June 7, 2012 | Volume 42, No.23

Commentary

Instead of an old truck, suppose I owned a Bentley, a high-performance luxury car, a sophisticated piece of equipment requiring a specialized knowledge to maintain.

I wouldn’t want just anyone to work on it. I’d have to find a qualified Bentley mechanic. But where would I find a good one, and how would I determine if that person could do the job?

That’s not too different from the situation facing Haines Borough Assembly members as they go to hire a manager. They can fill the position, but time has proved not just anyone can do the job. And as no assembly member has worked as a municipal manager, the assembly itself may not understand what -- or whom -- it needs.

Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott has secured a proposal by a professional “head-hunting” firm to land a borough manager for $18,500, plus expenses. That’s a lot of money for you and me, but for the borough, whose manager is responsible for an $11.3 million budget, it’s not much.

An effective, efficient manager could make or save the borough $18,500 with a phone call, or just by speeding up assembly meetings.

Prothman, the firm, has found managers for Thorne Bay and Wrangell and for big cities on the West Coast. It also offers a guarantee: If the candidate it finds doesn’t last on the job at least two years, it will find a replacement at no charge.

Prothman’s proposal is worth a close look.

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What’s remarkable about the state Department of Transportation replacing only about half the sidewalks and curbs along Main Street is that DOT initially had no plans to replace any.

A DOT spokesman said last week that the federal highway funds used for the project were limited to paving only, and that some curbs and sidewalks were added to the project because curb cutouts – the low sections for driveways and wheelchair access – didn’t meet federal requirements.

The curbs in front of Howsers are so eroded you could place loaves of bread into them. They’re unlikely to be fixed soon unless state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, is re-elected and can squeeze money enough for the job from DOT or some other pot next year.

So much for the argument that we can’t afford to take over ownership of Main Street. The real question is whether we can afford not to. Main Street is the face our town shows to the world and its walks are in worse shape than ones at Dalton City.

I’ll claim some of the blame here. Contractor Roger Schnabel mentioned to me a few months ago that not all the sidewalks and curbs were being replaced. It should have been a front-page story at that time but I couldn’t imagine DOT would leave ones so begging for repair.

We all missed an earlier heads-up. The borough’s $40,000 downtown plan laid out eight immediate steps for revitalizing Main Street. They were printed on the front page of the CVN on April 29, 2010. Bulleted item #2 was: “Work with DOT now on funded improvements and begin discussion of future Main Street improvements.”

The downtown revitalization committee, an unfunded, unstaffed, volunteer bunch, never got around to that item, but it made good progress on bulleted item #4 (improve signage) and bulleted item #6 (establish a buy-local campaign). The group didn’t meet last winter.

The community tried a similar loose, volunteer committee before, in 1995, when the “Haines 2005” effort targeted Main Street beautification as a community project. A tiny park was built and some flowers were bought, but the effort waned and the group fizzled.

Some borough leaders would like to see the revitalization committee made an official borough advisory group, appointed by the Mayor, with someone paid to take notes and schedule regular meetings. That makes sense. Downtown needs continued attention.

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Haines Borough officials deserve credit for arranging local meetings in the past week with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and with Department of Fish and Game brass from Juneau. The meetings were well-organized and highly informative. Residents and borough officials represented our town well.

Meeting face to face with out-of-town decision-makers, and speaking with them thoughtfully and respectfully are necessary first steps if we are to have much influence. Extra kudos to Sen. Murkowski for spending a full day in Haines.

Look for coverage of the meetings in next week’s CVN.