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Nome Police Hiring and Transparency Are Citizens’ Concerns at City Council Meeting

Papers in Nome City Council chambers
Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file

It was standing room only Monday night (August 27) at the Nome City Council meeting, as citizens came forward to express misgivings with the police department, the city, and to question a number of recent decisions. Residents also came forward with ideas and solutions for the council.

During the first section of citizen comments, seven people addressed the council. Among the list of concerns were lack of public involvement and transparency in the Chief of Police selection, alleged child “ride-alongs” in police vehicles, and lack of attendance from police and city personnel at a recent Town Hall meeting on August 18. The event had been advertised as an opportunity to have coffee and conversation with the City Council, but only Councilman Jerald Brown attended, with the five others citing illness, work, and travel for their absence.

Darlene Trigg of Nome told the council that citizens were speaking up and holding these meetings to be a “proactive part of making things better.” But still, residents felt their efforts haven’t been dealt with seriously. Here’s Lisa Ellana, the organizer of the Town Hall:

“My feelings are really hurt that you guys didn’t show up for that. There’s been a lot of people putting their hearts on the line here, making public some very humiliating things, and you didn’t show up for this. We’ve been talking with you for a while now.”

Ellana also expressed disappointment that the Chief of Police candidate had been chosen without community involvement, particularly without input from the female Alaska Native community. While that desire was not satisfied, due to what City Manager Tom Moran called “a number of things that were happening in the community,” Moran defended his choice of candidate:

“This recommendation to hire this gentleman is because he is the antithesis of our current administration. He is the guy who wants to go out to meet people, to shake hands… this is a community position and I agree with that… and there are just a number of irons in this fire, and I promise I am doing everything I can to hear people’s concerns and doing my best to make a good decision.”

During citizens’ comments, Nome residents addressed the hire of Carl Putman as a Nome Police Department dispatcher, after he was convicted of assault while on-duty as a Community Service Officer. Citizens shared their discomfort with going to NPD to report their cases, expressing fear that NPD would not take their concerns seriously or handle the complaints properly, citing historically mismanaged cases and handling of evidence.

Nome resident Justin Noffsker asked Manager Moran if there were currently any investigations open on NPD. According to Moran, there are investigations being done from the outside, including one from the Department of Public Safety, but explained that the city cannot disclose personnel matters.

Noffsker suggested that any officer under investigation be put on administrative leave for the sake of the public. Trigg suggested the community and city work together on a board for Public Safety.

The Council did approve the resolution to hire Robert Estes as the new Chief of Police Monday night. His contract begins September 15th. Moran stressed it will have a “termination clause,” meaning that he can be fired if his performance is unsatisfactory.

Tom Moran was also up for a new contract as City Manager on Monday night’s (August 27) agenda. The resolution to approve his position also passed. Moran will remain City Manager through March while the Council will begin an immediate search for a replacement. Moran will not be involved in that process.

In other business, four resolutions approving and accepting loans from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation were passed. Those included loan financing for improving community water and sewer infrastructure and the re-financing of previous loans. The city also discussed a resolution that would support a private access industrial road from the Ambler Mining District to the Port of Nome. It was decided that conversation would be moved to a public discussion at a later date.

During final comments, Mayor Beneville acknowledged the public with emotion and shared his hope for a positive future for Nome.

“So I’m making a speech… because I need to make one. Because I believe in our town, I believe in our children, I believe in every last one of you. The passion, and the concern, and the care… goes without saying.”

The next regular Nome City Council meeting is September 10.

Photo at top: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file.

Note: Tom Moran is a member of the KNOM Radio Mission Board of Directors.

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