The Haines Assembly is once against searching for someone to take over the turnover-plagued borough manager position. Late last week, the assembly conducted preliminary interviews with three candidates. They included two locals and one out-of-town applicant.
The two local candidates, Brad Ryan and Debra Schnabel, referenced the divisiveness that seems to shadow a lot of projects and issues in Haines.
“I think Haines is a great place,” Ryan said. “And it seems like we always are on the cusp of these things happening in town and they kind of sometimes fall by the wayside because of the controversy. And I guess I may sound a little arrogant, but I truly believe I can help bring that together to bring the controversy down and make things happen in a smoother fashion and with less controversy, I hope.”
Ryan has been with the borough about two years. He came in as public facilities director. But frequent turnover in the borough’s top job led Ryan to step in as interim manager twice. The assembly chose him for that role after the most recent manager, Bill Seward, was let go in December.
Ryan did not want the permanent manager position in early 2016, during his first interim stint. But now, he’s changed his mind. Ryan said the lack of consistent leadership in the manager’s office makes other borough jobs difficult.
“I believe I can bring stability to that and we can stop this back and forth, I don’t want to call it nonsense, but I can’t think of a better term, that makes the director of public facilities job so challenging,” Ryan said. “Yeah, the director of public facilities job is great, but you’re not guiding the whole organization and so now you’re sitting there at the mercy of someone who is, and today it’s manager A and tomorrow it’s manager B. It’s an incredibly frustrating place to sit.”
Aside from his experience as interim manager, Ryan said his leadership roles at regional watershed councils and an open communication style make him a good candidate. Ryan also said he enjoys the budgeting process, which he is now doing for the second time as interim manager.
Debra Schnabel also said she could help the borough come together on controversial topics.
“I don’t think [there’s controversy] because we necessarily have different values, but I think that we oftentimes fail to exercise our better nature,” Schnabel said. “And that’s one thing that I would definitely do my best to exemplify, is the better nature in behavior and problem solving and issues that come up.”
Schnabel has a master’s degree in public administration. Right now, she serves as the director of the Haines Chamber of Commerce. She is a former borough assembly member, borough employee and consultant. Schnabel said she has skills in conflict resolution, is a good listener, and has a solid history in the borough. But she said her strongest asset is her connection with the community.
“I feel strongly that I have ways, I have avenues, I have connections, I have people,” Schnabel said. “I feel comfortable walking around town. I don’t think I have a label on me, I don’t think I belong to a particular group. I don’t have a problem picking up the phone and calling people.”
The third candidate is Patrick Jordan. He has the most experience as a government administrator, in Alaska and other states. Jordan is currently a county administrator in Michigan. He was assistant city manager in Unalaska for about three years and borough manager in Bristol Bay for about a year.
“I’m there to gather information and educate the assembly objectively,” Jordan said. “With no agenda, no particular direction, just educate you objectively and give you the information to help you make decisions. That’s my job.”
Jordan said he has a ‘servant’s heart’ and described his experience as ‘broad.’ He said he has a background working on Alaska port infrastructure projects and lobbying for legislative funding. Jordan told the assembly he would build an effective team by establishing trust.
“You have to back up your words with actions and you can’t make promises you can’t keep,” Jordan said. “And I understand there are some local candidates there. And if I’m hired for this position there may be a bridge that needs to be built, you know. But I’m good at the relationship part of this stuff.”
Jordan was a finalist for a municipal manager job in Sitka as well. But last week, the Sitka Assembly decided to drop him from its shortlist after the mayor said he received a phone call that gave him ‘reservations’ about Jordan.
On Tuesday, the Haines Assembly will decide which candidates advance to the next round. The finalists will have a more in-depth interview with the assembly and interviews with community members and borough staff.