Nome Council passes emergency ordinance to reduce impact of COVID-19
In an emergency meeting called to order on Tuesday evening at Old St. Joe’s, the Nome Common Council approved an emergency ordinance that gives the City Manager the authority to take necessary steps to “reduce the impact and spread of COVID-19 throughout the city of Nome.
The ordinance, drawn up by City Attorney Brooks Chandler, stipulates that it’s been established by state, federal and international authorities that COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus and that it poses a significant public health risk. The ordinance allows City Manager Glenn Steckman to suspend provisions of any other ordinance if it delays or impedes action to cope with the emergency. Specifically, the ordinance authorizes the city manager to use all city resources as reasonably necessary, to transfer personnel or alter functions of city departments for the purpose of performing emergency management, to close or regulate public accommodations (including hotels, B&Bs) and gives him the power to control movement in and out of Nome. The ordinance allows the city manager to suspend or limit the sale, dispensing or transportation of alcoholic beverages, i.e. he can shut down bars, and to limit restaurants to dining-out options only. The city manager can impose a curfew, requiring all persons in such designated and restricted curfew areas to remove themselves from public property and public places. The ordinance also allows the city manager to allocate, ration or redistribute food, water, fuel, clothing and other items as deemed necessary to cope with the disaster. The ordinance was amended to include that the city manager also has the power to close down non-essential services and businesses (i.e. gift shops and coffee shops). The measure takes effect immediately and is in place until May 15, or until rescinded or extended by the council. City Manager Steckman signaled that he will enforce the section that suspends or limits the sale of alcohol and limits restaurants to take out options only. What if he closes liquor stores as well, he asked present health care professionals? Dr. Terry O’Malia gave his medical opinion that the hospital is not equipped to deal with the ensuing withdrawal symptoms of chronic alcoholics. So, the package stores stay open.
Councilmembers were reminded by business owner Pat Johanson’s comments that they are making drastic decisions for businesses that will suffer from the loss of income. “I caution to use this heavy handed approach and ask you to be aware of the livelihoods of these people who run bars and restaurants,” he said. Mayor Beneville and council members were cognizant of the hard decision, but said they had to also keep in the mind the greater good and the public’s health. Councilman Jerald Brown reminded that the ordinance gives the city manager the tools necessary, but he doesn’t need to use every tool spelled out in the ordinance. Beneville explained, “This ordinance empowers the city manager, gives him options and the power to act quickly.”
City Manager Steckman alleviated fears by saying that he is in constant contact with stakeholders, is consulting with council members and is not making rash decisions without proper vetting of the consequences. “I ask a lot of questions before I make a decision,” Steckman said. “I am reachable at all times, I have an open door policy, I’m available and I do seek input and advice,” he said.
About 48 people attended the meeting, in Old St. Joe’s that was aired out prior to the meeting, with chairs placed widely spaced. Mayor Richard Beneville lead the meeting and assured those present that the drastic steps taken do not mean that the City Manager will actually take them if not necessary.
Nome Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Department Chief Jim West Jr. said in order to slow down the spread of the virus and to give medical personnel time to prepare for its eventual arrival in Nome, he suggested Steckman enact the part of the ordinance that restricts travel to and from Nome.
A community member wanted to know, what does it mean that the city manager can redistribute goods? “It applies to foods from the commercial establishments,” said Steckman.
Is it the city’s intention to close down public accommodations? “No,” Steckman said, “public accommodations are hotels and we may need those accommodations to isolate people if the virus comes.”
City Hall remains open.
The winner of the Iditarod is expected in a few hours and Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach addressed the Council with the update that all non-essential personnel of ITC was kept out of Nome and that the Iditarod has arranged with airline providers to offer a quick turn around that dogs and mushers, after arriving in Nome, are swiftly flown out after they arrive here.