After about 45 minutes behind closed doors, the Haines Borough Assembly’s Personnel Committee voted 3-2 to recommend Mayor Jan Hill serve as acting manager through Dec. 31.

Manager David Sosa’s last day on the job is Dec. 4.

Committee members Diana Lapham and Mike Case, as well as Sosa, voted in favor of offering the position to Hill. Lapham nominated Hill after coming out of executive session. According to code, Sosa is a voting member of the committee, though several people were surprised to see him raise his hand during the vote, especially because he hadn’t cast a vote on the meeting’s prior motions.

Committee members Ron Jackson and Margaret Friedenauer voted in favor of offering the acting manager position to public facilities director Brad Ryan. Jackson had nominated Ryan.

However, according to code, the personnel committee “shall be composed of three members of the assembly and the manager.” That means the voting committee had one more member than allowed by code.

Hill didn’t respond to requests for comment on why she recently appointed four assembly members to the committee instead of the code-stipulated three.

Sosa will discuss compensation, hours and vacation time with Hill before the committee’s recommendation comes before the whole assembly Tuesday.

Sosa recommended hiring Hill to the committee, calling it “the most viable option for a short-term solution to the borough’s management concerns.”

At the meeting, Sosa said there is precedent for the Mayor serving as acting manager, as Mike Case did so twice when he was Mayor – once for one month, and once for four. (Case said he never asked for nor received additional compensation when he was acting manager.)

“I did speak with the borough attorney, who reviewed code and said he was comfortable that our code supports this,” Sosa said.

In an interview after the meeting, Sosa said deputy Mayor Diana Lapham won’t become acting Mayor if Hill becomes acting manager. Hill would serve in both roles, he said. “An elected official is an elected official. They don’t stop doing what they do as a result of this,” he said.

According to the borough’s organizational chart, “In the borough manager’s absence, the borough clerk will act as manager followed by other borough officers in order of seniority.”

In the past, clerk Julie Cozzi has served as acting manager when the permanent manager was out of town, and as interim manager during transition periods between permanent managers.

“Due to current circumstances this is not a viable option,” Sosa said. He refused to elaborate.

Chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart also has filled in as acting manager, but Sosa said she would soon be focused on addressing the budget. Regarding public facilities director Ryan, Sosa pointed out he has only been on the job for a couple of months.

Sosa said he contacted several former elected officials about the acting manager position, but none were available “for a variety of reasons.” He also contacted two former managers, neither of whom were willing or available to serve as acting or interim manager.

When asked if he saw a problem in a mayor-appointed committee recommending the Mayor for a job, Sosa said he didn’t. “There is precedent for this and it was handled in a very particular way for a short period of time, so I don’t see a problem. It’s designed as a short-term fix to provide breathing space until an interim manager can be brought on board,” he said. “It’s not a long-term solution.”

The interim manager position is currently being advertised. Applications are due Dec. 4, Sosa’s last day on the job.

Personnel committee members didn’t share their rationale for voting the way they did at Monday’s meeting, but explained in interviews afterward.

Member Margaret Friedenauer made the motion to go into executive session, citing that discussion would “tend to prejudice the reputation and character of any person,” an allowance provided by the Alaska Open Meetings Act.

“I think it falls under the exemption of talking about items that might prejudice a certain character, because we were talking about certain individuals in there,” Friedenauer said. “Everything we talked about qualified for executive session.”

However, according to the Alaska Open Meetings Act, anyone being discussed in executive session under this allowance must be given prior notice and given the opportunity to request the discussion be made in public.

Sosa said he let certain people know they were being discussed, but said he was “uncertain” if public facilities director Ryan was notified.

Friedenauer said she wasn’t thinking about specific people when she voted for Ryan over Hill. Instead, she was thinking about staff member vs. elected official.

“I voted the way I did because I thought one made more sense than the other, but I’m not worried about the Mayor doing it, either,” she said.

Committee member Jackson said he voted for Ryan because he’s a “highly-skilled professional,” and because having the Mayor serving simultaneously in an elected and staff position could lead to conflicts.

“The potential is there for having unclear boundaries between roles, and that may lead to either confusion or hesitancy to do some things. Awkwardness, for sure,” Jackson said.

Committee members Case and Lapham did not respond to requests for comment on why they supported Hill for the acting manager position.

Assembly member Tresham Gregg, who attended most of Monday’s meeting, said he is concerned about the separation of powers in a managerial form of government.

“To put the Mayor into that position, even for a small period of time, is probably going to be yet another concern for the community as to the way the borough is being run,” Gregg said.

Gregg said he is “very much in favor” of asking Ryan to serve in the acting manager position.

“In spite of the fact that he has not had a whole lot of experience in his current position or as a borough official, he does have managerial experience,” Gregg said. “The issue between the preschool and the Senior Center, he handled very deftly. I think that he would be able to step up to the plate. He understands a lot of the comings and goings of the borough at this point in time, and he does have (clerk Julie Cozzi) to give him more direction.”

Assembly member George Campbell, who didn’t attend the meeting and has been out of town, said he has a lot of respect for Ryan, but Ryan has only been on the job for two months.

“The manager has been spending a lot more time on this than I have. At some point I have to lean on him to use his intelligence and his knowledge of the situation,” Campbell said.

Former Mayor Stephanie Scott had several concerns about putting the Mayor in the manager’s seat. Scott was on the assembly when Case filled the double-duty role, and said she believed the assembly erred in allowing that to happen.

“We were a new assembly, a newly consolidated manager form of government; still thinking like the two governments that were dissolved by our new Charter: the City of Haines – a Mayor form of government – and the third-class borough – a Mayor form of government,” Scott said. “A mistake was made then; it was forgivable because we were all struggling to learn how to do this new form of government. Now, more than a decade later, we are more savvy. An error of this nature might not be so easily overlooked.”