City of Nome is looking for an interim police chief
Robert Estes, who started driving the big, white Nome Police Chief’s pickup truck in September last year, resigned last month. The plan was for Estes to continue for up to 90 days following his resignation.
However, Estes recently gave notice to John K. Handeland, interim city manager, that his last day working for the Nome Police Department would be Nov. 7. According to Handeland, an audit of the NPD conducted by Russell Consulting LLC would occur before Estes’ departure. The company will also conduct an evidence audit; unannounced audits were on the slate for the future.
Estes was leaving in a few days to attend the imminent birth of his first grand child, Handeland reported at the Oct. 30 regular Council meeting.
Should the City not find an interim chief, Mike Heintzelman, deputy chief, would move up to fill the interim position, Handeland said.
In big bucks business, the Council passed a resolution approving the issue of a utility revenue anticipation note for not more than $5 million to pay for 2.15 million gallons of fuel to add to existing fuel for inventory to spin heat and light out of Nome Joint Utility’s generators off Port Road. The note was to be sold to Wells Fargo Bank Oct. 31, according to John Handeland, also NJUS utility manager as well as interim city manager.
“This is annual financing for utility fuel purchased for this year. We’ll use about $4.85 million of this, the other costs that make up the amount include insurance bond fees, tank and port tariff,” Handeland said. Normally, the utility pays these over a 12-month period, but based on a favorable price at today’s market, this will be retired in nine months, done in July.
In a related action, the Council made Councilman Jerald Brown acting mayor in Richard Beneville’s absence, for the purpose of signing the note.
A new ordinance has the aim to amend Title 7 of Nome Code of Ordinances to determine sufficient plurality and redefining a majority of the votes required to hold public office.
“In the past, a sufficient plurality was defined as 40 percent plus one percent of the total vote. At some point in the 90s, we changed over to 50 percent. Fifty percent plus one pretty much guarantees a runoff election,” City Clerk Bryant Hammond explained. “If there are three people in an election, there is a few chances when it doesn’t happen. This [new ordinance] is still showing the will of the electorate, but avoiding a runoff when we already know who a clear winner is and saving several thousand dollars in the process.”
The Council unanimously passed the ordinance on to second reading at the next regular Council meeting.
The Council also passed a resolution naming the election clerks and judges to officiate at a Nov. 5 runoff election for a seat on the Nome Joint Utility Board. In an example of the issue addressed by the ordinance on the table as regards the plurality required to win an election, neither of two who received top numbers of write-in votes for a seat on the utility board achieved 50 percent plus one in the recent Nov. 1 municipal election: Larry Pederson, 29 write-in votes to 26 write-in votes received by Gerald Hughes. No one had filed for the seat; write-in votes were the only votes cast.
The five citizens overseeing the runoff were Jill Nederhood, chairwoman and judge, Carol Gales, inspector and judge, James Dory, judge, Debbie Scott, clerk and Erin Lillie, clerk. Judges will receive $11 per hour and clerks will receive $10.50 per hour.
After urging by several young people and passionate pleas for youth involvement in City governance by Councilwoman Meghan Sigvanna Topkok, the Council introduced and voted into second reading an ordinance to permit the Council to seat a non-voting youth representative.
The measure specifies that a student wanting to serve would make an application through the principal, be elected by the students and confirmed by the Council Jr.-Sr. High School.
Then student, having received an agenda packet, would take part in Council discussions. One of the City’s attorneys, Chuck Cacciola, wrote the proposed law, which allows the youth representative to attend executive sessions, at the discretion of the Council.
“The terms would run only for a year, because two years at that age is quite a heavy lift,” Hammond said.
There have been suggestions by youth that the youth representative on the Council be backed by a group at school, an association that might discuss issues coming up on the Council meeting agenda, according to Molly Kenick, a student at the high school.
“We will have meetings during lunch and after school the day of the city council meetings— we will have an agenda; we will know what to talk about during the meetings,” she said. Kenick has spoken to the Council a number of times concerning youth representation.
Councilwoman Meghan Sigvanna Topkok has backed the idea with passion, and said she would be glad to work with such a group.
The Council will get more information and discuss the youth representative ordinance at the next regular Council meeting.
The environment, youth leadership and property abatement lists came up when several members of the public took a turn at the podium.
Zoe Okleasik and Anna Ashenfelter proposed the Council ban the use of plastic bags. “This ban is totally possible in our small town,” Ashenfelter said. “We youth are super concerned about the environment and the harm plastic bags cause the earth. Did you know that a single plastic bag takes 1,000 years to decompose?” she asked. “I want the younger generations to grow up and not be concerned that their earth is dying.”
Okleasik vowed that her group would talk to staff at Alaska Commercial and Hansen’s markets about cost effectiveness and preserving the environment before the next Council meeting in two weeks and bring back a report.
Jamie Burgess, superintendent of Nome Public Schools, enlightened the Council on a grant proposal she wants to submit to Alaska Housing Finance Corp. to alleviate the housing shortage for school staff.
Terms of the grant require applicants to have control of some land from the City—either by disposal or designated for the project. As the city law requires any disposal of public land to be advertised with a public hearing, the Council proposed that the City designate land for the housing project, a much faster process because the deadline for submitting an application is Dec. 15.
“You could do this contingent upon the grant award if you feel that is absolutely necessary,” Burgess told the Council, “although I hope the City will continue supporting us in moving forward. Then we would have further conversations about possibly financing the rest of the building.”
AHFC has a total of $1.675 million to award this year. The maximum grant will be $500,000. It is a competitive grant process, with a potential of 13 entities applying. Additional points are given applications for housing of more than one class of professionals, say teachers, safety personnel and health professionals, all of which are having difficult recruiting because of Nome’s housing shortage. The school district has some seed money deriving from rentals of Beltz Apartments.
Burgess suggested Rusty Park and the skating rink property at 3rd Avenue and Steadman Street. Discussion with the Council also brought up the City’s lots at the far east end of town; however, the lots need expensive fill and utility infrastructure.
Thomas Vaden introduced himself at the podium early in the meeting to comment on an offer from Norton Sound Health Corp. to take over the City’s ambulance service.
At a recent business meeting, ambulance crews had voted unanimously against the idea, Vaden told the Council. Vaden is also the chairman of the town’s emergency service program.
Handeland cautioned against moving too fast on the proposal sent to the Council by Angie Gorn, CEO and president of NSHC.
“Ambulance Chief West and I had a couple hour meeting with Dr. Terry O’Malia, who serves as the medical director for the ambulance service.” Handeland said. “We discussed among other things the quality assurance programs, and training opportunities and needs and how to better use the relationship that does exist as opposed to changing it.”
David Jones, owner of a structure at 209 West Second Avenue, approved by the Council for abatement, took the podium during public comment to read a letter from his attorney seeking a rehearing before the Council as regards the property.
He was not given proper notice of the hearing early in October by personal service or registered mail, Jones said. He could not remedy deficiencies by the Nov. 1 deadline. Granted a delay of demolition until no later than Dec. 31 Jones could be able to substantially remedy deficiencies. Reasonable good faith efforts, Jones said, were being undertaken.
Discussion around the Council table produced a consensus that a rehearing could not be legally noticed and held before Nov. 1; a delay until Dec. 31 would allow an inspection of the structure to ascertain if substantial progress had been made.
And finally, the City has accepted a grant of $1.7 million from the federal Economic Development Administration for Nome’s inner harbor ramp repair and upgrade project. Handeland has signed and submitted the paperwork for the grant. The Port of Nome has a grant of $300,000 from Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. and $109,000 from City of Nome for grant match money, according to Joy Baker, port director.
“We are putting together a Request of Proposals for engineering services as required by the grant to the design and other preliminary work on the project,” she said. Baker anticipates being able to bid for a contractor next March, then have repairs take place after boats go into the harbor at breakup and before they need to be pulled for storage at season’s end.
Austin Ahmasuk, marine living resources steward, stating that he was speaking as a citizen, expressed two concerns as regards the environment during public comment.
First was dust control.
“We’ve got a tremendous problem here. This is my 11th year complaining about dust,” he said. “Thanks to the City, they do give us small respites from the dust. But it is simply not enough.”
Ahmasuk urged the City to obtain and install air quality monitors, which he thought would reveal the extreme extent of the dust problem, which threatened the well-being of folks with respiratory illnesses.
“My second issue is how I am against the expanded port for quite a few reasons, but mostly because the port in all its reasoning is largely based on falsehoods,” Ahmasuk told the Council. “In 2014, when the port upgrade was under consideration, one of the primary drivers was economic. When Shell pulled out, that went away,” Ahmasuk continued. “Now we’re being told that there’s a national Arctic strategy or a security interest that exists—why we have to have a port or why we have to have the military here. Well that’s not true,” he said. Ahmasuk went on to cite facts and to quote experts indicating to him that it was a mistake to have a port merely to have a port.
“What has happened with this port development has destroyed the Alaskan Native people,” Ahmasuk said.