September 26, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 38

Cozzi elevated to interim manager

Clerk Julie Cozzi will take the helm of the Haines Borough for up to three months while the assembly looks for a new manager to replace Mark Earnest.

The assembly approved Earnest’s transition plan Tuesday, which moves Cozzi into the manager role and deputy clerk Michelle Webb into the clerk position upon Earnest’s departure. His last day is Oct. 15.

The assembly voted 4-1 to approve the plan recommended by Earnest, with assembly member Norm Smith opposed. Assembly member Dave Berry was absent.

“These actions will result in the greatest degree of continuity and least amount of disruption of work flow. The existing senior staff is ready, willing and able to work together to ensure progress on the myriad projects and initiatives currently underway,” Earnest said in his recommendation memo.

Earnest also recommended Cozzi receive a bumped salary equivalent to at least $85,000 (roughly $7,000 per month) while she is working as interim manager. Webb will also receive a pay upgrade.

“It should be noted that the previous interim manager was compensated at a rate of $10,000 per month ($120,000 on an annualized basis), plus housing,” he said.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel had several questions for Earnest Tuesday, including if Mayor Stephanie Scott or executive assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck were considered for the interim position. Earnest said they weren’t.

“I think it is code or charter that establishes the order in which borough officers are appointed to serve in either an acting or interim capacity. I think it’s done by seniority... so in this case it would be the clerk is the most senior officer,” Earnest said at Tuesday’s meeting.  

Schnabel also asked what major decisions will need to be made in the next three months, such as those concerning construction projects or grant applications, while Cozzi is clerk.

“This is a very sensitive issue for me because I have no questions about the competence of our clerk as a clerk... I am concerned are we undergoing negotiations with contracts? Are we undergoing planning with the engineering firms?” Schnabel asked.

Earnest said he would be meeting with department heads to compile a list of important projects and priorities that need to be completed during the transition period.

Assembly member Jerry Lapp expressed his support for the plan, saying it was the “best scenario” for the borough. “I see the benefit to this because I know before (when) we brought in interim managers, it took them all the time they were there before we hired a manager to get caught up,” Lapp said.

Mayor Scott said it is “quite common” in Alaska for municipal clerks to move into municipal management positions. “Talk about a deep knowledge of the nuts and bolts of how a municipality is run that is embodied in the clerk’s office. I have every confidence that our clerk will be able to delegate as necessary and identify the areas where additional help is required,” Scott said.

According to Earnest’s transition plan, the assembly will develop a short list between Oct. 4 and Oct. 18 from the pool of potential candidates who submit an application by the Oct. 3 deadline. Background and reference checks will then be conducted on finalists between Oct. 21 and Nov. 4.

Interviews will be scheduled and conducted between Nov. 5 and Dec. 3, and negotiation of the employment agreement terms will continue until Dec. 18.

The chosen candidate will be given about five weeks to relocate and the transition should be completed by Jan. 27, Earnest estimated.

To date, the borough has received 18 applications for the manager’s job. 

The assembly will hold a committee of the whole meeting in mid-October to review applications.