Meghan “Sigvanna” Topkok has won her appeal to the Nome City Council and will go on to hold City Council seat D.
In Tuesday’s municipal election, Topkok won 58% of the vote, achieving a sufficient majority, but had her eligibility challenged on grounds of residency by Sarah Swartz, one of her opponents. The challenge claimed Topkok was not eligible for office under the Nome Code of Ordinances (NCO) because she had not established the one year of residency prior to her election. City Clerk Bryant Hammond accepted the challenge to disqualify Topkok.
Topkok appealed the challenge in a public hearing today, making use of precedents set by the Alaska Supreme Court and what she felt were ambiguities in the municipal code.
Topkok addressed the Council:
“In cases where there is a statutory ambiguity on whether or not a candidate is eligible to run for office, the statue should be read in favor of eligibility so long as it may reasonably be read so… I think it is very reasonable, and a lot of people here agree that it is a reasonable interpretation of that ordinance to interpret that it doesn’t require the 12 months immediately prior.”
Topkok was a resident of Nome over a year in 2013 to 2014 before she left to attend law school at the University of Oregon. At the time, she was employed by Kawerak and had established a post office box and utility bills. There are no law schools in the State of Alaska. After graduation, Topkok returned to Nome upon obtaining employment at Kawerak and re-established permanent residency in June of 2018.
She noted that the Nome Code of Ordinances does not specifically state that residency be established for a year immediately preceding election to the City Council, while the code does specifically state that a voter must establish residency in Nome for over 30 days immediately prior to being eligible to vote in a municipal election.
Five of the six council members were present, and all voted to accept Topkok’s appeal that she had established the required residency, even if it was not in the year immediately prior to her election.
The city does not automatically investigate a candidate’s qualifications unless a member of the electorate makes a challenge. Bryant Hammond explained,
“We trust the candidates who are running… it’s bad policy to distrust your candidates from the get-go.”
Topkok mentioned in her appeal that she studied law, particularly tribal sovereignty and indigenous issues, so that she could better serve this area. She has said in previous interviews that she hopes that as a young Alaska Native woman on the City Council, she can share experiences and build new relationships. Topkok spoke with KNOM while the Council met in executive session.
“More than anything, I just feel really humbled by the fact that people came out and voted for me. I think it just continues to show how much support, and love and trust that the community has invested in me. I hope that I can continue earning and receiving from people and reciprocating.”
The Council approved the municipal election results. Jennifer Reader will join Meghan Topkok on the City Council. Derek McLarty and Dave Barron will join the utility board, and Sandy Martinson and Nancy Mendenhall will sit on the school board.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the first name of a Nome School Board member. It is Nancy Mendenhall, not Sandy. The error has been corrected.
Image at top: Meghan Topkok will be one of Nome’s newest City Council members. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.