Sitka’s interim municipal administrator is now on the list of candidates to hold the city’s top job permanently.
The Sitka Assembly was expected to offer the job last night to one of the four finalists they interviewed late last week. Instead, they added Jay Sweeney’s name to the list and put off further conversation until Tuesday night.
The Assembly walked into a closed meeting at 6:10 p.m. Monday, along with Sweeney and Municipal Attorney Robin Koutchak. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. About 90 minutes later, Sweeney and Koutchak were excused from the executive session. Again, not that unusual.
The plot twist came about 15 minutes later, when the seven Assembly members walked back into the public meeting room and took their seats at the table.
Mayor Mim McConnell read a statement: “The Assembly has strong opinions on all the candidates, and after a lengthy discussion, Jay Sweeney’s name was mentioned, at which time he was excused from the room. The Assembly will take this up again tomorrow after the regular Assembly meeting, adding Jay Sweeney to the list of candidates.”
Sweeney has been city finance director since 2011, and has been interim administrator since Jim Dinley’s resignation this past April. He did not apply for the permanent administrator job.
In an interview after Monday night’s special meeting, McConnell said the Assembly did not discuss Sweeney at length in the executive session, apart from asking him whether he’d be interested in being considered.
“Well, we needed to know whether it was even worth talking about or not,” McConnell said. “So, ‘Jay, are you interested?’ and when he said yeah, he probably would be, it was like, ‘OK, out (of the discussion).’ So we had to stop talking about it at that point, but we didn’t know whether he was (interested) or not. So we had to get that clear.”
The parameters of what the Assembly can discuss behind closed doors are narrow. In this case, they were limited to the four finalists who interviewed on Thursday and Friday: Pam Caskie, Mark Gorman, Cynna Gubatayo and Jim Pascale. To discuss Sweeney at length, they need to make another motion and include his name. That’s expected to happen at the end of Tuesday’s regular meeting.
“We had spent quite a lot of time — a pretty exhaustive discussion about the four candidates,” McConnell said. “One of the Assembly members mentioned Jay’s interest in the past, as being a possibility. We felt it was time to stop the dialogue and before we go any further, do this legally and get his name added in there, and continue the discussion.”
Sweeney said he was surprised his name was brought up in executive session. When he signed on as interim administrator, he says it was simply out of a desire to help the city get through the transition.
“But I felt over the last five months that I’ve very much enjoyed the job, and felt I’ve done a reasonable job at it,” he said. “At least in my perspective. Others may believe differently. … If at this point in time the Assembly feels that my leadership style and my management style is right for Sitka, then I would be honored and flattered to be given an opportunity to be considered for the role.”
Of the other candidates who have applied, 53 submitted resumes and other material to the Assembly. Ten of them went through a video interview in public. Four of them went through an in-person interview in public.
Will Sweeney go through the same process?
“I don’t know yet,” McConnell said. “We didn’t talk about it, because his name was not given as the subject for the executive session, so we couldn’t iron out all that kind of stuff.”
McConnell says if the Assembly needs more time to reach a decision, it will take it. Sweeney says he’s happy to go through any process the Assembly wishes.
What’s next could be more discussion, or it could be a job offer for one of the now five finalists. The Assembly is expected to resume its conversation at the end of Tuesday’s regular meeting, most likely in executive session.