The Fairbanks City Council may sunset the Public Safety Commission. An ordinance will be introduced Monday and the council will vote on whether to keep the commission. Should the ordinance pass, the PSC will be eliminated Jan. 18.
According to city code, the Public Safety Commission’s purpose is to advise the council and the mayor on issues regarding public safety. In the past, this has included looking into wheelchair accessibility on city sidewalks and providing recommendations on whether the city should combine the police and fire departments.
The ordinance is co-sponsored by Mayor Jim Matherly and Councilman Jerry Cleworth and says that the commission should be eliminated because it no longer is fulfilling its purpose. The ordinance comes after several months of discussions on the usefulness of the city’s many boards and commissions.
A written statement from City Communications Director Teal Soden, made on behalf of Matherly and the city, read, “The City resources that go into the meeting, including having all the public safety department heads attend and prepare reports, doesn’t seem to be warranted given the low productivity of the meetings.”
Cleworth said he felt it would be best to eliminate the commission as it had been too long since it was given task from the council and because the public did not often bring issues to the commission. Further, he said, these issues could be addressed by the Fact Finding Commission, a rarely-used commission that is most often tasked with investigating and addressing issues as an alternative to litigation.
However, according to Soden, the Fact Finding Commission was also up for review. It has not met for several years and may be changed.
Alternatively, Cleworth and Soden said, the public could bring their issues to the City Council.
Soden wrote, “As far as public concerns go, the administration, our public safety departments, and our City Council is very accessible and responsive to concerns from residents, and we believe it works more efficiently for residents to come directly to us with concerns versus having a committee that brings concerns to us from residents on a quarterly basis. We can then address those concerns on an individual basis in a number of ways.”
The PSC meets quarterly. There are seven voting members listed in code, though the PSC is down one member at present. The membership must include one person with experience in law, one with experience in fire and five members of the public. Additionally, one city councilmember is appointed to attend the meetings, but does not vote.
The PSC council seat is held by Councilwoman Shoshana Kun. It is the only committee or board that Kun sits on in her role as councilwoman.
Kun said she believes that the PSC could still play a valuable role in the city, particularly when it comes to nuisance properties. Several residents have come to the council in recent months to voice their worry that certain properties in town were in ill-repair and the source of crime in their neighborhoods. She felt that abatement or other solutions for these properties could be handled by the PSC.
She also felt that bringing members of the community together with city officials is an important part of fostering responsibility for public safety, saying the activity was “great bridge-building.”
Kun said she does not believe the commission should be eliminated, but said she would respect the decisions of the mayor and the council. “I’ve been fighting it for a year. If (council members) feel everyone can address their grievances at the council meetings, I will respect that,” she said.
Cleworth agrees that nuisance properties are still a problem, but felt it was one that would be better addressed by forming an ad hoc committee, rather than using one created in code.
“At this point, when you have all the staff saying,’ we don’t need it’, that’s pretty telling,” he said.
Also on the agenda
Several new items will be introduced Monday, including an application for on-site consumption, a state grant, the distribution of hotel/motel funds and the appointment of the city’s chief financial officer.
GoodSinse LLC is applying for an onsite consumption endorsement. The council approved a similar application from The Fairbanks Cut last year. As of yet, there is no onsite consumption in Fairbanks.
The city may apply for a state grant through the Alaska Division of Homeland Security. Ordinance 4899 would allow the city to apply for funding in the amount of $460,000 that would be used to purchase a Mobile Command Center, security gates and positive pressure fans as well as funding for police training.
The council will vote on whether to approve the discretionary funding for the hotel/motel tax be distributed in the amount of $270,000 to 24 different local organizations from youth sports to the arts. The amounts and organizations applied for funds and were recommended by the Hotel/Motel Discretionary Fund Committee.
Margarita Bell, longtime interim CEO, is slated to take on the job in an official capacity. Bell has served in the city’s accounting department since 2008 and worked as the controller since 2016. Bell has been an accountant for 23 years and served as CFO of the United Way of the Tanana Valley from 1995 to 2008.
Contact staff writer Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572 or find her on Twitter @FDNMcity.