New police chief Robert Estes slated to take over on Sept. 15
The Nome Common Council approved extensions of top administrative contracts at its regular meeting Monday evening.
However, these unanimous resolutions spell changes coming soon to Nome’s City government. Tom Moran has taken a six-month extension rather than another two-year term.
In bigger news, the Council approved the hire of a new police chief on a three-year contract, effective from Sept. 15 through Sept. 14, 2021. Robert Estes, 58, will take over for Nome Police Dept. Chief John Papasodora, who has elected not to renew his contract and will leave the position effective Friday.
Estes will relocate from the Jarrat, Virginia to begin earning $100,000 per year starting salary. At the end of 12 months, based on a satisfactory performance evaluation conducted by the city manager, the City may increase Estes’ rate of pay by up to two percent for the next 12 month period.
The City will reimburse Estes for actual moving expenses related to packing, unpacking and transporting himself, his family and his personal possessions to Nome with a cap of $5,000.
Employment benefits, which City Manager Tom Moran described as “thin”, will provide health insurance, a term life insurance policy of $50,000, and workers’ compensation coverage. However, Estes, per his and City’s agreement, will not have eligibility to participate in the Public Employees Retirement System, PERS, for short.
Estes retired from Chesterfield County Police Dept. in August of 2010 after 26 years of service in the following activities: patrol, community police, field training, bicycle patrol, criminal investigation, traffic, drug interdiction and forensics. Estes had additional experience at Chesterfield Sheriff’s office and Chesterfield County Police in the areas of police dispatcher, radio operator and teletype operator 1979 to 1981. Additionally he retired from the U.S. Army Reserve after 39 years’ experience in civil affairs and military police work where he had property accountability in the range of over $1million as well as commanding troops, planning and organizing. He achieved top secret security clearance. He retired as a lieutenant colonel. Estes application packet shows he has achieved a Bachelor of Science degree in Administration of Justice, and another degree in police science.
Out of five candidates, two applicants, Estes and Erik Bailey, currently Daggett County Sheriff in Utah, achieved the top two scores in the 38-question interview question score sheets filled out by the six-member panel in a phone interview session on Aug. 1.
Members of the interview panel represent divisions of the City’s government and local public safety services: Councilmen Doug Johnson and Mark Johnson; Paul Kosto, Nome Volunteer Fire Dept.; John Handeland, Nome Volunteer Ambulance Dept.; Dana Handeland, City of Nome and Alaska State Trooper James Eyester.
Estes had been recommended by Eyester, a friend of Moran’s, and had expressed interest in the job from the beginning, Moran said.
The City invited the two finalists for a visit to Nome and a face-to-face interview in Nome. Estes proved to be keenly interested in meeting people and visiting agencies, Moran said. He met with council members individually, according to Moran.
“Bob has a sliver of politician in him – he’s eager to shake hands, kiss babies, listen, take notes, and try new things,” Moran said.
He felt Estes had the qualifications Nome needed in the current situation. “I also wanted to break out of the retired trooper pattern of hire,” Moran added.
The Council approved the contract with Estes unanimously.
Moran also said that he felt Bailey would be a good addition to the Nome Police Dept.
Nome’s new police chief has his work cut out. Estes is filling a position where some residents say they lack faith in the current police chief and staff. It is likely that this isn’t the opinion of all residents of Nome, but people who want change in the top cop position and want the police force to protect and to serve are those who show up to speak their mind at work sessions and several Council meetings.
Both Moran and Papasodora said they have initiated an investigation by the Alaska Dept. of Public Safety and Alaska State Troopers as well as private consultants as third parties to help identify and advise on issues with Nome Police Dept.
“We have asked for the investigation,” Moran said last week. “It is not as if the wolves are at the door.”
“If we can have names of investigators or counsel, it would be an option to share information in a meaningful way,” Darlene Trigg said. Moran vowed to supply contacts. Critics want a check-up on underage youngsters doing ride-alongs in police cars. They say they want to count on response to domestic violence and rape calls. Scott Kent took the podium at the Aug. 27 Council meeting during the citizen comment period. He had grown up with an innate respect and trust of police officers, he said. “I don’t feel that way anymore. There are a number of police officers I trust less than criminals. I feel very unsafe,” Kent said. “It’s a problem that’s going to go off like a bomb if not addressed.”
Moran said that youngsters under 18 who want a ride-along must have a signed note of permission from parents. People of age need to have a legitimate interest in police work or an assignment. “The trust issue is gone,” Trinh Johnson said from the podium. A town hall meeting scheduled for Aug. 18 to discuss public safety had only one Council member show up—Councilman Jerald Brown. “My feelings are really hurt that you didn’t show up,” Lisa Ellanna told the Council from the public comment podium. “We are putting our hearts on the line.You would think with the seriousness of issues, you would show up,” Ellanna said.
In a poll of Council members, they said they had competing engagements to attend. “I was on the toilet,” Stan Andersen said. “There were no numbers to call to notify I wouldn’t be able to show up.” Usually when something is scheduled, people check to see if people are going to be available, he added.
Councilman Adam Martinson said he was on work-related travel on Aug. 18.
Councilman Mark Johnson had a wedding to attend.
He did not have time, Councilman Doug Johnson said, but he had spent a lot of time on the police chief candidate interviews and hiring process he said. He hoped the new chief would address problems. The community “should be a safe, comfortable, happy place,” Doug Johnson said. “It shouldn’t be a controversial place.”
Mayor Richard Beneville said he was working on tourism.
Councilman Lew Tobin was excused from attending the Monday Council meeting.
Rebuilding trust would take time, Nome resident Darlene Trigg said.
“I don’t think anything is going to happen tomorrow. People have been traumatized and retraumatized. There has been a lot of heated anger over the years,” Trigg said.
Andersen suggested there be a sort of “blue ribbon committee” to investigate and hash out problems.
Justin Noffsker suggested the police have a commission similar to other City departments. Noffsker said his child had asked if it was OK for youngsters to be exchanging text messages with police officers and riding along with officers. If his daughter were riding along with an adult male, “it had better be her grandfather,” Noffsker said.
“We have a port commission, we have a utility commission. What commission do we have for public safety?”
Moran said Tuesday that he would seek a statement from Noffsker.
“Unfortunately this is going to be a slow burn,” Moran said. “People want immediate action, but I just can’t do it without evidence. I am reaching out to additional agencies, the state Dept. of Law, for example, to see about their interest in conducting a private investigation. Unless we have specifics, we can’t act on rumors, innuendo and hearsay,” Moran said at the Monday meeting.
“We have to have ‘I saw so-and-so get into the car with name of officer,’” Moran said. Council member Jerald Brown said the same. If something happens for a reprimand, or the [offender] to be gone, we have to have specifics, he said.
They had notified police, in situations happening, without response, some in the audience said.
Moran expressed relief Tuesday that the Council’s approval of Robert Estes’ contract meant that the police chief’s desk would not be empty on Sept. 1.
The City and Nome Police Dept. have taken big heat on hiring former Community Service Officer Carl Putman to a temporary police dispatcher job. Putman pleaded guilty to Assault 4 on striking a woman on the side of the face who was under transport in the police van to the local hospital. He was fired from the CSO job. The court handed him a delayed imposition of sentence, which means that if he does not have further brushes with the law for a period of time, the conviction may be expunged from his record.
Nome Police Chief John Papasodora said last week in an interview that he had only four dispatchers after one left without notice and another left to take another job. Four dispatchers to cover 24/7 dispatch is an impossibility, he said. Putman was on the dispatch temporarily as Papasodora had one dispatch employee coming out of training soon and another one the way, Papasodora said. “Carl could stop the bleeding immediately,” Papsodora said.
Moran concurred in the decision to hire Putman as a temporary employee.“I knew it was going to bite me in the ass, but I felt we had no choice,” Moran said in an interview last week.
Meanwhile, Native Movement, an organization based in Arizona with a branch in Fairbanks, according to its website, is sponsoring a crowdfunding attempt on behalf of Florence Habros, the victim in the Putman incident. The crowdfunding is seeking $25,450 through GoFundMe to provide housing and essentials for Habros, who has been homeless, and to support a lawsuit against City of Nome.
Moran explained at Monday’s meeting that he had wanted to leave the city manager job when his contract expired on Sept. 15. However, he discovered that terms of his contract required 90 days’ notice. Therefore, in an executive session he and the Council agreed that he would stay on for six months at maximum.
“I will do my best for the City of Nome in the time I remain,” Moran said.
Monday night, the Council decided to begin immediately a search for a new city manager, with applications going to City Clerk Bryant Hammond, unless Hammond decided to apply for the city manager position.
“It is embarrassing to be in the position we are in,” Councilman Mark Johnson said. “It is time for new leadership.”
Papasodora said he had decided not to renew his contract after nine years’ service as chief. Moran said it was a mutual agreement between him and Papasodora.“I had been at it for a long time. I was tired. You get to the point where you want to stop before you start to lose effectiveness,” he said. Papasodora retired from Alaska State Troopers before he took the Nome police chief job. Papasodora said he does not plan to leave Nome.