A seat remains vacant on the Bethel City Council after half the council refused to appoint a female Yup'ik elder. Mary Nanuwak meets all of the legal requirements and was the only person who applied to fill the position after Naim Shabani’s resignation. However, on Tuesday, only three of the six all-male council members voted for her appointment: Leif Albertson, Mitchell Forbes, and Mark Springer.
The council went through two rounds of votes. Forbes left his ballot blank on the first round. The following council members left their ballots blank on both rounds: Mayor Richard Robb, Vice Mayor Fred Watson, and Raymond "Thor" Williams. Council member Springer called the results “disappointing” and “shameful.”
“I don’t think we’re doing the public’s work that way," Springer said. "Ms. Nanuwak has made her feelings known on a number of issues, whether you like to hear them put that way or not. She’s qualified as a council member.”
Council member Albertson accused the body of not following its process and of “moving the goal posts” by extending the application period after already receiving a qualified applicant by deadline. Mayor Robb disagreed. He said that council did follow its process, and it ended without an appointment.
“We do have the opportunity to seek more people, and if we can’t agree on one person then that person, even though they meet the qualifications that we may not think they would be the best person for the job at this time, not based on any one issue but based on a variety of factors,” Robb said.
Council member Williams made the motion to extend the application period to June 4 to find someone who “meets the needs of the council.”
“There’s a need to meet the council’s standards," Williams said, "and one council member to another council member, there’s different standards. I’m thinking that I’d rather have more choices than less choices.”
Williams’ statement contradicts what he said at last week’s meeting, when the council was initially scheduled to vote on the appointment. At that time, Williams said that “adding more time to it is not going to give us more people who want to be involved.” And he said that disregarding a qualified applicant and saying they are “not worthy of a seat” is “not doing the service to the community.”
Vice Mayor Watson also appeared to have changed his mind since last week. Nanuwak was ill and unable to attend that first meeting, and Watson said the reason he did not want to vote on her appointment at that time was because he “would not feel comfortable not being able to question her.”
However, at Tuesday’s meeting Watson did not question Nanuwak, nor did he speak during the discussion. Only council members Springer and Albertson asked Nanuwak questions, and they were the only ones to oppose extending the application deadline.
Before the council took up the vote, Mary Nanuwak addressed its members. In the middle of her speech, she turned to Mayor Robb.
“You look so bored, Mr. Mayor. Am I boring you?" Nanuwak asked. "At any rate, I want everybody who elects to have this seat replaced, please pick someone who cares, who’s cognitive of all cultures, who promotes that every person, no matter what culture they come from, that they be treated with dignity.”
The new application deadline for the vacant council seat is June 4 at 4 p.m. The council will appoint the new member at their meeting on June 5 at 6:30 p.m. Nanuwak's application will be considered again at that time. Whoever is appointed will serve four months until the municipal elections in October 2018.