With the loss of 8 members of the Wrangell Medical Center Board of Directors, the question of how those seats will be filled came to the forefront during the Borough Assembly’s June 26 meeting.
The assembly, in conjunction with borough attorney Bob Blasco answered that question after an executive session.
Blasco informed the assembly that the only method to fill those seats, under Alaska law, was to hold a special election on Aug. 21 – and that those elected to fill the vacancies would hold their seats for the remainder the respective seat’s term.
With that in mind, the seats previously held by Leann Rinehart, Lurine McGee and Delores Norman would be the only positions to come up again for re-election in October. Any candidate elected to fill the remaining 5 seats would come up for re-election at the end of the respective term for that seat.
Blasco noted the reasoning behind the decision and later explained why the WMC board was not a governing body.
“We were asked to look at how to fill these vacancies and, in the simplest terms, it’s an elected board but it’s not an assembly, it’s not a council, and it’s not a school board,” Blasco said. “State law has a specific statute titled ‘Successors’ and the Wrangell code has a similar statute that mirrors the (state) statute.”
The statute Blasco referred to are covered in Section 2 of the Wrangell Municipal Code and Section 29 of the Alaska Statutes. The main question, when it came to whether an election would be called or appointments made, dealt with whether the board was a “governing body” as defined under the statutes.
According to Blasco, it is not.
“Basically, there are four parts that apply here. One relates to what are governing bodies,” Blasco added. “Those are assemblies and councils under state law. The other applies to school boards. The other applies if an official other than a member of the governing body or school board is recalled. That is where, in our view, under Alaska law, this hospital board is comprised of officials other than a member of an assembly, council or school board.”
Blasco added that he also consulted with the Alaska State Department of Law on the issue and received a concurring opinion as to the status of the seats on the board.
“Successors shall be elected to fill the unexpired portion of the term,” Blasco quoted from Alaska Statute section 29.26.350.
Blasco then explained why the date of Aug. 21 was set for the election.
“The election has to occur within 60 days from when the recall occurred,” he said. “There is no other provision in state law or Wrangell code to fill them except through the special election process.”
Mayor Jeremy Maxand agreed with Blasco’s opinion and added he was satisfied with the decision to hold a special election.
“There has been a lot of speculation on how we were going to fill these board seats and a lot of rumors about individuals making appointments,” Maxand said. “In consultation with our attorney, Mr. Blasco, and a thorough review of the law, it’s pretty clear to us.”
The decision by the assembly leaves the hospital board essentially mute and powerless until the election is complete – a move questioned by Dr. Greg Salard during a comment session opened up by Mayor Maxand.
“Who is going to be sitting on the board for the next 60 days or until the election?” Salard asked.
“Dorothy (Sweat),” Maxand replied.
“Dorothy isn’t a quorum, so essentially she can’t make decisions for the next 60 days?” Salard queried again.
Maxand responded by noting the nature of rural Alaskan politics.
“The reality is in rural Alaska boards often go a month or two without meeting,” Maxand said. “Under the administrator, the day-to-day operations of the hospital can continue on whether that board meets or misses a month or two of meetings.”
Maxand went on to say that the failure to have an active board will not affect care or business concerns at WMC.
“Not having those seats filled until the special election does not, in any way, hinder the state’s perspective on licensing or Medicare reimbursement. All those things have been discussed and taken care of.”
The openness of the coming election was also something Maxand wanted the public to be aware of.
“This is a really good process,” Maxand said. “It removes a lot of the politics out of getting people onto the board, and right now that’s a good thing.”
The windows of candidacy for the special election have yet to be announced by the Borough Clerk’s office.
Before adjourning, the assembly took one more step related to the WMC issue with the assembly voting to allow Borough Manager Tim Rooney to advise acting WMC CEO Olinda White that the hospital has no legal authority to hire legal counsel without his specific permission to do so.
The directive also stated that the Rooney and Blasco are authorized to review and pursue any legal options with respect to the former board’s actions involving the employment contract of Noel Rea, to include amendments to that contract, as well as actions taken by the board or individual members between June 20-25.
In other assembly actions, a short-term contract for outgoing clerk Christie Jamieson to assist with the special election and Oct. 2 general election was approved, as was a Memorandum of Agreement with the Wrangell Cooperative Association for development of a roadway construction project on Weber Street.
The assembly also approved a letter of recommendation for Jamieson, who retires officially on June 30.