Michael Neussl, who is retiring as deputy commissioner for marine operations at the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities at the end of this week, said Wednesday that he was asked to step down by newly appointed department Commissioner Pat Kemp.
Neussl called the decision “a mutual agreement between the new commissioner and myself that that was the best thing,” but acknowledged that Kemp asked him to resign.
“I was not surprised by that,” said Neussl. “He asked and I accepted and I submitted my resignation letter.”
Neussl said his resignation was not “directly related” to Gov. Sean Parnell’s decision late last year to scrap the Alaska Class Ferry project in favor of ordering two smaller ferries for Lynn Canal trips.
“This position serves at the pleasure of the commissioner, and (Kemp) is the new commissioner and he gets to select his staff,” Neussl said.
Neussl retired as district chief of staff of the United States Coast Guard in 2010 and was named deputy commissioner in February 2011. Now that he is leaving the DOT&PF, he said, he plans to “reenter retirement.”
As for the Alaska Marine Highway System, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Neussl highlighted positive changes for the system in his two years overseeing it.
“We’ve made some progress in the past couple years with the Marine Highway System — a lot of successes,” said Neussl. He asserted that the number of complaints about the ferry system has dropped since he became deputy commissioner, adding, “The system is running well, and I’m glad to see that.”
But Neussl will only be involved with the AMHS as much as any Southeast Alaska resident is from here on out.
“I plan to be a passenger on it as I do some of my traveling in the not-too-distant future,” Neussl said.
The DOT&PF has not yet made an announcement on Neussl’s successor.
Kemp, who acted as commissioner of the DOT&PF before being appointed to the position on a permanent basis by Parnell last month, is on vacation this week and was not available for comment.
Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, who is the incoming chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he has enjoyed a good working relationship with Neussl and is sorry to see him leave the department.
“I personally thought Mike was doing a great job, and he’s a manager,” Egan said. “I hate to see Mike go, because my office got along great with him, and he was always very prompt at calling or returning calls and answering calls that we got from constituents.”
Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil, who worked under Neussl when they were both in the Coast Guard, called him a “quality guy.”
“I can’t say enough good things about the guy,” Uchytil added. “I have the utmost respect and admiration for Mike Neussl.”
Uchytil said he is unfamiliar with “the politics or the dynamics that were in play” in Neussl’s resignation, but said, “I assume he did what was best for him and his family.”
Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell said she had not met Neussl, but feels that his departure is a loss.
“I’m sorry to hear that he’s stepping down,” McConnell said. “I’ve heard good things about him, and it sounds like a big loss to Southeast.”
Juneau and Sitka are among several communities in coastal Alaska that are not connected to the North American road system and thus rely on the AMHS for surface transportation.
The AMHS serves Southeast Alaska, Southern Alaska and Southwest Alaska, as well as the port cities of Bellingham, Wash., and Prince Rupert, B.C.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.