John Leach (right) during his job interview at a special meeting in September. Leach was officially hired by the Sitka Assembly when it met on October 22. (KCAW Photo)

Four months after the previous city administrator’s dismissal, the city’s top job has been filled. And filling other city jobs will soon be a bit easier. On a 4-3 vote, the Sitka Assembly voted to lift a hiring freeze and dissolve a “position” subcommittee enacted last spring.

On Tuesday night (10/22/19), the Sitka Assembly approved John Leach’s employment agreement. Leach is a Coast Guard officer based in Washington DC. He was offered the job by the previous assembly in September.

His five-page hiring agreement outlined a $125,000 salary plus benefits. Leach won’t begin working until the spring of 2020. Former city administrator Hugh Bevan will remain interim until Leach can take the reins. 

While the vote to approve Leach’s contract was unanimous, the assembly was split on whether it should dissolve the “position” subcommittee and lift a hiring freeze enacted by the previous assembly in April. 

Thor Christianson who sponsored the agenda item with member Kevin Knox, thought the assembly could take a step back. 

“A lot of people in the city, not city staff, in the general public think we’re getting too much into the nitty-gritty of the running of the city and not looking at the strategic level,” Christianson said. “The assembly I’ve always felt was the strategic guidance of the city and the city administrator and the city staff are the tactical.” 

The subcommittee was formed to review city jobs as they became vacant, then they make a recommendation to the full assembly on whether or not each position should be filled, with the goal of reducing costs through attrition.

Christianson said assembly members could achieve the same goals during the budgeting season, without a subcommittee. 

Kevin Knox said the subcommittee was clouding the public’s perception of the assembly’s role in the hiring process. And interim administrator Hugh Bevan said that the subcommittee was not popular with staff. 

“I don’t know what effects it’s had on people who have thought about applying for positions or looked into working for the city- I don’t have the background on that,” Bevan said. “The upside of it is it gives the assembly an opportunity to touch the organizational chart which you do at budget time. So, overall, I’d say it casts a pallor with the staff.”  

Assembly member Richard Wein said serving on the subcommittee had been a learning experience for him– a way for him to familiarize himself with the different jobs at city hall. Member Kevin Mosher said the committee should remain intact. He said with so much information crammed into the budget season, this committee gave assembly members another chance to get a clearer picture of the city’s budget and staffing. 

And assembly member Valorie Nelson, who serves on the subcommittee along with Wein and member Steven Eisenbeisz, said the committee had always been fiscal, not personal. 

“The previous assembly was trying to staunch the flow of outgoing funds. I don’t think any of us meant it to harm morale of city employees,” Nelson said. “But I know that I personally got elected not because I was worried about the morale of the city employees, but because I was worried about the morale of the taxpayers and everybody that pays the bills for every decision that we make at this table. So thank you, and I’m taking a break.”

Member Eisenbeisz who chairs the committee didn’t comment during deliberations.

Ultimately the assembly voted 4-3 in favor of dissolving the subcommittee and lifting the hiring freeze with members Nelson, Wein, and member Kevin Mosher opposed. 

Read additional coverage of Tuesday’s Sitka Assembly meeting here

Watch the full meeting here.