Borough of Ketchikan mayor pledges to veto funding for local LGBTQ organization

Some attendees at the 2021 Ketchikan Pride Alliance Pride Picnic hold up posters from previous years and smile. The Borough of Ketchikan mayor pledged Monday to veto funding for the Ketchikan Pride Alliance. (Max Lubbers/KRBD)

The borough mayor of Ketchikan pledged Monday to veto a grant of about $1,600 to a local nonprofit focused on education and support for LGBTQ people. On Monday, the Ketchikan Borough Assembly gave the green light to a wide range of grants to community nonprofit organizations in a package totaling nearly $390,000.

The Ketchikan Pride Alliance told the borough’s grants committee it hopes to use the money to organize events, create a website and gather data about Ketchikan’s LGBTQ community. But Borough Mayor Rodney Dial said he was concerned that by giving money to the organization, the Borough was funding a political cause.

“We are now taking on and funding a new organization that a lot of people in this community wouldn’t want us to spend our tax money on, supporting what they see as a social justice issue,” Dial said. “And so I just, I felt that was a thing that divides our community.”

Ketchikan Pride Alliance Vice President JD Martin said in an interview that the grant will fund three events: the organization’s annual Pride Picnic in late June, plus two other outings to be determined – although at this point she claims the group is not planning a parade.

Martin disputes Dial’s assertion that the group is inherently political. She says the nonprofit’s 501(c)(3) status under the federal tax code prohibits it from influencing political issues.

Nothing we produce is political in nature, and it’s also very intentional on our part. We think the idea that LGBT people and our identities are inherently political is not correct,” Martin said. “We are just people.”

Martin says LGBTQ people come from diverse backgrounds and have a wide range of political beliefs.

The nonprofit grant package passed the Ketchikan assembly 6-0. A super-majority of five members of the assembly could override Dial’s veto.

The Borough of Ketchikan Grants Committee, made up of two assembly members and three residents, has received requests for more than $500,000 in funding from community organizations. The committee recommended keeping funding flat for organizations that had previously received money from the borough and funding most new applications at 50% of the requested amount. Assemblywoman Jaimie Palmer, who sits on the grants committee, defended the Ketchikan Pride Alliance grant.

“For the Pride Alliance, the idea of ​​the borough’s strategic plan, the improvement of the quality of life of all the citizens of this island, and they responded to the education requirement by wanting to organize events of awareness, and so that’s where the thought was there,” Palmer mentioned.

Assemblyman Jeremy Bynum was the only assemblyman who indicated he would support the removal of Pride Alliance funding from borough grant funding.

Dial has used his veto sparingly since being elected in 2019. But this isn’t the first time the borough mayor has spoken out against issues involving the LGBTQ community: He has vetoed a resolution non-binding in 2020 asking the Alaska Legislature to include gender identity and sexual orientation. in the state’s non-discrimination law. The assembly then canceled this veto.

In other matters, the Ketchikan assembly voted 5 to 1 to fund all but about $350,000 of the school district’s budget request. The Ketchikan School Board had requested $1.1 million more in borough funding than the previous year to pay off a shortfall in its self-funded health insurance program.

Bynum was the only vote against the school district budget. He said he wasn’t convinced the school district had done enough to stabilize its insurance fund.

“It’s pretty simple and straightforward. In my book, if you want to run a health insurance plan and you don’t want to go into the market, you run it like a health insurance plan. That means when costs go up, you go up in premiums,” Bynum said.

Assemblyman David Landis proposed the reduced figure as a compromise.

“It seems to me that a middle ground is what we’re looking for,” he said.

The funding cut allowed the assembly to pass the school district’s budget without a supermajority vote.

The rest of the borough’s budget is adopted unanimously.

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