Council takes up police business in executive session
The Nome Common Council met in a special meeting Monday evening with the stated agenda purpose to vote themselves into executive session to discuss issues with the Nome Police Dept.
However, before going into the closed meeting, the Council discussed a 59-page packet of statistics including numbers of crimes by type, number of stops by police in various categories, year to year comparisons, personnel costs, scheduling and budgets.
The budget for the NPD in 2019-2020 is $2.83 million. The data attempted to provide background for increasing the budget by a proposed $1.03 million. Most of the added money —$905,002—would go to wages and fringes with an additional $40,000 for overtime, holidays and shift differential, about $8,000 for equipment and $20,000 for training.
The NPD budget for 2017-2018 was $2.1 million and in 2018-2019, $2.7 million.
A noncommittal Council panel listened to the presentation and flipped through pages following along and asking questions. Again, the agenda had given notice of an executive session.
After Councilwoman Jennifer Reader asked if it were true, the Council learned that of six officers hired from various places in the country, a pair is brothers, another pair is cousins and another pair is married.
Several Council members seemed more surprised upon learning that a schedule of two weeks on, two weeks off did not necessarily mean two weeks off in Nome, as the officers were flying in and out, commuting from Fairbanks and the Lower 48.
“How do you get to know your community if you don’t live here?” Reader asked.
Others had more questions. What will happen if a pair is working the same case? Will there be overlap?
He did not like paying to train untrained relatives, Councilman Jerald Brown said.
At the beginning of the meeting during public comment, Lisa Ellanna, public safety activist, applauded Chief Bob Estes and backed more money for the department to do its work. NPD wants to do their job, but they don’t have enough people, Ellanna observed. She hoped the department received staffing to the needed level.
However, later in the meeting she said she had a problem with the two-weeks on, two-weeks off schedule for commuters “as not good for our community.”
“We need something more consistent. They should become part of our community,” she said.
Mayor Richard Beneville allowed a second citizen comment session following the discussion of the department activity data. The Council did not strongly object.
Molly Kenick, 11th grade student, took the podium. “I would like to know if I can start a school club to help the Council with youth perspective,” Kenick asked. “We are the ones who will be living longer through the changes. It is important to mold our creativity so that we can make a difference and find solutions,” she said. Her remarks fell on receptive ears. The schools could be a part of our process, Estes said.
“Several of us would be willing to talk to you outside the meetings,” Councilman Jerald Brown added. Councilwoman Meghan Topkok had a similar response and willingness to help. Topkok has been advocating for a student representative on the Council.
The Council then made a motion to go into executive session to discuss the Nome Police Dept., indicating that they did not expect to take formal action at the close of the executive session.
The Council is facing a deadline of Oct. 11 for telling the American Liberties Union whether they will give up the $500,000 the ACLU is seeking on behalf of Clarice “Bun” Hardy, who claims her report of rape was not worked by the NPD and valuable corroborating evidence of the crime was lost. The City has handed the issue to its police liability firm with Brooks Chandler, city attorney as go-between. ACLU has threatened to represent Hardy in a court action unless the issue is solved by Oct. 11.
Former NPD Chief John Papasodora, who opted not to renew his contract last year, had been telling the Council for years and demonstrating on his quarterly reports the department’s need for a bigger budget for more personnel and training to cover the streets, case documentation and evidence custody.