Candidate declines city manager job; council urges him to reconsider

After the Homer City Council voted 4-2 last Wednesday to offer the job of Homer City Manager to Randy Robertson, in an email to current City Manager Katie Koester and the council on Monday, Robertson declined the job.

“It is with some sadness that I respectfully decline the Council’s invitation to serve as Homer’s next City Manager,” he wrote.

Koester had negotiated a contract with Robertson that included a $145,000 salary — more than the $125,196 she’s paid, according to her 2019 contract. With the contract on the agenda for approval at Monday’s city council meeting, and in a move Mayor Ken Castner called “the proverbial Hail Mary pass,” the council unanimously approved the contract in hopes Robertson will reconsider.

“Negotiation is a negotiation,” said council member Heath Smith. “I’m not ready to give up. I think he was the best candidate in the pool and the best fit for Homer.”

In the email, Robertson cited the 4-2 vote as one “personal concern” he had about taking the job.

“That’s (sic) certainly is not uncommon,” he wrote. “It can be extraordinarily challenging to have (six) different minded people agree on such an important issue.”

Robertson wrote that it was an article in “the local paper” — the Homer News — in which council member Joey Evensen questioned Robertson’s answers on some questions that “has presented an obstacle I should not have to try and overcome at the very onset of my relationship with Council and the community.”

During Robertson’s interview before the council on March 4 in a slot designated for follow up questions, Evensen asked Robertson if he had ever not had a contract renewed by a city he worked for or left before a contract was up. Robertson talked about the first city manager position he held, in Ashland, Kentucky.

Robertson, at the time, did not mention that he also left his position in Vestavia Hills in 2013 before his contract with the city was finished. Robertson said he left because his father-in-law was very ill, according to reporting by Alabama news publication Advance Local.

In addition to the city manager position in Homer, Robertson applied to jobs in Seward, Skagway and Nome. When asked during the interview whether he had applied for jobs elsewhere in Alaska, Robertson mentioned only Nome.

After Robertson’s interview, Evensen, who asked the follow-up questions and cast one of the two no votes when it came to offering Robertson the position, told the Homer News he had concerns over what he perceived Robertson to say as omissions or the “appearance of dishonesty (in) his answers in the interview.”

In his email, Robertson wrote, “I answered every question asked with honesty and as fully as I understood them. If more explanation was necessary, especially since it appears the answers were already at the disposal of the Council, all that needed to happen was to be asked. I believe anyone who assumes the position of City Manager must have rock-solid values and ethics, and it gave me what I feel is legitimate pause to believe mine have not been perceived in that manner, and publicized within across the community in that way.”

In an email to the Homer News, Smith said he thought Evensen should not have spoken publicly after the council had made its decision to offer the city manager job to Robertson. Smith said the council should speak as a body once it makes a decision.

“The body decides what is, and what is not, in the best interest of the city, and there is an appropriate time to discuss the information to influence those decisions,” Smith wrote. “Once the council has made that determination, individual opinions can be maintained, but it is nevertheless the duty of each council member to uphold the prevailing action.”

Smith said that if the council felt Evensen’s concerns had any merit “we would have assuredly made a different decision.”

At Monday’s meeting, Evensen apologized for what he said.

“I made some comments that I thought were in the interest of the community and were in the spirit of analyzing the interview,” he said. “I did not intend my comments to have the consequences that they did.”

In discussing the contract offer to Robertson, Castner said there still could be an opening to negotiate with Robertson.

“Katie needs to deliver a precise message of support, apology and continued support,” Castner said.

Smith asked how the council could do that.

“The manager’s (Koester’s) message is, she is going to rekindle that,” Castner said. “… Evensen has offered (Robertson) an apology and we would really, really like (him) to reconsider.”

Castner said he and Koester would want a decision to reiterate the offer to be unanimous.

Smith said approving the contract “sends a pretty clear message.”

In her discussion, council member Rachel Lord said she called Robertson and told him “he would be a great fit for the city. … I would love to see him come to Homer and take the position of city manager.”

Referring to Castner’s football metaphor, Smith said of Robertson, “I am considering him an all-star receiver no matter how bad the pass is. He’s coming up with it.”

The council approved Robertson’s contract in a unanimous vote.

The Homer News sent Robertson an email seeking comment, including whether he would reconsider declining the job, but has not gotten a response.

Koester announced her resignation in December and is set to take a job as Public Works and Engineering Director for the City and Borough of Juneau. Born and raised in Homer, this was her first city manager position and she’s served the city since 2015. Koester’s last day is April 10.

If Robertson takes the job, he agreed not to start until June 1. At the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday before the regular council meeting, Koester discussed options for filling her position until a new city manager can take over, including hiring an interim manager.

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