Thor Christianson and Kevin Knox are sworn into office by municipal clerk Sara Peterson, Tuesday. (KCAW/Rose)

The newly elected members of the Sitka Assembly were seated Tuesday night (10-8-19) and they weren’t the only faces added to the fold- the assembly appointed a long-term interim city administrator. Hugh Bevan will be at the helm for several months until a permanent administrator can take over.

“I do solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, the Constitution of the State of Alaska…

About 20 people were in the audience as incumbent Kevin Knox returned for his second term in office, and Thor Christianson was newly seated, having last served as an assembly member in 2013.

Mayor Gary Paxton and the assembly also honored outgoing assembly member Aaron Bean with a service award. 

Knox and Christianson weren’t the only additions to the fold on Tuesday night. The assembly unanimously voted to appoint former city administrator Hugh Bevan to the city’s top job as a long term interim administrator.

“At the direction of our administrator, I suggest, and I concur with him, that you set a start date,” said municipal attorney Brian Hanson.

Mayor Paxton didn’t want to waste any time. “Tomorrow,” he responded.

“Listen,” Paxton continued, “I hired Hugh 100 years ago. He was a great director of public works as well as an administrator-he’s a no nonsense, get things done guy.” 

Bevan was the public works director from 1999 to 2003, and was city administrator from 2003 to 2005 when he retired. He told the assembly he was ready to serve the city for a few months, while they wait for a new, full-time administrator to come on board.   

“The center of gravity here is to try and create as well organized and soft a landing as possible for Mr. Leach when he shows up,” Bevan said. “That includes hiring for the approved positions. And I’d also like to make some progress on the assembly action plans that you’ve done.”

The assembly offered the full-time post to John Leach when it met last month. Leach is a commander and aeronautical engineer with the US Coast Guard who was formerly stationed in Sitka but now works in DC. The city attorney is still in the process of shoring up Leach’s job offer, and the assembly went behind closed doors on Tuesday night to discuss the ongoing negotiations. Those details, including Leach’s salary offer, have not been disclosed to the public yet.

But Leach won’t be able to start until the spring. Bevan said he would only have around 120 days as interim. But he’s hoping to tackle some big challenges at city hall while he’s there.

“Another thing I’m particularly interested is employee morale. I’d like to try and do some things with that. It’s not as easy as it sounds. And then a framework for the FY21 Budget is probably something that will take quite a bit of time,” said Bevan.

“I want to put the Cross Trail project in the end zone,” he continued. “It’s been approved since April. We missed the best construction season since 1972 is the last time I remember having a summer like this in Southeast Alaska. So I’m real interested in that.” 

The vote to hire Bevan as interim administrator was unanimous, as was the decision to appoint Jeff Wheeler as the interim utility director- this after former utility director Bryan Bertacchi stepped down in September.

Several top city jobs, including the human resources, library, and planning director positions remain vacant. On Tuesday night, public works director Michael Harmon said the top candidate for the planning director position recently dropped out of the running, so the city is back to square one with that hire.