The Sitka Assembly is satisfied with the performance of the municipal administrator and attorney. In a special meeting on Tuesday, the assembly rated the performance of city administrator John Leach and attorney Brian Hanson as exemplary – and gave both pay increases.
While municipal attorney Brian Hanson’s performance review was delivered in executive session, municipal administrator John Leach’s was done in public. And assembly members’ comments, on the whole, were positive. Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz said he was impressed that, after three years, Leach continued to grow in the position.
“I think others in your position having been here this long would sit on what they’ve accomplished and continue to ride that out for the next little bit,” Eisenbeisz said. “I don’t think that is the person that you are nor the direction you want to go.”
“Once one fire gets put out, I think you go looking for fires elsewhere to find to put out,” he added. “It’s been commonly said in the municipality that all we do is continually put out fires, but you’re getting there proactively, and you’re making sure that the tinder is gone.”
Some noted Leach’s integrity, attention to detail, his aptitude for budget and asset management. A couple noted that he could stand to delegate more and not ‘sweat the small stuff.’ Assembly member Thor Christianson said he was pleased to see that Leach had maintained a pretty good relationship with the community.
“It’s really rare for somebody to be in his position for as long as he has, and not have a significant percentage of the population mad at him,” Christianson said. “I think you could be the combination of Jesus and Gandhi, and still, you’d have a bunch of people mad at you. But it’s amazing how small that is..it kind of feels like he’s still new, but he’s not.”
Assembly member Crystal Duncan wanted to set goals for the coming year and possibly update the administrator’s job description to align more closely with the city’s strategic plan.
“I don’t want John to feel like this is because of deficient behavior. I’m not at all saying that, and I want to make sure that that’s on the public record,” Duncan said. “I think he made a lot of really positive movement. I think we as a body can better support him.” And we know it starts at the top, and we are at the top. So I think we need to set expectations for ourselves.”
Mayor Eisenbeisz agreed to schedule a work session in the coming weeks to set goals for Leach’s performance over the next year.
While the assembly was mostly in agreement over the positives Leach brings to the table, there was some back and forth over how much to raise his pay, whether to go with the 1.5% increase already built into Leach’s contract or something higher. While Leach told the assembly he was okay with the increase that was built in, several assembly members, including JJ Carlson, advocated for 5%.
“He said he’s comfortable with 1.5%. He’s okay, that was his word. He’s okay. But he’s not good. He’s not great. He’s not excellent. He’s okay with 1.5%.” He’s okay with that,” Carlson said. “And if we feel he’s better at his job than okay, we raise it to a degree that we think is a healthy place to live in this town.”
A motion was made to give Leach an exemplary rating and a 5 percent pay increase. After some discussion, assembly member Kevin Mosher said he could support five percent, but pushed back when that number was raised by around half a percentage point.
“I would like to pay John ten, you know, not ten times, but a lot more than we do,” Mosher said, but added that he wanted to keep Sitka’s taxpayers in mind. “City employees are some of the best paid employees in town. And we have taxes that these people pay,” he said. “A lot of them are not getting as good of a deal, and they’re often paying taxes to pay for this, and I want to keep this perspective in mind.”
Mosher was the lone vote against an amendment to bump Leach’s pay increase from 5 percent to 5.4%. The final vote to give Leach an exemplary review and a 5.4% pay increase passed unanimously.
Toward the end of his review, Leach read a short statement.
“Three years ago, I took this job. And I continue to do this job because I’m committed to the citizens, my staff and the success of this city. I always strive to approach every day’s work with my personal values of service, honesty, and respect,” Leach said. “And I understand and I know that at some point I will disappoint you or some of the citizens. But that’s because I’m a human being. Just understand that I do what I do to try to balance and honor our code, our charter, our strategic plan and the desires of the community members. And that’s no easy task. And it’s nearly impossible to get absolutely everything right, or to make everyone happy 100% of the time,”
Leach added that he appreciated the opportunity to serve and is looking forward to continued service to Sitka.
After reviewing attorney Brian Hanson behind closed doors, the assembly returned and offered him the same pay increase, on a 7-0 vote.