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Citizens Comments Accepted Electronically During COVID-19 City Council Meetings

The rest of the Council participates by telephone and citizen's call in or e-mail their comments. (Pictured: Councilmembers Jerald Brown and Mark Johnson with Deputy Clerk Christine Piscoya and City Manager Glenn Steckman) Photo from Emily Hofsteadter, KNOM.

Nome residents now have to call in or e-mail their public comments to the Nome City Council as regular meetings continue but with social distancing protocols in place to accommodate for the coronavirus.

The Council met last Monday (March 30th) for their latest regular meeting but had no business items on the agenda. All six members were present, with four participating telephonically. The meeting was broadcast live via radio and local television which allowed Nomeites to participate remotely. As such, the meeting morphed into an open forum to address the public’s questions regarding the City’s plans for coronavirus response.

One community member questioned via e-mail if the city would be formulating tax -payer relief plans or utility relief while many residents are being affected by COVID-19. For now, Nome Joint Utilities Systems Manager John Handeland says NJUS is still billing for utilities.  

“If anybody is, as a result of the coronavirus and loss of employment, concerned about your utility bill, you still owe it. But we’re here to work with you. (So) please consider giving us a call before we need to give you a call.”

In addition, Handeland said, there is some relief coming from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC) in the way of an additional $575 energy subsidy. Businesses are not eligible for the subsidy, but residents are and Handeland says those payments should start to be reflected in this month’s utility bills.

Nome resident Melanie Bahnke commented that the NEST and Day Shelter operations should be moved to a location closer to Front Street; they are currently housed at the Nome Rec Center. Bahnke reasoned that the commute could be hazardous for shelter patrons but she was also concerned that some of those patrons could be sex offenders who are now living in a more residential district.

“If my request is not possible, I ask for increased police patrolling in the area, please.”

– Melanie Bahnke

NPD’s Interim Chief Mike Heintzelman agreed to increase the police presence.

Other residents were concerned about the loss of the rec center as a potential emergency center. Norton Sound Health Corporation’s Medical Director, Dr. Mark Peterson shared that if an emergency field hospital were needed, there would be time to have the center prepared.

“There would be some days to plan and make arrangements to have those Nest and Day Shelter clientele to be moved elsewhere.”

From a public health standpoint, Peterson thinks the rec center, with its social distancing capability, is being used appropriately to protect the unsheltered population and NSHC staff from the potential spread of the virus. City Manager Glenn Steckman also estimated that although the rec center is the designated emergency shelter, it would need about a million dollars in upgrades to be an adequate shelter.

Despite project disruptions around the country due to the coronavirus, Nome Port Director Joy Baker shared that plans for the deep-draft port expansion study are still on time. Cruise ship agents have not yet canceled trips to Nome as those are scheduled for later in the summer. But Baker suggested that the Port Commission and City Council begin discussions on how they want to handle port traffic in the upcoming season.

Before adjourning the City Council meeting, Steckman shared that Nome continues to issue travel permits, some have been denied after being deemed non-essential. Nome is now tracking who enters and leaves the City and flights on all airlines have been significantly reduced.

Image at top: The rest of the Nome City Council participated by telephone and citizen’s call in or e-mail their comments during a March regular meeting. (Pictured: Councilmembers Jerald Brown and Mark Johnson with Deputy Clerk Christine Piscoya and City Manager Glenn Steckman) Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).

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