Council passes resolution in support of Black Lives Matter
On Monday night the Nome Common Council passed a resolution in support of Black Lives Matter, BLM for short, the civil rights movement that has swept across the country over the last few months as people protest the killings of Black Americans at the hands of police.
The resolution, which was proposed by Councilmember Meghan Sigvanna Topkok, does not lay out any specific policies, but it reaffirms the City’s commitment to racial equity and rejects police brutality. “The City of Nome and the Nome Police Department acknowledge, recognize and are actively dedicated to engage in purposeful communication and dialogue with the membership of the community, reflective of Nome’s Racial diversity to address and correct historical injustices moving forward ensuring racial equity,” the resolution reads.
During the first public comment period, some Nome residents spoke out against the resolution. Paul Kosto submitted an emailed statement asking the Council to reconsider their support of a “terrorist organization,” and Ken Hughes compared BLM protestors to violent Marxists. Most members of the Council, however, supported the resolution. Councilmembers Topkok, Jennifer Reader and Jerald Brown all made strong statements in favor.
“Coming as a mother of five people of color in my family alone, I wholeheartedly support this because I have five beautiful daughters that I would like to see someday not have to worry about this stuff, especially in our community,” Councilmember Reader said. “Because that could be my daughter I’m looking for right now.”
Councilmember Mark Johnson expressed some concerns that the resolution was ambiguous as to whether it supported the national Black Lives Matter organization or the larger movement for racial equity.
But other councilmembers reassured him that the resolution was supporting the greater movement, not any particular organization, and that the BLM movement encompassed all people of color. “As an Indigenous woman, I stand in solidarity with my Black brothers and sisters in what they’re going through, and I know that in return they’re absolutely going to uphold the issues that Indigenous people bring to light and the injustices that we experience,” Councilmember Topkok said.
Some small amendments were made to clarify the resolution’s wording, and it passed unanimously.
At the same meeting, the Council also passed a resolution supporting the Nome Public Schools’ professional housing apartment project. The project will provide 14 new apartments for teachers and four new apartments for public safety personnel.
It will be built at the site of the current ice rink, and the rink will move to the Nome Recreation Center. The project is estimated to cost $6.3 million, and the school district has already received a $500,000 grant and plans to finance another $5.1 million through a revenue bond, City Manager Glenn Steckman said.
“So now is going to start some architectural work and actually designing the building for the property,” Steckman said.
The Council also approved a number of measures to continue dispensing federal CARES Act funding. Individuals, businesses and nonprofits connected to the Nome Joint Utility System electrical grid who did not yet receive a utility credit will now be able to apply for one.
The program is open to anyone on the NJUS grid, even if they’re located outside the city limits, and Interim Mayor John Handeland said he hoped to dispense the funds no later than the third week of October.
In addition, the Council approved a $300 grant open to carvers and $200,000 of CARES funding to go to the Nome Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Departments.
The Council also passed a resolution to appoint election judges and clerks for the upcoming municipal election. Councilmember Jerald Brown proposed an amendment raising election officials’ salaries to $15 per hour for clerks and $16 per hour for judges, and both the amendment and resolution passed unanimously.
The Council also passed two ordinances authorizing the purchase of one plot of land and the sale of three others.
NPD Chief Mike Heintzelman announced his commendation of police officers Austin Martino and Raymond Murray, who responded to a fire in a home set by a suicidal individual, safely evacuating the entire house and extinguishing the fire.
Rhonda Schneider, executive director of the Nome Community Center, wrote to the Council asking them to fund the construction of an outdoor basketball court on the property of the Boys & Girls Club. Councilmembers expressed their support for the idea.
In public comments, Anna Ashenfelter announced a protest march scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday to bring attention to murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. The march will begin at City Hall and go down Front Street, ending at the police station, and Ashenfelter encouraged protestors to wear masks and socially distance.
Sue Greenly spoke about the continued criminal activity at her home on Lomen Ave. She cited an incident on Friday in which a “mentally distributed person” broke into the second story of her home while she and her husband were sleeping, and she called on the city to continue combatting the “tide of criminality” in her neighborhood.
Scot Henderson of the Nome Chamber of Commerce suggested that the city use CARES funding to create a new economic development position and a municipal microloan program. Judy Martinson called in to say that businesses will need more direct relief funding to make it through the winter.
During the second opportunity for citizen comment’s Ken Hughes took to the podium again and commended the Council for passing the resolution in support of the BLM movement.
In the city manager’s report, Glenn Steckman announced the start of fall cleanup and the winter plowing schedule. He also discussed recurring issues involving crushed stone, in which people filling in their properties dumped stone illegally on streets and other public areas. He said the city could have issued hundreds of dollars’ worth of fines, but instead only issued tickets and has been trying to improve its communication.
In the mayor’s report, John Handeland recounted last week’s meetings of the Port Commission and NJUS, as well as the Public Safety Advisory Commission. He said two seats on the PSAC are still vacant, and that anyone interested in serving should send a letter of intent to the city clerk by October 14.