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



With the recent failure of high-ranking government executives who came from out of town, the pendulum of public opinion is predictably swinging back to support for hiring local or Alaska candidates to our highest-ranking government positions.

Were the formula for finding talented executives only that simple.

Hiring candidates with local knowledge is ideal, but local vs. out-of-town is a false choice. It oversimplifies the qualifications needed to do these jobs well and unwisely diminishes the amount of deliberation and research that should go into hiring for executive-level positions.

Also, a preference for local hire should not be used as a reason for not hiring a headhunting firm. On the contrary, the perspective of an out-of-town recruitment firm may be the only way for us to get a truly objective look at local or regional candidates, some of whom would encounter bias disproportionate to out-of-town candidates due to their local histories, good or bad.

(The contacts and recruiting knowledge of a headhunting firm should also provide a broad starting list of qualified candidates for these jobs, followed by a much more rigorous and thorough vetting than we can do ourselves.)

With or without a recruiting firm, it should be self-evident that the best candidate is not necessarily one from Haines or one from Alaska or one who is a Navy Seal commando. The best candidate is the one who is most qualified, most experienced and most willing to commit to the job.

Judging from our history with managers, prior experience appears to be the most important determinant of success. Tom Healy and Bob Ward were among the town’s best executives. Each had previously worked as manager in Skagway. Each also had worked for years in lower municipal positions before being promoted to the top job.

Healy and Ward weren’t perfect, but by the time they arrived in Haines, they had learned somet things about managing a town.

Over at the Haines School, superintendents tend to last on the job longer than borough managers. Why? Could it be that nearly all recent superintendents had previously worked as superintendents or administrators and that they had already learned the ropes and the pitfalls of the job?

Our school board wouldn’t consider hiring as superintendent a person who didn’t have school administration experience. So how to explain our willingness on the municipal side to consider for manager candidates who’ve never before done the job?

Our most recent manager, David Sosa, not only had never served as a municipal manager, he’d never worked for a municipality in any significant capacity. What were we expecting?

If our municipality were the Haines Borough Corporation, a business with more than 50 employees and a $12 million annual budget, would we, as shareholders, be comfortable with a CEO who had never managed a business? If we were operating a successful pizzeria, would we hire as manager someone who’d never worked in a restaurant? How many of us would take our cars to a mechanic who’d never before worked on an engine?

Is it possible that managing a municipality well is a complex job that requires sophisticated skills and a broad body of knowledge that are acquired over time?

Horse sense is good and knowledge of Haines and Alaska helps, but the best judgment and problem-solving on municipal issues seem most likely to come from a person who has managed similar issues and learned what to do and what not to do.

Finding such a person isn’t impossible, but it requires work the borough hasn’t done in making recent hires. Our practice of advertising a position on the Internet and sifting through a dozen or so applicants isn’t likely to land us a winner from out of town. Just as hiring someone we know largely because we know them is a gamble with long odds.

That we’ve previously done a mediocre job at recruiting, identifying and landing strong candidates doesn’t mean that strong candidates do not exist. It means we need to do a better job in all aspects of hiring, which is why we need the help of a professional hiring firm.

Experience as a manager should be at the top of the firm’s list of qualifications for the job. If, at the end of such a hiring process, a Haines resident is determined to be the strongest candidate, then that person should be hired, by all means.

Editor’s note: Next week’s Dec. 17 paper will be the final CVN of 2015. Following its traditional, two-week break, the paper will resume publication on Thursday, Jan. 7.

- Tom Morphet


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