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City Assembly compiles 'short list' of manager candidates

Posted: December 13, 2011 - 1:02am

Applicants for Juneau’s soon-to-be-vacant city manager position with the City and Borough of Juneau totaled 25, and Monday night the Assembly Committee of the Whole narrowed the candidates to a “short list.”

The committee reviewed the candidates in executive session and wouldn’t clarify how many were on that “short list.” The candidates that the Assembly will consider further will be contacted and asked if they’re still interested and those who didn’t make the cut also will be notified. Once confirmation from the remaining candidates is received, the city will announce finalists to be interviewed.

The COW also defined broadly how it would like the interview process to go.

Mayor Bruce Botelho suggested a mechanism for department leaders to interview the candidates, an Assembly interview and a more informal public forum.

Assembly Member Randy Wanamaker was opposed to the idea of department leaders “interviewing” candidates, but would rather have them give a briefing to candidates about their department.

“I don’t really want the city department heads assessing someone for me,” he said. “I do want them sharing information.”

Wanamaker said last time the city had something called an “assessment center” for the candidates and he said he felt it was a waste of time. He suggested instead having a briefing session for the candidates, such as with the department leaders, so candidates can build a better picture of the whole city.

Botelho, in giving ideas for what information they want to get from candidates, suggested having finalists complete three or four assignments where they would write up a briefing memo for the Assembly and then discuss it with them.

Assembly Member Johan Dybdahl liked the idea, but suggested having them incorporate the Assembly’s Top 10 goals.

Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl and Wanamaker felt that three to four such assignments may be too much for their purposes, but felt that some sort of exercise would be valuable.

The public forum also was clarified more. It would be a “League of Women Voters”-style forum where candidates would be asked questions and required to respond. Botelho said it would test the ability of candidates to think on their feet, public speaking skills and how they respond under pressure.

Assembly Member Mary Becker suggested they also have a reception, so that those who aren’t necessarily coming with an intent to ask a question can visit with candidates.

The Assembly formed a subcommittee to draft options for assignments for the candidates. Assembly Members Carlton Smith, Wanamaker and Kiehl will serve on it, with Smith chairing.

The COW also recommended the Assembly form a committee to decide further details on a budget survey. The League of Women Voters of Juneau drafted a proposal to conduct another citizen survey on the budget. With a projected $7.5-million deficit over the course of the next two years, the Assembly wants the information to make budget decisions.

The League proposed changing the normal format of the survey from telephone to mailings. A representative of the League said telephone surveys are no longer reliable for their methodology because of how cellular telephones have transformed behaviors. One problem is that cell phone numbers are not listed in the phone book and those who do not also have land lines would not be contacted. Another problem is that phone companies gave people the ability to move their number with them. So just because a number has a Douglas prefix, for example, doesn’t mean that person actually lives in Douglas anymore.

That’s a problem for surveying because they’re trying to get a certain percentage of respondents per area of Juneau.

Instead, the League wants to mail out surveys, which will reach every Juneau mailing address instead of a limited group of phone participants. The proposed survey mirrors a 2008 survey, which featured questions on budget priorities, demographics and other financial considerations. Those questions change by next week’s Assembly meeting as a small committee works through the questions for the survey. The committee consists of Assembly Member Karen Crane, who will chair the committee and is chairwoman of the Assembly’s Finance Committee, and Assembly Members Kiehl and Smith.

Kiehl was concerned about the processes the League would take to avoid duplicity — as the mailings will also hit mailboxes of businesses.

“They aren’t going to be able to keep people from answering more than once,” said Kim Kiefer, deputy city manager. “Unless you send it to a specific address and track it, we wont be able to keep people from stuffing the ballot box with their comments.”

Kiehl also was concerned about there being an inherent bias in mailing surveys, since he believes a limited demographic tends to respond to mailings.

The League is working with a volunteer from Anchorage — Steve Hamilton — who has a background in statistical surveys, the League said. Kiefer said results will be recorded as they come in, and if staff or Hamilton notices specific sectors of Juneau haven’t responded in sufficient percentages, the League can send out a public service announcement asking for more responses.

Wanamaker asked for more background data on the survey the city had McDowell Group perform regarding the pool. He said he remembers that being cheap and fast and wanted to know more about the methodology used back then.

Kiefer said she didn’t remember offhand, but it could be added for research for the subcommittee.

The cost of the League’s survey is proposed at just under $10,000 and results aren’t expected back until April. Wanamaker said he felt that was too late for the Assembly to use effectively with the deficit.

Smith wanted to know more information on the methodology that will be used in the League’s study.

The League representative said they can have Hamilton address their concerns as early as Tuesday.

The COW voted 8-1 to move the survey to the subcommittee to review the questions and methodology and forward it to the Assembly as its acting body. Wanamaker was opposed, saying the motion was premature.

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

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