City Manager applicants flooding in this go-'round

Apr 14, 2020

Credit City of Homer

The Homer City Council held its second meeting under the new conventions of social distancing last night, with council members attending remotely. And while the Zoom connection proved much clearer, there was one glitch that came out of nowhere to begin the Committee of the Whole meeting at 5 p.m. when Mayor Ken Castner tried to begin.
     “Any objection…,” the mayor began before being interrupted.
     “No. I can't hear you,” a man with a Posh accent said. “Yeah, no. Yeah. Hello? Hello, Hello, just a second. Hello?”
    The voice from afar trying to make his own Zoom meeting connection didn’t seem to be an instance of “Zoom-Bombing,” a form of online harassment that has risen in popularity as the application has, and council members and others were able to move past it quickly and communicate much more clearly than during the council’s last meeting.
    The council got some good news regarding the search for a new city manager. Already 24 applications have been received, according to Personnel Director Andrea Browning.
    The announcement drew discussion that occupied most of the Council of the Whole meeting about who should be on the selection committee and how it should be formed.
    Councilmember Heath Smith was concerned that the last selection committee held too much sway over the final list the council eventually saw.
    “I mean, it was clearly stated by a couple people that they were not willing to entertain that one candidate because he didn't even make the list. And so to me, it's like if we're going to eliminate somebody, and somebody's not gonna be in favor, they need to be able to articulate why that is, not just because they didn't like the way he smelled or whatever it might have been,” he said. “There has to be more substance to that, in order for us to just write somebody off that made our final list.”
    Mayor Castner said the council could use any method it wished, but defended the selection committee method.
    “But again, it's by your leave on what you want to do. But I think that there's merit in it, and that it makes it just more transparent. And the fact that they come up with any kind of recommendation shouldn't preclude you guys from doing exactly what you want to do. So I mean, just because it didn't make their list doesn't mean that should be removed from your list. And I gave them very specific marching orders and, but you guys operate on your own set of rules,” he said. “So I'm in favor of it, but if you don't want to do it, then I'll beat the bushes to get more public participation during the process. Because I really believe it's an incredibly important job and and of course, the employees are going to weigh in on it. That's, you know, that's the ultimate administrative authority in the city.”
    The city needed to re-advertise for a city manager when its initial selection turned the council’s job offer down after reading comments by Councilmember Joey Evenson he felt were unsupportive.
    Once the regular meeting convened, Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District Executive Director Tim Dillon shared results from a survey of small businesses on the peninsula about their concerns for the economy during, and in the wake of, the Covid-19 emergency. Business owners were scared, he said. His advice was to take this time to prepare for the fall and not try to salvage a tourism season too early.
    “What I have tried to tell folks, and I had this discussion with Mr. Mayor here earlier, is that I don't think anybody's going to be in a position in Homer to invite thousands of people down there anytime this summer. There's still so much up in the air,” he said. “So what I told folks is, okay, let's get you the bridge loans. Let's get you taken care of, so that you set a goal of maybe September, okay. That you're going to be fully up and running and functioning come September, and let's work on a couple things. Let's work on our web presence and let's work on the shoulder seasons.”
    Dillon added that with travel restrictions and the state of the economy in the Lower 48, visitors from Outside won’t likely be in a position to travel anyway.
    “So let's not set people up for failure. Let's concentrate on the rest of the Alaskans that are going to look for someplace to play. And remember the Kenai Peninsula Borough is Alaska's playground. So let's point towards September and anything between now and then let's just count as gravy,” he said. “But to think you're going to be up and running full blown here in the next month to 45 days, I don't believe it's going to happen.”
    In Mayor Castner's report, he related the pressure he’s been under to open the city up sooner rather than later. He says he wants Homer to open -- but only in an intelligent way.
    “But we're not ready. We're just not ready. But this is all working so well right now. The masking, you know, reducing the droplet spread, that's working. I'm really happy that that's become a new part of the national regime, the staying at home, the washing of the hands, the social distancing. I just really think that we really need to maintain the distance and, and not allow the spread to grab a hold of us in town. We're so fortunate to only have really one case here. So I do want people to be a little patient,” the mayor said. “I honestly stay awake at night trying to figure out how can we start easing into getting a few more businesses open? How can we get more money into town? I'm really crushed that the money hasn't been coming from the federal government and people are going broke and people are hurting. So I really, really, really ask for some more patience in this regard.”
    Interim City Manager Marvin Yoder gave his take on the economic impacts of the Covid Crisis on Homer. He said the First Quarter sales tax figures are in, but give limited insight on what to expect for the summer.
    “We won't see another sales tax report 'till July. So it's going to be real difficult for us to try to keep up with how much we're losing and what's going on there. So we really have to take a look at that. We don't know what summer tourism is going to look like,” he said. “And, you know, we have one of these days, we may have to have a discussion about essential city services, what those are, and start looking at what happens to the city employees as things start grinding down. But we'll try to keep you posted on that as we go along. Right now, we just don't have any real thing to look at and say where we really are”
    Finally, the plastic bag ban that went into effect on February 14 has been retroactively postponed until September 15th. The council passed the postponement 4-2 with Council members Caroline Venuti and Joey Evenson voting no.