Interview with the New Mayor of Klawock [Part 1] - P.O.W. Report

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Interview with the New Mayor of Klawock [Part 1]

POW Report sat down with the new mayor of Klawock Don "Nick" Nickerson in a far ranging discussion on many different topics. Part 2 will be published next week, in the mean time please share and congratulations to Klawock!

Don "Nick" Nickerson with his family

Tell me a bit about yourself:

I went to trade school for carpentry at the University of Southeast and they came to Prince of Wales to teach classes and I went through a carpentry course. It was actually a pretty interesting course, I learned a lot and then I went into construction. I did a lot of building around here, a lot of cement, metal buildings etc... In fact, I’ve done a lot in my life, I was a truck driver, meat cutter, whatever it took in my early years and now I work for SEARHC as the maintenance supervisor for all the facilities on the island.

What are your thoughts on SB91?

I think one of the things that the legislature forgot was the consequences of moving a lot of things to a misdemeanor and after the senate bill went into place the rural communities were hit really hard. The criminals now know how much meth and heroin to carry around, for a misdemeanor. I’ve worked with our police department, and I met with the chief and know that what they're doing is great work. However, the bill micromanaged the police department by setting all these new boundaries.

I would love to get some grants for training our law enforcement as well as getting the proper equipment. We also need to work together and address these issues in our community, which is island wide. And back to SB 91, it just really nailed the small towns. It really did. We all know a lot of great men and great people that were so involved in the community and now they're walking around with their hoodie looking down at the ground. The kids are the silent victims and that is what tears me up.

How about oil and budget crisis?

I look at the oil resources and they are supposed to go the Alaskans and we are just getting minimal out. Yes, the state is in an economic and financial crisis but we are all impacted and there should be a little bit more tax put on the oil. Education like I said earlier is the best investment in our community. These are affected by Dunleavey’s budget and he did come back and reallocate funds, you know, for some of the items in his budget, which is good.

What is your opinion on higher education like college?

I always encourage the younger generation to go out and get their education and always remember where they came from—It's important. We have scholarships set up in our tribal organization and our Native Corporation and anytime I sign any scholarship checks, I write, “do your best to finish school as it’s the best investment in the world!”

Here is the other benefit of at least lower education, the K through 12, is that it if you have programs, especially extracurricular programs, whether it be band or athletics and music it provides an opportunity for kids who have trouble at home, to have a family outside of that. So hopefully they don't get into trouble. And I think that's also one of the unintended consequences of cutting the state budget so much, is where are the kids going to go if programs and funding for schools go away?

It's funny you bring that up, I’ve coached middle school Basketball and it is so much easier to coach girls than it was to coach boys. The girls had a lot of initiative and dedication and great self-discipline but every year I coached, there were always a couple of girls that walked with their head down. I knew who they were and what their families went through and I would sit down and talk with them---I wanted them to become part of the team and be outspoken.

So we would talk and I would tell them I said, “I’m a basketball coach here but remember you are students before you’re an athlete and the sky is the limit if you focus and participate in school. If there’s anything I can do to help let me know.”

I had the fortune of helping four girls in the past and they didn’t have a plan in their life, little initiative and wouldn’t you know it they all went to college and graduated! They just needed a bit of encouragement and a feeling of safety for someone to talk to. They had challenges that they went through at home and that was the hard part to let them trust you enough to talk and I would never talk AT them, I would talk WITH them. It's amazing to see the results, when you just give young people that chance. I’ve seen it myself! I came from a disruptor family and I was a child of an alcoholic. I've seen what it does, so mentorship is critical, especially in the youth and these particular girls all graduated and went on to get some great opportunities elsewhere.

What are your priorities and things you are looking at?

I have a good relationship with Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and I can hardly wait to work with him and the state as there is a lot of work to do.

I think finances are going to be a big priority. As with any city, it’s important that we are compliant with our audits. More importantly we have to make sure that our tax base is getting the services that the community members are paying for. I’m thinking about our maintenance and maintenance staff and make sure that the water, sewer and landfill is taken care off and the big way to get there is through economic development.

Some people around town mention marijuana, which is starting to get everywhere and I want to see how the council feels about it because bringing new businesses in will help make a tax base with funds that can go to public safety, the fire department and others. If someone wants to make a weed business I say we let them, there are a lot of worse things going on right now with people on heroin and alcohol.

Ultimately, with marijuana, it will definitely be a council decision. I am in favor of it for a stronger tax base for funding, for training and equipment, and for public safety which makes Klawock a safe community.

On City Council:

I want to have a good business agenda with meetings that are not too lengthy.

Communication and transparency is important nowadays and I want people to know what's going on. I want them to see the progress that has been made and to have access to the city minutes with constructive criticism and goals for the city.

As mayor, we're going to be able to represent the constituents in this community and it's going to be my responsibility to make sure the administrative staff gets new business and old business for every meeting so the council members and residents know exactly where we are headed as a city.

Vision for Klawock: What would the ideal city of Klawock look like in the future? What kind of services would it have?

Klawock is the centralized town for this whole island. If someone needs to go the ferry, check their mail, go shopping they have to come through here. I would love to get a property assessment on the lot across for the mall and create a plan on having it developed with the help of grants and other tools that we have available.

My vision is to create a place where we can invest in our students and also develop more healthcare facilities which is an investment that will only go up in value. We need to make sure that our future is taken care off so young people have a need and an opportunity to come back to our community.

As for the present concerns?

We do a great job keeping it clean, but we need to do a lot of other things to make it attractive. I think tourism is going to be a big thing. It's not going to go booming but I really think it’s important for the future. We've done comprehensive plans at the tribe, the corporation and the city with three different people who came in and spearheaded that and every one of them was for tourism.

There is a lot of talent and artists on this island and we need a museum. We need something that can help encourage a lot of people to come to a centralized location and buy art and experience native culture. The wealth of the culture is here and I think we need to expose it a little bit.

I don’t consider being mayor as just a title, I want to be the best steward for the people, I don’t believe in failure and there is a lot of development to do and we can utilize both our resources and our talent to make this place even more attractive.

I understand that some kids don’t want to go to school but they sure can carve and draw and do everything else, so, I want everybody involved in this future, not only Natives, but I want everybody. There are people that want to create artwork---they just don't have anywhere to do it. The artists on our island amaze me with how many different resources that they use and how many are environmentally friendly as well.

It might take two or three years, it might even take into the next term but I see a big picture here that can work for Klawock and this Island. That's why I said we have to start developing.

Nick is coming up on his 55th birthday and we asked him what some of his takeaways are as he gets a little older:

One of the things I really needed, was the support of my family. That's important, as my family has always been my priority. The support of my wife and my two adult children was pretty important to me, particularly this year. If I didn't have their support, I probably wouldn't have put my name in for candidate.

For me family, that’s the secret to a happy life.

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