The Nome Common Council voted to extend their local emergency ordinance through June 30th of 2021. The decision passed unanimously during their regular meeting Monday night, but not without some debate on how long the emergency should last.
Should there be a decrease in statewide COVID-19 cases or an effective vaccine, the Nome Council can vote to revoke the local emergency. That ordinance also allows Nome to receive state and federal funds to deal with the pandemic.
Mayor John Handeland pointed out that a longer extension of the ordinance at least offers some sense of expectation.
“Early on when the city was doing these extensions, the comment we were hearing from folks was, ‘We’d rather have you overshoot than undershoot’. People start thinking they’re going to be able to do something and then they’re disappointed.”– John Handeland
The local emergency does not automatically impose things like quarantine requirements; it allows those orders to be implemented by the City Manager with the approval of the Council.
However, the Nome Common Council realizes that maintaining the current quarantine requirements will impact the flow of tourism during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and Iron Dog Snowmachine Race. Local hotel owner Judy Martinson continued her pleas for looser quarantines and encouraged Nome to look at Hawaii as a model.
“Hawaii realizes the economic disaster that has happened to their tourism and have taken steps to get their state back in business by allowing people in with no quarantine, with a rapid test within 72 hours of arrival.”– Judy Martinson
City Manager Glenn Steckman says that Nome plans to hold “full” Iditarod festivities, but multiple councilmembers questioned how that could be possible with even a seven-day quarantine. The Council plans to meet again for discussions on how to safely host the winter race season.
The Council is also moving forward with another round of community stimulus that would directly benefit families who are impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Adults will be able to apply for a $500 personal stimulus and $100 for each child in their household. Those set amounts were put forth by Councilmember Jerald Brown and passed by the Council Monday night.
Paul Kosto, President of the Nome Chamber of Commerce, said their board fully supports this decision.
“This is an opportunity to get some money to those people that haven’t had any chance to even apply for this money, because they don’t, they may not have a utility bill, they’re not a business owner… And it’s not a lot of money. There’s no question about that. But it is a little something, to help buy some groceries to put some gas in a four-wheeler…”– Paul Kosto
Applications for these personal stimulus benefits are not yet available and will be announced by the City of Nome shortly.
During citizen’s comments, the council received the resignation of Public Safety Advisory Commissioner Lisa Ellanna, who expressed her frustration with how little she feels the commission has been allowed to accomplish over the last year. One of the commission’s main duties, as outlined in their ordinance, is to review the Nome Police Department’s Operations and Procedures Manual [OPM], though that has still not happened. Ellanna sees the City of Nome administration as one of the barriers.
“We as a commission have been made to appear ineffectual and without purpose to our fellow citizens of our community when that is absolutely not the case. We’ve attempted several times to do the work that the ordinance outlines, but we’ve been encountering only barriers to do that work by your administration.”– Lisa Ellanna
Mayor Handeland appointed Shauntel Bruner-Alvanna to the PSAC during Monday’s regular meeting. With Ellanna’s resignation, that still leaves two of the nine commission seats vacant or expired.
In his City Manager’s report, Steckman defended the administration’s support of the Public Safety Advisory Commission and their handling of public safety issues in Nome. He said that four staff members were present at the most recent meeting, which was canceled over a lack of quorum, and cited NPD’s ongoing audit of sexual assault cases as support.
In a separate conversation with KNOM, Steckman explained that the current OPM used by Nome Police is written by the Alaska State Troopers. AST requires many of those policies to be redacted and at this time, it is unclear if the Public Safety Advisory Commission will be able to review and analyze an un-redacted version of Nome’s OPM.
Lastly, Monday night’s meeting was historic for the Nome Common Council. It was the first time councilmembers had the opportunity to participate in a regular meeting virtually. The move came after the last meeting where members of the public, including KNOM, expressed health and safety concerns over non-social distancing and a lack of mask wearing happening at City Council meetings.
Attending future meetings via Zoom is only an option for the councilmembers at this time. Councilmembers Jennifer Reader, Meghan Topkok, Adam Martinson, and Doug Johnson all took advantage of the virtual option Monday night.
Image at Top: For the first-time, some of the Nome Common Council participated in a regular meeting by Zoom. November 9th in Nome, Alaska. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).