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Nome City Manager Candidates Field Broad Range of Questions in Public Forum

Three men sit at a table inside a wood-paneled meeting room

The three Nome City Manager finalists fielded questions from the public during an open forum on Tuesday night. Many of the questions concerned budget management, public safety, and the city’s long-term fiscal health. Nome’s City Council is considering John Handeland, Randy Robertson, or Glenn Steckman to be the next city’s manager.

Steckman, of Pennsylvania, says he has a history of working with cities that have “unfortunate” financial situations and is used to analyzing budgets and funds.

“Another opportunity I’d like to use is to have a public hearing before the budget is actually created to get citizens’ input on their opinions and what they see as the needs of the organization.” 

— Glenn Steckman

He was also not afraid to assert that he fired a police chief over alleged sexual harassment twelve years ago. Steckman has never lived in Alaska and does not have experience working with Alaska Native people, but during Tuesday’s night forum, he highlighted the ethnic diversity in previous cities he has managed.

The other visiting candidate is Randy Robertson, current city manager of Abderdeen, Maryland, who also boasts a robust background in the military. One way to create sustainability, he says, is diversifying revenue sources, like seeking grants and local partnerships to help the city pay for services. Partnerships are also important for Robertson in strengthening public safety and relationships with Alaska Native people.

“My experience is (to) integrate one another in every opportunity possible — to the point where I asked earlier on the tour today, ‘Who will be here from the Native population? Will there be elders? Will there be an opportunity?’ Because they represent nearly 50% of your population. You can’t make a decision without fifty percent of your population being involved with that.”

— Randy Robertson

Estimates for the ethnic breakdown of Nome vary. The most recent U.S. Census puts the Alaska Native population at around 75% for the Nome Census Area, but that includes many of the villages in the Bering Strait region. The most common estimates used during City Council meetings range between 50-60% for the city itself.

When possible, he says one of the best things for public safety is also to have a police force that mirrors the local ethnic population of the community.

John Handeland, the third finalist, is currently serving as the interim city manager. He would like to see Nome work on strengthening the partnerships it does have and considers outside investment worthwhile. But when it comes to financial growth and budgeting, Handeland prioritizes growing the existing tax base.

“Is there a way that we can work with our existing businesses to strengthen and increase their offerings in the community?”

— John Handeland

As the only candidate from Nome, Handeland was addressed with a unique question. Here’s the forum’s moderator Davis Hovey:

Hovey: “Given Nome’s history of racial discrimination, do you feel it would be beneficial to make a public proclamation or acknowledgement of those past grievances?”

Handeland: [pause] “Um, if the… [long pause] … if it serves to heal any wounds then, yes.”

He says he wants to see the city focus on the future, not the past, but also admits that if the past isn’t acknowledged, it can be repeated.

As members of the International City Management Association, both Glenn Steckman and Randy Robertson have ethical obligations to serve as managers for two years, or however long the City Council sees fit. Both said they were near retirement and likely wouldn’t be looking for new manager jobs after Nome.

The City Council will pick the City Manager and must vote on their contract in a public meeting, as required by city ordinance 2.35.010.  

Disclaimer: Davis Hovey, the moderator for the forum, is also the news director for KNOM Radio.

Image at top: From left to right: John Handeland, Glenn Steckman, and Randy Robertson. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.

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