Phil Benner is returning to his post as Haines Borough harbormaster, three years after leaving the job.
“I am committed to Haines for the next 10 to 15 years,” Benner said this week.
The Haines Borough Assembly approved Benner’s hire Tuesday, on the recommendation of manager Mark Earnest and the borough’s port and harbor advisory committee, at an annual salary of $65,000. Other finalists for the job were residents Mike Denker and Terry Pardee.
Earnest wrote that Benner “clearly brings the most relevant and direct experience and knowledge to the position, which is particularly important at this time regarding implementation of the capital improvement program for both port and harbor facilities.”
Benner, 50, served as interim harbormaster following the departure of Ed Barrett, who resigned effective April 1. Benner was Haines harbormaster from January 2007 to March 2009, stepped in as Juneau harbormaster until October 2011, and moved to Florida to care for his father with cancer.
Benner told the Chilkat Valley News he took the $86,000-a-year Juneau job after then-manager Tom Bolen turned down his request for a raise. Benner was slated to earn $19.83 an hour in fiscal year 2009. Pay for the Haines harbormaster has since increased to the $24.42 hourly wage for Barrett this fiscal year, when Barrett was budgeted to work 457.3 overtime hours and collect $67,544 in gross earnings.
The three finalists for the harbormaster opening on Monday each had public interviews with Earnest and Norman Hughes, Dean Risley, Bill Rostad and Don Turner Jr. of the port and harbor advisory committee.
“If Phil Benner wasn’t here, either one of those two would be good choices,” said resident Mike Mackowiak, who attended the interviews. “I think we’re fortunate to have the opportunity to hire him back.”
Denker is an operations/accounting supervisor at Delta Western, and Pardee is a self-employed crab fisherman.
Another interview attendee, resident Bart Henderson, said Benner was “the obvious choice” if he was committed to sticking around. Henderson also showed support for Denker, saying he would be a good administrator, but “the learning curve is a big question.”
Manager Earnest said Benner was the highest-ranked applicant in the initial screening process, based on a “scoring matrix” that weighed factors such as harbormaster-related experience and past interactions with state and federal agencies.
Assistant harbormaster Joe Parnell applied for the job and didn’t make the shortlist of finalists. Earnest said he didn’t want to get into specifics on why Parnell was not interviewed, but said Parnell was among the most competitive applicants.
“He’s a very important part of our operation, and (Benner and Parnell) have worked together before,” Earnest said. “I think it will be a good combination for the harbor and for the borough.”
According to the harbormaster job description, the minimum requirements were a high school diploma or equivalent and two years’ experience in law enforcement, harbor management or a related field.
The finalists answered questions on topics such as applying for grants and working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state Department of Transportation and other funding sources; the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation; and homeland security agencies.
Denker and Pardee both emphasized they were long-time Haines residents. When Earnest asked if Denker had any questions about the harbormaster role, he responded, “Why do you think there’s so much turnover in the position?”
Earnest said the harbormaster is “always on the clock” and as a borough official, “people expect that they can talk to you at any time, for any reason.”
“Most of it’s very enjoyable if you enjoy dealing with the public,” he said.
Following the interviews, Risley, Rostad and Turner said Benner was their top choice. “Hopefully, he’ll move here and stay put,” Turner said.
Hughes did not name a preferred selection. “If the person works out, I’d like to see longevity.”
Risley said the candidates “are all definitely qualified in their own right,” but Benner could “step right in, without any hiccups.”
“I did like the fact that Phil said he’s got 15 years before retirement,” Rostad said.
Benner said his wife would be making the move to Haines, and they plan to buy a home here.