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Dinley resigns post as Sitka administrator

Municipal Administrator Jim Dinley's place at the Assembly table, photographed after the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting. The Assembly voted 5 - 0 to accept his resignation. (KCAW photo by Ed Ronco)

Municipal Administrator Jim Dinley’s place at the Assembly table, photographed after the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting. The Assembly voted 5 – 0 to accept his resignation. (KCAW photo by Ed Ronco)

Jim Dinley, Sitka’s municipal administrator since 2008, has resigned.

The news came after an hourlong closed-door meeting of the Sitka Assembly on Wednesday. It became official Thursday when the city cut Dinley a check for severance pay.

Listen to iFriendly audio.

Dinley will get 120 days of severance pay. Based on his rate of pay listed in the city budget, it amounts to roughly $56,000. The final amount is higher when you factor in payment for leave he’s accrued, and then the number goes back down after taxes are removed.

It’s in line with the terms of his contract, which says if the Assembly terminates Dinley’s employment, he’s entitled to the severance.

While Dinley technically resigned, Mayor Mim McConnell says it was a mutual decision.

“His attorney and our attorney negotiated his resignation,” she told reporters after the meeting.

Listen: McConnell’s entire interview after Tuesday’s meeting.

The end of Dinley’s employment with the city comes after an unfavorable annual review last week. It also follows a two-week suspension imposed on him after the Assembly investigated a complaint filed by a city employee.

Details about the complaint have not been made public, except that they involved inappropriate comments Dinley apparently made.

But McConnell says the decision to part ways with Dinley is unrelated to that incident.

McConnell: It’s unfortunate that those two events happened so closely on the calendar. To me, that’s just a coincidence. His evaluation is a date that’s scheduled annually, and had nothing to do with the disciplinary action.
KCAW: I understand that concept, but clearly that’s an event that happened in the last year that you’re evaluating, but it must have factored in at some point.
McConnell: I suppose it did to a certain extent, but I think that there were feelings that were already there.

Assembly member Thor Christianson says from his perspective, Dinley’s resignation has been coming for a very long time.

“There’s been some people who have not been real happy with his administration, and things he’s done in his administration, and the number of voices has been increasing over a number of years,” Christianson said.

Evaluations of the municipal administrator have taken place in executive session, so exactly what specific issues the Assembly as a whole had with Dinley remain confidential. Dinley declined to comment as he left last night’s meeting, saying he doesn’t want to talk until he signs his severance agreement.

Update, 11:42 a.m. April 25: Dinley issued a statement to city employees Thursday morning. It reads in part, “I was well aware that I serve at the pleasure of the Assembly and that the time will come when it is time for me to move on. Today is that day, but it is certainly not without regret as I have enjoyed each and every day as the Municipal Administrator.” He praises the Assembly members and staff he’s worked with, adding “I certainly did not get everything right all the time, but I did my best and I know I have left the community a better place to live. Sitka will always be special to my wife and I.”

He declined KCAW’s request for an interview. Read the entire statement here.

Christianson said he didn’t want to speak for the whole Assembly, but for him, management style was the biggest issue.

“In terms of nuts and bolts, the way the city is run, Jim has always been very good at making sure all the numbers crunch,” Christianson said. “There’s no issues there. But with interpersonal relations, and between the city and other entities in town, our relationship could be a lot better.”

Update, 2:40 p.m., April 25: Finance Director Jay Sweeney will become interim administrator. In his absence, the duties will fall to Public Works Director Michael Harmon. In his absence, it’s Utility Director Chris Brewton. Ordinarily, Sweeney is third-in-line after Harmon and Brewton, but in a memo issued Thursday, Mayor Mim McConnell said both of them are running departments that aren’t fully staffed and managing large projects.

“We’ll also be talking with our Human Resources director, Mark Danielson, and get the ball rolling on finding a (permanent) replacement for our administrator,” she said.

Dinley’s resignation comes as the city begins its budget process, which the administrator usually shepherds the Assembly through. McConnell says she’s not worried about going through the budget in Dinley’s absence.

“All three of the gentlemen who would possibly be stepping in as acting administrator are all capable people that have a pretty good idea what’s going on in the city,” she said. “I think it’s going to go fine.”

For all the turbulence Dinley faced in his final weeks with the city, he also had some support. Former Mayor Cheryl Westover came to his defense at Tuesday’s regular Assembly meeting, saying he put the city in much better shape and built a strong staff in City Hall.

And, right before they voted to accept his resignation, Assembly members took turns praising his work over the last five years. Here are excerpts:

Matt Hunter: Just wanted to say that I respect you as an individual, I trust you, and I recognize your integrity. Thank you.
Phyllis Hackett: I would like to also publicly thank you, Jim, for all you’ve done for me.
Christianson: Things change, we move on, but I appreciate the work you’ve done.
Pete Esquiro: You did the job that needed to be done when you first came in here, and you did it well.
McConnell: The last few months have been hard for everybody, but that’s just how life works sometimes. I do appreciate the good work you’ve done, and I think Sitka needs to recognize it.

The vote was 5-0 to accept Dinley’s resignation. Assembly members Michelle Putz and Mike Reif attended most of the meeting by phone but had to hang up before the vote could be taken.

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