William Seward listens to assembly members during an interview Saturday. (Emily Files)

Bill Seward listens to assembly members during an interview Saturday. (Emily Files)

Personality won out over experience in the Haines Borough Assembly’s decision of who to hire as the next borough manager.

In a 4-2 vote, the assembly backed William ‘Bill’ Seward for the job. Seward is a soon-to-be retired Coast Guard veteran who grew up in Alaska. He was chosen over Mark Karet, the candidate some borough staff strongly supported.

Turnover has plagued the top borough job for years. Haines has seen 13 permanent and interim managers in about as many years. This time around, the assembly paid $27,000 plus expenses for a search firm to lead the hunt for candidates. It culminated Saturday, when four finalists interviewed in-person with the assembly, borough staff and a citizens group.

Three candidates who previously were chosen as finalists withdrew from consideration over the past month. But the two who rose to the top Saturday were included in the assembly’s initial favorites. They were Bill Seward and Mark Karet.

(The other two finalists who visited were Alaska Public Offices Commission Director Paul Dauphinais and Washington-based Navy director Kevin Opple.)

Seward is director of auxiliary and recreational boating safety at a Coast Guard base in Miami.

“I was groomed by the Coast Guard with core values: honor, respect, devotion to duty. Those are our core values and that’s what I’ll bring to this job.”

Seward said he’s pursuing this job because he ‘desperately’ wants to move home to Alaska. He’s originally from Kodiak and is of Tlingit descent.

He said his budgeting and leadership experience in the Coast Guard will translate well in his first local government job.

“I think one of the keys of being a good leader is making sure the person at the lowest level knows what’s going on. You’ve got to be transparent, you gotta be an open book and not keep secrets.”

Seward has spent 28 years in the Coast Guard. Fellow finalist Mark Karet has worked about the same amount of time in town administration, economic development and planning jobs. He is currently Director of Administrative Services in Hillsborough County, Florida.

Mark Karet. (Emily Files)

Mark Karet. (Emily Files)

Karet talked about his experience trying to resolve community conflict over government decisions.

“People don’t fear change, they fear loss. So you have to figure out, OK so we’re describing some important component [of change], what is it you’re fearful you’re gonna lose? How can you mitigate that?”

Karet said he’s ready to take the next step in his career and lead a local government.

“I’ve been preparing for this my entire career. Being a manager is the pinnacle of that. I also think I have the right temperament and patience to work through issues.”

After the interviews, some of the assembly and citizens’ group members praised Karet’s experience, but questioned his confidence and leadership, saying he seemed nervous.

A few borough staff members who also interviewed Karet defended him. They said, just because someone is quiet or introverted doesn’t mean they lack the confidence and skills to do the job.

“There’s only one candidate that I interviewed with today that my shoulders won’t slump over if I find out they’re our new manager,” said borough finance director Jila Stuart.

She said Karet is the only finalist who wouldn’t face a steep learning curve.

As for Seward, the citizens’ group and most assembly members said he seemed compassionate, humble, and that he would ‘fit in’ to Haines.

“He’s got a very high level of integrity,” said Assemblyman George Campbell. “When a guy is straight-up and you can believe what he’ telling you, it takes a lot of pressure off when you’re trying to make decisions.”

But some people said Seward’s answers seemed ‘textbook-y.’

“A lot of what I heard, it felt like it was just what we should be hearing from him,” said Assemblyman Ron Jackson. “And I had the question of whether he was really authentic.”

The assembly went into executive session to make a decision. After more than an hour, they opened the doors and made a motion to offer the manager contract to Seward. It passed 4-2, with Campbell, Diana Lapham, Mike Case and Tresham Gregg voting yes. Margaret Friedenauer and Ron Jackson voted no.

Friedenauer explained her decision after the meeting. She said she wasn’t voting against Seward, but for Karet.

“To respect what I believe was very valuable input from the staff and very valuable qualifications I chose to stick with my first choice,” Friedenauer said.

Assemblyman Gregg said Seward was his first choice because he’s the kind of person who can ‘move mountains.’ When asked about his lack of municipal experience, Gregg said:

“I think that his personality is such that he’s going to win over the staff and everybody’s going to want to work with him, even if he doesn’t have all of the municipal experience that he might.”

Assemblywoman Lapham said Seward’s Alaska background was also a plus.

“He’s an Alaska boy, born and bred. And his wife is Alaskan born and bred. And there’s a connection there that we really don’t worry how they’re going to assimilate into the community because they’ve already got Alaska in their heart.”

Consultant Richard Fursman is tasked with negotiating a contract with Seward. Seward told the assembly during his interview that he would be able to start on June 20.


Original post 5/14:

The next Haines Borough Manager is a soon-to-be retired Coast Guard director with Alaska roots. After a marathon round of interviews and discussions Saturday, the assembly voted 4-2 to hire William ‘Bill’ Seward for the job.

Seward is retiring from the Coast Guard this month after 28 years of service. He is currently the director of auxiliary and recreational boat safety at a Coast Guard post in Miami. He’s been stationed around the country, in Florida, California, and Oregon. Now, he says he wants to come home to Alaska for good.

“Why do I think I’m a good fit? ‘Cause this is home,” Seward said. “I’m at home. There’s no assimilation required. I grew up in Alaska. My heritage is here. I want to reconnect in a small community.”

Seward was raised in Kodiak and is of Tlingit descent.

He doesn’t have any municipal management experience, which concerned some of the borough staff and assembly members who spent time with candidates Saturday.

When it came time to vote on hiring Seward for the job, assembly members Ron Jackson and Margaret Friedenauer cast the two dissenting votes. Both said they preferred Mark Karet, who was the candidate that some borough staff favored.

“I really wanted to support the staff because they’re the ones who are going to work with him on a day to day basis,” Jackson said.

Karet was the only one of the four finalists who had municipal administration experience. He is currently the director of administrative services in Hillsborough County, Florida.

Ultimately, assembly member Diana Lapham says Seward’s personality and connection to Alaska won her over.

“We have to look at the broad picture,” Lapham said. “We have to not only look for our assembly, our staff, our immediate positions that we have in the borough, but community-wide. How is he going to interact with the community? Are people going to feel comfortable coming and talking to him? Is he going to be part of this community by volunteering?”

Seward said in his interview that he would be available to start on the job June 20. Consultant Richard Fursman says he will negotiate a contract with Seward within the next week.

The other finalists who visited Haines for interviews were Alaska Public Offices Commission Director Paul Dauphinais and Washington-based Navy director Kevin Opple.

KHNS will have a more detailed story Monday afternoon.