The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly will take a look at characteristics it wants in its next city manager, but initial responses from many members show support for promoting the current deputy city manager.
In Tuesday’s Assembly retreat, members discussed how they want to go about filling City Manager Rod Swope’s position. Swope is retiring again and has set an official date of March 31. He tried to retire about two years ago and the Assembly conducted a nationwide search. That Assembly found none of the candidates were acceptable and asked Swope to stay on for at least two more years. The city offered him a six-month break and he agreed to stay on. During his absence, Deputy City Manager Kim Kiefer served as acting manager.
Kiefer was selected as the deputy manager in 2005, when Donna Pierce retired. Kiefer was the Parks and Recreation director for seven years and has worked for the city for about 26 years.
Mayor Bruce Botelho asked the Assembly members for their thoughts on whether they wanted to conduct a search or simply ask Kiefer to take up the new role. Botelho emphasized that these would be initial opinions, not grounded stances.
The Assembly response showed strong initial support for promoting Kiefer.
“Look local first,” said Assembly member Johan Dybdahl.
Assembly member David Stone said he did not want a national search again, but favored a statewide look.
Assembly member Jesse Kiehl said he would like a statewide or local search. He said he wasn’t quite ready to make a decision, but also would support having Kiefer as manager.
Assembly members Ruth Danner, Karen Crane and Mary Becker supported Kiefer, although Crane also wanted a Juneau-search.
“I am in agreement with looking local first,” Becker said. “Kim would be fine with me too if Kim wants it. I would like to know if she feels up for it and qualified for it. Otherwise, local and I’m OK with regional. I want to get someone who wants to come to Juneau and who wants to stay here. Someone that really is devoted to our community and staying here in Alaska and Juneau.”
Botelho also prefers Kiefer because of her history with the city both professionally and personally and because she has capably served as manager before.
Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said when the Assembly conducted the national search for a manager when Swope was first retiring, it drafted a plan for how to replace him when he decided to re-retire. Wanamaker wanted the new Assembly to read that document and go forward from there.
“I think part of that has to be that each one of us has to sit down, put together a list of those leadership qualities they’re looking for in a city manager,” Wanamaker said. “We can compile that for the next meeting so we all know. We’ll be defining what we’re looking for, then we can define the person we’re looking for.”
Assembly member Carlton Smith wanted to review that plan and wanted to expand the horizon on finding a manager.
“I would suggest, and I may not be correct here, this is the No. 1 decision this body is responsible for,” Smith said. “Rather than be limited, we need to expand the horizon. We need to identify what we’re looking for. That will drive a search, whether its internal or from the outside. I would like us to have a rich discussion.”
Botelho said if the Assembly was not comfortable with Kiefer, he would prefer an Alaska search because most of Juneau’s managers that have come from out of state haven’t stayed in the job long. Swope has served for 81/2 years.
Swope said the average tenure of city managers overall is 2 to 21/2 years. Botelho said it’s not necessarily indicative of that person choosing to move on, but the governing body’s decision that it’s time to move on.
Kiefer was asked if she would share her thoughts on whether she is interested in the position.
“I am interested in the position,” she said. “I feel like I have been side-by-side with Rod in working with the budget. The first six months when Rod was gone, I came up with a list of almost a million dollars to work on so we had something to work on when Rod came back. I feel that I am a collaborative problem solver. I am able to bring people on all sides of issues together to find some common ground.”
She said some examples are working with people on commercial use of trails and dogs on trails and getting both sides to come away with an agreement.
“Those are small pieces,” Kiefer said. “I know the organization and look forward to working the next six months with Rod and know his thinking on things. There are pieces he’s touched that I haven’t worked on. Anybody coming in would have that same challenge.”
Botelho said through discussions on Tuesday he had heard no one question Kiefer’s ability, however he believes it’s important to have unity in the Assembly for selecting a manager.
“It is unhealthy for any manager to start the position that there is some opposition to begin with,” Botelho said. “My recommendation would be that we take a look at the plan we put together a little over two years ago, with the caveat, with the general consensus our focus should be no broader than regional (Alaska).”
The Assembly will take a look at the plan and what qualities members wish to see in a manager at its next Committee of the Whole meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 31. Botelho said it’s crucial the Assembly make quick steps forward so there is transitional time for that new person. If the Assembly chooses to look broader rather than internally, that will take more time.
“I think it’s important that we get as much level of comfort among all members,” Botelho said. “We work toward that if we look at what we’ve done before, deciding that we at least have an image of the manager we’re looking for.”
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.