Proposed ordinance would clarify WMC oversight
The Wrangell Borough Assembly met in special session on Friday, Aug. 17 to introduce the first reading of a proposed ordinance that could dramatically shift the balance of power in the administration of the Wrangell Medical Center.
The assembly voted 5-0 in favor of the reading, with assemblyman David Jack absent.
Among the proposed changes the ordinance puts forth include new language, which would change the way the WMC Board of Directors manage the hospital and long-term care facility.
In Section 3.32.020, a change is proposed to restrict the board to a limit of $25,000 for additions, replacements or repairs to the facility. The change also vests the physical custody and care of the current WMC facility to the assembly, which the board had previously controlled.
“The board shall have the authority to make repairs and improvements to the hospital building as necessary to maintain the building in good condition, provided the board has no authority to approve or make additions or replacements or enter any contracts or agreements to do so in excess of $25,000…”
That $25,000 limit would include contracts for professional services or consulting contracts – which would not be able to be implemented without approval of the Borough Assembly.
“The board shall review and make recommendations to the assembly for proper maintenance of the Wrangell Medical Center and Long-Term Care Facility or any future facility, and the real property, for all projects in excess of $25,000,” the change continues.
Another change in that section would shift control over the ownership of all hospital property from the WMC board to the assembly.
“All personal property of any kind and any nature existing at the Wrangell Medical Center and Long-Term Care Facility or any future facility (both the existing facility and future facility may be referred to as ‘hospital’) or purchased in the future shall be the property of the borough and shall not be disposed of or sold in any manner inconsistent with the Wrangell Municipal Code provisions governing the disposal or sale of personal property.”
Mayor Jeremy Maxand spoke after the meeting about the new language.
“All of these changes are clarifying the original ordinance,” the mayor said. “All the real property is already owned by the borough.”
And when it comes to the powers and duties of the board, a big shift could also be in the works.
Removing language stating that the WMC board has full authority to operate and maintain the hospital – or build a new one – the proposed ordinance adds new language that would transfer final authority to the Borough Manager, Borough Attorney and Borough Assembly.
“The hospital board shall review and make recommendations through the borough manager (sic) to the assembly on all hospital construction, consulting, engineering, and architectural services contracts before submitting such contracts to the assembly for approval,” the proposed ordinance reads. “No such contracts shall be executed without review by the borough manager and the borough attorney, and such contracts in excess of $25,000 shall be executed only after approval by the assembly. All contracts shall be executed in the name of the city and borough.”
The board would also be required to review and make recommendations through the Borough Manager to the assembly for review and approval of proposals or plans for development of any new hospital construction and improvements.
“What we saw transpire with the hospital construction project, and the problems with the contracts, pretty much speaks for itself,” Maxand added. “We don’t want to see that sort of thing happen again.”
A new code proposed under Section 3.32.040 would also significantly alter the way the next WMC administrator can conduct hospital business.
“The hospital administrator shall be responsible for the overall supervision of the hospital in a manner consistent with all federal and state laws, the City and Borough of Wrangell Charter, and Wrangell Municipal Code, and in a fiscally responsible manner in the best interests of the borough and in accordance with sound business practices,” the proposed code reads.
The most major change would come in the next paragraph, however – essentially making the hospital a department of the City and Borough under the charge of the Borough Manager.
“The borough manager shall have governing power over the administrator, except as related to the selection of the administrator … in the same manner as the borough manager has governing power over all other administrative department heads.”
Maxand added clarification to the change after the meeting.
“Essentially, the hospital is, and always has been a department of the city,” he added. “It just clarifies their status. And these new parts of the ordinance were lifted almost directly from Juneau and Sitka, so if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us.”
In the new section, however, the hospital administrator would still be the hiring and firing authority over staff at the facility.
“The administrator shall have the authority to hire and discharge subordinate employees at the hospital in a manner consistent with federal and state laws and in accordance with the personnel policies of the hospital, the borough code, and the borough personnel rules and regulations,” the document states.
The revised code, if passed, would also require the board to allow the Borough Assembly’s liaison to the board to attend executive session meetings of the group. In recent months, a controversy brewed after the former board excluded assemblyman Jack from a number of executive sessions held at the hospital.
In part, the proposed code states, “The board has no authority to exclude the assembly liaison from any executive session.”
During public comment, WMC board candidate Judy Allen expressed her support of the new ordinance.
“As a candidate for the Wrangell Medical Center board in this special election, I want to say that this new ordinance has my 100 percent support,” she said. “I believe it is very necessary to take this action because we saw what happened the way the last ordinance was written, and abused by people who chose to abuse it.”
Dr. Greg Salard also expressed his approval of the proposal, but added a twist to what he’d like to see happen in the future.
“We need to get this approved,” Salard said. “But I think the problem with who is eligible to sit on the hospital board is going to need to be addressed again. I believe that, the way it’s written now, tenants and contractors and medical health professionals are not eligible, in particular, AICS employees, are not eligible. You are severely limiting a very large number of qualified people from sitting on that board.”
A second reading, and possible approval of the ordinance, is scheduled for Aug. 28 during a public hearing set for 6 p.m. in the assembly chambers.