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John Handeland Appointed Interim Mayor; Nome Police Accept Grant

The familiar face of John Handeland will be serving Nome as the interim Mayor until the City municipal elections this Fall. The Nome Common Council chose former Nome Mayor and interim City Manager Handeland to fill the vacancy left by the late Mayor Richard Beneville during their regular meeting on Monday night.

While he won’t be sworn in officially until the next City Council meeting, Handeland spoke a few words to accept the nomination and put his own twist on a quote from U.S. President Gerald Ford.

I am acutely aware that you did not elect me as your President, er, Mayor, by your ballots. So I ask you to confirm me as your mayor with your prayers and I hope that such prayers will be the first of many.”

Handeland does not plan on running for mayor in the election at this time.

During their regular meeting, the Council passed eight resolutions, including a resolution accepting a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Those grants allow departments to hire police officers who will work in community policing.  Nome Police Chief Mike Heintzelman wants that officer to do at least part-time work in the schools.

That was a little concerning for Molly Kenick, the Youth Representative for the Common Council, who is a student at Nome-Beltz High School.  

“A handful of students at the high school don’t really have a good history with the police.”

Kenick worried that having an officer on campus could lead to more students being arrested or charged with crimes. Councilmember Meghan Siġvanna Topkok agreed, referring to this as the school to prison pipeline, a term used to describe how children, especially minorities, are brought into the criminal justice system while they are still in school, and then end up in correctional facilities throughout adulthood.

While the officer would be obligated to respond to crime if they saw it, Chief Heintzelman says the role is meant for education and community relations more than enforcement.

“Their mission is to go there and keep the kids safe, for one, and also provide them with a role model…they can develop a better relationship with their opinion of law enforcement.”

Councilmember Jerald Brown wondered what would be done with that position if school doesn’t re-open this Fall due to the pandemic. The Council accepted the grant with the hopes that the conversation continues with the school board before a police officer is put in the schools.

The Council’s long agenda did not include any discussion of Nome’s emergency order and travel restrictions. Councilmember Adam Martinson moved to bring the item to discussion and told the Council that he wants to see Nome’s additional travel regulations removed. 

“I think the state guidelines, with the out of state and international travel are doing good. I think… what the hospital has for testing and what they’ve put out for information are [all] good. I think all those things warrant all of us traveling in Alaska from anywhere in Alaska to Nome not to quarantine.” 

Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman said he wasn’t sure if Norton Sound Regional Hospital would keep the testing tent at the airport available if there were no emergency order in place. Ultimately, the Council decided not to vote on rescinding the emergency travel ordinance because the vote had not been publicly noticed on the agenda. They did direct the City Clerk to include it on the next regular meeting agenda.

The next regular meeting is scheduled for July 13th, one day before the emergency travel order is set to expire.

Image at Top: John Handeland Accepts Interim Mayor. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.

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