City ends Moran’s tenure, mulls body cams for police
The Nome Common Council prematurely ended Thomas Moran’s tenure as city manager in Nome following an executive session at the end of Monday’s regular Common Council meeting.
The Council came out of the session and unanimously voted to place Moran on administrative leave for the remaining 10 days of his 30-day notice of leaving that he issued at a special meeting Sept. 17. While the Oct. 8 meeting marked Moran’s departure, that session began with the swearing in of two successful candidates in the October municipal election.
Jennifer Reader won the seat previously occupied by Lew Tobin; Meghan Topkok took the seat given up by Stan Andersen who has served on the Council for 36 years.
On Oct. 4, the Council reversed a ruling by City Clerk Bryant Hammond that Topkok was ineligible for candidacy due to a residency issue. As a result, Topkok maintained her victory over candidates Sarah Swartz and Lucas Sawyer to win the seat vacated by Andersen.
Moran did not attend the meeting as he was out of town. He was to return to serve the last three days of service, Oct. 15 through Oct. 17. However, after the Council vote following executive session, Moran was finished. Meanwhile, the Council approved the contract for John K. Handeland, NJUS utility manager, as interim city manager. Handeland’s $130,000 salary will go up to $150,000 for wearing both hats for the time he was there, with City of Nome and Nome Joint Utility System splitting Handeland’s pay on a 50/50 basis. The Council appointed Handeland interim manager at a meeting Sept. 24 effective when Moran left the position.
Handeland also held out for a travel benefit—that if he had to fly over three hours in an airplane he would go first class. “I really banged the table on a few items,” he laughed.
The Council had already charged Handeland with the duty to manage the search for a new city manager. He has rewritten the job ad for the position and boosted the starting pay to $110,000 plus, depending on experience, and increased the number of ads which include Nome Nugget, Seattle Times and Anchorage Daily News. Additionally, Handeland posted a community and town profile. So far, six candidates have applied for the job, according to Handeland, one of whom is an Alaskan, he reported to the Council.
The deadline for applications is Oct. 31.
Handeland gave the idea of body cameras for Nome patrol officers an assist with a request that the Council and Finance Dept. find the money to purchase them. He had had conversations with NPD Chief Bob Estes, Moran and several Councilmen concerning the wisest use of resources, which was body cams for $10,000 to $15,000 to equip all patrol officers rather than try to obtain dash cameras for vehicles, which would cost about $120,000, he thought.
Councilman Jerald Brown agreed. “With so much activity outside of the cars, body cams are a good investment,” he said.
Are the body cams being considered easily tampered with?
Handeland responded that the cameras under consideration were not real time, that the area probably did not have the Wi-Fi resource required. Estes reported that he had been researching several types and would provide the information to the Council.
“I am open to them if you are open to pay for them,” Estes said.
Councilman Jerald Brown urged that the City move as soon as possible on getting the cameras. “I don’t even want an additional month of waiting,” Brown said. He wanted real time camera transmissions, not cameras with memory storage. “That way, if a camera goes dark, someone can go investigate,” he added.
“I’m going to give you information on the Cadillac camera on down,” Estes said.
In a continuing effort to stem public inebriation and alcohol abuse on Front Street, to reduce underage drinking and to limit access to alcohol to those made ineligible by previous misconduct involving consumption of alcohol, the Council introduced amendments to City law that would require an I.D. to purchase alcohol in Nome. The Council unanimously voted the measure into second reading, discussion and final passage at the next regular Council meeting.
According to the amendments, if adopted, a valid identification card would mean an unexpired, unaltered passport or unexpired, unaltered driver’s license or I.D. card issued by a federal or state agency authorized to issue driver’s licenses or I.D. cards that meet requirements under state law.
Additionally, a holder of the license of any licensed premise that serves or sells alcohol in violation of the law would be guilty of a minor offense and upon conviction fined $500.
In other business, the Council:
• Heard Cussy Kauer who come before them to ask that the Reader family be allowed to further explore anomalies which have been noted and flagged in the Reader family plot in the Belmont Point Cemetery. The anomalies showed up during a Ground Penetrating Radar project conducted in September. The family wishes to explore the anomalies with Q Trucking equipment to determine if the anomalies are graves and the exact placement, depth and orientation to facilitate using the plot for Reader family interments. Kauer pledged that if any of the anomalies showing on the radar process turned out to be graves, the family would respectfully place frames around them. The Council agreed to allow the exploration to facilitate future digging and plot selection. The Council also agreed to restore the name of the cemetery to Belmont Point Cemetery, the historic name used for decades before the recent change to Nome Municipal Cemetery. She wanted the historic name to be on her death certificate when the time came, to match those of her father, Chuck Reader, her grandmother, and other forbearers.
• Heard Rhonda Schneider, executive director of Nome Community Center, ask for additional lighting by the Young Center at West 2nd Ave and C Street, which houses the Boys and Girls Club and Nome Children’s Home, where there is a lot of child traffic, walking, riding bikes and playing. A large group of children wait for the school bus in front of the Boys and Girls Club, Schneider said, where the children stand in darkness because the light is on the other side of the street. Additionally, Schneider urged the City to place a light by the Thrift Shop at the back of the Methodist Church to discourage vandalism that has occurred to windows and donation boxes. The Council asked Handeland to follow up on the addition of more lights.
• Urged City administration and residences to attend the Nome Planning Commission Open House set for Oct. 23 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Old St. Joe’s to help provide ideas on the Nome Comprehensive Plan, pathways, trails and parks, flood management and insurance, historic preservation and building permits and housing.
• Heard Ahne Schield during public comment describe how she had gone out to eat with friends one evening and then go to enjoy karaoke. During the evening she encountered Tom Moran. She became upset and left. She then was contacted by phone by someone saying he was sorry she got so upset. He identified himself as Mitch Erickson. Erickson worked at the Nome Visitors’ Center. The caller asked her to come to City Hall, according to Schield. She said she was OK and was at home. The caller said he could see that. Schield felt dismayed and uneasy, wondering why Mitch Erickson would be acting in such a way. Some time later, she sought a job at the Visitors’ Center and gave Erickson a call on the number in her phone she thought was his. She got Tom Moran’s voice mail.
Schield contacted Alaska State Troopers who said Moran hadn’t broken a law but what he had done had been immoral.
“You call your boss and you get the city manager. Tom created fear and dread,” Schield said. Still she did not want to rock the boat. “I did not want to lose all that I had worked for,” Schield added.
“This was not just a threat to me. He has done other damage here,” Schield told the Council. “I don’t want to see what is next for Tom if he remains untouchable.”
She did not want Moran to leave Nome without blemish, she said.
During Council comments, Councilman Mark Johnson declared he wasn’t a good speaker, so would read his comment. He started out thanking Stan Andersen and Lew Tobin for their service on the Council. Then he said he was glad to see two women—Jennifer Reader and Meghan Topkok—serving on the Council. Next, he addressed the issues Nome is having with Nome Police Dept. and public safety issues.
He read a prepared statement.
“We can no longer look the other way or shove reports under the rug. Such as we heard tonight was a year old. We need these ladies to be a part of local government. These two women tonight will start the new Council. They will not stand for this. As for the city manager, we on the Council have to be better than this, we have to do better than this. Nome has been a great city since 1901. We have great and experienced public employees working for the City that serve our town every day.
“We have standards set for the key positions in the city [set by people in the past.] We cannot lower the standards because we are a rural town or because we don’t want to go through the process and settle for less, as we did one year ago. We are now paying for this complacency,” Mark Johnson said. “Nome has a lot to offer and we must share that with professional skilled city manager candidates. On researching city manager positions in other Alaska towns, especially in towns the size of ours, I encourage the Council to hold interviews with city manger applicants in public works sessions.
“At a time in history when trust is very low in city management, I’d like the City to be transparent in this process to hire the key position by interviewing candidates in a public forum and also on the local public radio station for those not in attendance to be able to listen on their website.
“We as a City Council must demand professionalism and transparency from our city manager. We as a City Council must also demand that the city police do their job that they were hired to do in fully investigating cases, especially sexual assault cases. We as a City Council must also demand that our city manager and our police force uphold the law had be held to the highest professionalism and highest moral standards our town deserves as much from their elect officials and the people we hire,” Mark Johnson concluded. “Thanks.”
Mayor Richard Beneville, out of town on business, joined the meeting by telephone. “I want to thank the Council for going ahead with the body camera presentation. I want to thank John (Handeland) for being there to take over. I want to thank the citizens of Nome for having a lot of patience for going through this very sticky time,” he commented.
The next regular Council meeting, scheduled or Oct. 22 has been cancelled in favor of receiving the City’s financial audit.
The Council held a work session prior to the regular meeting on setting up a citizens’ public safety committee that would help rebuild trust in the Nome Police Dept. Most in attendance wanted the committee to be a standing committee like the port commission, planning commission and library and historical commission. The Council pledged to look for information and examples on qualifications of members and the structure of such a committee.