Police Shortages, Public Safety, and Community Funds Covered At Nome Common Council

The City of Nome once again asks lawmakers to prioritize sexual assault and domestic violence on their legislative agendas.

Every year, the city sends a letter to federal and state legislators requesting that they put resources into certain projects or areas of concern. Through a resolution approved by the Nome Common Council Monday night, this marks the second year the council has made both sexual and domestic violence their top priority.

More specifically, the City Manager Glenn Steckman says the city asks lawmakers to support resources for the Office of Children’s services, additional staffing at the District Attorney’s office, and increased funding to handle the state backlog of sexual assault kits. Those specifics were not included in the council packet.

“But we do think the state needs to put more assets out there and available to local communities.”

– Glenn Steckman, Nome City Manager

In more local public safety matters, the quarterly Nome Police Department report shows a severe staffing shortage. With one officer injured and two recent resignations, Officer Raymond Murray resigned in October while Officer Vincent Nguyen’s resignation is effective at the end of January, the department is now down to four patrol officers with one officer working per shift. The current budget contains funding for eight officers.

Nome Police Chief Mike Heintzelman is optimistic about some of the potential applicants but is trying to remain adamant that any incomers be committed to living in Nome, and not working a rotational schedule, as is common in much of Western Alaska.

“My goal is to make sure that we find [and] hire people that want to actually live in Nome. A two week on, two week off, type program is very, very demanding on the existing officers that are in town. Because if we have any incident, those are the ones that we call out.”

– Mike Heintzelman, Nome Chief of Police

According to Chief Heintzelman the department did just hire Frank Hunsicker, a former Baltimore juvenile crimes detective, to join the force as a patrol officer.

Also on Monday night, the council passed a resolution on how to spend the $200,000 community benefits share from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation. That vote was delayed during the council’s last meeting.

Councilmember Mark Johnson motioned to divide the funds in half with $100,000 going towards upgrading the 43-year-old heating and ventilation system at City Hall. The remaining one hundred grand will go to youth programs in Nome. In years past, the city chose to dole out all of those funds to various community non-profits.

Monday night a few local groups came to see if the city would still consider sharing that money, like the Nome Community Center. Here’s NCC’s Executive Director Rhonda Schneider.

“I think the way they had been distributed the last several years, myself and some others probably just came to count on those funds for certain things that we had been repeatedly awarded for year after year after year.”

– Rhonda Schneider

The council has not announced a plan yet for distributing those funds and to whom.

In other news, the mink population at the Nome Harbor continues to roam free. A resolution to allow for mink trapping at the harbor rocks failed after the council heard concerns that the proposed Conibear 110 traps could be harmful to domesticated pets and ravens. Councilmembers like Mark Johnson didn’t think there was enough of a reason to allow trapping there, as the minks aren’t causing a nuisance. Although residents have complained about the local fox population, the council had no sustained conversation related to foxes.

By the end of their regular meeting, the council also accepted the results of an outside audit from Altman Consulting of Nome’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget. The draft form is available online in the council packet. The audit found no significant deficiencies or areas of non-compliance.

Image at Top: Councilmembers Meghan Topkok and Adam Martinson Deliberate on NSEDC Benefits Allocations. Photo by Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.