In their own words: Keith Morrison
Council Seat C
Challenger Keith Morrison
NN: What is your motivation to run and what are your qualifications to run for the Nome Common Council?
My motivation to run for the council comes from my desire to bridge the gap that exists between the community members of Nome and the councilmembers. I work as an advocate six years professionally and two years personally. I do this work both on the individual level, but also at a systems level. This is my passion: Working for those whose voices often go unheard, and giving space for their issues to be brought to the table and addressed. I’ve worked inside many different systems that don’t always work for the people they were designed to help. I can help to identify and work on polices that are currently barriers for our community members and work to make changes in those policies so people can be sucessful in their own eyes. When a person feels successful, they are more likely to engage.
When the issue of lack of response by the police department for sexual assault victims and domestic violence victims was brought forward, I watched community members try to work with the Chief and City without success. I observed people working hard to protect each other and their jobs and careers. I observed victims being asked to re-tell their stories over and over again, without regard for the impact that has on them. I saw people working hard to help each other and share information, to only have people in power disregard the hours and hours of work without out even a ‘Thank you.’ These things are not right and it needs to stop. I see many council members who want to do good work, but don’t always have the information in front of them. I have seen the council make some recent changes, but more needs to be done. I am committed to working hard with the council, city manager and Nome police chief to make a difference.
I have lived in Alaska for the last nine years, and in Nome for seven. I have family here and I am fully invested in making Nome a safe community. I’ve worked at Nome Public Schools, the Youth Facility and currently working with the Behavioral Health department. I’ve volunteered my time working with our youth and spend time with some of the folks who are most impacted by historical trauma and are often the least heard. All of these experiences have taught me that it is important to be an advocate, but also there are times when you have to step up into leadership to make a difference. Leadership to me means being a bridge, hearing from everyone who feels the need to be heard and then moving forward from there. If elected to the city council, that will be my plan: Listen, listen more, find solutions, and hold ourselves accountable to make change happen.
NN: What are the biggest challenges facing Nome today and how do you propose as a councilmember to address them?
Keith Morrison: I think one of the biggest challenges our community faces is addressing the community safety concerns that have been brought forward. It has far reaching impacts that I don’t think we fully understand yet. It impacts our community members in an intimate way. People who have experienced violence and not had their claims taken seriously often turn to substances to numb the pain of the experience adding to an already growing substance abuse problem we have in our town. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be addressed. I also think we need to be very thoughtful about our city’s revenue sources. Although I don’t want to grow our city government unnecessarily, I do think we need to ensure we have the staff and resources needed to be a safe place where our community members and visitors feel comfortable being. It is not an easy job of finding the right balance of taxes and making sure we have an effective government, but I know what we’re doing now isn’t working. An example of where it is known that we need to do better is investing in our police officers. We need to make sure we care for our police officers and give them the training and pay they deserve for putting themselves in harm’s way for the safety of all.
Finding ways to support the school and ensure it has the funding it needs to grow our future leaders and community members is another place where we need to learn to be creative and work collaboratively.
NN: How do you propose to stimulate public interest in attending meetings and becoming involved in city issues?
Keith Morrison: From my perspective, what I’ve seen over the past few months is that people are interested, but many people don’t feel like they are being heard and aren’t engaged because of that. I know this because people open up to me, they tell me what their issues are. I think once people see that there are council members who are willing to listen to them, and take action based on what they are hearing, more people will start to engage. While I believe the public comments are very important during the meetings, I think council members should be engaging the community and learning what they feel they need from our local government.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done to rebuild the trust in both city government, but also with the Nome Police Department. That will take both listening to community members, taking them seriously when they bring an issue forward, and time for community members to see that we are there to help by approving good policies that are meaningful and helpful to them, and funding our government in a way that supports them. I don’t think it’s an easy job, I think this takes hard work form the council and I’m committed to it.
NN: How do you propose to combat the alcohol and substance abuse problem in Nome?
Keith Morrison: The alcohol and substance abuse problems that our community members face is a challenging problem. It stems from a long and complex history that has disproportionately impacted Alaska Natives. I think our city government can do more to be a collaborating partner in solving the issue. As a city government, we can strengthen partnerships with organizations such as NSHC, Kawerak, Nome Community Center, the State of Alaska and others to provide a more holistic approach to wellness in our community. We need to consider the whole person, and important aspects of their life, including their wellness, their housing situation, access to educational opportunities and being a strong partner with a holistic approach will improve life for everyone in Nome. I think as councilmembers, we should be reevaluating where we can increase our revenue to help fund meaningful programs that are helpful to those in need. Finding funds to create meaningful programs or support meaningful programs can be a challenge, but thinking creatively and work with agency partners, we can make a significant impact.
NN: Please outline your proposal to restore citizens’ trust in the Nome Police Department and describe what a functioning NPD would look like in your opinion.
Keith Morrison: I think the first thing we need to do is get a citizens council in place. This citizens council should represent those who have been most impacted by our communities lack of response by our police department. Policies and changes made by the city have to be vetted by citizens and that process should be inclusive and transparent.
Citizens should feel like safety is the number one priority of the City of Nome. That can only be achieved through changing how our police department responds. It needs to be much more responsive when issues occur in our community. The council needs to make sure our police department is prepared to handle the daily challenges they face in keeping our community safe. We need to make sure there is a sound system of accountability in our police department. When something isn’t done the right way, people need to be held accountable so justice can be done.