Assembly may hold town hall on role of borough manager


July 9, 2020

The public may have an opportunity to weigh in on the Haines Borough’s next manager. After a meeting July 1, the assembly’s personnel committee is recommending the full assembly solicit community input before moving forward with the hiring process.

The borough has been without a permanent manager since the assembly fired Debra Schnabel on May 19. Borough clerk Alekka Fullerton has been filling in as interim manager.

Haines has a tumultuous history when it comes to borough managers. Since borough consolidation in 2002, the community has averaged a new, permanent manager hire every 1.8 years. Of the 10 managers since consolidation, four were fired or resigned to avoid being fired. Schnabel was fired after about three years.

“We don’t want to change the manager every time we change the assembly, which seems to be a perpetual problem,” Fullerton said in an interview July 2. She said she thinks the high turnover rate comes from lack of clarity in the community about the manager’s role.

“I think that different people have different expectations of what the manager is and does,” Fullerton said. “Some people believe their job is to lead the assembly, in terms of where the borough is going, and others believe the manager is supposed to just implement what the assembly wants to see happen for the community.”

Over the years, managers have tended to be criticized for being either too hands-on or not hands-on enough, Fullerton said. She and Mayor Jan Hill have proposed a town hall to solicit community input on the manager’s role.

Under borough charter, the assembly hires the manager, not the public, but Fullerton said it’s important to get the entire community’s perspective. The assembly’s makeup changes from year to year, but the community is a constant, she said.

Assembly member Paul Rogers suggested the town hall consider broader questions related to the structure of Haines Borough government.

“Are we doing what is in the best interest of Haines Borough with our current form of government, or are we missing the boat somehow with the way we are going about it?” Rogers asked. He said he thinks there’s room for improvement, although he’s not sure about any specific changes.

At present, Haines has a council-manager form of government where the assembly makes policy decisions for the borough and hires a manager to oversee day-to-day operations. According to the National League of Cities, in most council-manager governments, the Mayor has limited legislative powers and is often a position filled by assembly members on a rotating basis.

Haines differs slightly from the norm — the borough’s Mayor has limited legislative powers but is not a member of the assembly.

Rogers said he and other assembly members have heard from residents who think restructuring is necessary.

At an assembly meeting last month, former assembly member Tom Morphet proposed turning the mayor’s position into a seventh assembly seat, with the Mayor elected from among the assembly on a rotating business. Morphet said this would promote collaboration between the manager and assembly, and help reduce manager turnover.

Under borough charter, voters must approve any changes to the form of government.

Assembly members on the personnel committee and borough staff present at the July 1 meeting seemed content to move slowly with the current manager hiring process.

“We don’t want to rush the hiring of a new manager,” personnel committee chair Stephanie Scott said in an interview. She said assembly members don’t have a specific hiring timeline in mind.

Fullerton, who is currently working two jobs with a 20% pay increase, said she’s content to continue serving as interim manager. She has been with the borough almost four years, the past two as clerk.

“I told them that I was not in a hurry, that I thought it was very important that we have a community conversation about what we want from a manager,” Fullerton said.

At past meetings, assembly members have spoken highly of Fullerton’s performance in the interim position. At present, Fullerton said she doesn’t plan to apply for the permanent manager position.

“I like being the clerk. … I think that as it stands right now, (being permanent manager) is not something I’m very interested in,” Fullerton said. That could change depending what comes out of the town hall meeting on the future of the job, she said.

The full assembly will consider the town hall recommendation at a meeting on July 14.


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