Public safety panel wants seat at the table
Deputy Police Chief Robert Pruckner updated the Nome Common Council in their regular meeting last Monday on the search for missing Florence Okpealuk, who was last seen on August 30 at West Beach. Pruckner addressed the Council with Nome Volunteer Fire Department and Search and Rescue Chief Jim West Jr., saying that NPD, Alaska State Troopers and the FBI are acknowledging this difficult time for Florence Okpealuk’s family and friends and assured them that they are doing everything to help bring Florence home. He said the FBI has provided technical assistance early on and is now in town to assist with the evidence recovery effort. Pruckner said that searches included ground searches, aerial searches by fixed wing aircraft, Coast Guard and Bering Air helicopters and underwater searches with the fire department’s remote operated vehicle. Interim Mayor John Handeland said, “We all feel a bit helpless and want answers sooner than later, but I do want to say I appreciate the efforts of the police department and all the people who came out to search.” Over 100 people showed up for the first search and the second search last Saturday saw 38 volunteers scouring rough tundra terrain north of West Beach.
During citizen comments Lisa Ellanna, Public Safety Advisory Commissioner, told the Council that the Public Safety Advisory commission was not made aware of recent events such as the tasering of Milan Schield and the disappearance of Florence Okpealuk. The 9-member commission was created last year to help build a bridge and restore trust between the public and the Nome Police Department. Ellanna said that the commissioners have been trained and are able to assist, but were completely left out of the loop in these past few weeks. “There is a lot going on public safety related. Why are we not involved in this conversation?” she said. “There is a group of people that are sitting on a Public Safety Commission that you created, we could be helping you. We have our ears to the community all the time.” She informed the Council that the commission requested an emergency meeting, on Tuesday, Sept. 8. City Manager Steckman said that the request came through the commission’s chairman and that he explained the 24-hour notice requirement of calling a meeting. On Friday, another commissioner requested an emergency meeting and was told that the commission has two vacant seats and therefor there couldn’t be a meeting called. However, a quorum is reached with five commissioners. During the council meeting, Mayor Handeland re-appointed Carol Piscoya to the commission. Councilman Jerald Brown noted that the commission is advisory, not supervisory in nature, but that there is flexibility in the ordinance that created the commission. “Could you resolve with the commission what types of things they would like to be notified of and make sure that they are notified?” Brown said.
Ellanna said during the second public comment period that she wanted to make clear that the commission wishes to be informed and asked the council to instruct administration to inform the commission. “This is what we were created for and what we were trained for,” she said. Councilman Brown asked again what the plan is to inform the commission. Glenn Steckman answered that the commission would definitely be brought into the discussion. “We’re not trying to exclude folks,” he said. He said not every group is briefed with the same depth of information, but he would be discussing at the next public safety meeting what information would be shared. In Mayor’s comments, John Handeland remarked that the late Mayor Richard Beneville left him with three things: The Public Safety Commission, the Iditarod and the Port expansion. He said two seats are currently open to be filled at the Public Safety Commission and he encouraged applicants to make their willingness known to serve on the panel.
In other citizen comments, Sue Greenly addressed the Council regarding the Day Shelter set up at the Mini Convention Center, right across from her home on Lomen Ave. She wanted to correct that she is not a disgruntled property owner but frustrated and sad that she had to call the police five times as she had to witness unsavory behavior of people. Filing a report with NPD in regards to three vehicles on Lomen with slashed tires, she was dismayed to find her social security number, date of birth and three incorrect phone numbers on the police report, emailed her complaint to city and NPD management and had received no response yet. However, she reported that in an incident when she reported a half-naked woman passed out on her property, NPD responded professionally and quickly and that city management took the time to review her emails and complaint. “This is a growing and ongoing concern in my neighborhood and this town,” she said. “My 2 mil property rate increase gives me the right to call the police, to voice my frustration and to suggest that the City police and Community patrol officer do just that: patrol!”
The Council moved on to pass several resolutions. One resolution was about financing Nome Joint Utility’s annual fuel purchase. Fuel prices have dropped and instead of a $5 million, NJUS is looking at $3.8 million that need financing to fill NJUS’ two-million-gallon tanks, plus 170,000 for the Nome Public Schools heating needs. NJUS manager John Handeland said in a note that financing was sought from five different financial institutions, three responded and that Wells Fargo offered the most favorable proposal with interest between 1.25 to 1.3 percent. The Council approved the resolution.
The Council also approved a resolution to award a contract to Board of Trade to deliver 6,000 tons of crushed aggregate at $17.87 per ton. City Manager Glenn Steckman said the city is slowly sinking and is in need for about 6,000 tons of gravel a year. The council unanimously passed the resolution.
The Council also passed a resolution to authorize additional funding to the Nome Public Schools to cover additional costs due to COVID-19. Superintendent Jamie Burgess explained to the Council in a letter and in person that the district needs $90,000 for sanitation equipment due to COVID-19. The district received just under $200,000 in CARES Act funding but spent over 30,000 by the end of last school year to cover staff internet and added food service costs. Also, since 60 students opted to participate in the Extensions home school program, it will decrease the level of funding the district gets for the current school year. “We are also expecting the possibility of an overall decrease in enrollment if families choose to hold students out of school, or relocate due to decreased economic opportunities in Nome,” Burgess explained.
Jerald Brown suggested to amend the amount to $165,000 to make up for the loss of students to the homeschool program. The motion carried unanimously.
The Council also passed a resolution in support of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to formally squash repeated attempts of PETA to get the City to drop its sponsorship of the 1,000-mile sled dog race.
City Manager Glenn Steckman announced that the US Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley will call on Nome’s port on Thursday and will allow its 105 sailors to come ashore – with strict stipulations.
The Council went into executive session to discuss a property acquisition.