The Sitka Assembly hired Brian Hanson as city attorney during a special meeting Tuesday night (9-6-16).
Hanson has been working with the city all summer. In May, the Assembly appointed him interim city attorney on a part-time basis, following the dismissal of attorney Robin Schmid.
When Hanson applied for the job, he initially sought a part-time arrangement so he could continue his private practice of 25 years. But during his first interview on August 20th, the Assembly said they preferred a full-time employee. Hanson acquiesced, offering to work full-time with benefits. In taking the job, he will wrap up all outstanding cases and suspend his private practice this fall.
Assemblymen Steven Eisenbeisz asked how Hanson would adapt from being his own boss to having seven bosses, in the form of the Assembly. Hanson said that each of his hundreds of clients was like a boss and through the diversity of his caseload, he’s become a quick study in various kinds of law.
“I think I’ve done a really good job of understanding the needs of the people that I’m representing, as opposed to shoving it my way down their throat. Because you have to. The divorcee who’s trying to get her children or the businessman who is trying to get a contract with the city – you gotta come from different ways with those people,” Hanson said.
The Assembly also chose Hanson for his longtime commitment to Sitka. Born in Marinette, Wisconsin, Hanson moved with his family to Sitka in 1963. He graduated from Sitka High, a student athlete and jazz musician, and got his law degree from Pepperdine University in 1984. He moved back to Sitka shortly after, to work as an associate attorney for Edward Stahla, before going into private practice in 1989.
Assembly member Bob Potrzuski asked Hanson how he would manage cases involving family and friends. Hanson said that’s a challenge of being a city attorney he’s learned to accept.
“Bob, I have dealt with that for so long and come to grips with that for so long. I don’t have any problem with that. I’ve had to take sides in my business. There’s people out there who hate me. Sorry. Hate me because I represented the other side and they can’t get beyond me doing my job. That’s the life I chose. How can I take on someone I know who I’m acquainted with on the other side? Well, I wanted to live in Sitka so I figured it out. I’d figure it out for this job too,” Hanson said.
After unanimously approving Hanson’s hire, the Assembly negotiated his contract. They settled on a starting salary of $125,000, raising it to $135,000 in 12 months and to $140,000 in 24 months pending a satisfactory review.
The Assembly deliberated whether these raises were fair and whether the city could afford them. Compared to other attorneys in Alaska, $125,000 is on the low end. Hanson negotiated that salary, saying it was a generous starting point. “I’ll start at the bottom and prove myself for 12 months and then give you what I should be making right out of the gate after 12 months,” he told the Assembly.
Hanson also offered to take on more cases in-house, such as misdemeanor cases normally sent to the state, to save the city money. The Assembly decided the salary agreement was fair. Mayor Mim McConnell reflected, “This is such a critical position for the operation of the municipality that I think this is money well spent.”
Hanson’s starting date is Monday, September 19th. When asked how long he’d remain with the position, Hanson said he was “in the last quarter” of his professional career and expects to wind down within the next ten years.