June 7, 2012 | Volume 42, No.23

Assembly to decide budget, interim manager

The Haines Borough Assembly is expected to approve its $11.3 million budget, including setting local tax rates, and will discuss the interim borough manager position at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The borough was to shift manager duties to current staff, and hire some additional, temporary assistants to fill gaps following the June 15 departure of manager Mark Earnest. But Earnest told the assembly this week his family’s plans to leave town had changed, due to a change in plans for his son’s schooling.

“We’re not looking at making a move at this time… I’m definitely interested in talking about options of continuing with the borough in some capacity,” Earnest said at a Tuesday committee of the whole meeting to review manager candidates. Assembly members did not discuss the offer.

Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott, municipal clerk Julie Cozzi and chief financial officer Jila Stuart have in recent weeks advised the assembly to take its time finding a permanent replacement for Earnest.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Scott apprised the group of a proposal she solicited from Seattle “head-hunting” firm Prothman Company to recruit a new manager. According to the company’s literature, for $18,500, it would serve as advisor and facilitator for the hire.

Its recruitment process takes 10 to 14 weeks and would include coming to town to learn about the position and the community, developing a profile of an ideal candidate, recruiting, advertising, screening, conducting background checks, facilitating interviews and evaluations, and negotiating a hire.

The 11-year-old firm claims it has conducted more than 450 recruitments on the West Coast, including 11 municipal managers in Washington state last year. The firm also helped land Alaska town managers in Wrangell and Thorne Bay.

Prothman’s fee doesn’t include its or candidates’ travel or expenses, or position advertising. It offers a guarantee that if the manager hired through its process doesn’t last or stay at least two years, the firm would recruit a a replacement at no cost to the borough.

“Having the skills to find a good person is a professional skill. It might be good to defer to a professional,” borough financial officer Stuart told the committee. What is the value of hiring a manager who works well with the community and stays on for multiple years, she asked.

Member Joanne Waterman, however, said it was too early in the hiring process to seek outside help. “I’m not willing to look at anything like that at this point… I’m not closed to it, but we haven’t given ourselves a chance.”

Mayor Scott at the meeting shared the results of scoring by borough assembly members on a “decision matrix” that ranked manager candidates on the basis of education, municipal management, leadership, Alaska experience, personnel management and project management.

Borough assembly members except Debra Schnabel – who is a manager candidate – participated in the ranking. The hire is made by the borough assembly.

Of a total possible score of six points, results of the ranking’s first tier, as identified by Scott and adding in Scott’s scores, included: Eric Strahl, city manager of Menominee, Mich., 3.63; Malcom Brown, city manager of Pilot Point, Alaska, 3.47; Alan Lanning, city manager of Cental City, Colo., 3.20; Patrick Jordan, manager of the Bristol Bay Borough, 3.17; John Brower of Haines, Chilkat Indian Village tribal administrator, 3.11; Fred F. Ventresco, town manager of Wilmington, Vt., 3.07; and Schnabel, former executive assistant to Earnest, 3.0.

Assembly member Daymond Hoffman said he “wasn’t overwhelmed” by the results.

“It stands out to me if the highest score is 3.58 (not factoring in the mayor’s score), it’s a disservice to jump on a three and a half out of six. I just wonder with these types of scores, is it worth it to just keep chugging along, if everybody’s not fired up… Why don’t we just throw the net out again and see if we can do better?” Hoffman asked.

Waterman, however, said the resumes looked better after multiple examinations. “I’m always amazed, after the second or third time” what comes to light, she said. “I’d like to work on these a little more. Take the top five, read them again and score them again, and see if they don’t come up to a score we can live with. If they don’t, then we can look at other options.”

Member Jerry Lapp said if assembly members conducted interviews with some of the seven apparent finalists, they might come up with different scores. “We’ve got it boiled down to seven. Let’s start there to see if we need more information or something else.”

For the next round of scoring, assembly members agreed to use “weighted” criteria, effectively giving differing importance to the six qualities on the matrix. They agreed to use the following multipliers toward a final score: municipal management (multiply score by 6); personnel management (4); education (3); leadership (3); Alaska experience (2); and project management (2).

The group agreed to limit candidates to be scored in the upcoming matrix to the top seven, but also to include borough police chief Gary Lowe, a manager candidate who scored 2.69 on the matrix.

The committee also discussed conducting Google searches on candidates. A cursory search by borough officials found unflattering news stories about Ventresco and Lanning leaving previous manager jobs. “People who scored high may be stepping out of the box a little bit, causing ripples,” Scott said.

Next Tuesday’s meeting may include several spending topics before budget passage.

In recent meetings, assembly members generally agreed to return to last year’s levels the amount it spends on contributions to community organizations. They also found agreement on funding fireworks ($5,000), buying iPads for their use in place of paper meeting packets ($6,000), hiring an additional labor ($19,263) and increasing Community Youth Development hours ($2,100).

Member Lapp suggested holding the areawide mill rate to last year’s level, but other members said setting the tax rate should come after expenses were determined, not before. Lapp’s proposal would cost the borough $245,000.

The borough’s initial budget projected a $580,000 gap and anticipated a tax hike, cuts and use of reserves to fill it. Additional revenues, including from the Alaska Legislature, have reduced the gap.

Discussion also may include funding of the borough’s $50,000 lobbyist in Washington, D.C. Scott, who initially questioned the annual expenditure, said Tuesday that after speaking with lobbyist Brad Gillman, she wants to maintain the funding another year and see if the borough can’t work more actively with Gillman to get better results.