This time last year, Haines Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan took on the role of interim manager after the previous manager resigned. But he declined to be considered for the full-time position. Now, the job is open again and this time Ryan is interested in taking it on permanently. But, he’s not the only person in the running. An experienced manager from Washington is vying for the interim job. And Haines resident Debra Schnabel wants the permanent position.
The assembly held a special meeting this week to discuss the offers of two candidates for interim manager. Last month, they voted 4-2 to fire former manager Bill Seward, leaving the position vacant.
Facilities Director Ryan said he’s also willing to fill the role permanently.
“You may be asking yourself ‘why now? You didn’t want it last time, you said there was too much commitment for your family,” said Ryan.
Ryan said he is totally behind the job, and has resolved previous commitment issues. He said his first time being manager wasn’t easy, between the budget, negotiating a contract with the employees union, and maintaining his role in public facilities.
“And I won’t say it went smooth the first three months,” said Ryan. “There was a lot of just getting to know each other, learning each other’s ins and outs but as it went on I felt like I got the confidence of the staff, I got the confidence of the assembly, and by the end of the six months things were actually clicking along pretty smoothly.”
Ryan said his strength is working with people. He said his weakness is a lack of education to support the position. Ryan has a background in science and had no municipal experience before starting work for the borough in Sept. 2015. Several members of the public spoke in support of Ryan, and hiring local.
“Over the last few months I have come to know Brad as someone that I can trust, someone who is very competent,” said borough planner Holly Smith.
“He has been through the ropes and knows what’s going on,” said Don Turner.
“I think one of the best ways to move forward would be for selecting the borough manager, especially a permanent one that is from Haines,” said Andrew Grey. “I really think it would just be the best way. You’re guys’ task I think now is to stop the revolving door.”
There’s one other person interested in the interim position. Dave Palmer was a city manager in Petersburg and Juneau, and city administrator in Craig. He reached out to the assembly and offered to help after hearing about Seward’s termination. He’s not interested in the permanent position.
“I know a little bit about Haines and a lot about city management,” said Palmer. “The timing is good for me, I’ve got several months available ahead of me. I just put my name out there not knowing which direction the assembly intended to go and I’m here if I can help.”
Assembly member Heather Lende asked each candidate how they would foster trust in the borough.
“The best thing is to have – it’s almost a cliché – but open communication where everybody gets the same information, try to listen to everyone’s information and make sure you don’t have little groups and cliques and lines of communication that are not easily understood,” said Palmer.
“I don’t think trust is that hard to gain as long as you’re consistent in your message and you’re forthcoming,” said Ryan.
Assemblyman Tom Morphet asked Palmer about his familiarity with local issues in Haines.
“I’ve been in and out of Haines for quite a while,” said Palmer. “I’m familiar with transportation issues, weather. As far as the current issues, I can’t tell you I’m up on it other than what I read in the paper and pick up off the website from the radio station.”
He said he would look to the assembly for guidance and direction. Morphet also asked about Palmer’s experience with some of the issues related to the fallout from the assembly’s decision to fire Seward. The former manager says he is exploring a wrongful termination lawsuit and residents have threatened recall petitions for certain assembly members.
“I have dealt with all kinds of sticky personnel issues,” said Palmer. “I’ve had to eliminate an entire department. I’ve had to fire a police chief, I’ve had to fire a fire chief, I’ve been through a lot of oddball issues.”
After Palmer and Ryan had been interviewed by the assembly, one other candidate stepped up to the microphone.
“There’s no doubt for me that I would like to serve this borough and I think that I can serve this borough well,” said Schnabel.
That’s Haines resident Debra Schnabel. She reached out to the assembly last week, expressing her interest in the permanent manager position. Schnabel said she wants that job advertised. That is not required by borough code.
“I think that to announce at a meeting such as this that the possibility that you will not be advertising the position is to, on a very personal level obviously it’s closing the door on me. It doesn’t feel good,” said Schnabel.
The assembly unanimously passed a motion to advertise for the permanent job. Beyond that, it’s unclear what process they will follow to find a replacement. But there may be an answer on who will fill the interim position at the next assembly meeting on January 10.