The Sitka assembly was hoping to have narrowed its list to three finalists for city administrator by this time in the hiring process, but instead has four.
Only one of the finalists, Mark Gorman, is local. A debate over whether another local candidate, Rob Allen, should be added to the finalists list pushed a Wednesday afternoon (8-7-13) meeting into the late evening.
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Jim Pascale is on the list. He’s been the administrator of Princeton Township for the last 30 years. Unlike some other candidates on the short list, Pascale would leave a job to come to Sitka; his job left him when Princeton Township merged with the larger Princeton Borough at the end of last year.
Pascale — whose image could be seen on a huge videoconferencing screen in Harrigan Centennial Hall, but whose voice was coming through a small telephone speaker — was short-listed by assembly members Michelle Putz, Mike Reif, Pete Esquiro, and Matt Hunter.
Reif, like other assembly members, was impressed by Pascale’s stamina.
“Here’s a person very comfortable in his skin. To be in a position for 30 years — that says a lot to me. I look at our assemblies… to try and be an administrator to how we weave as we get new members on, and as the tenor of this body changes. To be able to be effective for 30 years is just an amazing statement.”
Reif also appreciated Pascale’s comments on how he now saw issues in shades of gray, rather than as black-and-white, as was his pattern earlier in his career.
Cynna Gubatayao also was picked by four assembly members for another look. Again, the common denominator being that she’s been in her job a while — albeit a lot closer than New Jersey.
Gubatayao has been the assistant borough manager in Ketchikan for the last five years. She was on Phyllis Hackett’s short list, as well as Thor Christianson’s, Michelle Putz’s, and Pete Esquiro’s.
During her interview, Christianson asked Gubatayao about how she would foster a healthy business environment. In an earlier interview, an unsuccessful candidate described how he brought a Loewe’s superstore into his town.
Gubatayao had a different approach.
“There are certain things that the government provides that private industry can’t. We’re providing the utilities and the infrastructure. Those things have to be maintained and provided at a reasonable cost — a competitive cost — that allows businesses to function and flourish. In the smaller communities in Alaska, we can’t depend on one big business coming in and creating a whole bunch of jobs. If that happens — and I don’t see anything in Sitka why it couldn’t happen — that’s good. But we need to be very carefully developing a broad base of business.”
Gubatayao told assembly members that one of her proudest career accomplishments was transitioning to the public sector from the private, where she did not feel like she was making a significant contribution to the greater good.
Gubatayao said she wasn’t necessarily looking for a new job, but Sitka seemed like a good opportunity for her, and a chance to step into the top job. Gubatayao’s husband already lives here and works for the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. And there was one other attraction for a Ketchikan resident.
“I’m very likely the only candidate you’re talking to that thinks Sitka is dry.”
Gubatayao and Pascale joined Pamela Caskie and Sitkan Mark Gorman on the administrator short list, but it was not a particularly simple matter to go from nine semi-finalists to four.
One of the semi-finalist applicants was actually two people, the husband-and-wife team of Rob Allen and Robin Sherman. The couple understood that their application was unconventional, and told the assembly during their joint interview that either was willing to be considered individually.
At least three assembly members wanted to do just that for Rob Allen. Among them was Matt Hunter.
“I don’t feel that we got a full understanding — or we did — of how he would act individually as the administrator. He did strike me — as his wife did — as being very gifted individuals, and I’d like to hear more of how he would run things himself. And I would recommend that we consider including him. All it’s going to cost us is a little extra time.”
Mayor Mim McConnell supported the idea; Mike Reif did not, on the grounds that it would be unfair to the other candidates to give Allen another shot at an interview. Phyllis Hackett liked Allen as a candidate, but said it was “like opening the application process all over again.”
Municipal attorney Robin Koutchak said there was a legal principle at stake.
“What you are doing is giving a candidate a second bite at the apple. You’re giving someone who didn’t answer the bulk of the questions in a group, you are giving that person, as we would say in court, a second bite at the apple.”
Thor Christianson said he was more interested in product rather than process.
“Just because it was a little unconventional the way they came in, I don’t want to pass up the chance at a really good administrator. The fact that he’s from Sitka is a factor because he knows Sitka, he’s not going to have to come up to speed as much. That’s part of the package. The fiscal side is nice; we don’t have to fly him in. All it’s going to cost us is a half-hour of time to hear him out.”
The assembly concluded that they had gone as far as possible in public, and went into executive session. Prior to doing so, municipal attorney Koutchek cautioned assembly members that an executive session would only be allowed if the purpose were to discuss “the personal characteristics and habits” of the candidates, rather than their experience and qualifications.
When the assembly returned into open session about an hour later, Allen’s name had been dropped.
The four finalists, Pamela Caskie, Mark Gorman, Cynna Gubatayao, and Jim Pascale will be invited for in-person interviews sometime around August 23rd, with a public reception afterwards.
The goal is to have a new administrator working in Sitka by September 30.