Judge weighs lawsuit challenging new name of Alaska town

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2017 9:32 PM
Judge weighs lawsuit challenging new name of Alaska town

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Those suing over the new Inupiat Eskimo name of the nation's northernmost town said Thursday that the Alaska city broke its own laws by failing to publish a public notice before the renaming question was put on the ballot.

The town formerly known as Barrow countered that publishing notices in a newspaper for elections is optional for anything but tax-related ordinances.

Attorneys for the two sides gave their arguments in a court hearing in the town whose voters approved the new name, Utqiagvik, by six votes last October.

The lawsuit was filed by a local Alaska Native corporation, Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp., just before the new name became effective in December.

The corporation says the lack of input from the public led to a flawed law being passed, one that didn't use the correct traditional name for the city. They say the correct word is Ukpeagvik, which means "the place where we hunt snowy owls."

Matt Singer, an attorney for the corporation, asked the court to pause implementation of the name change until the case is resolved.

Attorney Louann Cutler, who's representing the city, said the plaintiffs presented a "hypertechnical argument" about notifications. She said the city has a long history of posting notices at seven known places around town.

Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman said at the end of the nearly three-hour hearing that he will consider the case and issue a decision Friday on whether to temporarily halt the name change.

Mayor Fannie Suvlu, who was voted into office in the same October election, had proposed an ordinance to consider asking voters if the new name should be repealed. The City Council turned down the proposal in January.

Suvlu has said the council rejected her proposal after locals had several opportunities to address the issue.

City Council member Qaiyaan Harcharek, who is Inupiat on his mother's side, introduced an ordinance in August that began the process ultimately ratified by voters. He has said the new town name essentially means a place for gathering potatoes.

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