Serving as Planner 1 since January of 2019, Ainslie has been covering most Planning Department functions on her own. Said interim municipal administrator Hugh Bevan of the internal promotion,”I wish this solution was available for some of our other open positions.” (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sitka has a new Planning Director, and one less vacant department head position.

The Sitka Assembly on Tuesday (11-12-19) approved the promotion of Amy Ainslee to the top job in the Planning Department. Ainslee has been working as a Planner 1 since last January — most of that time working solo.

Interim municipal administrator Hugh Bevan said the possibility of Ainslee’s promotion received the enthusiastic support of the Planning Commission, as well as the city’s other department heads — at least, those who are left.

“As you know we have five vacant department head positions now, which is a spectacular number,” Bevan said. “We’re finding that in some areas there’s not a lot of interest because the economy is so strong in the Lower 48, and unemployment is at a 50-year low.”

The other remaining vacancies in city hall are the Community Affairs Director, the Library Director, Human Resources Director, and Electric Department Director.

The assembly supported the promotion. Only member Valorie Nelson shared some reservations.

“But I have had a letter of concern from a member of the public that we’re steamrolling ahead with all these department heads,” said Nelson, “and we do have a new administrator coming in March or April, who may be concerned about some of the decisions. But I’m in favor of this one.”

Ainslee is a graduate of Sitka High School. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2014. Since finishing college, Ainslee has worked as a commercial analyst for BP Exploration in Anchorage, and as a store manager for the Hames Corporation in Sitka.

Members of the public testified in favor of Ainslee’s promotion. The assembly approved the hire unanimously.

Sitka Hires Washington DC Lobbyist

In another matter related to a high-level vacancy, the assembly on Tuesday authorized hiring a Washington DC-based lobbying firm Blank Rome Government Relations at $12,000 a month for ten months.

The money would come from the budgeted salary for Sitka’s Community Affairs Director — which has been vacant since Maegan Bosak left the job last May.

There was consensus on the assembly that lobbying was a necessary evil.

“I’m not a fan of the whole idea of lobbyists,” said member Thor Christianson, “but if they exist — and they do — we gotta have ours. In a sense, federal money is really the only place we’re going to be looking for money in the near future.”

The city has at least a dozen projects in the works that could benefit from federal funding. Interim administrator Hugh Bevan said that his priorities would be renovation of the Green Lake powerhouse, infrastructure to serve the SEARHC and Coast Guard expansion on Japonski Island, and restructuring Blue Lake bond debt.

Sitka Mayor Gary Paxton — himself a former administrator — said that even though Alaska’s congressional delegation kept Sitka’s interests in mind, the city had to stay involved in advocacy.

“But it ain’t going to happen by us disengaging,” Paxton said. “And we have not had the kind of engagement and lobbying in the last year that will be anywhere near as effective in my view as what this firm is able to do.”

Blank Rome will work for Sitka through December 2020. The assembly agreed to spend $117,000 on the contract, provided that the administrator not rehire a community affairs director in the current fiscal year.

Sell or Repair Marine Services Center Dock?

And finally, the Sitka assembly is going to take a hard look at whether to spend serious money to refurbish the Marine Services Center dock in the Sitka Channel.

Under the previous administration, city staff had prepared a request for proposals for a $2.8 million-dollar project to stabilize the sheet-pile sea wall at the center.

Interim administrator Hugh Bevan, who has worked previously as Sitka’s public works director, had reservations about the plan.

“I dusted off my old city engineer hat and actually went out there and spent some time looking at it,” said Bevan, “and I came to the conclusion that $2.8 million was not enough money to make a significant improvement to this wall. And by that I mean: Add 15 years of useful life, and for that we were exhausting the (Marine Services) fund. I just really question whether that’s the best use of our money.”

A condition assessment of the sea wall in 2011 estimated total reconstruction costs from $7- to 8-million dollars. Bevan suggested that the assembly schedule a work session to discuss its options — whether to invest the money to do a proper job, or sell the facility outright to one of the adjacent seafood processors.

Assembly members concurred. They directed the municipal clerk to put a work session on an upcoming meeting agenda.