City Administrator Keith Brady (left) assembly member Aaron Bean and assembly member Richard Wein at Tuesday’s Sitka Assembly meeting. A motion to direct city staff to bring forth a resolution to terminate Brady’s employment narrowly failed 3-3. (KCAW Photo)

One day after Sitka’s assembly made an historic decision to sell its local hospital, it came within one vote of firing the city administrator.

In a move that caught many off guard, the Sitka Assembly deliberated the termination of municipal administrator Keith Brady, who’s been on the job less than two years. Although Brady kept his position on a split vote, an assembly majority agreed to revisit his work performance in three months.

The annual evaluation of Sitka’s city administrator and municipal attorney took an unexpected turn at a special meeting on April 16, when at the start of the meeting, assembly member Kevin Mosher offered a motion

“Whereas the state of Alaska is an at will state and whereas the contract between the city of Sitka and the municipal administrator Keith Brady clearly states that his employment is at will,” Mosher said, “I move to terminate Keith Brady’s employment with the city of Sitka effective May 1, 2019.”

Only 24-hours earlier, the assembly had approved the sale of Sitka Community Hospital to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. The annual evaluations of the administrator and attorney, in comparison, were expected to be routine. Mayor Gary Paxton clearly did not anticipate Mosher’s motion to fire Brady, and expressed his surprise with an expletive. Assembly member Valorie Nelson seconded the motion, which then brought it to the floor for public testimony.

Brady had considerable support in the audience, including that of a former rival contender for his job, Sitka fire chief Dave Miller.

“When you do an evaluation once a year and you aren’t favorable of that evaluation. That’s not that person’s fault you’re evaluating. I think that’s your fault, the people that are doing the evaluation,” Miller said. “Because you’ve waited for a year to sit down and say, as a collective group ‘I do not like what you’ve done.’ To me, that’s shameful.”

Mayor Gary Paxton concurred. A former Sitka administrator himself for nine years, he offered a strong defense of Brady during the assembly’s public deliberation..

“This is an outrageous proposal. I’m violently against it. I’ll fight it any way I can,” Paxton said. “Keith Brady does not deserve to be fired and even embarrassed this way.”

The assembly then went behind closed doors to discuss the motion. When they returned nearly an hour later, Mosher made a new motion more in line with municipal code: It called for city staff to bring forth a resolution to terminate Brady.

“Publicly, Keith, as a person I have nothing against you, I think you’re a really great guy,” Mosher said. “I think from a macro point we’re in very difficult times. I would like to see someone in that position with more experience.”

Valorie Nelson said she felt the regular assembly turnover left the administrator, who has been serving in the position for less than two years, doing the will of the staff as opposed to the will of the assembly.

“Our assembly turns over every October. We get administrators in there, the staff has been there forever,” she said. “So they’re telling the administrator how it should be and things never seem to change, and it’s always status quo.”

Assembly member Kevin Knox said he was not in favor of firing Brady and felt if the assembly wanted to see different action from Brady, they needed to bring specific direction to him at the assembly table.

“I don’t think that right off the bat here, without having another opportunity to provide Keith with feedback, that we should be firing him,” he said.

Assembly member Richard Wein asked some questions about municipal code, but offered no opinion on Brady’s performance. Steven Eisenbeisz was absent, and Aaron Bean didn’t immediately disclose how he would vote.

“Even up until we left the room, I’m not entirely sure exactly how I’m going to vote on this motion,” Bean said. “If this motion does not pass, I would like to see a continued discussion about where we go from here.”

Keith Brady himself also testified on the motion. He said he felt he hadn’t been given the time he needed to affect any change within the city.

“I do plan, assembly willing, to do this job for ten years,” Brady said. “I would love to be here for that long, because I don’t think you can get anything done in a year and a half, two, three years. It takes a while to move things along, it takes a long time to change.”

“It’s not just me, it’s not just the culture of the city or the organization,” Brady continued. “I believe there are tough discussions that we need to have that we’re not having. I find that’s too bad. But I would still like to be here long-term.”

And then Mayor Paxton, after reiterating that he hoped it wouldn’t pass, called for the vote. The motion to direct staff to bring forth a resolution to terminate Brady failed 3-3 with Bean, Paxton and Knox opposed.

Aaron Bean then made a motion to give Brady an unsatisfactory evaluation and revisit the evaluation in 60 days. That was amended to 90 days and the motion passed 4-2 with Paxton and Knox opposed.

The assembly then went into executive session to conduct city attorney Brian Hanson’s annual evaluation. When they returned, they voted 6-0 in favor of a satisfactory evaluation.