Approved consultants include Agnew Beck Consulting of Anchorage and residents Darsie Culbeck, James Kallenberg and Burl Sheldon.
"The idea is that we would have assistance on focused attention on some of the priority projects that we’re working on, of which there are many," Earnest said.
He said the consultants would work on a short-term, contract basis and help make the borough more efficient.
"The biggest hurdle to being able to accomplish or resolve and eliminate projects off the list is just having an uninterrupted time to focus on one or two or three things," Earnest said. "That’s really the biggest challenge that I have, is dealing with all of the dozens of phone calls and visits and, just, interruptions, which are all good, (but) it’s just managing a lot of flow of communication and issues that come up, unexpectedly or expectedly."
The assembly’s action enables the manager to select one or more from that pool to work, from time to time, on specific projects.
"So, what’s the price tag on this?" asked assemblyman Scott Rossman.
Earnest told the assembly he would have "a very finite budget for this type of work," and any consulting agreement expected to exceed $10,000 would require assembly approval.
"I would have to work within the constraints that we have, financially, but there are a number of funding sources that can be tapped for this, including specific grants, economic development, (capital improvement projects), as well as general fund and other funds," he said.
Earnest did not provide more specific numbers, and Rossman, in the final assembly meeting of his term, voted against the resolution.
"Nobody put a price tag on anything here," Rossman said. "Something doesn’t seem quite right here, to me, but maybe it’s just me. None of these have anything to do with numbers, and none of them say, ‘I’m going to do it for $10 an hour or $1,000 an hour.’"
Earnest responded, "I would hope that would be trusted to the manager, to make those determinations that are in the best interests of the borough."
Culbeck, co-founder of Alaska Mountain Guides, was paid $45 an hour as a borough consultant in September and continues to work for the borough. He also has worked for Chilkat Environmental and Constantine Metal Resources.
Member Joanne Waterman said she wanted notification of hires. "I definitely want some system of the assembly being aware of who’s being hired. I was just caught unawares, a little bit, when somebody came up and said, ‘Darsie’s working for the borough.’"
Assemblyman Steve Vick raised the same concern to Earnest, who said he would be happy to summarize hires in his report.
Assemblyman Daymond Hoffman suggested revisiting the special projects consultant issue in a year, to "extend a little bit of professional courtesy" to Earnest.
Chris Beck of Agnew Beck Consulting in a letter of interest wrote the Anchorage firm has "strong experience in a range of planning and implementation services, including strategic planning, economic development and analysis, community planning, urban design/site planning, meeting facilitation, and grant writing."
Kallenberg wrote he has "worked as an executive business manager and as a consultant in economic development and enterprise management for over 30 years."
Sheldon, the former community director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Upper Lynn Canal, wrote of his "extensive experience in many of the skill areas you seek, including grant writing and administration, project planning and management, collaborative facilitation, feasibility assessment and economic development."