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Community Dev. director candidates talk at meet-and-greet

Posted: June 27, 2012 - 12:02am

At the end of two long days of assessments, the four finalists to become the permanent director of Juneau’s Community Development Department regrouped for a public reception in the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Chambers late Tuesday afternoon.

The Assessment Center, a means of scenario testing used to evaluate how the candidates respond to an issue they could face as director, gave assessors “lots of opportunity for insight,” said Deputy City Manager Rob Steedle.

“The candidates have done very well,” Steedle said. “We gave them a series of knotty problems that built upon one another, and they each brought their own perspectives and creativity to it.”

Although most of the exercises were open to the public, Human Resources director Mila Cosgrove said few people showed up before the meet-and-greet, which was also very lightly attended.

“It’s always nice when the public comes and views what’s going on in the city,” Cosgrove said. “But, you know, our main focus was really on the candidates and seeing how they responded to the exercises that we had set up.”

Candidate Katherine Eldemar, a former Assembly member who also sits on Goldbelt, Inc.’s board of directors, described the process of being a finalist for the CDD director position as “very public.”

“I think the city’s being very diligent as it proceeds to select someone to (fill) this role of Community Development director,” said Eldemar. “I think it’s all positive. It’s a win for Juneau.”

Eldemar is one of two finalists who are from Juneau. The other one, Juneau Planning Manager Greg Chaney, is the only finalist from inside the CBJ government.

Chaney said it has been challenging to serve as acting director while being a candidate for the permanent position, especially since he is also having to do his regular duties as planning manager.

“It’s a lot of work. I have been pretty much overwhelmed since I started,” Chaney admitted. “I’m not as efficient as I could be, and I definitely am looking forward to becoming more efficient at the position.”

Chaney added that if he becomes the permanent director, the CBJ will be able to hire a new planning manager, relieving him of the double workload.

While two of the candidates are from Juneau, the other two said they had never been to Alaska before this week. Edward James, vice chairman of the planning commission in Lehi, Utah, had warm words for Juneau despite the gloomy weather.

“It’s a jewel in paradise,” said James. “It’s just one of the most amazing places in the world. The way the fjords are cut and everything, and the wildlife is fantastic. … And everyone is as friendly as they said they would be.”

Hal Hart, a planning consultant from Bothell, Wash., who has worked in city, county and state government in Washington, said he is “really impressed” by what he has seen in Juneau so far. As CDD director, he said, he would be responsive to the community’s needs.

“I think my approach would be to just listen to the community,” said Hart. “I wouldn’t be picking issues, I would be listening to the decision-makers as to what issues they want to work on.”

James said he was struck by Juneau’s insular nature. While other cities in the United States have surrounding communities that can have their own specializations, he noted, Juneau is more self-contained.

“If I’m offered the position, there will be some challenges, like housing,” James said. He added that having enough affordable housing is “not an easy thing to accomplish in any community.”

Eldemar said the CDD director will be able to help develop Juneau in a responsible way, including by combating sprawl and promoting energy-efficient buildings.

“You can look at some large cities anywhere (in the) U.S.A. and know what not to do,” Eldemar said. “So it’s important to go ahead and develop in a positive direction, and not just for our generation, but really for the future generations that are up and coming. But we also need to never compromise the things that we value highly.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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