Nome’s newest City Council members joined a contentious meeting on Monday night, working through a full agenda and hearing many citizens’ comments, including concerns about a “viral” video of a Nome police officer smoking marijuana.
The meeting began with the swearing in of Jennifer Reader and Meghan Topkok, who replaced Lew Tobin and Stan Anderson, respectively, on the previously all-male council.
On the agenda was a first reading for an ordinance mandating a valid ID be shown for every alcohol purchase at any licensed establishment. The goal is to reduce sales not only to minors but also those who are ineligible to purchase alcohol due to probation or other legal restrictions. Any license holder convicted of violating this ordinance would face a $500 fine. The council unanimously voted to move to a second reading in the next meeting.
New business also included a resolution to appoint John Handeland as the acting City Manager beginning on October 17, but the resolution was amended to retroactively begin on October 5. As Handeland will continue to manage Nome Joint Utility Services while taking on the City Manager role, he proposed to have his salary increased from $120,000 to $150,000. The council approved the amended resolution unanimously.
Public safety continued to be a concern during citizens’ comments. Over the weekend, a video showing Officer Lance McElroy smoking marijuana circulated Facebook. Officer McElroy is currently at a grant-funded K-9 training program in Virginia, although complaints have been filed about this officer at recent meetings. Nome resident Jenny Mills spoke:
“Given what we have already heard about this officer at multiple meetings being under investigation, I find it very hard to believe that we have sent him out for training to have access to a dog that can be used to intimidate people. I have to question the judgement of an officer who allows himself to be filmed smoking marijuana by a citizen of Nome.”
Though cannabis consumption is legal for adults over 21 years of age in Alaska, it is not permitted for officers. The council and NPD are unable to give specifics about investigations. Chief of Police Robert Estes was present at the meeting and said he is aware of the video. John Handeland offered ideas on how the city can immediately address public safety.
“I think it is a wise use of our resources… I would like to purchase body cams for our officers… I would like to equip everybody with a body camera.”
Chief Estes expressed that he is open to the idea of body cameras. He also mentioned that he wanted to amend citizen concern report forms to be simpler and “put more of the burden” on NPD. These are responses to citizen concerns about safety and difficulty working with NPD.
The City Manager search is underway. Ken Morton shared that the city has received six applications. After an executive session, the Council decided to place current City Manager Tom Moran on administrative leave following allegations of harassment brought forth in Monday night’s meeting. Before the meeting adjourned, Councilman Mark Johnson gave a speech to the public in his councilman’s comments.
“Nome has been a great city since 1901… we cannot lower our standards just because we are a rural town… I would encourage the council to hold the interviews for the new CM in public work session… At a time when public trust is very low in city management, we as a city council must demand transparency and professionalism from our city manager and from our police department to handle investigations thoroughly, especially sexual assault cases.”
Mayor Beneville and City Manager Moran were both absent due to travel. Councilman Jerald Brown acted in the mayor’s behalf. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for October 22.
Image at top: The entrance to the Nome City Council chambers. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.