Council seeks public input how to spend COVID funds
In the regular Nome Common Council meeting on Monday, June 8, the Council breezed through a full agenda including voting on the final passage of the City’s $13.5 million budget, capital budgets, port-related budgets and the Nome School Debt Service Fund budget. Council members present were Acting Mayor Jerald Brown, Mark Johnson, Adam Martinson and Jennifer Reader. Councilwoman Meghan Sigvanna Topkok was present on the phone. While councilmembers were seated to allow distancing, the audience was encouraged to wear face coverings and most did.
Some of the conversation that was not on the agenda addressed policing issues as the nation is reeling from the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis who was kneeled to death by a white police man while other police men stood by. Waves of protests against police brutality reverberate through the country and brought up not so distant memories of police brutality with the murder of 19-year-old Sonya Ivanoff at the hands of Nome policeman Matt Owens in 2003 and police indifference to investigate violence against Native men and women. In citizens comments, Aaron Blankenship phoned in to bring attention to a movement called 8cantwait, a campaign to bring about change in police departments. Mike Heintzelman, Nome’s new chief of police, responded that he is reviewing the police manual on the use of force and later in the meeting explained that if one police officer notices improper behavior of another police officer, they have an obligation to intervene and then report the incident. “Officers have the obligation to stop excessive force and then report it,” he said. When Councilman Jerald Brown asked if there would be threats of retaliation against the reporting officer, Heintzelman assured that he would make sure they were not retaliated against and that any retaliation would be reason for termination.
Glenn Steckman said the Public Safety Advisory Committee just met last week and is currently tackling sexual assault issues, a review of the use of force would be coming next.
Steckman said that the Nome Police Department underwent great changes in the last seven months.
The Council then turned to the outfall of a shut-down economy due to COVID-19. The State received funds from the federal CARES Act and Nome is in line to receive nearly $5.7 million to cover costs incurred for expenditures related to COVID-19. The council voted to approve a resolution to accept the funds that come to the city via the Alaska Dept. of Commerce, Community and Economic Development and discussed at length how businesses have suffered and how to go about spending the money to keep in accordance with the federal and state strings attached. The council also approved a resolution declaring an economic disaster for Nome as COVID-19 mandates have impacted tourism during Iditarod, the birding season, cruise ship visits, the fishing and hospitality industry.
The Council also approved the hire of Robert Pruckner, who was in NPD employ before, as a Deputy Chief of Police. The police department recently received grant from the Dept. of Justice for $125,000 to create another Community Service Officer position. NPD is also looking to hire a Sergeant and an investigator. Chief Heintzelman reports that calls for service are still 50 to 60 percent higher than usual, with 352 calls for service between May 25 and 31, most of them involve intoxication. He reported 55 sexual assaults reported in Nome to date.
In the city manager’s report, Glenn Steckman said that the City organizes a celebration for the late mayor, Richard Beneville, starting at 11 a.m. He will be driven in a solemn parade through town with a stop outside of Old St. Joe’s for a celebration of life before the procession moves on to the Nome cemetery, where he will be laid to rest according to his wishes “looking at the incoming airplanes to Nome.”
The city is again conducting interviews to fill the position of financial director.
The Spring Cleanup was a successful event with a recorded 164 individual visits to the Monofill, 25 refrigerators being accepted and Freon taken out, and 63 households took advantage of the u call, we haul program.
About 35 percent of the Nome population has been tested for COVID-19. “The second wave of COVID-19 is hitting Alaska,” Steckman said.
The City is not planning any Midnight Sun festivities as are usually held. However, staff is planning Fourth of July celebrations, but it is not yet finalized what form the celebration will take. Steckman hinted that the shoe scramble may not be happening, but a large ice cream order by the Nome Volunteer Fire Department was confirmed, so the usual ice cream social is planned.
Steckman and the Council recognized the major milestone achieved in the effort to expand the Port of Nome to an Arctic Deep Draft port with last week’s signing of the Chief’s Report. The project now goes to Congress for funding.
In the second round of citizens’ comments, Kenny Hughes pointed towards a request from the Planning Commission to address speeding on Bering Street near Hanson’s. Jerald Brown made a motion to write a letter to the Dept. of Transportation to reduce the speed limit to 15 mph on Bering Street between Third Avenue and Tobuk Alley. The motion carried.
He also commented on the hardship of small businesses, and secondary businesses, that fall through the cracks in federal and state’s distributions of CARES Act funds.
The Council decided to invite public comments on how the City should spend the $5.7 million and set a work session for Tuesday, June 16 to hear citizens’ input.
On June 18 is the deadline to submit letters of interest for the position of interim mayor. City Clerk Bryant Hammond said, so far, he has received four letters.