Council appoints John Handeland as interim mayor
As the very last action item on a full agenda for the Monday, June 22 regular Nome Common Council meeting, the panel had the pick of five candidates to fill the interim Mayor position as Mayor Richard Beneville passed away on May 11. Before the council were letters of interest from Kenneth Hughes, Colleen Deighton, Paul Winders, Janice Doherty and John Handeland. Unsure of the process, acting mayor and councilman Jerald Brown entertained motions from the Council. Jennifer Reader moved to appoint John Handeland as interim mayor. Adam Martinson seconded and a very short discussion took place. Councilman Mark Johnson remarked that the council is blessed to have such high caliber candidates with professional experiences to choose from. He urged everybody to run for the mayor position in the municipal elections in October, when the mayor’s position is up for election for one year. Beneville’s term would have expired in 2021, but ordinance dictates that an interim mayor is appointed by the Council to serve until the next municipal election. The winning candidate will then serve out Beneville’s term until October 2021 when a new election then again determines who will be the mayor of Nome. Councilwoman Reader said she nominated Handeland due to his deep knowledge of current city issues — Handeland also served as interim city manager until Glenn Steckman was hired last year. Councilwoman Meghan Sigvanna Topkok asked if there is a conflict of interest as Handeland is employed by Nome Joint Utilities as its general manager. City Clerk Bryant Hammond said, no, the city attorney has “green lighted” Handeland’s candidacy. “The ordinance that declared a conflict in the past was changed,” said Hammond.
The Council then unanimously voted to appoint Handeland as Interim Mayor. Handeland stepped to the podium, moved his facemask to the side and delivered his short acceptance speech: “I am humbled by your action, and by it the show of trust you are placing in me,” he said. “The standards of the office established by Mayor Beneville are quite a bit different than when I previously served. No one can truly replace him, but I will strive my best to meet his standards, and yours.”
He said that two months ago, he tossed nearly 2,000 business cards he had held on to for 20 years fully believing that he would never serve as mayor again. “At this time it is my intention to assist my community in this transition, and I do not plan to run for the office in October, but we will see if things change,” Handeland said.
“Never in Nome’s history, to the best of my knowledge, has this situation occurred, where there has been an appointed Interim Mayor. And the thought of it brought to my mind a couple of quotes. You may recall an exchange from the 1988 U.S. vice-presidential debates between Senators Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen, where Quayle invoked the name of Jack Kennedy, and I will substitute a couple of names – “John, you’re no Gerald Ford.” Which brings me to President Ford’s speech accepting the presidency, again with some word substitutions. “I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your Mayor by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your Mayor with your prayers. And I hope that such prayers will also be the first of many.”
Handeland had served as Nome’s mayor from 1985 to 1999.
In other business, the Council approved several resolutions and money requests.
The Rotary Club requested from the City sand to be put down at the volleyball pit at East End Park. Rotarians are willing to put in the work and spread the sand, but need assistance with sand delivery. The Council unanimously voted to grant the request for sand.
The Alaska Municipal League requested from the City a $15,000 donation to help offset costs associated with additional COVID-19 services and the new sales tax collection system. Steckman argued that AML and an AML hired organization help provide guidance on the use of CARES Act funding, and it would benefit Nome as the alternative would be to hire an outside organization at higher cost to provide such guidance. The Council unanimously approved the donation.
The Council also approved to amend the Nome Code to increase the city manager’s contract authority from currently $40,000 to up to $50,000. Steckman said the request came from the city’s auditor who said it would behoove the city to have more of a process as pertains to small purchases, “so we don’t get a ding on our audit report,” Steckman said.
The council approved a resolution of the city’s rental fees, use fees and fines. No changes were made to prior year’s schedule of fees.
The council approved resolutions to hire Wendy Chamberlain with Legislative Consulting as the state lobbyist for Nome for a fee of $75,000 and to retain Jay Sterne of Windward Strategies as the federal lobbyist for a cost of $4,000 per month plus travel and transportation expenses.
The Council approved that City Manager Glenn Steckman can take a vacation and appointed Chip Leeper as acting city manager from June 27 until July 12.
The Council approved a contract between the City and the Chamber of Commerce to operate the Nome Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. The City is to pay the Chamber $200,000 per year for the service.
The Council also approved that the city manager enter into a three-year agreement with the AML Joint Insurance Association.
A lengthier discussion ensued when it came for the Council to accept grants for Nome Police Department upgrades. One grant for $75,000 comes from the Dept. of Public Safety and is to upgrade the local Dispatch recording system. The Council approved that one quickly. The other comes from the federal Justice Department to implement Community Oriented Policing Services, COPS for short. The resolution reads that the city of Nome was awarded a COPS grant covering 75 percent of the approved entry-level salary and benefits for a newly hired full time sworn officer up to $125,000 for a three-year period. The reasoning is that the addition of another officer would assist in focusing on sexual assault prevention by establishing a school resource officer program. Mike Heintzelman, NPD Chief was in the audience and assured that he would go before the school board first to see if the school signs off on the concept of a school resource officer. “These programs are tried and true throughout the nation. The mission is to keep the kids safe, provide them with a role model and to develop a better relationship with law enforcement,” he said.
Student councilmember Molly Kenick commented that she’s not sure all students would agree with that. “Some students don’t have a good history with the police,” she said. Councilwoman Meghan Topkok also cautioned that it might add stress to the students to see a uniformed officer at school. “We need to make sure not to raise the anxiety level,” she said and suggested that Heintzelman brings in as many people, community members, and tribes as possible to make sure that this is done carefully. Heintzelman said that school resources officer would have to be very carefully picked and could only be person who is interested in making good relationships. The council moved to accept the federal grant.
Emergency Ordinance revisit
Under an added agenda item that was to address the emergency ordinance put in place to empower the city manager to act swiftly to mitigate adverse affects from the coronavirus pandemic, Councilman Adam Martinson said he’d be in favor to rescind the emergency ordinance. While some council members agreed, it did not sit right with most that there is no standing agenda item on the council meeting agenda that would provide updates on the emergency or that would periodically address the question if the emergency ordinance were still necessary. After some discussion that veered into what the state requirements are, what regional village requirements are and what Nome’s requirements are, Martinson withdrew his motion to rescind the emergency ordinance to put it on the agenda for the July 13 council meeting. The emergency ordinance expires on July 14.
City manager report
The city manager reported that the Rec Center is slowly opening up. The weight room has opened; the saunas and showers are not open yet. The ice rink has another year until it will be turned into a housing project. Northrim Bank has sponsored flower baskets that are hung up around Front Street; NAC transported them free of cost. The City was awarded a $50,000 grant to deal with the opioid crisis. Steckman praised staff who have pursued grants and managed to get grants for the city in the amount of $225,000 in a month.
Port Director Joy Baker updated the council on the cruise ship arrivals this summer and while on Monday night it was yet to be determined if the National Geographic cruise ship Orion II would make it to Nome, on Tuesday came the news that it also cancelled. Nome expected its biggest cruise ship season yet this year, but in fact, all cruise ships have canceled due to COVID-19.