Council votes to extend COVID emergency ordinance
The Nome Common Council, in its July 13 regular meeting that lasted nearly four hours, voted unanimously to extend a local emergency ordinance to “direct the city manager to take necessary actions to reduce the impact and spread of COVID-19.” The emergency measure is good for 60 days or until rescinded or extended by the Nome Common Council.
The ordinance, in its amended form, excluded a provision that allows the city manager to suspend or limit the sale of alcohol. It still authorizes the city manager to control the travel to and from Nome. This emergency declaration needed a two-thirds majority to pass and it did pass unanimously.
The Council also read into first reading an ordinance to the same effect, with the difference that the ordinance will go through the normal ordinance process of first reading, second reading and public comment at each reading. While the Council also considered public input during past work sessions and regular council meetings, this ordinance now goes through the multi-week long process of being approved or voted down. If passed at its second reading at the Council meeting on July 27, it will be effective until December 31. Leading through the meeting, Interim Mayor John Handeland explained that the council heard in last week’s work session public comment that business owners expected a more predictable regulatory environment to make decisions rather than having to react in 60-day increments to the city’s emergency orders.
The meeting’s length was due to reading into the record all of the emails, letters and comments that not necessarily to the task at hand, namely the extension of the emergency ordinances, but to the protocol the city imposed on travelers to and from Nome. While last week’s work session heard from several citizens who opposed the travel form and felt that the city is “tracking” their movements, Monday’s meeting heard overwhelmingly support to keep mandatory quarantine and the travel form in place, as Alaska sees spikes of COVID-19 cases.
Council addressed the travel form and voted on Councilman Jerald Brown’s motion to continue a travel declaration without the need to receive signed permission from the city manager. The motion carried with Adam Martinson and Jennifer Reader voting ‘no.’
Council chambers were packed, but only a few citizens spoke up during citizen comments. Rhonda Schneider, executive director of Nome Community Center, asked the Council to contemplate designating a camp spot for people without a home to pitch a tent. She said with the NEST shelter closed for the summer and the Day Shelter at the Mini not offering safe sleeping spaces, NCC has distributed tents to the homeless. A moving testimony came from Jodeen Mueller, who spoke on behalf the homeless in Nome, saying that the homeless deserve a safe place to sleep. She told of her journey from being employed, married and then beaten by her husband, ending up homeless and being raped. But she also told of the bond in the homeless community, those who never left her side to protect her from harm. She said that while she managed to find a job and a safe place to live now, many of her friends are still homeless and that they deserve a safe place to stay. The council later decided to look into solutions to provide a camping spot, with water access and portable restrooms.
In other business, the Council heard from NSHC CEO Angie Gorn, saying that NSHC recommended to keep quarantine and testing measures in place and to add a mask mandate. “I come with data and we think that masking decreases the viral spread,” she said. NSHC will continue testing at the airport, they ordered more tents and would put up heated tents come fall and winter. She also said NSHC is about to have employees in Anchorage at the airport to prepare travelers on what they can expect once arriving in Nome.
Also from NSHC, Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson spoke telephonically to the council. He doesn’t see this situation lasting forever, he said, and that there are advances made in finding vaccinations for the virus. “Our expectation is to see and hopefully have vaccinations by the end of this year,” he said.
In other business, the council passed an ordinance in second reading that would let the city manager approve of contracts and supplies up to $50,000 (formerly $40,000) without the Council’s approval. A discussion ensued on tightening up the paragraph of the code that deals with local vendors, but Council decided to tackle that issue in future meetings.
A resolution to recognize the #BlackLivesMatter movement was on the agenda but delegated back to the drawing board, pending more work on it. Citizen Jennifer Johnson commented in public comments on the City’s neglect to not involve the people who organized the BLM march here in Nome in drawing up the language for the resolution. Handeland remarked, it was done out of a pure heart and the desire to recognize BLM, but acknowledged that the resolution does need more work. Councilwoman Jennifer Reader volunteered to work with Johnson and the local BLM movement to remedy the situation.