Juneau city manager to step down in April

Swope says it's right time to leave position

Posted: Sunday, November 09, 2008

City Manager Rod Swope announced Friday that he will step down from the city's chief executive position on April 30.

Swope, who has served in the non-elected position since March 2003, said it's time to step aside after six years of managing the day-to-day business of the city.

"I think it's just one of those jobs where you need to be mindful of burnout and not stay too long to the point where you're still here and you're not being effective and doing a good job," he said. "I could feel it coming and felt it was a good time to leave, take a break, and I plan to come back and work in some capacity."

Swope said it is also the right time to step down because of steps the Juneau Assembly has taken to ensure an easy transition.

"I got a two-year budget in place," he said. "We do biannual budgets so I'm not leaving somebody with the task of having to develop a brand new budget, which I think is important."

Assembly member David Stone, the chairman of the finance committee for the past five years, said Swope has done a great job at keeping the city finances in order during his tenure.

"He is great to work with on the city finances," Stone said. "He's a very fiscal conservative guy and I would say the city's finances have never been in better shape than they are now."

Swope agreed, citing the more than $10 million the city has stockpiled in its budget reserve coffers.

"That's the first time since it was proposed by a Mayor's Task Force back in 1994 that the city and borough has ever reached that goal," he said. "And I think with these financial times, that's a good place to be."

There is also some money left in the city's emergency reserve fund, although he said the energy crisis caused by the avalanche last April required the use of about three-quarters of the $4 million put aside, which he said will need to be replaced.

The city also has been able to keep property taxes low during his tenure.

"Property taxes are the lowest they've been in 16 years," he said. "Nobody wants to see taxes increased, but I think we've been able to sustain a pretty good level of government with low taxes, so I'm feeling pretty good about that."

Swope said he also feels the city departments will be in good shape when he resigns in April.

"I think one of the important things a manager does is recruit and screen and hire the department heads, or the people in upper levels of governments," he said.

During his tenure, Swope helped hire a new deputy city manager, parks and recreation director, lands and resources manager, engineering director, police chief, fire chief, human resources director, ski area manager, library director, emergency manager, and the avalanche forecaster recently approved by the Assembly.

"I think the job of city manager is really to oversee and manage the operations of the city," Swope said. "So in a nutshell, make sure people have their toilets flush, their water run, their streets are plowed and we have good police protection and fire protection. Those are all sort of the basic important services of government that it's important to oversee and make sure we're doing a good job with."

Mayor Bruce Botelho said he will propose to the Assembly at its regular meeting on Nov. 17 that it come up with a selection process and see that a candidate is hired by early March in order to ensure a seamless transition. He said it would be helpful to have a situation where the final candidate would have a couple of weeks overlap with Swope and for the final candidate to be chosen to have enough time for a transition from his or her other responsibilities.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford said he was lucky enough to be on the selection committee 6 years ago that helped hire Swope. At the time the city hired a consulting firm to create a job description and analysis.

"We got all of that stuff still and it's probably still very applicable to what we need today, so I think we would be able to use some of that," he said. "But it's up to the mayor and how he wants to set up either a selection committee or go through a whole big process."

Botelho said Swope possesses many qualities that make him an "outstanding" city manager, including his coolness under pressure, his ability to listen, and his trust in his managers.

"One of the rare commodities, and it's a sign of a good manager, is someone who tells it how it is," he said. "Especially times when telling it like it is is not the answers that the elected body wants to hear."

Swope has been methodical in the way he deals with competing pressures, Botelho said.

"In many respects the city manager is doing triage all the time," he said. "It's not to suggest that we are always in crisis, but there are always demands on his time and demands on city resources."

Sanford also had good things to say about his working relationship with Swope.

"It's a very stressful job," he said. "No matter what you do you're wrong most of the time. He's worked very hard and diligently to keep our dollar amounts down and our budgets down."

Swope has worn many different hats in his more than 30 years in Juneau. He held various positions with the State of Alaska between 1980 and 1990, including special staff assistant to the Governor, as well as deputy commissioner and commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. He also served on the Juneau Assembly for six years in the early 1990s.

Swope, 56, moved to Juneau permanently in 1976 and he said he intends to stay in the capital. He and his wife Gail have two grown children, Tifanie and Bryan.

When asked, Swope said he doesn't have any political aspirations as of now and just plans to take a break and find something new to do.

"In terms of timing I felt like it was a good time for me to leave," he said.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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