On Tuesday, the Sitka Assembly approved the hire offer for a new top staffer for the city’s HR department (KCAW/Rose)

After a year and a half with no permanent leadership in the Human Resources Department, the city of Sitka has hired a new HR Director. When the Sitka Assembly met Tuesday night (9-8-20), it approved a hire offer for Michelle Murdock — but not without some reservations. 

Murdock has worked as the HR manager in Unalaska since 2018. Before that, she worked in HR in Washington state. City administrator John Leach said he was excited for the opportunity to bring Murdock on his team. 

“She’s looking to move as an opportunity for growth and advancement,” he said. “And she’s recently received her Master’s degree in human resources and employment relations from Penn State University. I’m very excited about bringing her here.” 

The city has been trying to fill the HR director post since Murdock’s predecessor left in May of 2019, just three months after accepting the job. His departure came around the time the assembly increased its oversight into city hiring, instituting a hiring freeze and creating a “positions” subcommittee that reviewed city jobs as they opened, with the goal of cutting Sitka’s budget. The move received some criticism from the public, and the committee was ultimately dissolved on a split vote last fall.

The assembly has the authority to approve the city administrator’s hire offers for department heads, but it does not have the authority to hire and fire any city staff other than the administrator and attorney. But Tuesday night, Richard Wein lamented that the assembly did not have more information or involvement in the hiring process.

“I feel boxed out of being able to ask a candidate questions,” he said. “We get your report or an administrator report…we have no access except for a few pages of curriculum vitae…and, in essence, we have to make a decision on that. And so I find, with this particular applicant, I’m sure she’s really great. But there are certain things I would definitely like to ask her.”

Both Wein and member Steven Eisenbeisz had questions about Murdock’s work history. Her resume showed her working in several previous jobs for only a year or two. And member Valorie Nelson was concerned about the level of pay, set at $98,000 annually, plus a $15,000 moving bonus.

Leach said while the rate was more than Murdock is currently making in Unalaska, the salary was below what the city had currently budgeted. Leach said he’d offered to pay Murdock’s moving expenses since that process will be challenging.

“With the understanding that she’s coming from Dutch Harbor and has no commercial air service to get here,” he said. “Chartering her own plane to get her family and household goods here, and the rest will have to be barged. It’s going to be a very expensive move.”

Ultimately the assembly approved Leach’s hire offer on a 5 to 2 vote with members Wein and Nelson opposed. 

In other business, the assembly:

-Voted against appointing Ben Hughey to a 3 year term on the Police and Fire Commission 3-4 with Mayor Paxton, and Members Mosher, Wein, and Nelson voting against his appointment. Read our coverage here

-On second reading, it voted to appropriate $1.3 million to go toward phase 1 of the Green Lake rehabilitation project

-Make appropriations for fiscal year 2020 and 2021 (re-appropriations and supplemental appropriations) – moving grant money from last year for the Sitka Police department security upgrades and radio equipment

-Unanimously Amend the official zoning map to rezone Lot 2-2 Sheldon Jackson Campus Subdivision from multi-family to “cemetery” 

-Heard an update from the Sitka School Board

– Issued a proclamation honoring posthumously Patricia “Patty” Bickar

-Approved sales tax free days for 2020: Friday, Nov. 27 and Sat Nov. 28 (6-0)