FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Fairbanks City Council introduced an ordinance on Monday evening to sunset the public safety commission, which is enshrined within the Fairbanks Code of Ordinances “to advise the city mayor and council on matters relating to public safety in the Fairbanks community.”
According to Mayor Jim Matherly, Fairbanks residents who have particular grievances or issues with the city government should contact the relevant department directly --such as police, fire, public works, or administration. (Ramzi Abou Ghalioum/KTVF)
The commission met quarterly, and its members included representatives from the police and fire departments, emergency medical services, and emergency dispatch services. It was designed as a nexus for citizen comments and complaints which would be brought before the city council on citizens’ behalf.
The decision to sunset, or repeal the section of the code which governs the commission, upset some members of the community, who aired their grievances with the council during the citizen comments, some claiming that the mayor was not concerned with public safety.
City of Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly, however, says that the commission has not been fulfilling the purpose for which it was originally created in the early 2000’s.
“It’s not as effective as it once was,” says Matherly, referring to the current status of the commission. “It actually costs money for the city to put it on.”
According to the mayor, the city council has been assessing the various boards and commissions formed by the city government. When they looked at the public safety commission, its efficacy came into question.
“What’s changed is people reach out to us on a one-on-one level a whole lot more,” says Matherly. He points to social media, smartphones, and widely available access to internet as reasons why the public safety commission is no longer as relevant as it was nearly two decades ago.
This reveals that the heart of the issue seems to be the public safety commission’s redundancy. It apparently does not serve a function that is not accessible by directly communicating with various city departments.
The mayor advocates that those experiencing issues of a specific nature directly contact the city departments responsible for those issues. “If you have a problem with, say, garbage pickup or snow ploughing, you need to call the public works department,” advises the mayor. “If it’s a problem with administration, you can call me directly.”
For citizens with grievances related to the fire or police departments, the mayor says that Fairbanks Fire Department Chief Jim Styers and Police Chief Nancy Reeder are also accessible to the public.
When asked what he had to say to citizens who might feel like they are not being represented, Matherly extends an invitation. “If you don’t feel like you’re being heard, come to City Hall,” he says. “Come to us at City Council which meets every two weeks, come to my office, I’m here every day…and we can jump on the problem a lot quicker.”
The mayor cautions, however, that for larger issues, more time might be needed. He refers to a nuisance properties issue for which the city has formed an ad hoc committee, with members consisting of nuisance property experts and other parties who can contribute a solution to the problem, as well as people who live near those nuisance properties.
Matherly’s sentiments regarding citizen representation are perhaps best articulated by his thoughts on the transparency of his administration. “We’re very accessible here at the city, and that was part of my administration from day one. We want to be visible to the public, and reachable anytime.”
The City of Fairbanks can be contacted via its website.
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