Hunt for city manager drags on

The half-year hunt for Juneau’s next city manager is nearing its end, but not as quickly as some people, Assembly members included, had hoped. After deliberating for three and a half hours in executive session Tuesday night, the Assembly decided it needs more time.

The decision is not an easy one. Juneau’s municipal government adheres to the city-manager form, meaning the manager — not the mayor — is the most powerful single position in the city. This hiring decision is, as Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove recently told the Empire, one of most important decisions the Assembly can make.

In order to make it, Assembly members are striving for consensus — a threshold they often try to meet but don’t typically hold themselves to.

“We really don’t want this one to be a 5–3 split,” Assembly member Jesse Kiehl said.

Kiehl explained that that the Assembly doesn’t want the next city manager to step into his new role facing a fractured Assembly. The city manager has to work closely with the Assembly, and all parties involved want the relationship to be built on a strong foundation.

The Assembly’s consensus caution aside, this would still not be an easy choice. The two final candidates — Rorie Watt and Fred Parady — each bring a wealth of experience, and each bring a different skill set. They made this much clear during a public meet-and-greet in City Hall immediately before the Assembly’s executive session meeting Tuesday.

Watt, currently the director of the city’s Engineering and Public Works departments, leaned on his 22 years of experience working with the city and his engineering background as he made his case during a 30-minute presentation to the public.

“I like complicated problems, and I like working with people,” Watt told the 30 or so members of the public who attended. “I try to understand facts. That’s the engineer in me bleeding out. But if you break down your problems and you steel yourself against preconceived solutions, we can accomplish great things.”

Watt brought up his professional experience and addressed city-specific problems he’d like to tackle, including the city’s shifting demographics, the high cost of housing and “our very own Mount Trashmore,” the Lemon Creek landfill.

Watt also harped his experience working with the Assembly and said that he would like work on consensus building. A common joke among Assembly members, he said, is in order to get thing’s done they only have to know how to count to five — the number needed to win in a roll call decision. That’s a “terrible way to do things,” Watt said. “There are so many things we could be doing to count to nine.

In many ways, Parady, currently the deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, is somewhat of a foil to his opponent. Watt is the insider; Parady is the outsider. Watt has lots of experience with the local government; Parady has a lot of experience with state government — he served as Speaker of the House in Wyoming for nearly a decade. These differences, according to Parady, are not a bad thing.

“I think I have a lot to offer as a new set of eyes,” Parady said, answering a question from the audience. “I’m a quick study.”

He said his state government experience will help him deal with Alaska’s financial woes. Juneau will be impacted by the state’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit, and Parady said “there’s no low-hanging fruit left” when it comes to making cuts. For this reason, Parady said that his detachment from Juneau — he’s lived here for a year and a half — will help him to decide what is essential and what can be cut.

Parady also talked about his experience working as a manager in the mining industry, where he got his start. There, he said, he developed experience making plans and sticking with them, which he said will help if he is Juneau’s next city manager.

“The key is accountability,” he said, after speaking about the city’s economic development plan. “You don’t need to generate reports; you need to generate action.”

Though the Assembly didn’t come to a decision on who to hire Tuesday evening, as was the goal, it is better informed to make the tough call, Cosgrove said. Members of the public filled out candidate evaluation forms after the meet-and-greet, which she said will likely help the Assembly as it moves forward.

“From that information they need to discuss which direction they want to head, and then they have to negotiate salary, and all of that has to happen before they make a public announcement,” Cosgrove said.

The Assembly hasn’t released when it will next meet to discuss the matter, but deliberation is “ongoing”, Cosgrove said. Current City Manager Kim Kiefer will retire at the end of April.

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