MacKinnon taken off interview list for city manager

5-4 Assembly vote means new search for permanent city boss

Posted: Sunday, December 15, 2002

The Juneau Assembly will restart its search for a new city manager, this time without former Assembly member and Interim City Manager John MacKinnon in the mix.

The Assembly spent more than two hours Friday night debating how to approach the search and whether to interview MacKinnon for the permanent job. Part of the meeting was closed to the public.

MacKinnon has been interim city manager since July and applied for the permanent position. A longtime Assembly member, he was barred from running for re-election in fall 2001 because of term limits. Former City Manager Dave Palmer resigned at the end of June to pursue other interests.

Assembly members began looking for a new city manager in April, but ran into trouble last month when top candidates began pulling out because of a perception that the Assembly had decided to hire MacKinnon, said Assembly member Jeannie Johnson, who serves on the search committee.

The Assembly voted 5-4 on Friday to proceed with the search and not to interview MacKinnon for the job. Part of the issue came down to a question of timing.

Under the city's charter, an acting manager cannot serve for more than one year, and a former Assembly member cannot serve as city manager until two years after he or she leaves office. Under that scenario, the soonest MacKinnon could be appointed manager is Oct. 16, 2003, City Attorney John Corso said.

The city's charter doesn't allow for an advance appointment. As a result, it would be inappropriate for the Assembly to appoint or indicate in any way that it would appoint MacKinnon to the position before Oct. 16, 2003, Corso said.

"The Assembly should simply remain silent until Oct. 16," he said.

MacKinnon took over as interim city manager on July 1. If he stayed a full year as acting manager and was hired permanently, the Assembly would need to appoint another acting city manager to fill the 106-day gap between July 1 and Oct. 16, Corso added.

The Assembly had two options, Corso said. It could terminate the hiring process and keep open the option of hiring MacKinnon next year. Or it could forgo hiring MacKinnon and find someone else.

Marc Wheeler, Jim Powell, Stan Ridgeway, Merrill Sanford and Mayor Sally Smith voted not to interview MacKinnon for the permanent position. Dale Anderson, Johnson, Ken Koelsch and Randy Wanamaker voted against the motion.

Ridgeway said he didn't see how the Assembly could consider MacKinnon for the job right now, given the charter requirements. And it would be unfair to the public and city employees if the Assembly put the search on hold for 10 months, he said.

"It seems like we have the cart way before the horse and for the life of me I can't figure out how we got here," he said, speaking during a public portion of the meeting.

By appointing MacKinnon, Assembly member Marc Wheeler said, the body would be circumventing the intent of the city's 1968 Charter Commission. And changing the charter would require a public vote, he said.

"If it doesn't violate the letter of the charter, it violates the spirit of the charter," he said. "They thought long and hard about this system to avoid exactly what we're contemplating right now."

Assembly member Anderson disagreed.

"The founding fathers and mothers are just like us," he said. "Just because (the charter) is old and from the past doesn't mean it's the absolutely right thing for today."

Deputy Mayor Koelsch said the city's founders would have wanted the Assembly to hire the best person for the job.

MacKinnon said Saturday he was glad the Assembly finally made a decision.

"It's their decision and what's good is it lets me know where I stand and I can go on with things," he said.

Members also voted 5-4 to terminate the search process and begin again, although they didn't specify what would happen next.

Assembly member Wanamaker, who offered that motion, said things have changed since the Assembly began looking for a new manager. As an example, a statewide decision against moving legislative sessions from Juneau to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough could influence people's interest in the position, he said.

"The process we established at the beginning became flawed," Wanamaker said. "I want to begin again to assure we have a good pool of candidates to review from."

Assembly member Powell said he didn't want to advertise for another headhunting firm and re-write the job description.

"I really hope we don't get a new consultant. I think it's really inefficient," he said.

Anderson, Johnson, Koelsch, Sanford and Wanamaker voted to terminate the search and restart it. Powell, Ridgeway, Wheeler and Smith voted no.

Smith, who heads the Assembly's selection committee, said the panel would meet as soon as possible and report back with a "recommended map of procedure." She appointed Powell and Koelsch to serve on the committee along with Johnson and Sanford.

The Assembly has spent about $40,000 on the manager search so far, Johnson said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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