By Melinda Munson

A group of Skagway residents collected enough signatures on an initiative petition that, if passed, requires voter permission for sale or lease of the Dahl Memorial Clinic. The following language will be on the October ballot if the assembly takes no action.

The petition reads: “The E.A. Jenny Rasmuson Community Health Center Building and the Dahl Memorial Clinic business shall not be leased or sold without ratification by public vote.”

A minimum of 125 valid signatures were needed, 149 verified signatures were collected.

The municipality has been in negotiations with Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) for a possible 25-year lease of the clinic building at $1 per year and sale of the clinic business for $1. Previously, a special vote for the sale of the clinic to SEARHC was scheduled for July 12, 2022 but canceled after SEARHC’s offer price was far below the appraisal. In August, the assembly directed Borough Manager Brad Ryan to enter negotiations with SEARHC for a lease agreement, which would only require assembly approval.

“There are so many things that I can’t talk about, that the assembly members can’t talk about, that the board of clinic directors can’t talk about because they happened in an executive session,” said Assemblymember Deb Potter at the August 2022 assembly meeting. “I think what I can say is, if we could talk about those things, I think it would change a lot of people’s minds about how we move forward. It is an emergency situation…” 

The clinic has struggled with maintaining staff and meeting patient satisfaction. The current temporary executive director costs the municipality approximately $150,000 for a three-month contract.

Dahl is one of the last remaining locally controlled clinics in the country, and residents have disputed if the municipality can continue to fund the clinic and if community members have the necessary expertise to function as board of directors. 

Long-time resident Carol Nelson is firmly in the camp of keeping the clinic local. She and a group of friends brainstormed how to maintain control of the clinic and decided to get a vote of the people written into city code. They started with an opinion poll, then moved onto the official petition which took several months and a lot of door-to-door visits in the cold weather.

“I never thought I would be doing anything like this,” Nelson said. The process included certifying sponsors who were then allowed to collect signatures, and lots of back and forth with the borough clerk to make sure the process was correctly followed. According to Nelson, although 161 signatures were collected, 149 were verified. Some were thrown out because the signee wasn’t a registered voter or the address they wrote on the petition didn’t match their voter ID card.

“I support the public having a say,” Mayor Andrew Cremata told The Skagway News. “I appreciate the fact it was done the right way.”