The interview process to choose Haines’ next municipal leader began Monday morning. Local residents Debra Schnabel and Brad Ryan are the two finalists for the borough manager job. They answered questions from borough staff — their potential employees — during the first round of interviews.
Ryan has worked for the borough for a little more than a year and a half as public facilities director. Right now, he is serving as interim manager for the second time. So, the staff already have experience with his leadership.
“I would say the employees should only recommend me as manager if they’re happy with how I’m working with them now,” Ryan said. “If they’re not, they shouldn’t. I completely believe that.”
Some of the staff have already publically supported Ryan by signing a petition created by resident Dave Long. They include police chief Heath Scott, water/sewer manager Scott Bradford, fiscal chief Jila Stuart, and museum director Helen Alten.
Schnabel addressed the awkwardness of the situation. She said she understood that if she were hired, Ryan would step back to public facilities director. That, in turn, would bump Shawn Bell back to harbormaster and Gabe Thomas back to assistant harbormaster. Both had temporarily moved to higher positions when Ryan was chosen as interim manager.
“I can appreciate many things, the turmoil in the situation,” Schnabel said. “I know there are members of staff that have been promoted into other positions and that if I were chosen it would disruptive. But I believe that I have your best interests at heart.”
Schnabel also did not shy away from the fact that she has taken political stances on certain issues, including the contentious small boat harbor expansion.
“I’ve been asked in relation to the harbor, ‘Debra, would you stop the harbor project?’ Of course not,” Schnabel said. “All of the projects that are in the works right now, they’re in the works because that’s where the community has taken it.”
Schnabel said she knows she has a reputation for being tenacious. But she said as manager, she would set aside her personal and political opinions.
Schnabel is currently the director of the Haines Chamber of Commerce. She’s previously served as an assembly member and borough staff member. She also has managed public radio stations KHNS and KBRW in Barrow.
Schnabel said as manager, she would work to improve connections between the government and community.
“That’s one of the things now that we as a community recognize, there’s a lot of turmoil. There’s a lot of contention,” Schnabel said. “And I think I can help bring together and explore some of the differences we are experiencing and find some common ground.”
Ryan was asked a couple questions Schnabel was not, including what he thinks the differences are between the two of them. Ryan said Schnabel seems to have a more ‘direct’ management style and that as Chamber director, she has more business ties. In terms of what he could bring to the job that Schnabel might not, Ryan emphasized his ability to ‘keep things calm.’
“I’m calm, I like to bring things down, I like to not get them excited,” Ryan said. “I think I can bring a lot of people together. I think I’m really good at mediating situations when they’re excited. And I listen to the surrounding environment and what people want, I think that’s what I bring to that Debra wouldn’t.”
Prior to working for the borough, Ryan led local and regional watershed councils and worked as a research scientist. He said he strives to be a good manager by showing his employees he has confidence in them.
“That’s how I like to manage, I’m not heavy-handed at all,” Ryan said. “Sometimes people say ‘you listen too much, you’re not speaking enough,’ I don’t think that’s true. I try to listen and I try to make a good decision.”
The candidates will continue to distinguish themselves in two more rounds of interviews. Community meetings are Monday night starting at 5:30 in the library. Interviews with the assembly are Tuesday night at 5:30. After that, the assembly is set to make a decision on who will be the next borough manager.
Full interviews with borough staff (Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer moderating):