Council ok’s MOU with liquor stores to curb alcohol use
By Diana Haecker
The Nome Common Council last week passed a resolution that allows the City to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Nome’s liquor package stores with the stated goal to curb excessive consumption of hard liquor in Nome and thus to cut down alcohol-triggered crimes, assaults and sexual abuse.
Earlier this year, in March, an ordinance with the same goal failed to pass. Some elements made it into the memorandum, which is a voluntary commitment by the package stores, operated by AC and Hansons, to cooperate in restricting hard liquor sales. The memorandum spells out the following: Package stores won’t sell alcohol on Sundays, except for special events, defined by the City. The stores commit to only sell one bottle of hard liquor (beer and wine exempt) per day to individuals with valid IDs. All sales to a business are exempt. The memorandum commits stores to only sell large sized bottles of 750 ml or 1.75 liters , not smaller bottles which are easier to conceal and to set the minimum retail pricefor the larger bottles at $20. The intent is to raise the price to make it harder to obtain hard liquor.
Furthermore, the stores share a no-sell list of individuals who are per court orders not allowed to buy or consume alcohol, are on conditions of release or probation that prohibit the use of alcohol or are known runners. The stores agree to share the list so that individuals on the list and refused service at one store can’t get alcohol from the other store.
Then MOU also calls for a three-monthly meeting of the parties to compare notes and see if the measures are working or not.
During a work session preceding the council meeting and the subsequent action – which happened on Wednesday instead of the customary Monday meeting time due to lack of quorum – council members discussed the merits of each point. Only representatives from Safeway, both from Nome and managers from Anchorage, were present. AC was not represented. However, the MOU was developed between AC and Carrs-Safeway (operating Hanson’s) with the City’s participation. After years of discussion how to curb the problem of alcoholism in Nome and the social problems alcohol abuse entails, AMCO recommended that the City and the package stores work together on an MOU to curb illegal underage drinking, to curb selling alcohol to intoxicated people and to curb selling to people who by court order are not allowed to possess or consume alcohol.
Councilmember Scot Henderson asked about the thought process behind mandating the sale of big bottles and not bottles of “fifth’s” as it seems counter intuitive to the stated goal of reducing consumption of hard liquor. Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman explained that bigger bottles are harder to conceal. What is the thought behind the $20 minimum price, Henderson wanted to know. “This is actually price fixing. Is it having the intended effect of curbing alcohol sales?” Henderson asked. Nome Mayor John Handeland responded it was a suggestion from AC to prevent the stores from under-competing each other and that the higher price may make it less affordable.
Councilmember Mark Johnson noted that the restriction to sell only big bottles is not going to solve the problem as the most popular bottle is the $20 cheap vodka bottle, anyway.
Steckman explained that AMCO, the state board regulating alcohol sales in Alaska, wanted the City and the stores to work together proposing a solution that would reduce the alcohol problems in Nome. The goal, Steckman said, is the reduction of the strain on city first responder services and a reduction of sexual assaults driven by overuse of alcohol. This year alone, he said, 65 sexual assaults were reported to Nome Police Department and 100 percent were alcohol-related.
Henderson asked how the list of names barred from alcohol is handled and raised privacy issues. Steckman said the city will not be involved the list. “It’s kind of a gentleman’s agreement,” said Steckman. The names would be gleaned from publicly available information from the court system.
Mark Johnson asked if Norton Sound Health Corporation is involved in the conversation. He said it’s frustrating to see that city government is trying to come up with a solution and that other parts of the community are not participating. Mayor Handeland responded that there was a group formed around those conversations but that it got so large and that they lost focus. Steckman said there is a team that works on impacts of alcohol and substance abuse and that those meetings, he repeatedly brings up the strain on city services, asking what they’re doing to help.
Although council members pointed out that the MOU is not a silver bullet, but for the lack of any other alternative, they ultimately voted unanimously for the resolution in the regular session.
In councilmember comments, Johnson said he voted for the resolution, but has mixed feelings about it, mostly about the fact that the city gets involved in business. He also favored a review of the MOU on a three-month basis.
Councilmember Sigvanna Tapqaq noted that the MOU is a band aid as it doesn’t address the root cause, which she identified as historic trauma with alcohol and substance abuse being a coping mechanism. “We need a culturally appropriate treatment center,” she said.
Cameron Piscoya, attending virtually, said he also felt hesitant about the MOU. “But we need to do something,” he said.
In other business, the Coum ncil passed in second reading an ordinance that would dispose of city property so that the Dept. of Transportation can incorporate easements in the Port Road right-of-way reconstruction project. Councilmember Piscoya wanted to know why there is no reversion on the deeds. Mayor Handeland said that the city doesn’t want that land back and an amendment would hold up the ordinance.
The measure passed unanimously.
The Council also passed a resolution to designate Chip Leeper as acting city manager from Dec. 17 to January 2, 2023 during which time Glenn Steckman is on leave.
Approached by the Alaska Business Development Center’s volunteer tax and loan program, the Council vote to contribute $2,000 as a donation to their cause. The entity provides tax services to low to moderate income households, to people speaking English as a second language and the elderly.
Prior to then vote of adopting the council’s agenda for the meeting, Mayor Handeland announced that after hearing constituents’ comments since the last meeting, he will neither add the Pledge of Allegiance nor a land-acknowledgement to the council agenda, as was requested at the last meeting. In councilmember’s comments, Scot Henderson, who requested to add the pledge to the agenda, felt it was an important issue to be discussed at some other time, but announced that henceforth, he’d be asking for the pledge as an addition to the agenda at each meeting. Youth member Kelli Miller and councilmember Sig Tapqaq requested the addition of the land acknowledgement. Tapqaq said she understood where Henderson is coming from but said she’s opposing it.
The Council went into executive session to discuss a personnel issue with potential adverse effects on the city’s finances.
The next Council meeting is scheduled for Dec. 12, preceded by a meeting by the Public Safety Advisory Commission.