Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018: This story has been updated to include details of an emailed response from City Manager Tom Moran; see below.
City Manager Tom Moran has been placed on administrative leave after a Nome citizen raised claims of harassing behavior during Monday night’s City Council meeting. Tom Moran and Mayor Richard Beneville were both absent due to travel. Moran resigned from his office in September but said he would work as City Manager until October 18, per the conditions of his contract.
An emotional testimony was brought forth during citizens’ comments by Ahne Schield, the music director at Nome-Beltz High School. Schield claimed that Moran had harassed her personally and through text message last year (2017).
She claimed that last July, Moran approached her while she was out with friends and began to make vague remarks about her significant other’s professional work that were distressing for Schield. While waiting for a cab, she received text messages from an unknown number; when Schield asked for the sender’s name, she was given the name of a known acquaintance, Mitch Erickson. (At the time, Erickson also worked with Schield’s significant other.) Via text message with the person she believed was Erickson, Schield then described her earlier conversation with Moran. At this point, she says, the messages that she believed to be from Erickson became lewd:
“At that point, he began to make suggestive comments using words like ‘urges’ and the like. He invited me to City Hall to discuss our situation. I thought it odd, as he had never made such comments, and as I knew was nothing of his nature.”
Schield ended the messages by saying she was home safe, to which she claims to have received a message saying “I know, and I saw that.” According to Schield, when Erickson was confronted, he denied the exchange. A few weeks later, Schield says she called the number and received the voicemail of Tom Moran.
“That same day, we went to the Troopers, as we also have a distrust of NPD. After talking to the Troopers, they indicated the CM did nothing illegal, immoral maybe… We felt helpless, what do we do? File a citizen’s complaint? No way, that goes straight to the CM.”
Schield says she brought the story and text messages to a councilman and was told “we will tell him to tone it down.” She claims she was never questioned by the city council or asked to give statements. When she reached out to Mayor Beneville for a private conversation, she claims that she was told “I am unsure of your expectations,” and for this reason, she says she did not pursue the issue further. According to Schield, this sequence of events took place last year, before Moran’s contract was renewed:
“Tom created fear and doubt in my mind as to what I could pursue or become in my own community that raised me up, one that gave me scholarships that sent me to college, that cheered me on in everything I did, the community I came back to to get a sense of home. The community that I feel lucky to now serve in a new capacity.”
Neither Moran or Beneville were present to comment in Monday’s meeting, but Moran did leave a written letter in the agenda as his final City Manager’s report. In his letter, he claimed that the Manager’s lawful decision-making authorities had been weakened and that, as such, effectiveness is difficult. Moran left a list of all of the executive sessions the Council has held where citizens are not allowed to hear the discussion or comment, since executive sessions are off-the-record. He described himself as being paid to be a scapegoat for the City’s problems in his role of City Manager. Moran said in his letter “all citizens must be protected by their elected officials, including employees.”
The Council voted unanimously to place Tom Moran on leave. As of now, the conditions of pay for his leave have not been decided and were not part of the vote. Moran turned in his resignation last month but had stated he would work until the 30 days cited in his resignation were over. On Monday night’s agenda was a resolution to make John Handeland the interim Nome City Manager; the council voted to amend that resolution to make Handeland the acting City Manager retroactively from the date October 4, when Moran left town for other commitments. John Handeland will remain the acting City Manager until that position is permanently filled.
Update — 9:52am Wednesday, Oct. 10: KNOM reached out to Moran through e-mail, in which he confirmed he sent Schield text messages but denied that they were harassing. Moran did admit to pretending to be someone else due to having a previous conversation with Schield about said person (Mitch Erickson); he says that he thought Schield had Erickson’s number and would know that Moran only meant to be joking. Moran says he believes those messages were discussed in an executive session from which he was excluded. In the e-mail, he also said he understands the Council having to make a difficult decision with only one side present and that while he is disappointed in the decision, he does not begrudge the Council.
Image at top: file photo: then-City Clerk Tom Moran presiding over Nome’s October 2014 election. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM.
Editor’s Note (updated Nov. 2, 2018): Tom Moran served on the KNOM Radio Mission Board of Directors through October 31, 2018. Moran has now resigned from the KNOM Board. Moran’s resignation was not directly prompted by the events described in this article or the reaction to it.