The Haines Borough Assembly appears to be leaning toward hiring a headhunting firm to find the municipality’s next manager, but assembly members still want some details hammered out first.

The assembly met Monday as a committee of the whole to discuss how to move forward with the hiring of a new manager.

Manager Mark Earnest said last week 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.

 Several assembly members expressed support for hiring a headhunting firm to replace Earnest, including Dave Berry, who said a professional company could be counted on to perform thorough background and reference checks.

“I am quite interested in having a professional organization. In Haines we have a bad habit of not really following through with reference checks, and that has hurt us in the past,” Berry said.

Vick, who said he was “half in favor” of the idea but leaning toward hiring a headhunting firm, cited election season and potential staff burnout as reasons for hiring an outside company. “I think we can do it; we’ve done it before. The concern this time is we’re in a time crunch and we’re also going to be going through a transition not only with the manager, but we’re also having elections.”

Assembly member Joanne Waterman remained opposed to the idea, saying she needed more convincing on why a headhunting firm would be preferable to in-house hiring. Waterman said she had a “hard time believing” the estimated $18,000-$20,000 fee and that she understood firms usually charged more like $50,000.

“I haven’t heard any overwhelming evidence that they’ve done a tremendous, stupendous job… Right now I’m not totally convinced that it’s absolutely the best way to go,” Waterman said.

Mayor Stephanie Scott, who supports hiring a firm, said the borough requested a proposal for headhunting services from the Washington-based Prothman Company when Earnest previously announced his resignation. The company quoted $18,000-$20,000 and has been asked to review and update its proposal, Scott said.

In addition to the price tag, Waterman also requested a hard timeline for how long the process takes.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel recused herself from discussion as she may apply for the manager job. Assembly member Norm Smith was absent.

Scott advised Schnabel and any other assembly member thinking about applying for the position to remove themselves from all discussion related to the hiring process, including recruitment strategies. Assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck agreed, telling Schnabel it would be in her best interest not to participate so as to avoid the perception of manipulation or unfairness.

“Perception is reality,” Culbeck said.

The City and Borough of Sitka is in the process of hiring a new administrator and decided against going with a headhunting firm, despite the recommendation of the borough’s human resources director Mark Danielson.

“There are pluses and minuses (to hiring a firm). The pluses are you are going to get a bunch of qualified candidates and you don’t have to do all the legwork,” Danielson said. Cost seemed to be the primary minus, he said.

Still, Sitka received about 50 applicants for the position after advertising with several Alaska job websites, Alaska newspapers, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association.

Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer said he, too, wanted to go with a headhunting firm when the municipality was looking for a new manager last October. Scott sent him the Prothman proposal, and Selmer said he thought it was a reasonable way to approach the hiring process, but the assembly ultimately rejected the idea. They received about 30 applications for the manager position.

“Based on our hiring experience since last October and what we spent on interviews, flying people around, that sort of thing, we probably would have been money ahead to use the Prothman proposal,” Selmer said.

The assembly flew the three finalists up for several days, but when they chose a candidate and offered her the job, she rejected it and the assembly had to start all over.

“It’s just a simple matter of having more professional guidance from the outside firm than what may be available with your existing staff and assembly, and allowing the process to be done by those who do it for a living,” Selmer said.

Clerk Julie Cozzi has agreed to serve as interim manager “given certain conditions,” according to a memo from Scott. The assembly at its Monday committee meeting also requested specifics on those conditions.

Chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart said if Cozzi becomes interim manager, deputy clerk Michelle Webb will become interim clerk and a temporary employee will need to be hired to fill Webb’s regular position.

The assembly will further discuss how to move forward with the hiring process during its Tuesday meeting.