August 29, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 34

No headhunting for manager job

The Haines Borough Assembly will not hire a headhunting firm to find the municipality’s next manager, but will instead conduct the hiring process itself.

The assembly voted 5-0 Tuesday to move ahead with advertising the position without the assistance of an outside firm. Assembly member Debra Schnabel recused herself from voting as she intends to submit an application for the position.

Since consolidation 11 years ago, the borough has employed seven managers, not including two who served on an interim basis.

Most assembly members balked at the cost of hiring a firm after looking over a proposal submitted by the Washington-based Prothman Company. For its services, the company would charge an $18,500 fee plus other expenses, including advertising costs, candidate travel costs, background check fees, and consultant travel, lodging, rental car and time expenses.

Assembly member Jerry Lapp called the “other expenses” portion of the proposal “scary,” as the borough couldn’t know how much that would eventually add up to. “They say $18,500 plus expenses, and then when you read through the expenses, that could add up to another $18,000. That’s really scary,” Lapp said.

Assembly member Dave Berry said he also changed his mind about hiring a recruiting firm after reading the proposal. “I was under the impression it would be $18,500, but then I started reading all the expenses, and that’ll add up quicker than the initial payment. So I’m not supportive of that,” he said.

Manager Mark Earnest said he had the “same reaction” to the cost.

Though the company has a two-year “warranty” on the selected candidate – if the candidate is fired or resigns within two years of the start date, Prothman will repeat the search and find a replacement at no cost – assembly members pointed out that only the $18,500 professional fee is waived. The borough would still be on the hook for paying all the additional expenses again.

“I really don’t think we’re going to gain anything from hiring a firm from wherever,” said assembly member Norm Smith. “If anybody knows how to do this job, the assembly and the Mayor and the outgoing manager know the process.”

Mayor Stephanie Scott, who attended the Alaska Conference of Mayors in Valdez last week, said she learned at the event that the pool of municipal managers in the state is “shrinking significantly.”

“We’re going to have to look hard, and that’s okay. It is a fact,” she said.  

Not all assembly members were gung-ho about shrugging off the recruiting firm option.

Assembly member Steve Vick seemed hesitant about discarding the firm entirely, and asked if the borough could contract with Prothman just for the advertising portion of the hiring process.

“If the pool is that thin right now, we’re going to have to find candidates. Yeah, we have the website, but you just don’t post on a website and people find it. You have to find them and bring them to the site, and that’s a skill,” Vick said.

Even if the borough doesn’t contract with Prothman initially, Scott pointed out, it could always try the old-fashioned way and then resort to the headhunting firm if all else fails.

“We could try it our traditional way and see what happens,” Scott said. “We don’t have to hire whoever shows up. We can evaluate and if we feel totally stuck, we could ask for help.”

Earnest announced two weeks ago he’d be leaving Oct. 15 and moving to Reno, Nev., with plans to enroll his gifted son in a school there, an announcement reminiscent of resignation plans he shared in March 2012 and twice extended. His current contract expires in June 2014.