Sitka fire chief Dave Miller has withdrawn his application to be the next city administrator.
Miller told KCAW News that after the first round of interviews in March he felt that the assembly was not excited about any of their three picks.
“It’s nothing personal,” Miller said, “but the administrator they’re looking for just doesn’t happen to be me.”
The interviews on March 22 were conducted via Skype with Miller, Sitka electric director Bryan Bertacchi, and Homer public works director Carey Meyer. Bertacchi subsequently withdrew his application, and Miller and Meyer were scheduled for in-person interviews the evening of Wednesday, April 19.
Former Sitka police chief Sheldon Schmitt was also invited to an in-person interview, after a preliminary Skype interview on Monday (4-17-17). Schmitt submitted his application late in the process.
Note: Sheldon Schmitt and Carey Meyer will be interviewed in-person by the assembly beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, in Harrigan Centennial Hall. The interviews are open to the public. Each candidate will have one hour. If there is still no consensus around a final pick, the assembly may consider hiring a recruiting firm to attract more candidates.
Schmitt is the fifty-first applicant for the Sitka administrator’s job, and the fourth person to sit for an interview. He told the assembly about his background growing up on a family farm in Minnesota, with 8 brothers and sisters, and the strong work ethic he developed in his childhood.
He also talked about his decision to work in law enforcement, and the career moves that often saw him promoted early, including his promotion to Chief of Police in Sitka in 2005.
Schmitt discussed his role building bridges in the community during his 11 years as chief, between the city, the Tribe, the Fire Department, and social service agencies, and his role in funding and implementing the E911 system that allows police to locate callers using cell phones.
In February, 2016, the city paid $350,000 to settle a lawsuit with a former Mt. Edgecumbe High School student who alleged that he was subjected to excessive force while in the custody of Sitka police in 2014. The student released a video, which was viewed over 48,000 times. Schmitt was put on extended family medical leave in August, 2016, and retired as chief in October.
During the interview, the assembly never referred to the incident directly, but some of the questions were blunt.
This is assembly member Bob Potrzuski:
Potrzuski — What about your past performance would inspire trust and confidence from the community in city hall?
Schmitt — Thank you, Mr. Potrzuski. I think I’m a known quantity in this community, and statewide. And I hope my reputation is one that people trust me, or respect me. I would hope so, anyway. And I would bring that to the position of city administrator — somebody that people can trust.
Assembly member Kevin Knox took a different tack:
Knox — I’d like you to talk a little bit more about your problem-solving process. I’d like to hear a little bit more about how you, within your leadership style, how you divide the use of staff leadership, and then tackling problems on your own, in your own office.
Schmitt — My leadership style is situational. There are times of crisis when you have to take a real strong leadership role and make decisions. Most of the time, actually you can be more democratic and solicit input. So as far as problem solving, I definitely like to take a team approach. Most of you best ideas come from the guys doing the work with their feet on the ground.
The rest of the questions were more consistent with what the other three candidates faced in their Skype interviews: where to find new revenue in Sitka, your experience in handling complex financial systems and budgets, and your successes and failures.
At the conclusion of the interview the assembly briefly considered whether to invite Schmitt for an in-person interview along Miller (since withdrawn), and Mayer.
Bob Potrzuski was not opposed to an in-person interview, but he also was not optimistic.
“As of this point, you know I don’t think any of the three are who we need.”
Steven Eisenbeisz was more moderate, but he didn’t think Schmitt made the cut.
“There were some questions answered better than I thought, and some questions left me reaching quite a bit, as Sheldon himself alluded to. At this point I’m comfortable going forward with the two finalists that we have, and not adding Mr. Schmitt.”
Aaron Bean, on the other hand, didn’t see the harm in sitting down with Schmitt.
“Since he’s here, he’s willing to step up. He has contributed the better part of his career to Sitka, I just feel like one more interview, just to hear him. Maybe something will pop. Maybe this will give him a little more time. Not everyone’s quick on their feet.”
Only Aaron Swanson was unequivocal about inviting Schmitt to an in-person interview. The majority did not object, and voted 6-1 to add him to the list, with Eisenbeisz opposed.