Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Facilities chief Ryan is interim manager


Haines Borough Facilities Director Brad Ryan is once again interim manager.

Mayor Jan Hill broke a 3-3 assembly deadlock Tuesday, giving Ryan the position left vacant following the Dec. 14 firing of manager Bill Seward.

Assembly members Margaret Friedenauer, Mike Case and Ron Jackson supported Ryan, who served six months as interim manager last year. Members Tresham Gregg, Heather Lende and Tom Morphet spoke in favor of appointing former Juneau manager Dave Palmer, who worked about 20 years as a municipal manager and administrator in Southeast.

Clerk Julie Cozzi, whose job description includes serving as acting manager, asked to be relieved of the responsibility.

“We created upheaval without a plan to move forward,” said assembly member Friedenauer, who led the push for Ryan. “The staff is imploring us to listen.”

Friedenauer said she liked an analogy Morphet used, comparing Palmer to an NBA pro asking to play in the local government equivalent of “street ball.”

“I’m like ‘No, I won’t put him in the game,’ because for me the situation is similar to this. And he doesn’t have the team dynamic. I think that’s more important right now than the individual skills somewhere else… I’m not going to play the NBA whiz right out of the gate, because he’s not intimate with our team. He’s not intimate with our current issues. If this were somebody we were bringing onboard for a permanent position, I think that would be great,” Friedenauer said. “I believe the assembly already believes that Brad is a valued team leader.”

Assembly member Lende said Palmer could help end turnover in the manager position.

“Why do assembly members last longer than managers? It’s because we pick people we like, and who fit with this particular group and this particular staff, and not based on professional qualifications,” Lende said.

She said municipal management is a profession. “It’s not a set of character traits or experiences. And we haven’t hired a professional manager here in a long time. Dave Palmer is one. Not only that, he’s got over 20 years managing municipalities in Southeast. And I think we need him now to teach us how a manager form of government works so that we can break the cycle.”

Assembly member Morphet touted Palmer’s experience. “I like to fly with old pilots, I want an old surgeon to cut into my brain if I ever need a brain tumor removed – I might have one now, who knows,” he said. “We need a manager to model the example of what a manager should be.”

Assembly member Gregg said he would like Ryan to stay on as facilities director because of all the projects in the works.

On Jan. 3, the assembly had a chance to question Palmer via phone in a special meeting called by the Mayor. During the meeting, Palmer shared his management style. “(I would) listen, think things through, trust the staff, and try to understand where everyone is coming from,” he said.

According to Palmer’s resume, his last job was as the Juneau Airport manager from Oct. 2006 to June 2009. Before that he served as Juneau manager for seven years, and as deputy manager. He also served as city manager for Petersburg and city administrator for Craig.

Palmer holds a bachelor of science degree from University of Oregon and has leadership and mediation-training certificates.

Ryan holds a doctoral degree in biology from Portland State University in Oregon. Before coming to the borough, Ryan served as executive director for Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition; he was the executive director for Takshanuk Watershed Council; senior director and grant writer for the Chilkoot Indian Association; and a research fisheries biologist for NOAA fisheries in Hammond, Ore.

Also during the special meeting, Ryan pointed out there had been three borough managers, including his “stint” as manager, since he had been hired in 2015. As manager last year, he helped negotiate a contract with the borough employees’ union and presented the FY 2016 budget to the assembly.

“(Ryan) did a great job negotiating a contract with the union and doing the budget,” said assembly member Case. “Palmer would teach us a lot, but afterwards we would need a manager,” he said.

“There is no right or wrong decision here, no bad decision,” said member Ron Jackson, adding that the least disruptive decision for the staff and the borough would be to hire Ryan.

Mayor Hill spoke at length for Ryan. “Local hire is something we have heard repeatedly,” Hill said. “Brad has boots on the ground. He asked for this. We are not ‘pulling him out’ (of his current position).” Hill said if the assembly didn’t go with Ryan, that might send a message to other borough employees to not try to rise within the ranks.

“Hiring Brad is sustainable and practical,” she said.

Resident Mike Denker, who frequently raises points based on borough code, testified at the end of the meeting that he was “flabbergasted” by the assembly’s decision. He pointed to a Haines Borough Charter section stating, “The manager is selected solely on the basis of professional qualifications.”

“The code is clear but the charter is even clearer,” Denker said.

Cozzi was set to the task of drafting a contract with Ryan; including adding a 20 percent bump in salary.

After the vote, Morphet asked what would happen with the position left vacant by Ryan. Hill responded that it was “not our job.”

“The only employee we have is the (borough) manager,” Hill said, adding that it was now Ryan’s job to make sure all other positions were filled.

According to acting clerk Alekka Fullerton, harbormaster Shawn Bell will serve as acting facilities director, assistant harbormaster Gabe Thomas will be acting harbormaster and other harbor employees will fill in as needed. “The harbor isn’t very busy in the winter months,” Fullerton said.

Plans for the search for a permanent borough manager will be voted on at the next regular assembly meeting on Jan. 24.

The assembly previously used the executive hiring Brimeyer Fursman, that landed and vetted Seward and police chief Heath Scott.

In a contract with the borough, Brimeyer Fursman offer an 18-month guarantee on new hires if a follow-up process called “onboarding” is completed. Onboarding is a performance evaluation of the new employee at the six to 12-month mark.

“Should the Borough determine it necessary to terminate the (employee) due to failure to adequately perform the duties as specified in the Profile and as represented by the process, we will refill the position at no additional fee and will charge expenses only,” the Brimeyer Fursman contract reads.

According to Cozzi, there was no onboarding completed with Seward. Richard Fursman was unable to make it to Haines on two separate occasions.

It’s up to the assembly now to decide whether to go with a search firm to fill the permanent manager position, and how extensively to advertise.


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