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Nome Citizens Say Background Checks for Public Safety Commission Are Too ‘Invasive’

Double doors with a small placard reading "Council Chambers."

After Monday night’s City Council meeting, there are still no sitting commissioners on the new Nome Public Safety Commission. The process for creating the group has taken over a year so far, and now members of the public are concerned that the background check being run on potential candidates is too invasive.

Darlene Trigg and Lisa Ellanna, both of Nome, told the Council they were being asked for more than just a search for recent felonies and misdemeanors, which was stipulated by the city’s ordinance.

The ordinance requires that commissioners not have a felony conviction within the last ten years or be on probation or parole for a felony. Commissioners may not be convicted within the last five years of misdemeanor involving sexual assault, domestic violence, or moral turpitude.

Trigg shared,

“The original application process required that people sign away their right of their mental health records, to their medical records, to divorce records, to a credit check.”

Ellana interjected a bit of humor,

“My divorce records? What is this, the 1950s?!”

Interim City Manager John Handeland said during an earlier meeting in August that the City decided to contract independently for background checks so as to maintain independence from the Nome Police Department.

The City is using a private agency called Russell Consulting, LLC, an agency that Handeland says Nome has contracted with before.

“I don’t think that anybody was trying to stall in this process or be intrusive into anybody’s lives on it. There are reasons why somebody’s social security number needs to be collected in order to access criminal databases and the like. There’s no malice or anything in the process that we selected.”

Handeland explained that the $20 background check from the Alaska State Troopers only included an Alaska criminal history and, thus, would be insufficient. Nearly all of the Councilmembers present at Monday’s meeting expressed concern that the background checks may be invasive and encouraged revisiting the process.

Adeline “Akłaasiq” Ahmasuk of Nome came to the Council with concerns relating to a local assault case. She alleges the case in question is four months old and sees a public commission as an aid to the victim as well as the Chief of Police.

“I believe that this public safety commission will be a good asset for the supervisor to make sure that these cases are being followed up on, and that people are actually being held accountable, so that justice is served.”

City Manager Handeland said he was unaware of the aforementioned case but that he would be in touch with Ahmasuk privately. He expressed that those with concerns about a case speak to him directly.

Councilmember Jerald Brown acknowledged that the City has no power over the Alaska court system but that a commission could be useful in identifying where the current justice system is failing victims.

“I think the general thing that was being conveyed was that justice in general is not being achieved. I think that once the public safety commission is set up for sure that we will have an avenue to address some of those things even if our only recourse is to send a letter to the court system or to the state attorney general, or whoever.”

But for now, Nome has to wait until at least the next City Council meeting.

City Clerk Bryant Hammond says that after the call for applications went out again following the August 12th meeting, the number of applicants for the nine-person Public Safety Commission grew from nine candidates to twenty.

The mayor has the responsibility to appoint commissioners to vacant seats during any City Council meeting; they must then be confirmed by the Council.

Image at top: The entrance to the Nome City Council chambers. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM file.

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