Nome Common Council extends emergency ordinance until June 2021
The Nome Common Council it its Monday regular meeting extended a local emergency ordinance that gives the city manager the authority to “take necessary actions to reduce the impact and spread of COVID-19” to June 30, 2021. As COVID-19 case numbers spike in Alaska, the Council debated if shortening the length of time would be acceptable, but after two motions failed that proposed an extension only until February or March, the Council ended up voting to extend the ordinance until June next year. Glenn Steckman, the City Manager, said that the ordinance can be shortened by the Council at any time. He also made clear that the extension is not an attempt of a “power grab” on his part. “The Council must approve every action I take,” Steckman said. Regarding the length, Steckman and Mayor John Handeland explained that in the early days of the pandemic, the local emergency declarations were extended at much shorter time periods, which drew the criticism from Nomeites that it is hard to make long-term plans on how to run one’s business in a pandemic when rules change at short notice. During citizen comments, Judy Martinson commented that such a long-term emergency extension makes her feel hopeless. She also asked the Council what the plans, quarantine or testing requirements were for Iditarod, as she already experienced that every tour operator canceled their plans to come to Nome for Iditarod 2021.
John Handeland relayed the information that Iditarod leadership asked him if they can come to Nome, and that he answered in the affirmative. Prior to voting on the emergency ordinance’s extension, the Council discussed if they can fine-tune quarantine and testing requirements to allow for Iditarod and Iron Dog to come to town without risking a COVID-19 outbreak. The model that Hawaii uses was discussed as the Aloha State has managed to work with airlines that bring people to the islands to enforce that only people with a negative test in hand, taken within 72 hours, and who have quarantined prior to coming to Hawaii, can board flights.
Mayor Handeland suggested to schedule a work session with medical professionals like NSHC’s Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson and even the State’s Medical Director Dr. Anne Zink to devise an emergency order that would spell out quarantine and testing requirements for visitors to Nome during Iron Dog and Iditarod time.
During citizen’s comments Public Safety Advisory Commissioner Lisa Ellanna announced her resignation from the commission. Following last week’s meeting – which was not held due to a lack of quorum — she express her dismay that City Manager Steckman made the unilateral decision to not make available the NPD use of force and sexual assault policies that the commission requested to review.
“The commission was created to challenge the pattern and practice of inequitable treatment of Alaska Native victims of violence and sexual violence, by the Nome Police Department, and to make positive policy changes to ensure that it does not happen again. The message that the administration sends by obstructive behavior, is that we still don’t matter,” she told the Council. “This commission was created out of public outcry because of years of injustice. It is one of the ways our town is coming to a reckoning about the trauma of our mutual past. You created this commission to give the community a voice, make policies better, and to create an alternative path for the community to express concerns. Let the commission fulfill its purpose.”
Steckman apologized to her and then explained that the policies the commission were requesting are being replaced by the current Alaska State Trooper policies and manual and then to move forward on the path for NPD to be nationally certified by CALIA, which would then bring with it the updating of the policy manual. The Public Safety Advisory Commission is a nine-member board, that was set to meet only quarterly, but is now meeting every first Monday of the month. With two seats open, Mayor Handeland appointed Shantel Alvanna-Bruner to a seat vacated by Moe Koezuna. A seat set aside for a male member remains open and Handeland asked the public to hand in letters of intent if a Nomeite would like to be part of the commission.
In other business, the Council voted on a resolution to roll out phase 5 of CARES Act fund distribution in form of a stimulus package for families as direct payments at $500 per adult and $100 for children under 18. NJUS’ wrote a letter asking to allocate $98,400 in CARES funding for replacement of 215 streetlights that are underperforming, or $163,400 to replace all 360 lights. Councilwoman Reader brought up that the safety aspect of well-lit streets is clear, but it’s a stretch to tie it to COVID needs. The Council voted to allocate the requested money to replace the streetlights, subject to clarification by AML that the spending would be eligible under CARES Act rules.
The Council passed a resolution awarding a bid to Global Diving and Salvage for replacing anodes at the port for $219,515.
The Council passed a resolution to designate John Handeland as acting city manager from Dec. 19 to January 5, 2021 when City Manager Steckman is out of town.
The Council for the first time met in a hybrid form as Councilmembers Mark Johnson, Jerald Brown and Mayor Handeland were present in person and Councilmembers Jennifer Reader, Adam Martinson, Doug Johnson and Meghan Sigvanna Topkok were present via Zoom on the new big screen TV in Council Chambers. Public comment by Judy Martinson included the request to find a way to allow the public to participate via Zoom or live streaming. “None of us should be here, as there is no way to social distance,” Martinson stated. Steckman reported that City Hall is looking at ways to update their livestreaming or Zoom capabilities but that the city does not have enough bandwidth. John Handeland said that that night’s Zoom meeting took up 98 percent of the city’s bandwidth capacity.