Haines Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan is the new interim borough manager. It wasn’t an easy decision for the borough assembly Tuesday night. The assembly was split between Ryan and a retired Juneau city manager. Ultimately, the mayor broke a tie vote in favor of Ryan.
Haines’ top municipal job was left in limbo about a month ago, when the assembly fired manager Bill Seward in a 4-2 vote. Since then, borough clerk Julie Cozzi has served as acting manager.
Facilities Director Ryan has experience with the interim manager job. In late 2015 he took on the role after manager Dave Sosa resigned. The assembly gave Ryan a favorable review during his six months as interim. Assemblywoman Margaret Friedenauer said Ryan’s Haines experience and his support from other borough staff make him the best candidate.
“That’s what we need right now is consistency, I believe,” Friedenauer said. “From somebody who has proven themselves in this position, that has the high confidence of the staff and the assembly.”
Ryan is also interested in the permanent manager job.
But other assembly members found an offer from former Juneau city manager Dave Palmer too tempting to refuse. Palmer has a long record of municipal management experience in Southeast Alaska. He is retired now, but he offered to serve as interim to help Haines through its leadership transition. Assembly member Heather Lende said they would be ‘foolish’ to pass up Palmer’s offer.
“All of us know that if you mention Haines and government to anybody anywhere, we’ve got a problem.,” Lende said. “We can’t keep managers.”
Lende said one reason for the high manager turnover might be that the assembly doesn’t hire managers based on professional qualifications. The last two managers had no municipal experience.
“I’m voting to try to do something about this systemic problem we have with governing ourselves,” Lende said. “And I think the root of it is in not hiring professionals.”
Assemblyman Tom Morphet also favored Palmer based on his professional experience.
“Brad has great judgment, I think Brad has shown diligence,” Morphet said. “The one area where I don’t think Brad is completely strong in is experience. And I have to agree with Heather. I think we need a manager who can model an example of how a professional manager operates.”
Assemblyman Tresham Gregg agreed with Morphet and Lende. He said it might be more disruptive to remove Ryan from his public facilities role, considering the number of major projects the borough is juggling.
Mayor Jan Hill spoke up before the vote. She praised Ryan and admonished the assembly for not listening to borough staff members who spoke at previous meetings in his favor.
“Brad is committed to this community,” Hill said. “He is invested in this community.”
When it came to a vote, the assembly was split. Friedenauer, Ron Jackson and Mike Case voted to hire Ryan. Lende, Morphet and Gregg were opposed. Mayor Hill broke the tie vote in favor of Ryan.
At the end of the meeting, resident Mike Denker approached the microphone. He said the assembly did not follow the borough charter, which states ‘the manager is selected solely on the basis of professional qualifications.’
“The charter says ‘solely on the basis of professional qualifications.’ Plain English,” Denker said. “The charter, the guiding document. Really?”
The borough’s executive assistant to the manager, Krista Kielsmeier spoke next. She said ‘professional qualifications’ are not always clear-cut.
“What is the value of on-the-ground, Haines experience?” Keilsmeier said. “What is the value of doing the job before? What is the impact of being retired for seven years?”
Ryan has already started as interim manager. His contract includes a 20 percent pay increase. That boosts Ryan’s hourly pay to $48, which is equivalent to about a $100,000 annual salary.
Speaking by phone Wednesday, Ryan said he was pleased with the assembly’s decision.
“It’s unfortunate there’s a division over it, but I hope we can win everybody’s confidence and move forward,” he said.
Ryan said his plan is for Harbormaster Shawn Bell to serve as acting public facilities director in his absence. Assistant Harbormaster Gabe Thomas will step up to acting harbormaster.
The assembly still needs to decide how to move forward with the search for a permanent manager. Ryan is interested, but he’s not the only candidate so far. Haines Chamber of Commerce Director Debra Schnabel also expressed interest. The assembly plans to discuss whether to cast a wider net for the manager job at its Jan. 24 meeting.