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Nome Has a New Public Safety Commission — and a New Deputy Chief of Police

Inside of small meeting room during city council meeting

Nome now has nine members appointed to its first-ever public safety commission after the common council confirmed them during last night’s (Monday’s) City Council meeting.

Citizens have been calling for the group’s formation for over a year, and in previous meetings, civilians and the council alike expressed that the process has been overly lengthy. Like any other city commission, those candidates were appointed by Nome Mayor Richard Beneville.

“It’s difficult to apologize for things that we know take time. But sometimes I feel like it was incumbent upon me to apologize for the delay of coming to the decision and getting that which was necessary to be able to reach the decision.” 

The appointees are staggered over one to three-year terms.

The commissioners appointed for three years are Lisa Ellanna, Ivory Okleasik, and John “Justin” Noffsker. The two-year commissioners are Jana Hoggan, Andy Miller, Jr., and Traci McGarry. Carol Piscoya, Irvin Barnes, and Maureen Koezuna will serve one-year terms.

During his city manager’s report, interim manager John Handeland described some changes within the Nome Police Department. Mike Heintzelman will be moving into a Deputy Chief of Police role rather than the temporary investigator position he had been brought up to Nome for. Handeland acknowledges that it’s a “change to the path we were moving down” but hopes the change will provide the department more mentorship and investigative experience.

Port Director Joy Baker gave a brief report after Handeland. The Orion II, originally scheduled to arrive in town September 5, had to make port in Teller due to stormy conditions in Nome. That’s the second cruise ship unable to make port in Nome this season as a result of rough weather. A fuel barge also had to be rescheduled for later this month for the same reason. Baker says those delays make shipping more expensive and could be avoided if Nome had an expanded port.

“All the delays cause increased shipping charges. All the delays factor in the activity delays off Nome, and they factor those into the cost of cargo, fuel…”  

The only item of old business before the City Council was passed without much discussion: the city agreed to purchase “Airport Block 20.” That purchase had already been factored into the city budget for FY ’20.

A resolution appointing clerks and judges for the upcoming municipal elections also passed unanimously.

During the communications portion of the meeting, the Council read a sobering letter from Kawerak president Melanie Bahnke that drew the City’s attention to the number of non-responsive and delayed ambulance calls. Interim manager Handeland acknowledged that Nome’s volunteer ambulance service struggles to meet the demand. He says he will soon be meeting with NSHC staff and the volunteer emergency services crew to discuss stipend changes.

“Unfortunately, we have volunteer staff that feel they’re being used, and hopefully, by changing our structure of stipends, which we shouldn’t have to do, but we’re looking at that as an option to try to get a better response.” 

Kawerak called on the City and Norton Sound Health Corporation to look for a paid staffing structure for emergency responders.

The Nome Common Council has their next regular meeting scheduled for September 23.

Image at top: The Nome City Council discusses ambulance services during its meeting on September 9, 2019. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.

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