Cordova Police Chief Nate Taylor returned to work Monday, March 8, following a week of paid administrative leave. Taylor was disciplined after he failed to adhere to city social distancing rules after travel, contributing to a local novel coronavirus outbreak.
Taylor will spend the next four months under the mentorship of a retired Alaska police chief arriving from outside Cordova, City Manager Helen Howarth said. As of Tuesday, March 9, the city is still working to finalize a contract with the retired chief, who was recommended by the Alaska Police Standards Council.
“He’s going to be working directly with Nate to help him with… how he progressively moves forward with the department, so it’s a win-win situation,” Howarth said. “We’re all moving forward.”
The retired chief who will mentor Taylor is familiar with Cordova and has studied the results of the city’s 2020 public survey on policing, Howarth said.
At a March 3 Cordova City Council meeting, Councilman Tom Bailer praised Taylor for a public apology Taylor issued Feb. 26.
“We all make mistakes,” Bailer said. “I appreciate his apology. I think he was sincere. I think we’ve all learned a lesson, and we’ll just keep moving on.”
However, Councilman Jeff Guard said he wasn’t convinced that the inconsistent practices that led to the outbreak had changed. Since the pandemic began, the city has had problems getting police to enforce city mandates requiring measures like wearing a mask, Guard said.
“It’s not a political deal here… it’s a financial deal,” Guard said. “The more money [fish processors] have got to put into COVID response, the less revenue we’re going to get… We need to concentrate on this stuff a little bit more. “
Cordova has recovered rapidly from the outbreak, its largest so far. After a student testing clinic revealed no evidence of school-based virus transmission, schools reopened their doors March 8, following 13 days of online-only instruction. Superintendent Alex Russin urged community members to keep observing the health protocols that helped prevent schools from becoming a coronavirus hotspot, despite the fact that several students contracted the virus outside of school during the outbreak.
“We appreciate everyone’s help and quick response to the outbreak, including parents who were flexible with the closure and medical personnel who provided guidance throughout,” Russin wrote in an email. “We thank the students, as well, for continuing to show resiliency in the face of a challenging situation and for their engagement online.”
Businesses, including The Net Loft crafting store, also reopened their doors once it became apparent that the outbreak had successfully been mitigated. As of Wednesday, March 10, the number of active cases had fallen to nine from 27 at the height of the outbreak.