Nome has a Public Safety Commission effective May 13
The Nome Common Council and proponents of an advisory group concerning community policing, public safety and health, reached a working agreement Monday night after months of tweaking and discussion on the measure.
The Council unanimously adopted the substitute ordinance containing amendments to the original version setting up the Public Safety Commission. The measure under which Mayor Richard Beneville will appoint a nine-member panel became effective passage of the ordinance on May 13.
Folks on either side of the question displayed a conciliatory approach at the meeting. The city’s administration gave ground in ceasing an effort to have the city manager and police chief as ex officio members of the body. Proponents to build a community advisory group to help restore public trust in the Nome Police Department insisted that the commission meet outside the shadow of the chief and city manager positions. They praised the substitute ordinance as presented for second reading and final passage and also praised City officials and Council members for their work on the measure.
“I like insulating the Public Safety Commission from the city manager and the police,” Eric Osborne, a community member, said. “The closer the Nome Police Department can be to the grass roots of the community, the better it will serve the community,” he added.
Acting City Manager John K. Handeland acknowledged and thanked Councilwoman Meghan Topkok for her time and legal expertise in providing some drafting and review of the substitute version of the ordinance.
Both sides hung in for some final adjustments by amendments to the ordinance. The American Civil Liberties Union also assisted the process of establishing the commission, offering advice and amendments to the ordinance. Triada Stampas, policy director at Alaska Office ACLU attended the May 13 Council meeting and suggested one more amendment to the substitute version.
That amendment clarified that the commission may request assistance from the city manager, including records and other material for its work, except such records or materials that cannot be disclosed by law, and should the commission not agree with the administration’s denial of the request, put its case before the Council, which could direct the city manager.
Handeland expressed a concern that the amendment could become overreach into personnel records. “If it deals with […] a personnel issue, it will not be forthcoming,” he declared.
However, Handeland said, if there were conflicts, the ordinance could be changed.
Those desirous of forming a commission wished to establish an alternate route to report sex assault and domestic violence if they felt the local police were not responsive.
According to the new ordinance, members of the commission may not be a current employee of the NPD or have been an employee within the past two years, pass a background check ascertaining the person has not been convicted of a felony within the past 10 years, or be on parole or probation for a felony. Neither will they be eligible to be on the commission if convicted of a misdemeanor involving sexual assault, domestic violence or acts of moral turpitude within the past five years, or be on probation or parole for such offenses.
The ordinance charges the commission with promoting the provision of law enforcement to all residents with sensitivity, cultural understanding and racial equality. Also among the commission’s stated purposes is to provide an alternative method for accepting citizen concerns relating to officer conduct or suggested changes in public safety department practices.
The commission may also receive complaints of alleged officer misconduct for referral to the city manager for investigation. The commission will collaborate with the city manager to devise a confidential way for the public to submit concerns.
According to the ordinance, the commission will be advisory in nature and shall possess none of the legal powers or authorities of the City or the public safety department, unless specifically delegated by ordinance.
The commissioners will receive training that includes the Alaska Open Meetings Act; confidentiality, privacy and due process rights of officers and civilians; rights of victims, criminal defendants, and targets of criminal investigations; racial equity and trauma informed interview skills.
Before the Council’s vote, Lisa Ellanna, a member of the informal coalition backing the formation of the commission walked to the podium during the public hearing on the measure.
“If this substitute ordinance is adopted, we’ve really made progress in our community,” she said. “This is a small, but important step,” Ellanna had said earlier in the meeting that there are still larger systemic issues.
The Council adopted the ordinance, followed by hand-clapping applause.