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The City of Seward and the Seward Community Health Center are looking for instruction from the Health Resources and Services Administration, the federal agency that administers the health center program. 

However, that agency has said it can only offer training held in closed-door meetings with the organizations’ governing bodies, the health center board and the Seward City Council, according to remarks by both health center Executive Director Craig Ambrosiani and City Manager Scott Meszaros. 

Holding the training in secret may prove impossible if it is to involve all members of the City Council, however, since the council may not legally convene an executive session for such a purpose.

“That is a big problem for us and for the City Council, because it is just training,” Finance Director Kris Erchinger said at the health center board’s Thursday meeting. “Doing an executive session for training is contrary to the public process.”

A representative at HRSA’s Region 10, which covers Alaska, did not respond to voicemail left at the agency’s Seattle office.

The city and the health center jointly apply for a federal grant that supplies the majority of the health center’s budget. The city acts as a pass-through for the grant funds. The health center is its own nonprofit, however, and its board has legal oversight for health center operations.

The relationship between the two bodies is defined by a so-called co-applicant agreement, a contract that lays out the rights and the duties of each party. Such agreements are required by HRSA regulation whenever a public and a private entity cooperate to form a health center.

In Seward’s case, however, the co-applicant agreement has become a source of discord.

Confusion over the two organizations’ respective obligations spilled over into a public disagreement in May when it came to light that the city had altered the terms of a health center grant application without informing the health center board.

Even before then, however, the city had asked HRSA to send a representative to explain the federal laws governing the city’s involvement in the health center enterprise, Finance Director Kris Erchinger said at the health center board’s Thursday meeting.

Also at that meeting, Erchinger defended the city’s decision to put an executive session on a May City Council agenda to discuss negotiations over the co-applicant agreement. Erchinger said that health center Executive Director Craig Ambrosiani in December requested a meeting for the purpose of revising the co-applicant agreement, which Ambrosiani conceded.

The matter was deferred until the City Council could hire a permanent manager. In Erchinger’s account, the city added the executive session when Meszaros took up his post, believing that fit the timeline previously discussed.

This explanation did not entirely satisfy some members of the health center board, including Board Member Amy Komarek, who said that the city should have informed the health center of the pending discussion as a matter of “professional courtesy.”

The two sides appeared to come closer toward reconciliation, however, with Health Center Board President Shane Hand extending an open invitation for city attendance at board meetings. 

“We’ve always worked really well in the past,” said Board Member Maya Moriary. “This is one hiccup.” 

Disclosure: The author’s spouse is employed part-time at the Seward Community Health Center.