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Assembly: No early favorites for manager job

 


Three members of the Haines Borough Assembly who met Tuesday to interview the top four borough manager candidates via Skype afterward expressed ambivalence about their options.

After two hours of interviews interspersed with discussion among assembly members, member Joanne Waterman said none of the four stood out as far and away the person she would want to manage the Haines Borough.

“Right now, I can’t say I would offer the job overwhelmingly to anyone,” Waterman said.

Assembly member George Campbell agreed, and assembly member Debra Schnabel also seemed relatively unimpressed. “I’m beginning to think that we need to recruit,” she said.

Members Dave Berry, Jerry Lapp and Diana Lapham did not attend the candidate interviews, but have been directed to listen to the recordings so they can offer input at a committee of the whole meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday where the assembly will discuss how it wants to proceed.

At Tuesday’s meeting, each candidate was given 30 minutes to answer nine questions. After each interview, Waterman, Campbell, Schnabel, Mayor Stephanie Scott, chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart and executive assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck took 15 minutes to discuss their impressions of how each interview went.

First up was Jim Pascale, who worked as the Princeton Township administrator from 1983 to 2012. Pascale said he applied for the job in Haines because he and his wife recently “fell in love with Sitka,” another Southeast community. After working for 30 years in the same place, he also wants to do something different and exciting, he said.

“I’m looking for a pretty cool place to go and Haines offers that attraction,” Pascale said.

During the interview, Pascale spoke about how he handled tough situations including laying off employees due to budget cuts, as well as firing a long-term employee who became uncooperative after he was passed up for a promotion. He prided himself on getting along with different types of people, and said he always makes it a priority to respond to the public in a timely fashion, even if it’s regarding a disagreement or uncomfortable situation.

“They may not always like what they hear, but once they hear it from the administrator, they are usually respectful and understanding,” Pascale said.

While the group was impressed with Pascale’s experience and how he handled personnel issues, he didn’t seem to have done much research on Haines, they said.

Campbell also worried about culture shock: How would a man who has lived in an affluent, educated community for the past 30 years adjust to life in Haines?

Scott said she thought Pascale’s reference to Haines as a “cool place” trivialized the community, and said she felt he underestimated his audience during the interview.

“I think he underestimated the community as a whole,” Waterman agreed.

Next up was David Sosa, who has served in the Marine Corps since 1992 and is looking to get into municipal management. Sosa drew on his extensive military experience for examples of his skills in conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation and management of large groups of people and complex projects.

The group was largely impressed with Sosa, calling him “sharp,” “a deep thinker,” “insightful” and “personable.” However, Sosa doesn’t have any municipal management experience, and chief fiscal officer Stuart said she had reservations about allowing Sosa to cut his teeth on Haines because it’s a steep learning curve.

“I don’t want people to underestimate the value of experience and knowledge. We’re not electing the President of the United States. The power of personality or charisma isn’t going to get them by,” she said.

The third candidate was Carlo Pilgrim, who last worked in Holbrook, Ariz ., as city manager from 2008-2009.

Assembly members said Pilgrim didn’t answer questions with specifics, spoke mainly in platitudes (“We need to work together”), and made inappropriate comments about his previous job.

“There was enough that I am absolutely appalled at that I don’t want to continue any process with that gentleman,” Campbell said immediately after the interview finished.

Pilgrim didn’t answer half the questions, didn’t offer examples, can’t communicate and blamed problems on his coworkers, Campbell said. “This is a person that is not going to do well in this community.”

“The manager represents the town, and I don’t want him representing (us),” Scott agreed.

Stuart also bristled at a comment Pilgrim made about his previous job as manager in Holbrook, where he said he resigned after disagreements with several council members. When asked about his most challenging experience with an elected official or governing body, Pilgrim joked, “I hope you don’t call Holbrook.”

“Even if he was joking,” Stuart said, “that’s not an appropriate thing to say... I just feel like we don’t need to go there.”

Last was Susan Jensen, who has worked as general manager for the Bayshore Owners Association in Anchorage since 2005. Jensen said she wants to live in coastal Alaska so she and her husband can go sailing regularly.

Jensen said she gains consensus through sincerity and hard work, and backs up her decisions with facts and research. She pointed to a time when a $15 per month home tax needed to be instituted, and how she succeeded in pushing that through.

Schnabel said Jensen “seemed uncomfortable;” Waterman said she didn’t think Jensen was very prepared. “I didn’t get the impression she had really researched Haines that much,” Waterman said.

Scott, who had received rave reviews about Jensen from a person Jensen worked with in the past, said she was “confused by this interview.” “The woman he described to me was not the woman I saw here,” she said.

Some borough staffers agreed. “She could be great, but we’re taking a big risk. She doesn’t have the experience for us to feel comfortable, and I don’t know if we’re in a position where we need to be taking risks,” Stuart said.

In addition to stating she didn’t feel there was a major standout candidate in the bunch, Waterman said she couldn’t say with certainty whether she would even want to offer her top two candidates (Pascale and Sosa) a chance to come interview in person.

Schnabel was similarly unenthused, and said the assembly has been challenged by the borough staff and community to find the best possible fit for the job. “I don’t know if we’re there yet,” she said.