Mayor Jan Hill. (Haines Borough)

Mayor Jan Hill. (Haines Borough)

Mayor Jan Hill could take on the role of Haines’ acting borough manager, if the plan gets the go-ahead from the assembly. The Personnel Committee today (on Monday) voted 3-2 in favor of recommending Hill for the position. The committee also voted to recommend the assembly hire an executive search firm  to find the next permanent manager and police chief.

The Personnel Committee is headed up by assembly member Mike Case and includes Diana Lapham, Ron Jackson, Margaret Friedenauer and manager Dave Sosa. This week they were tasked with whether to endorse hiring an outside agency to help with the search for a couple of key borough positions. They also went into executive session, which is a closed-door meeting, for nearly an hour to talk about who could fill in as manager when Sosa leaves on Dec. 4.

After the debate, they decided on Hill. Sosa, Case and Lapham voted in favor, while Friedenauer and Jackson wanted Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan to the fill the manager post. If the assembly approves the decision and she accepts, Hill would serve as both mayor and manager simultaneously. The position would begin when Sosa leaves next week and end on Dec. 31.

“This has happened in the borough before and I did speak with the borough attorney who reviewed code and said he is comfortable that our code supports this,” Sosa said.

Sosa said now-assembly member Case took over as manager on two separate occasions while he was serving as mayor years ago.

In the past, the borough clerk would take over as manager, though Sosa said that’s not a viable option. Next in line would be department heads or the Chief Financial Officer but neither of those are on the table, either. Sosa recommended an elected official because they know the process, and are familiar with current issues facing the administration.

Friedenauer said she nominated Ryan instead of Hill because the professional boundaries are less fuzzy.

“I think having a borough official in the administration take over managerial duties is more in line with manager duties than having someone in the mayor’s office do it because then you’re crossing legislative branches,” she said. “I’m not opposed to Mayor Hill doing it, I would prefer a borough department head do it because I think it’s cleaner and less confusing, but I am OK, and I’ll be supportive of Mayor Hill doing it, no problem.”

Friedenauer added that she’s confident that Hill would recuse herself should a tie-breaking vote arise that could be a potential conflict.

The Personnel Committee also decided unanimously to recommend the assembly hire a firm to do the heavy lifting when it comes to hiring a permanent manager and police chief. An amendment to that motion includes the recommendation that the assembly look into the costs of the two searches and what the discount is for a package deal. Interim police chief Robert Griffiths departs Haines this week. For now, Sgt. Joshua Dryden is taking on the role of acting chief.

The drawback of hiring an outside firm mostly came down to cost. The agency would take care of learning about the community, asking locals what they want in their next chief, recruiting candidates, doing background checks, and the initial interviews. But the service rings in at around $20,000, not including travel expenses to get candidates to Haines for subsequent interviews. And the price tag could be a lot more if the borough employs the firm to hire both a chief and a manager.

The committee agreed the job of finding two qualified, dedicated individuals to fill both roles is a hefty burden and would take a lot of local resources, if borough staff were to take it on themselves.

“I called Wrangell, I called Petersburg, I called Sitka, my home town; all these communities have used firms in their municipality, their highest positions of hire,” said Lapham. “And I have not heard any derogatory or bad things that these municipalities had to say about firm hire. If they had to do it all over again, they’d use a firm.”

She said it’s about time the borough takes a more professional approach to its hiring. And with the firms offering a money-back guarantee, maybe this time the new employees will stick around for a while.