PALMER — The Palmer City Council voted 4-3 in favor of accepting $30,000 from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services as a passthrough grant to the Greater Palmer Chamber of Commerce to increase access and support COVID-19 prevention activities. Action Memorandum 21-037 included $30,000 which would then be distributed as ‘Bingles’ in Palmer to vaccinated individuals.
Councilman Richard Best moved the item on the agenda from the consent agenda to new business for discussion. Best then asked city Attorney Michael Gatti if the distribution of bingles would be seen as discriminatory against those who would not willingly receive the vaccine.
“There was going to be kind of a disbursement of bangles which is a self printed currency within the community that would be potentially given out to folks to participate. My question to the attorney is could that be looked at in any way as discriminatory toward people that for whatever medical reasons choose not to participate in something like this,” said Best. “We also have to take into consideration the rule of unintended consequences and in this situation what was stated was that we’re goin got utilize some funds to incentivize a spurring of economic activity within our community and also a medical service but there is a subset of our populous that will not be allowed to participate because of medical concerns that they might have and that is discriminatory.”
The Memorandum of Agreement contained in AM 21-037 lists specifics for unallowable expenditures and had previously been discussed with members of DHSS. Deputy Mayor Sabrena Combs attended zoom meetings with DHSS members along with City Manager John Moosey.
“It was wholeheartedly supported by the state as a reasonable activity for these funds and Manager Moosey was on that call as well and there’s many communities across the state that are doing similar things to promote vaccination,” said Combs. “We are not alone in this there are many many communities across Alaska that are coming up with their own inventive ways to promote this including the Mat-Su Borough that will be doing a campaign just outside of our city limits so this is a way for us to keep this money in Palmer. Bingles have to be spent in our city limits and so it’s a great way of not only promoting vaccination but also promoting keeping local purchases local so I support this.”
Gatti quoted sections from the MOA and asked that further written approval be acquired from DHSS.
“The bangle part would be to encourage people to receive a vaccine but the question of whether someone chooses to get a vaccine or not to be discriminatory, I think it’s somewhat remote,” said Gatti.
Mayor Edna DeVries noted that the Mat-Su Valley has a low rate of vaccination compared to other regions of the state.
“If people choose to have the shot I get that but, when we exclude individuals I think that’s where we are kind of going down a wrong path and I’m concerned about that,” said Best. “I do want to make sure that I’m being clear, we’re not talking about racial discrimination. We’re talking about an individual who might not want to participate in this situation because of a medical situation, they wont be participating in getting the injection, they won’t be getting a bingle, they would be discriminated against getting those bingles to participate in that free economic stimulus within our community so yes It is a discrimination of sorts.”
Moosey had presented the preliminary MOA to the council at the previous meeting and explained the rationale behind the state funding.
“This is coming through the Governor’s office through Mr. Crum in conversation, who is very concerned that people are not being encouraged to get a vaccine which the Governor’s office believes is very important. They also believe that local government and state government harping is not getting the message across because who listens to local government. So they have been reaching out to local businesses and business opportunities to help spread the word and encourage that,” said Moosey. “What we are trying to do is tie in our local business and give an incentive for a bingle so money can be recirculated through our local businesses. If not it’s going elsewhere and we don’t have the opportunity for our local people and local businesses. As we talked earlier with annexation, we live and die with sales tax. This is a small incentive to have people go through our shops during these event so this I coming from the state, coming from our health commissioner Mr. Crum. We have spoke specifically on three different occasions with Ms. Jackman and the staff for Mr. Crum specifically for this program I will bet my life that this is appropriate moving forward.”
The vote to approve AM 21-037 was supported by Deputy Mayor Sabrena Combs and Council members Julie Berberich, Brain Daniels and Dr. Jill Valerius. Mayor Edna DeVries voted with Councilmen Best and Steve Carrington in opposition.
“The part that I do have heartburn with is it says that unallowable cost is publicity and propaganda, lobbying. This is kind of the in my opinion kind of a very very basic way of propagandizing and lobbying is to provide something to somebody to get them to do something, so if there is a mechanism that if somebody comes up and says hey I’m not participating in that but I’d like to go ahead and get my bangle, okay fair enough,” said Best.