Tempers flared over the noon siren and the upcoming marijuana initiative, but the Nome City Council got down to business Monday night to make important decisions on liquor licenses and a major road project.
The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board met in Nome Oct. 8, and granted one new temporary liquor license, with another license pending. That brings the total number of active liquor licenses in Nome to 22, a number council member Stan Andersen said is too many for a town where so many already complain of alcohol-related problems.
“Everybody’s complaining about booze, but no one is complaining about more liquor licenses!” Andersen exclaimed, referencing a lobbying effort by community health groups that pushed for a sales tax hike of 10 percent on alcohol over the summer. That lobbying effort failed, as did a ballot proposition to raise sales tax on alcohol and tobacco a more modest 8 percent. But the voices the city heard on the sales tax issue have so far remained silent as new liquor licenses have been granted in Nome.
“The onus is on the city,” Andersen said, suggesting the Nome City Council adopt measures similar to Anchorage that would “put a hold on every license that comes up for renewal.” That, Andersen said, would actually address Nome’s alcohol issues.
The council agreed, and voted to protest future licenses and direct the city attorney to explore the issue more fully.
Since the removal of the old Snake River Bridge, the council has also been grappling with how to address the limitations of the new bridge: namely, poor lighting, awkward traffic flow from the bridge to Center Creek Road (often called the Jail Road), and a sharp turn onto and off of the bridge for drivers. Conversations with state Department of Transportation officials over the past few weeks left DOT looking for the city to take the lead on what should be prioritized, and Monday’s meeting, the council did just that, deciding to focus future funding on a proposed large-scale realignment of Center Creek Road.
“With the realignment of Center Creek, we’d get rid of a majority of the turning radius issues,” said council member Matt Culley. “But everybody needs to understand that this will probably not be seen for a while. Two million is not a lot, we’re asking for a fairly significant scope here … I’d be surprised if you see this in the next ten years.”
With decisions made on liquor licenses and Center Creek Road, the council moved on to other business: namely, an ordinance formally opposing Ballot Measure 2, the vote on next week’s ballot that, if approved, would legalize the use and sale of marijuana for adults statewide. Presented by Mayor Denise Michels—who was not at Monday night’s meeting—the resolution would have also “urged voters to defeat” the measure. Before the council could even consider the resolution, though, council member Culley shot it down on principle.
“It’s not the City Council’s place to tell people how to vote,” Culley said. “One of the nice things about this country is our voting is private … to have this brought in front of the council, where it’s no one’s business how we vote on it … it’s also not our place to tell anybody else how to vote.”
Culley motioned to have the resolution removed, effectively killing it; the council agreed, with little discussion. Later in the meeting, Nome Police Chief John Papasodora took the podium, lambasting the council for shooting down the measure without serious discussion.
“I feel it’s my responsibility to speak up a little bit about the resolution that got squashed tonight,” Chief Papasodora said.
“This initiative is not a good thing for the State of Alaska. I’ve got nothing against anybody smoking a little weed in their house, it’s not against the law, it’s authorized by case law. I do have a problem having your pot shop on your corner. Where you kid can go, or where you can go, or where anyone can go, to buy marijuana.”
Papasodora went on to say the council should look at the local impacts of the statewide resolution.
“Some of the stuff we failed to take a look at is the impacts of what’s going to happen to our community if in fact this initiative does pass … This is a community has a substance abuse problem, that’s not getting any better. I was encouraged that the council came out tonight against additional liquor licenses. I’m discouraged that you won’t stand up against this initiative.”
Culley reiterated his position to the Chief, and the two men—and the council—left it there; it’s now up for voters to decide on the marijuana initiative on the Nov. 4 election.
But one other issue rang out before the meeting ended: council member Stan Andersen sounded off against the city’s practice of firing the town’s siren every day at noon. He said he wants the practice to end, and he said if the City Council won’t act, he’s ready to take legal action.
“Everybody thinks they’re great, but you don’t live next to ‘em,” Andersen said. “If I have to file a lawsuit against the city, I’ll do it. But the end result is hopefully no siren whatsoever.”
Other council members—along with Chief Papasodora—argued the sirens were necessary for public safety, and feared they wouldn’t work when needed if not tested daily.
Andersen was not dissuaded. “Not that I don’t trust government, but I’m leading with the lawsuit.”
The council then convened in a closed executive session to discuss “emerging issues that may have an adverse impact on city finances.”
Their council’s next meeting is set for Monday, November 10th.