May 31, 2012 | Volume 42, No.22

Assembly begins scoring manager hopefuls

Haines Borough Assembly members and municipal officers are in the process of scoring 18 borough manager applicants on a “decision matrix” aimed at winnowing down the field to an initial shortlist that may be decided as early as Tuesday.

However, Mayor Stephanie Scott this week said she’s recommending the group take as long as necessary with its decision and said assembly members may choose to pass on all the candidates and re-advertise the job. “It’s difficult to know what’s going to happen next because the assembly might re-open the position,” Scott said.

Borough manager Mark Earnest leaves the job June 15.

So far, the hiring process is very similar to the one used when Earnest was hired in January 2010, including the use of the matrix and pay advertised at between $85,000 and $100,000.

The matrix is a type of grid that scores candidates up to five points each for qualities including education, municipal management, leadership, Alaska experience, personnel management and project management.

Municipal officers include the manager, clerk, chief financial officer and police chief. But as current police chief Gary Lowe and assembly member Debra Schnabel are among applicants for the job, they won’t be participating in the ranking, borough officials said.

Mayor Scott said before interviewing candidates who make the initial shortlist, she’d like assembly members to discuss the questions that will be asked of candidates. Other ideas she’d like to pursue include contacting other muncipalities to see how they’ve attracted qualified candidates.

Dave Palmer, a longtime Haines landowner and former manager of the City and Borough of Juneau, has volunteered to help the municipality make its choice. Scott said this week she hadn’t yet contacted Palmer.

According to a salary survey by the Alaska Municipal League, municipal managers in cities comparable to Haines are making more than Haines’ advertised pay. The manager in Wrangell earns about $122,000 and Seward’s makes $111,000. Pay elsewhere includes Valdez, $122,000; Nome, $106,000 and Petersburg, $105,000. Earnest’s pay was raised to $108,000 in January.

Between $51 per hour ($106,000) and $58 per hour ($121,000) seems to be about average for a Haines-sized town, said Kathie Wasserman, AML’s executive director.

Wasserman said rapid turnover isn’t inevitable in the manager’s position. She cited managers in Unalaska, Ketchikan and Sitka as among those who’ve had longevity.

“Smaller communities that don’t pay as well, that’s where (managers) pass through quickly. In some places, there are city councils that make life miserable for these guys, especially in small towns where politics is entertainment,” Wasserman said.

Wasserman herself has served as Mayor and manager in Kasaan and Pelican. Alaska experience is important, she said. “Alaska works differently. If you’re from Alaska, at least you know who to contact to find out what you can do.”

Also, out-of-state candidates with spouses who don’t want to move to Alaska aren’t likely to last, she said.

Wasserman used an example of an out-of-state manager who sought connections with a regional Native corporation to make ties with his community’s Native population. “Unless you talk to the right people, you could piss off everybody else… I think hiring someone from Alaska works out better.”

An advanced degree in public administration might help a candidate, but isn’t a must-have for the job, she said, noting that she doesn’t hold one. “The best candidate may be the one who just has a good business sense and a passion for local government.”

A degreed candidate could be a jerk or not have skills at working with people, she said.

Despite going through 10 managers in the past 10 years, Haines doesn’t have a particularly bad reputation, Wasserman said. “There are communities with a lot worse reputations than Haines. I don’t think it’ll hurt you.”

A careful look at the questions asked of manager applicants is important, she said. Hiring within her agency, issues sometimes arise that had nothing to do with questions she asked. “If a person’s got half a brain, they can answer questions in a way that makes them look positive.”

It’s important to ask the right questions, she said. “If you can’t think critically, I don’t care how fast you can type.”