The Sitka Assembly has chosen the next municipal administrator.
Mark Gorman will be offered the city’s top job. The former SEARHC vice president has called Sitka home since 1978. He’s currently working in the southeast Asian country of Laos, for a non-governmental organization called “World Education.” Its projects include offering microfinance and helping prevent injury and death from unexploded ordnance.
The decision to offer the job to Gorman came after a long conversation at the Assembly table about whether to also consider interim Municipal Administrator Jay Sweeney. He didn’t apply for the job, but his name was mentioned for consideration on Monday night.
Assembly members ended up sticking to the original four candidates in their discussion last night. And as KCAW’s Ed Ronco reports, it was largely public feedback that changed their minds.
Monday night, the Assembly announced that it might consider Jay Sweeney as one of its finalists for municipal administrator. And on Tuesday, at city hall, the phones rang and the e-mails came in.
“I’ve heard the term ‘back-door deal’ at least a dozen times today,” said city Human Resources Director Mark Danielson. “I think what we’re trying to do here is have a proper process, and to me that’s a process where the citizens feel confident in the results of that process.”
And the only other citizen to testify in person last night, school board President Lon Garrison, said adding a new finalist late in the game doesn’t build confidence.
“Should Mr. Sweeney be added to that list, you may cast into question the transparency and equity amongst the other four members applying for the position,” Garrison said.
Even Sweeney himself seemed uncomfortable being on the list.
“I’m really concerned about the public perceptions of being selected for the position without having earned it, and having gone through the same process as the other candidates. That’s very bothersome to me,” he said.
Sweeney said he didn’t apply for the job originally for a few reasons. Among them, when applications were due, he didn’t feel completely comfortable in the role of interim administrator.
“Or putting it another way, maybe in five to 10 years I’d be in a position where I had more experience, more financial security, I’d be older and I could better weather an early unanticipated end of my career, at a timing other than my choosing,” Sweeney said.
That last line drew a chuckle. Sweeney’s referencing the fact that city administrators don’t exactly have a track record for longevity. He said he wants to raise his family here, and didn’t want to risk taking a job that could end abruptly, and force him to move.
“I’m the one who brought up Jay’s name,” Assembly member Thor Christianson. He says the Assembly was listing off the qualities it wanted in a candidate, and not reaching much agreement on any of the four they had to consider. But Christianson thought Sweeney met most of the criteria they wanted.
“So I said, ‘Look, why are we flopping around when we’ve got somebody already in a position that could possibly meet more of the criteria that we’re all looking for,” Christianson said.
Michelle Putz said adding Sweeney’s name to the list Monday night was, if anything, evidence that the Assembly was behaving transparently and following open meetings laws.
Phyllis Hackett, on the other hand, said Monday night’s actions were a self-inflicted wound.
“We had gained a lot of ground in public trust through this process,” Hackett said. “And this one incident last night which really was a misconception has seemed from the calls I’ve received today — which are many — to have eroded some of that trust we had gained through this. That saddens me greatly.”
So, the Assembly went into executive session to consider only the four finalists they had interviewed, and not Sweeney.
When the Assembly emerged from its executive session, about an hour and 15 minutes after it began, they actually nominated two of the finalists for the job: Mark Gorman and Cynna Gubatayo, currently the deputy borough manager in Ketchikan.
Municipal Clerk Colleen Ingman called the roll, and each Assembly member voted for his or her choice.
Reif and Esquiro voted for Gubatayo. Hackett, Putz, Christianson, Matt Hunter, and Mayor Mim McConnell voted for Gorman.
Christianson asked for reconsideration of the vote, and another poll was taken.
“Obviously it’s public that Mr. Gorman was not my first choice,” Assembly member Mike Reif said. “But because he was the choice of the majority, and as I’ve said frequently, all four candidates… will serve us well, I support Mr. Gorman as administrator, and will vote for him under reconsideration.
Pete Esquiro also switched his vote.
Word traveled quickly to Mark Gorman, who is already back in Laos. He told KCAW by e-mail: “I am elated and at the same time very humbled by this process. The support that I received from so many people in Sitka has been truly phenomenal and deeply appreciated.”
The Assembly offered him $125,000 a year, $15,000 in moving expenses, and two weeks of vacation already in the bank. Missing is a severance package, that would have allowed Gorman to collect half a year’s pay if he left before his contract was up. That’s the deal Jim Dinley took when he resigned in April.