Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Museum takes over staff from borough


September 16, 2021

All four Haines Sheldon Museum employees were laid off by the borough on Wednesday to be rehired Thursday by the museum, a non-profit. The transition was the result of an ordinance adopted by the Haines Borough Assembly on Aug. 24 that effectively ended the museum’s quasi-governmental status.

The museum’s employees, all part-time, had the option to leave and be first in line for another borough job, but they decided to stick with the museum, according to museum board president Kelleen Adams.

During a series of public meetings this summer, community members voiced concerns that cutting museum employees from the borough’s payroll and eliminating union benefits that come with borough jobs would threaten the public funding on which the museum depends and would impede the museum’s ability to compete for high-quality job candidates.

Museum board members welcomed the change, which they had proposed over a year ago, arguing that it clarifies a convoluted relationship between the non-profit and borough, freeing the museum to make unilateral decisions about staff. The museum board is no longer subject to a collective bargaining agreement with the borough’s union, although the borough will maintain ownership of the museum building. More details of the relationship between the museum and borough will be ironed out in a memorandum of agreement that has yet to be drafted.

“We expect the borough to continue to support us in the fashion they have before, for over 30 years,” said Lorrie Dudzik, secretary of the museum’s board.

With full control over staff, the museum will give raises, expand employees’ roles and change their titles, Adams said. For example, employee Burl Sheldon, formerly “accountant,” will be “business manager.” The museum plans to give raises with money that the borough assembly had budgeted for the Public Employment Retirement System. (Now museum employees won’t pay into the state’s retirement plan.)

“Lots of independent nonprofits thrive without governmental union contracts and complex collective bargaining agreements,” Sheldon said. He’s optimistic that the change will give the museum more flexibility and will be cost effective. “I really personally believe in the nonprofit model,” he said. “I think this is an excellent small community museum, and I want to see it succeed.”

Adams said employees hadn’t expressed worries about losing union benefits but that some are seeking full-time work. The borough cut the two full-time museum jobs in 2020.

No current employees received borough healthcare coverage since none were full-time. The museum’s new personnel policy promises a $500 monthly healthcare stipend for future full-time employees. Adams said the board is eager to hire a full-time administrator in the future as it had been unaffordable due to significant funding cuts by the assembly last year.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve cut our budget drastically in an effort to be collaborative with the borough, which needed to make serious cuts during COVID,” Dudzik said. “But we hope they understand we are not separating. We are not going anywhere.”

The assembly budgeted $112,055 for the museum payroll this fiscal year, compared to more than $200,000 before the pandemic.

Even though museum employees are no longer on the borough’s payroll, Dudzik said the museum still expects “the borough to fund us at a level to maintain a healthy staff.” She said the amount wouldn’t have to be identical as pre-pandemic but that it would need to be enough to pay an administrator.

Dudzik and Adams said they want the community to know that the museum is still thriving, despite budget cuts and a drawn-out political process that culminated in the Aug. 24 ordinance.

The museum recently received a $15,000 grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum for an Alaska Indian Arts oral history project about the Chilkat Valley.

“There is a lot of life left,” Adams said. “We’re very excited about the future.”


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