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Nome Council Approves Police Officer Bonuses, Swears in Youth Representative

The Nome City Council is giving out $10,000 bonuses for incoming certified police officers in hopes that they will stay in Nome for more than two years. The council made the decision during their regular meeting last Monday.

Councilmember Jennifer Reader didn’t think two years was much of a time commitment.

“We expect the chief [of police] to do three years, we asked his assistant chief to do three, we ask other valued employees to do three. Why only two for a police officer?”

– Councilmember Jennifer Reader

Both the city manager and police chief stated that a two-year commitment was normal for police officer bonuses in Alaska. City Manager Glenn Steckman also believes it’s an appropriate amount of time for most recruits in Nome who are generally in their twenties and could be hesitant to accept longer terms.

This bonus would only be available for officers who come to Nome with their certification. According to City Manager Glenn Steckman, even a two-year commitment saves Nome money on training the officer; a cost estimated at around $26,000 per officer. Hiring and retention continue to be issues at the NPD with three patrol officer positions currently vacant.

Councilmember Reader worried that such a move doesn’t focus on hiring local officers from the community. But Councilmember Jerald Brown pointed out that locals still have the option of joining the force and the city foot the bill for their training.

“After they’ve obtained that skill, they can pay the city back, or after two years they can go anywhere else in the country and work as a police officer.”

– Councilmember Jerald Brown

The resolution passed unanimously with a vote of five in favor. Councilmember Doug Johnson was absent Monday night.

The City Council also accepted a grant from the 2020 State Homeland Security Program. Originally, both Nome and Kawerak, Inc. jointly applied for funding of over $300,000 but were ultimately awarded $46,176. That funding will primarily go towards the purchase of cots and a drone.

Meanwhile, the council continues its partnership with community youth leaders. Zoe Okleasik will serve as the new Nome Common Council Youth Representative. Although that role is non-voting, Okleasik is already politically experienced. Okleasik was one of the authors who wrote a resolution addressing climate change, which was passed at the 2019 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. She says seeing Councilmember Meghan Siġvanna Topkok inspired her to get involved in city government.

“I really do appreciate seeing an Indigenous woman on the council. It really makes me happy and proud of her.”

– Zoe Okleasik

Finally, Councilmember Topkok echoed the community’s call for an online option for city council meetings. The City Council has not enforced wearing face-masks during their meetings for all council members or for the public.

In-person meetings are a safety concern for Topkok, who also works in local schools.   

“And it shouldn’t come down to me comprising my safety and the safety of our youth and our community to be here in this space that might put me and others at risk. I think just having that virtual option is absolutely critical.”

– Councilmember Meghan Topkok
Most of the attending public and two members of the council, Reader and Martinson, declined to wear face masks at the most recent regular meeting.

Currently, members of the public can only participate through television, or by calling on the phone to make comments. There is also a limited amount of seating available during City Council meetings. A telephone conference line is made available just for councilmembers.

Mayor John Handeland confirmed that efforts to make Nome City Council meetings available virtually are underway.  

Image at Top: City Clerk Bryant Hammond swears in Youth Representative Zoe Okleasik, a senior at Nome Beltz-High School. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).

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