October 17, 2013 | XLIII 41

Assembly lukewarm on manager finalists

The Haines Borough Assembly has whittled down a list of applicants for the manager position from 20 to four and will publicly conduct telephone interviews with finalists Oct. 29.  

While assembly members saw positive characteristics in each of the four finalists – Susan Jensen of Anchorage, Carlo Pilgrim of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, Jim Pascale of Hopewell, N.J., and David Sosa of Hampstead, N.C. – at a workshop on Tuesday they expressed plenty of misgivings and questions.

The assembly first met Oct. 9 to discuss the entire pool of candidates and met again Tuesday to comb through favorites and share research. Mayor Stephanie Scott also prepared a report which included more information on several of the assembly’s preferred candidates.  

Jensen, who will earn her master of public administration degree in December, has no municipal management experience. Since March 2005, Jensen has worked as the general manager for the Bayshore Owners Association in Anchorage, a homeowner association of 1,500 citizens and 454 homes. She also is an elected board member of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, where she serves as co-chair of the Anchorage Business Committee.

“She’s striving to go somewhere and she’s using what she’s got in that job to complement where she wants to go, which is what she is educating herself for... That really impressed me,” said assembly member Joanne Waterman.

Assembly member Steve Vick was less impressed, at one point saying he wouldn’t even consider a candidate without municipal experience. (Vick later said he didn’t mean to speak so definitively, but only meant to emphasize how important municipal management experience is in his decision-making.)

“I would have said that myself,” Mayor Scott said of Vick’s view, “but I’ve run into Susan Jensen and I really want to meet this woman. And I reflect on the fact that we have a clerk who has stayed with us forever who didn’t have any clerk experience, and we hired a CFO who didn’t have CFO experience.”

Candidate David Sosa was included in the final four by the prompting of assembly member Jerry Lapp, who “likes vets.” Sosa has been in the U.S. Marine Corps since 1992 and, like Jensen, has no municipal management experience. In 2008, Sosa obtained his master in public administration from Golden Gate University. Sosa is not available to work here until April.

Assembly members expressed skepticism about how two decades in the military would compare to managing a town of 2,600 in rural Alaska.

“‘Program management for the United Kingdom Royal Marines’? I mean, it just seems so exotic,” assembly member Debra Schnabel said. “The things that he describes that he does I have a hard time imagining what it is. ‘Design of long range plans between military and civilian leadership focused on increasing Iraqi military support of government development initiatives in Southern Iraq.’”

Finalist Carlo Pilgrim generated considerable concern for Scott and several assembly members. Pilgrim, who in his resume refers to himself as “one helluva manager” and “just a regular guy who enjoys laughing at his own expense,” last worked in Holbrook, Ariz., as city manager from 2008-2009.

Assembly member Dave Berry, at the Oct. 9 meeting, said he found lots of unflattering press on Pilgrim during his research. Berry said Pilgrim was “privately canned” from the Holbrook manager job because of the municipality’s failure to file wastewater treatment reports with the Environmental Protection Agency.

In his cover letter, Pilgrim said he resigned from the job because “my dealings with two council members became unbearable.”

Pilgrim also resigned from his town manager job in Newport, Maine, after working for the municipality from 1987 to 1992. He resigned in December 1992 “just hours before a special meeting was to be held to discuss his job performance,” according to the Bangor Daily News.

Skagway interviewed Pilgrim over the phone for its manager job, but didn’t invite him for an in-person interview. “He may be excellent at certain aspects of municipal management, but it sounds like he’s got strong personality traits that alienate certain people. Not a consensus-builder,” Scott said.

Candidate Jim Pascale quickly rose to the top of many assembly members’ lists. Chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart called Pascale “far and away the best” and Waterman wondered if he was “too good to be true.”

Pascale worked as Princeton Township administrator from 1983 to 2012. His duties included supervising all of the municipal departments in the “affluent university community” of 16,000, managing $100 million of funds, supervising all personnel action from recruitment to separation, and negotiating all labor agreements.

He also won the New Jersey Municipal Management Outstanding Manager of the Year award and has a master of public administration from Rutgers University.

Assembly members raved about Pascale’s qualifications, and couldn’t seem to dig up any questionable history. What they mainly worried about was culture shock.

Schnabel pointed out Pascale has been living in an extremely wealthy, highly-educated university town on the East Coast for the past three decades. “Pascale lives in a somewhat homogenous community where he’s probably never seen a trailer park,” she said.

“Pascale has pretty much everything we want, but it’s in the wrong state,” Waterman agreed.

Pascale also applied for manager jobs in Sitka, Rio Rancho, N.M., Satellite Beach, Florida, and San Juan County, Wash. He was selected as a finalist for openings in Sitka, San Juan County and Rio Rancho but wasn’t hired.

At the end of its Oct. 15 meeting, the assembly agreed to schedule phone interviews for the morning of Oct. 29. Scott said she would see if Skype interviews are a possibility.

CFO Stuart urged the assembly to proceed with caution. “We don’t need to hire a manager from this batch,” she told assembly members. “We can wait. I don’t think we should consider people who seem like a long shot or ‘It’s possible this guy would work out,’ because the risk of having someone come who is bad is very high. And I don’t think we need to take that risk.”

Waterman agreed, and said moving forward with the phone interviews doesn’t mean any of the candidates will even be selected for more formal interviews.

“If we don’t get good vibes from them, at least we know where we’re at,” she said.