A proposed ordinance that would eliminate Haines Borough oversight over the Sheldon Museum’s board and staff, but maintain borough ownership of the museum building, will go to public hearing next week.

Under the proposed ordinance, the borough would cede control of museum staff, who are currently borough employees with union benefits. The ordinance would mandate only that the borough manager or a designee hold a seat on the museum board and that the borough “contract” with the museum. Apart from the ordinance, the museum would change its structure to become an independent nonprofit, with authority over staffing and the organization of its board.

“In the end, we would like to be in control of our employees,” Kelleen Adams, museum board president, said at a Tuesday committee of the whole meeting. Adams envisions “a strong, clearly defined partnership” between the borough and the museum. She hopes “the borough will maintain annual financial support.”

Adams did not specify how much funding the museum, if separate, would need from the borough each year. She said the museum’s needs change every budget cycle, but the board is “very happy” with the amount appropriated this fiscal year: $79,055.

It’s unclear exactly what the partnership between the museum and borough would look like or how much funding the borough would provide each year. A museum business plan calls for a memorandum of agreement with the borough to outline new responsibilities, including that the borough would continue to own and maintain the museum facility.

It is not unprecedented for a museum to be funded by a municipal government but to operate separately, Cynthia Jones, former director of the Sheldon Museum, said at the meeting. When the Valdez Museum turned from a city department into a separate nonprofit, the city continued to provide annual funding. The “really vibrant and quality museums are the ones that receive help and support from the community,” Jones said.

Helen Alten, another former Sheldon Museum director, voiced concerns about the proposed ordinance at the meeting on Tuesday. Alten, now borough deputy clerk, was laid off last summer by the museum to save money, according to a statement released at the time by the museum board. Alten said she accepted the position at the museum because it was supported by the government and because the job came with health and retirement benefits. If museum staff are no longer borough employees, Alten asked, would they still get benefits? If not, “What quality of person are they going to get?”

A 2020 state survey of 83 museums in Alaska found that about 60% are governed by nonprofits while about 45% provide employee health or retirement benefits.

The first of two public hearings about the ordinance will be at the assembly meeting on Tuesday, August 10.