Wrangell Sentinel -

Stokes resigns from assembly for medical reasons


Brian O'Connor/ Wrangell Sentinel

Wilma Stokes

By Brian O'Connor

Sentinel writer

Wilma Stokes resigned from the borough assembly Tuesday.

Stokes, 84, has suffered from macular degeneration, making it difficult for her to read, she said. In her letter of resignation, she urged community members to fight for better living conditions for the Wrangell Medical Center's long-term care facility residents.

"My doctor has suggested that the time has come for me to resign from the borough assembly," she wrote. "Therefore, May 13, 2014 will be my last meeting. I really didn't want to resign because I wanted to see the new hospital built or the current one updated. However, I do not see that happening anytime soon. I wanted to remain on the assembly so that I could fight for the people at the hospital that are living there."

After her resignation was read into the record, Stokes remained calmly seated while assembly members and the audience delivered a standing ovation.

Stokes urged community members to visit the Wrangell Medical Center's long-term care facility to observe the present living conditions for residents.

Stokes has served multiple terms since her 2007 election to the board. She has in the past championed hospital reconstruction as a personal cause.

"The hospital is one of the places that we've had some problems," she said. "They need a hospital for the people that are staying there."

"I feel we're forgetting them, and we're supposed to be taking care of them," Stokes added.

She mentioned a larger common area as one potential section for improvement.

Stokes plans to use her now-free Tuesday evenings to participate in a Bible Study group at the Harbor Light Assembly of God church.

The borough is currently taking letters of interest for Stokes's replacement. Officials anticipate appointing a new assembly member at the May 27 regular assembly meeting. Any appointment would last until the October general election, the remainder of Stokes's present term.

In other business, the assembly discussed and amended a sample ordinance relating to which city officials have the power to consult the borough attorney. A draft ordinance prepared by the ordinance review committee authorizes the mayor, borough manager and clerk to make requests of the borough attorney, according to a memorandum to the Mayor and assembly dated April 24, two days after the issue was asked to be placed on an agenda.

Assembly members Julie Decker, Daniel Blake and Pam McCloskey objected to one phrase in the proposed ordinance: "The assembly, by a majority vote, may request the borough attorney to be consulted regarding matters outside the scope of normal business."

Decker has in the past said attorney consultation should be made by a majority vote of the assembly, because of cost and transparency.

"If I was to just call the attorney and say I want you to do this – 'X, Y, and Z' – the public doesn't know that, they don't hear what the issues are, they don't know what's happening," she said.

In addition, the proposed ordinance was vaguely worded, Decker said.

"What does 'outside the scope of normal business' mean?" she said.

The proposed ordinance had lots of potential problems said assembly member James Stough. Stough drew criticism for asking that four questions be put to the borough attorney without a vote of the assembly. Those four questions dealt primarily with the potential dissolution of the Thomas Bay Power Authority and Thomas Bay Power Commission.

"Number one, the mayor doesn't have any more authority than any of the rest of us council people to talk to the attorney unless the council makes the decision to have him be our spokesman," he said. "That also goes true of the city manager. The city manager has responsibilities under our ordinances as to what he can do. This also goes to the borough clerk."

"The controversy started when I sent a letter and asked the borough attorney to clarify his ordinances," Stough added. "The questions that Julie and Blake have raised have nothing to do with that, with acting or instigating the borough attorney. You do get that power. That's usually what we do, we don't do it through the mayor."

When assembly actions appeared to violate existing code, it was a board member's fiduciary responsibility to request clarification from the borough attorney, Stough said.

"We need clarification and that clarification should be offered," he said. "I don't believe the mayor shouldn't have the authority to talk to the attorney without the consent of the council. We need to follow rules."

After discussion, Blake moved to strike the phrase 'regarding matters outside the scope of normal business' from the proposed resolution. Stough then moved to defer the motion back to the code review committee as an amendment to Blake's resolution. Stough's amendment lost by a 5-2 vote, with Stough and Stokes the two members voting in favor. Blake's motion passed 6-1, with Stough the lone dissenting vote.

The assembly also voted 7-0 to approve the school system budget, approved a request for Sea Level Seafoods to modify an existing City Tidelands lease.

The board also discussed but took no action on an item relating to the appointment of members to the Thomas Bay Power Commission and the Southeast Alaska Power Agency Board. Stough contended that the appointment of dual members – common practice for both Petersburg and Wrangell – was prohibited by either body's bylaws. It wasn't immediately clear whether the TBPC's continued existence would pose an ongoing problem, Stough said.

"The problem's going away," he said.


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