City of Nome again delays reading on public safety commission

The entrance to the Nome City Council chambers. (Photo by Emily Hofstaedter / KNOM)

The City of Nome is no closer to having a public safety commission after the City Council decided again to delay the second reading of the ordinance during Monday night’s meeting.

At the last regular meeting, the council received suggested amendments from the American Civil Liberties Union. Those proposals were discussed during a work session last week, but not all of those were adopted for the Council meeting Monday.

Lisa Ellanna is an advocate for survivors of sexual assault who has been diligently attending city council meetings to give her thoughts on the public safety commission.

“I absolutely emphatically agree with all these suggested amendments that the ACLU has proposed to your proposed ordinance,” she said.

Interim City Manager John Handeland said that he and the city’s attorney, Brooks Chandler, decided not to keep all of the ACLU’s suggestions. Instead, he said that he and Chandler are working on a “substitute” version that includes many of those suggestions. During a work session last week, the Council did express support for many of the ACLU’s proposed amendments.

Ellanna shared her concern that the ordinance up for discussion did not include “racial equity” training for commissioners, a recommendation suggested by the ACLU. She and other activists came forward in opposition to the City’s changes during citizens’ comments and to express support for the ACLU document instead.

Triada Stampas is the policy director for the ACLU in Alaska and asked the City Council to consider a question: “What would have happened if a public safety commission had been formed sooner in Nome?”

“Once a sexual assault survivor came forward to report the police department’s apparent failure to investigate, she would have had a non-police option for reporting… and might more readily have come forward: that’s amendment number 3. She would have found the commission was independent of the police department: that’s amendment 1. (She would have found it) inclusive of the gender and racial make-up of Nome, meaning that she could expect that there would be women and/or Alaska Native people she could report to, if that mattered and made her more comfortable,” Stampas said.

Furthermore, under proposed ACLU amendments, the commission would be made of people who are trained to deal with trauma survivors.

Following a recommendation from the city manager, the Council decided to delay the vote on the ordinance until the meeting on May 13 to allow for reconsideration of the ACLU suggested proposals. Council member Jerald Brown specifically mentioned that, although he believes the ordinance must be done “right,” he was disappointed that the ordinance was not yet ready for a final vote.

The only other business on the Council’s agenda was also delayed. An ordinance to amend the city’s tax code to exempt ATVs and snowmachines from real taxes was scheduled for a second reading last night. Nome estimates that only $8,000 would be collected from yearly taxes on those items, but Council member Jennifer Reader didn’t think that should be discounted.

“It seems like a drop in the bucket, but it might not be,” she said. “The federal government isn’t exactly doling out cash right now, and neither is the state, and so, while it may seem like peanuts right now, those peanuts are going to add up to something.”

She motioned to delay the reading until July, when the Council has discussed taxes for the next fiscal year. The motion passed with all voting “yes” except for Councilmember Meghan Topkok.

Chief of Police Robert Estes also sent out a public memo updating the City on the status of NPD’s audit of sexual assault cases. NPD has completed an audit of all sexual assault cases going back to the year 2015. The department plans to continue the audit going back to the year 2005.

The next regular Nome City Council meeting is scheduled for May 13.