Council interviews candidates for city manger position

The quest to fill the shoes of outgoing Homer City Manager Katie Koester is well underway with members of the Homer City Council and the City Manager Hiring Advisory Committee interviewing candidates for her replacement this week.

Council members interviewed four candidates over the phone earlier this month, and narrowed that pool down to three for in-person interviews Tuesday and Wednesday at Homer City Hall. The advisory committee interviewed the candidates earlier in the day on both Tuesday and Wednesday. The council is considering Michael Bork, Adam Hammatt and Randy Robertson for the position.

On Tuesday, council members asked Hammatt and Bork a set of 17 questions before asking if they had any questions for the council. First up was Hammatt, who was most recently the city manager of Whitefish, Montana. A former firefighter and paramedic, Hannatt has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Montana State University and a master’s degree in public administration from University of Montana.

He has an advanced certificate in mediation and negotiation from University of Montana School of Law.

After his career as a first responder, Hammatt was an emergency medical technician/safety officer at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana. He then began his career working for the public sector as city administrator for Elroy, Wisconsin. From there, Hammatt served as village administrator for Saumico, Wisconsin, and Kimberly, Wisconsin.

Hammatt was city manager of Whitefish, Montana, from 2017-2019. He resigned, officially, for personal reasons, he told the council on Tuesday.

“However,” he wrote in his application to Homer. “I had significant concerns with the organizations and chose to resign. I am happy to discuss this decision during the interview process.”

When council member Rachel Lord (acting as mayor pro tem in Mayor Ken Castner’s absence) asked Hammatt to elaborate during the interview, he clarified that he hadn’t realized the in-person interview would be conducted in front of members of the public. He said he and the city of Whitefish parted with an understanding that he wouldn’t discuss his reasons for leaving in public.

Council members asked a wide variety of questions including “How and when do you communicate with the governing body?” “How do you build trust with a new team?” and “How do you deal with the news media?” The council asked whether the candidates had experience with mediation and arbitration, whether they’d ever had to discipline or fire an employee, and what their experience is with preparing budgets.

Candidates were also asked to describe their management style.

Hammatt described his as collaborative.

“I even kind of like to call it macro management,” he said. “I am very much not a micro manager. My assumption is that the department directors are experts in their field, and the last thing they need is me looking over their shoulder.”

Hammatt also described himself as a generalist.

“I have been around the block, though,” he continued. “So I am definitely not a hands off (person). I like to be in the know.”

Hammatt said he likes to hold numerous meetings with department directors to talk about their needs, and that in his past jobs he has had them set annual goals for their departments.

Bork is the current Parks and Recreation Director for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, a position he has held since 2011. Before that, he was a parks and recreation director for Moberly, Missouri, and for Monte Vista, Colorado. Bork also served as the parks, recreation and culture director for Valdez, and before that was recreation supervisor for the Village of Lincolnshire, Illinois.

Before his work with local governments, Bork was the Air Support Operations Operator at Camp Pendleton, California. He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Bork has a bachelor’s degree in recreation, park and tourism administration from Western Illinois University, and a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology from Walden University in Minnesota.

Bork is the CEO of Laughtership LLC, and is a motivational speaker and works in organizational leadership development consulting. Laughter plays heavily into his management style, he told the council on Tuesday.

“All of that is part and parcel to the authentic leadership and positive psychology model that I follow,” he said. “Again this is based on industrial and organizational psychology which is really nothing more than the behavior of organizations and why they act how they act…”

Bork said he has a very open communication style. When it comes to building morale, Bork said that’s something that needs to start at the very beginning of a new job or leadership position.

“In morale building, I believe in happy organizations,” he said. “When people are happy at their jobs, when people are satisfied at what they do, they do those jobs better.”

Bork said his method of keeping employees happy had led to the least amount of turnover in his parks and recreation department, the department with the highest number of employees in that borough.

Asked how to build trust, Bork said communication is key.

“I follow a fairly specific process, one that’s based on evidence-based psychology,” he said. “And the first is, just recognizing what authenticity is.”

Bork said he wants to make sure communications with whoever he works with are authentic and easy to understand.

Both Bork and Hammatt said that when it comes to communicating with a city council, they would want to do so as often as necessary and as much as was appropriate. Both said they would not want to inundate council members with all the minutiae going on at the city, but would want to keep them abreast of the main issues while pointing them in the direction of more information.

Hammatt and Bork both said they have experience creating budgets — Bork for the parks and recreation department he runs and Hammatt for cities he has worked for. Both have experience with negotiation and being at a bargaining table, though Hammatt has more direct experience as a city manager who has sat in more closely on those kinds of proceedings ,as opposed to Bork, who said he has generally participated as a voice for his department.

The council interviewed Robertson in a second meeting on Wednesday evening.

Robertson is currently the city manager in Aberdeen, Maryland. He has a bachelor’s degree in government and history from Western Kentucky University and three master’s degrees: one in urban planning from John Hopkins University, one in public administration from Western Kentucky University and one in strategic planning from the United States Army War College. He holds diplomas and certifications from a plethora of other universities as well.

Robertson is a retired U.S. Army officer. He was a brigade executive/chief of staff in the U.S. Army in Europe from 2001-05, and was chief of staff for the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico from 2005-06. From there, he went on to serve as a city manager in Ashland, Kentucky, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, and Vestavia Hills, Alabama.

He was city manager of Cordova from 2013-16 before taking his current position in Maryland. In 2019, he was a International City/County Management Association-appointed instructor at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

When asked about his leadership and management style, Robertson said he likes to “lead from the front.” When asked to expand on that concept, he said it’s about “getting to know your people,” who they are and what motivates them.

Robertson said he likes to meet with the council members and department heads when he’s new to a city in order to best determine their goals and motivations, and what they need to make them happen.

Like Bork, he drew on his military experience in several examples when answering council questions. Specifically, he noted that he “cut his teeth”on handling a tense negotiation when he was a brigade chief in Europe.

Robertson described his experience with debt financing, or paying for city projects by going out to bond and paying it back, such as Homer did with its new police station. Robertson hasn’t worked for a city where some level of debt financing wasn’t involved, he said. He also described his experience in bundling bond debts together for cities, or refinancing individual ones.

Two of the council’s questions centered on how the candidates thought a city official should handle “special interest groups” and how to deal with angry constituents.

Robertson said that when it comes to interest groups, he always tries to be transparent for the city council he works for about any that he may be involved with, and that he expects the same transparency. He and the two other candidates all said they’ve learned over the years that most people just want to be heard. Robertson said he’s had success in the past with very involved or critical community members by entreating them to become more engaged at the local government level and encouraging them to sit on boards and commissions to get a better idea of how the city actually runs.

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct a typo that misstated the years candidate Randy Robertson was a chief of staff for the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. He held that position from 2005-06.

Adam Hammatt, a former city manager of Whitefish, Montana, interviews for the position of Homer City Manager during a special meeting Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 at Homer City Hall in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Adam Hammatt, a former city manager of Whitefish, Montana, interviews for the position of Homer City Manager during a special meeting Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 at Homer City Hall in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)