Members of the Sitka Assembly held their first “position subcommittee” meeting last week (Friday 6-7-19), to consider vacant city jobs and to decide which positions should be filled. The subcommittee was created to give the assembly some say over what are ordinarily administrative decisions, during a city-wide hiring freeze imposed this spring.

Steven Eisenbeisz chaired the committee, which was established after the assembly enacted a hiring freeze in April. Eisenbeisz wasn’t at the meeting when the assembly moved to assume oversight of city hiring, but Mayor Gary Paxton later nominated him to chair the committee of three, along with assembly members Valorie Nelson and Richard Wein.  

The group doesn’t have the final say on hiring — it only recommends to the assembly which positions should be filled. But as long as the hiring freeze continues, it will be up to the full assembly to decide whether to give the city administrator permission to hire — a task that until now has been done without assembly oversight.

At its Friday evening meeting, the position subcommittee  considered 9 vacant positions, two of which weren’t really up for debate. Both the Planning Director and the Police Chief jobs already have been discussed by the full assembly, which earlier this spring voted vvrcvagainst hiring a new planning director from Soldotna. The assembly’s rationale at the time was that Sitka couldn’t afford his salary; at the subcommittee meeting, however, Richard Wein suggested that Sitka could not afford to be without a planner..

“I believe that planning director, a good one, is worth their weight in gold,” he said. “We certainly need to pursue finding the appropriate planning director for the city.”  

The other position that’s been more or less settled on is police chief.  City administrator Keith Brady offered the job to interim chief Robert Baty, who’s been working since April. His hire, including a salary package and benefits, still needs final approval from the assembly.

A couple of other major hires on the subcommittee’s agenda were postponed, to allow some time to rethink the city’s organization. Earlier this year, the city hired Illinois-based Gallagher Consulting to review its departmental structure.  

The firm recommended some consolidation that would change job titles and who reports to whom. The “community affairs director” position previously held by Meagan Bosak would become a “Deputy Administrator” position. That person would oversee Harrigan Centennial Hall, the Sitka Public Library and Planning and Community Development.

Eisenbeisz said they shouldn’t advertise for a community affairs director if the nature of the job could change.  

“I wouldn’t be hired as a baker only to learn I am a sous chef,” he said. “I can agree that until we figure out exactly what a community affairs director- whatever the title is going to be- until we know their exact job position, I hate to go out and advertise for something we think it’s going to be only to change it on them. I don’t think that’s fair to the applicant.”

Gallagher also recommended a chief of public safety to oversee fire and police, which function now as two separate departments The consultant also suggested moving the Electric and Harbor departments into Public Works, which already manages wastewater, maintenance, and operations.

The committee also decided to consider other options in hiring a Human Resources director. After just three months on the job, former HR director Matthew Ione resigned in May. Nelson said she thought the work could be done more efficiently.

“I do think it’s an important position, however it’s grown over the years from part-time to full-time and there’s an administrative assistant,” she noted. She said they might consider giving the next HR director a pay raise and removing the administrative assistant position.  While the position remains open, Wein said they should evaluate both jobs and consider contracting out the position as an option.

The decision to reexamine the HR director position was the only split vote of the evening, passing 2-1 with Eisenbeisz opposed.

The three unanimously voted in favor of hiring a street maintenance worker, and hiring two police officers, and a jail officer. The subcommittee voted unanimously against recommending a lease manager position and voted to direct the administrator to explore options for a new grant manager position, like contracting the position out.