April 26, 2012 | Vol.42 No. 17

Planning job goes to foreign applicant

The Haines Borough is sponsoring a work visa for a Chinese national to become the municipality’s next planning and zoning technician.

Xi “Tracy” Cui, who holds a master’s degree in planning from the University of Florida, was the administration’s top choice for the job, said manager Mark Earnest, who made the hire with the assistance of clerk Julie Cozzi.

The borough will spend $2,300 processing Cui’s visa, Cozzi said, and will hold the $47,000 job for her until October, when she’ll be eligible to work here. The job’s qualifications recently became more rigorous, borough Mayor Stephanie Scott said this week.

“We are hiring a planner. We have never had a skilled planner in the job before,” Scott said. Following the departure of former technician Steve Ritzinger, the job was redefined to include Geographic Information System skills and increased education.

Cui was chosen over 10 other candidates. Four were from Haines, including Scott Hansen, who worked in the previous technician position more than six years beginning in 2001, and Burl Sheldon, who held a job with similar duties 18 months under the City of Haines. An Oregon applicant turned down the job.

The hire drew a reaction from borough planning commissioner Donnie Turner when planners were told Thursday that former technician Steve Ritzinger will be hired on a contractual basis until Cui arrives.

“It seems like we could have found somebody in the United States for this job. With the country in recession and stuff, it just seems we could have found somebody not only from Alaska, but somebody from (Haines).”

Besides three months as a municipal intern and researcher in Florida and in Massachussets, Cui’s related work experience in the United States is limited to an 11-month job as a $10-per-hour intern for the building and zoning department of the City of Palatka, Fla., population, 11,000.

There she helped develop a GIS system for zoning maps and future land use maps and updated water and sewer line maps, as well as other duties. “I am extremely detail oriented and have great communication skills in both Chinese and English,” Cui said in a cover letter for the job. “I am good at computer programs and love to work with people. Most importantly, I am an enthusiastic, fast learner.”

In a letter of reference, the planning director there described her work as excellent. “She has the ability to work independently and is able to solve problems effectively.”

Pam Sprouse, a permitting clerk and licensing coordinator in the planning department who worked with Cui, said in an interview this week Cui was hired with grant funds and through the University of Florida. The job ended because grant funding ran out, she said.

“We were pleased with her and would have liked to have kept her on if the situation would have allowed us to,” Sprouse said. Sprouse said Cui is very friendly but didn’t have much interaction with the public there. “We had her focusing on mapping and getting things done behind the scenes.”

Hansen taught himself the borough’s GIS program and helped combine the borough and city’s land records after consolidation. When contacted by the CVN this week, he said he wouldn’t second-guess the borough’s decision.

“I respect the borough’s decision. I don’t want to be part of an unearthing process. The borough has all the information,” Hansen said.

Sheldon said he found it “extraordinary” that no one in the United States or others among the candidate list were considered qualified for the job. “This is not rocket science,” he said. The hard parts of the job involved a “grinding” level of detail and having to say “no” to people when construction or plans didn’t match code requirements, he said.

Sheldon, however, said he wouldn’t want his comments construed as opposition to hiring the most qualified candidate. “The most qualified people for any job may be using it as a stepping stone or they may make a lasting contribution to the community. We don’t know where it’s going to go in the future. There’s merit to hiring the most qualified candidate. It could be a really great thing.”

Other Haines applicants included Jeffrey Moskowitz and Melany Zimmerman. Out-of-town candidates were Madeline Morris, Kenai; Denise Wiltse, Juneau; David Stallworth, San Antonio, Texas; Seth Brumley, Portland, Ore.; Neil Frydrych, Orlando, Fla., and Susana Montana, Bisbee, Ariz.

Cui will be hired under an “H-1B” visa, which requires the borough to demonstrate the position requires a professional in a “specialty occupation,” defined as one that “requires a theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge.”

Such visas typically require at least a bachelor’s degree and have gone to doctors, lawyers, engineers, elementary teachers, computer professionals, social workers, dietitians and librarians, according to the website immihelp.com.