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City manager edging back toward retirement

Assembly to look at hiring options in late October

Posted: September 30, 2011 - 12:04am

While City Manager Rod Swope has not filed his official notice of resignation, it is anticipated he will finish his employment as the manager this spring.

Candidates for the Assembly were told Swope had announced his retirement and were asked what they would look for in a new manager at Thursday's Chamber candidate forum.

Though he hasn't made that announcement, the city is anticipating him retiring — for real this time.

Swope had tried to retire in 2009, and the City Assembly went through a nationwide search to find a new city manager.

"He wanted to retire and we went through a search process," Mayor Bruce Botelho said. "We were very unhappy with the candidates. We went back to him and asked him if he would consider coming back or staying on. His comments were he needed to get away, take a break. We were willing to give him six months (of a break) if he were to commit to an additional two years."

Those two years are up soon. Botelho said the negotiation was for him to stay for a minimum of two years, and that he has to give a six-month notice of retirement.

Botelho said he anticipates Swope will retire somewhere around April.

The Assembly has an annual retreat after the fall elections for the Assembly to work on its goals for the year and address other significant topics.

Botelho said hiring a new manager will be one of the topics in the retreat. A date has not been set, and won't be until the election is certified. Botelho expects it to be after Oct. 17. 

Given the city's looming $7 million deficit between fiscal years 2013-14, questions have arisen over how planning for that will go. Swope still has at least seven months left with the city.

Botelho said Swope has been planning for the biennial budget and will be addressing the Assembly on the matter at the retreat. Botelho believes Swope will be making recommendations, but also knows he has taken steps to freeze rehiring when positions become vacant due to attrition.

Botelho said every year, Swope has prepared the budget in the fall and the Assembly reviews it in the spring. Botelho expects the same this year, but also believes the Assembly will continue deliberations longer than its normal April finishing time. He anticipates completion in May or early June this year. He attributed that to a number of factors, including introducing potentially a new manager and with three new faces on the Assembly.

In a 2009 Empire interview with Swope, when he was about to take a six-month break, he had said part of the reason he agreed to stay on was because the city would be facing "some potentially pretty difficult financial problems in the next two to three years." He felt it would be a little difficult and unfair for someone brand new to try and wade through it.

With his work on the 2013-14 budget, it seems Swope will leave the city with a budget and plan for the latest deficit.

Botelho said there will generally be three options for finding a new city manager: one is a nationwide search, another is a regional (statewide) search, and the third would be to seek out specific candidates. Botelho said if the Assembly goes with the third option, Deputy City Manager Kim Kiefer would be on the list to determine interest in the position.

Given that several experienced members of the Assembly are headed out, Botelho will term out next election and Swope's departure, concerns have been raised by Assembly candidates and the public over having enough experience left.

"It’s the nature of institutions that there is turnover at some points," Botelho said. "There may be more turnover than others. ... My sense is that even though you lose a lot of experience and institutional knowledge, and that’s difficult to make up, you gain in new perspectives coming in. There will be enough continuity both in the executive (level) in the city and on the Assembly itself. There should not be a noticeable difference to the public in terms of delivery of services."

Swope was not immediately available for comment Thursday afternoon.

Swope was first hired as the city manager in 2003 following a nationwide search. Swope served on the Assembly from 1991-1997 and was a commissioner for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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