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Nome Public Safety Commission One Step Closer to Reality; Would Be First in Alaska

Interior of city council chambers during a meeting
The Nome City Council meets on Feb. 25, 2019, with some members participating by phone. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.

After months of advocacy and conversation, the city of Nome is one step closer to having the first public safety advisory commission in Alaska. Nome City Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance to create the commission on Monday night’s regular meeting. It will go to second reading in March.

The ordinance received edits after residents discussed the initial draft in a public meeting last week. Among those were clarifications in eligibility for the public safety commission and language stating that the mayor should attempt to have the board reflect the cultural makeup of the community.

Not all residents or councilmembers present on Monday were entirely happy with the current ordinance. Councilmember Jerald Brown expressed multiple times that the ordinance could still be improved before the second reading:

“My preference is to go ahead… put it to second reading. We’ve got a month to get additional input. The title for the ordinance is sufficiently vague that just about anything would be acceptable as an amendment, in my opinion… the prohibition for amendments is basically if it alters the meaning of the title.”

Interim City Manager John Handeland said that he would contact the American Civil Liberties Union for more advice. During the public meeting last week, Triada Stampas and Stephen Koteff of the Alaska ACLU offered their consultation and services. Councilmember Mark Johnson said that such an advisory committee to review policy would have been helpful last year when some residents claimed certain Nome Police Department policies were being violated. He noted that the issue could have come to the City Council and City Manager sooner.

Councilmember Doug Johnson expressed wariness of the commission, saying that “the city council is ultimately responsible for public safety in Nome,” however, neither Johnson or Councilmember Jennifer Reader were present at the public meeting last week. Johnson was specifically concerned about a body with investigative or oversight powers. Ultimately, he did vote to advance it to second reading. Based on the proposed ordinance, the public safety commission would not have oversight or voting powers but would review policy and make recommendations to the city council on public safety issues.

Other business not originally on the agenda included a letter from former City Manager Tom Moran asking for $10,000 of severance pay. Interim City Manager John Handeland explained that the City’s attorney was able to negotiate it down to $6,500 and asked the council to approve that, fully releasing any other claims.

“Our attorney’s fees and potential litigation fees are substantially more than that, and this is just the proper business decision to be made.”

The council unanimously voted to give Moran the $6,500 in severance.

Also during the regular City Council meeting, the utility manager’s report included discussion of Governor Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget. Governor Dunleavy is proposing to eliminate the Power Cost Equalization (PCE) fund and move those funds to another state account. Nome Joint Utility System (NJUS) Assistant Manager Ken Morton says that the PCE does impact Nome.

It offsets bills. The PCE is a credit that goes towards the first 500 kilowatt hours of service for residential service. That’s why if you consume more than 500 kilowatt hours it becomes much more expensive.”

Morton suggested that if residents are concerned, they should contact the governor’s office and legislators outside of rural Alaska, noting that the “bush legislators” know rural residents support the PCE.

Councilmember Reader inquired about complaints seen on social media where residents felt that they were being overcharged by NJUS. Morton said that 8 residents have requested their readings be re-done and that the same results were found. He says residents may just be using more electricity than they realize.

All other business on Monday’s agenda passed, including the first reading of tariff 15 to replace all other Port of Nome tariffs. The Council plans to meet next on March 25, in order to give time off for Iditarod and possibly more discussion for the public safety commission ordinance. All were present, with Councilmembers Reader and Topkok present telephonically.

Image at top: The Nome City Council meets on Feb. 25, 2019, with some members participating by phone. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.

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