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Bethel Paves Way For By-Mail Election, Announces Private Cab Rides For Elders

Katie Basile

On June 9, Bethel City Council took action to allow for by-mail elections, passed a budget, and made plans to use the city’s $8.4 million of CARES Act Funding.

“This does not mean our next election will be a by-mail election. This means we will have the option to,” said council member Alyssa Leary.

City Clerk Lori Strickler, who oversees the city’s elections, said that she would only recommend a by-mail election if she either didn’t have enough election officials willing to work, or if she wasn’t able to provide a polling location. She that said most of the election workers are retired and at high-risk for COVID-19. She reported she had confirmed the Lower Kuskokwim School District office as one polling location, but said that the Bethel Cultural Center might not be available. 

Hugh Dyment was the sole council member who dissented, saying that by-mail elections have the potential for fraud. He said that he knows his family members voter IDs, which would enable him to vote using their ballots. Dyment also didn’t like how a by-mail election takes away voting options.

“It forces someone to vote by mail, and doesn't let people come in to vote,” Dyment said. “And so that's problematic for me.”

Strickler said that if this election is conducted by mail, voting centers would be open 14 days ahead of election day to provide translation and clarification on ballot measures. If the council wants this October’s election to be conducted by mail, it will have to pass another ordinance 60 days ahead of the election.

City council also voted to formally accept $8.4 million in CARES Act Funding, and directed the city manager to work with the Bethel Community Services Foundation to help spend that amount. 

“We have too much money,” said City Manager Vincenzo “Vinny” Corazza.

Corazza said that with such a large amount of money, the city could use the foundation’s help in processing grant applications and prioritizing projects for funding. Corazza already has some ideas for spending the CARES Act money, and is looking for more suggestions from the public at a town hall set for June 18 at 10 a.m. in the ONC Multi-Purpose Building. 

One use the city has found for its CARES Act funding is paying taxis to give private cab rides to Elders. Corazza said that from June 15 to Oct. 31, Elders can come to City Hall to obtain private cab coupons. Elders will purchase the coupons for the price of a normal cab ride, and the cab driver can redeem the coupon as compensation for not picking up additional passengers. 

Council member Haley Hanson said that the coupon program sounded inconvenient for Elders because they will have to plan out their cab rides and make trips to city hall. 

“It benefits the cab company, and it benefits making it easier on the city,” Hanson said. “And what we're supposed to be doing is making it easier on Elders in the community.”

Hanson also said that the city should expand the private cab program to everyone in Bethel who is concerned about the health risk of sharing cabs, and urged the city manager to involve the city’s Public Safety and Transportation Committee.

In his city manager’s report, Corazza made a number of personnel announcements. With Acting Police Chief Amy Davis leaving after this week and new Police Chief Richard Simmons arriving sometime in July, Corazza named himself Acting Police Chief to complete administrative tasks at the department. A few weeks ago, he had also designated himself Acting Finance Director. Telling the council that he had too much on his plate, he installed the city’s Grants Manager, John Sargent, as Acting Finance Director and said that Sargent could switch jobs permanently. Council members questioned why Corazza didn’t advertise for the position, and expressed concern about turnover in the Grant Manager position.

To end the meeting, Corazza announced plans for the Fourth of July. He said that the carnival at Pinky’s Park would be canceled this year, but that the city is planning on having a parade. Corazza said that the route will be lengthened so that attendees can practice social distancing while watching. Participants can now begin to register their vehicles or floats with the city.