Council interviews manager finalists

Following a meeting on Jan. 28 in which the City Manager Selection Committee chose four finalists for the position of Homer City Manager, the Homer City Council on Monday interviewed the applicants by phone.

Next Monday, the council discusses the finalists and works toward narrowing its list. The top candidates will visit Homer for personal interviews in March.

The finalists, in order of interviews, are:

• Jeffrey Trinker, executive director of support services, city of Rosenberg, Texas;

• Chris Johnson, former deputy executive director, Port of Anacortes, Anacortes, Wash.;

• Douglas Isaacson, former mayor and former state representative, District 1, North Pole;

• Carey Meyer, Public Works Director, Homer.

Using a list of questions prepared by the City Manager Selection Committee, council members took turns asking seven sets of questions. Council member Beau Burgess did not attend Monday’s meeting. Each candidate was given 45 minutes for an interview and also allowed to ask questions of the council. Although Meyer lives in Homer, to keep the process on a level field, he also answered by phone.

Here are the questions with applicants’ responses:

Question 1:Describe actions that best illustrate
your management style.

Trinker: Calling his style “cooperative, team based,” Trinker said, “What I have found is my employees and my peers have some great ideas and great information, but the people in the community do, too. They help foster creativity. They help bring out new ideas we might not have thought of.”

Johnson: “I tend to take a collaborative approach, where you problem-solve together.”

Isaacson: “I try very hard to learn the lessons of being transparent and inclusive … I facilitate rather than micromanage.”

Meyer: “My management style can best be described as management by objectives … I try not to micromanage. I think the people know best how to get the job done.”

Question 2: Describe a professional accomplishment that best demonstrates your skills as a city manager.

Trinker: Rosenberg didn’t have a strategic plan, and as executive director of support services developing a plan fell on him. “It’s a huge step in the right direction from becoming less reactive and more proactive.”

Johnson: For a $35 million Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Law cleanup, Johnson noted how as a project manager he worked with agencies and groups like the Washington Department of Ecology, Native American tribes and other. Anacortes did the project with grant and other funding and only had to spend $1 million out of the port’s budget.

Isaacson: “I am proud of the fact we took some massive problems and we created steady progress in areas people didn’t see, like the sewer and water systems … We made it (North Pole) from looking like a truck stop to a place where Santa Claus really could live.”

Meyer: Citing a reorganization of Homer Public Works, he said he hired from outside the department for the superintendent of water and sewer, but promoted from within for foremen positions. “I’m proud of the leadership I’ve provided to the Public Works department and my ability to manage change … Change is not always easy. If you don’t like change, you’re born in the wrong century.”

Question 3a (four-part question):
Describe your leadership style.

Trinker: “In general, the way I lead is to encourage my employees to give me a dialogue and not be afraid to say something … I don’t ever try and shut people down. … I don’t think you get the best of them that way.”

Johnson: “My tendency is to approach from the user or customer standpoint. … As a general rule, I tend to be collaborative and listening before I take action.”

Isaacson: “I’m a facilitator. At times I look to build coalitions. I try to build people’s strength. … Sometimes it means I coach. I try to model and sometimes even demand.”

Meyer: “The underlying theme of a masters of public administration is centered on the idea that public managers not only have the right but the obligation to lead. … I believe leadership in this day and age consists of listening and educating.”

Question 3b: Give examples of your experience working with legislative bodies.

Trinker noted that in Texas at the city level there tends to be more an adversarial relationship between cities and the Texas Legislature. He said that in Rosenberg he watched legislation for the city, was aware of the legislative process, watched bills and forwarded them to the relevant departments.

Johnson: He said he had experience from the state level to small organizations.

Isaacson: “It evolved throughout the years. Trips to Juneau led after some 20 years to actively being a legislator.”

Meyer: He mentioned his work lobbying to secure funding and support for city projects and developing a relationship with local representatives and their staff.

Question 3c: What is your experience
negotiating leases?

Trinker: Rosenberg doesn’t lease all that much, he said. The city does a lot of service contracts, like a professional services contract for an architectural firm. 

Johnson: One problem with the Port of Anacortes was getting a handle on leases, he said. He renegotiated a lease with the Washington ferry system, increasing the lease from $225,000 to $400,000 in revenues. He also did a lease with a restaurant chain at the marina. “I think the key is with mediations and settlements and negotiations.”

Isaacson: When he worked in finance for a mortgage company, he had to finance leases for his business. North Pole doesn’t have much property to lease and he admitted to not having much experience in municipal leasing.

Meyer: In Homer, he said he worked with homeowners on easements and rights of way and with city lease holders. “Frankly, it’s not one of the duties I look forward to being involved in.”

Question 3d: What type of community
activities are you involved in?

Trinker: He said he worked with the Rosenberg Chamber of Commerce to develop a cultural arts district in the downtown area.

“We had a niche with art, and through the Chamber of Commerce and downtown merchants we worked together to create a cultural district that was even designated a cultural district by the state,” he said.

Johnson: He said he worked with city advisory groups, the chamber of commerce and the economic development council. Johnson also is involved in youth activities with his church and was a scout master with the Boy Scouts. 

Isaacson: With five children, he said, “Sometimes I get so engrossed in community activities. … My philosophy in being involved is ‘Is it going to make where I live a better place?’”

Meyer: One of Meyer’s passions is growing dahlias, and in the summer he volunteers to plant flower beds at the Baycrest Overlook and the library. He’s a member of the Homer Elks Lodge, plays hockey and is a trustee at his church. “If a new art sculpture is being installed at a city park, I’ve been known to dig a hole.”

Question 4: Why did you choose Homer and what makes it successful as a community?

Trinker: He said he had traveled in Alaska several years ago and heard of Homer. “This sounds cliché and sappy, I guess — it was almost a dream job opportunity.”

Johnson: Johnson’s wife grew up in Chugiak. Of his impression of Homer, he said, “We saw things like parks and recreation opportunities, a vibrant library district. While it wasn’t a super-large community, it was a tight-knit community that supports things in the community. … Community members and the council are willing to have a fierce conversation. Hopefully the outcome is to have them open and transparent.”

Isaacson: “A person is successful when they have good people who love their community. I know you love your community. … (Homer) is just an idyllic spot.”

Meyer: Arriving in Alaska in 1982, he first lived in Anchorage and in 1999 moved to Homer. “I really do want to help our community and help it continue to be the cosmic hamlet that it is.”

Question 5: What is your experience working
with the state of Alaska?

Trinker: “I like Alaska for the same reasons I like Texas. … Alaskans tend to be, from what I can tell, (they value) individual freedom, self reliance. … I like the beauty. I’ve been almost everywhere in the U.S., I’ve been to Europe. Alaska is my favorite place.”

Johnson: Saying he had never been to Alaska and had limited experience, as a Pacific Northwesterner he has many friends who fish and work in Alaska. “It’s one of those places I’ve never been and am anxious to visit.”

Isaacson: “I have fought the system and I have been the system. … I’ve been every part of it from supplicant to applicant to decision maker.”

Meyer: He said he was worked with almost every state agency, especially those that support projects, dealing with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on almost a daily basis.

Question 6a: What successes have you had
in stimulating economic development?

Trinker: In Rosenberg, Trinker said he worked getting a grocery chain to relocate its distribution and regional headquarters there and also to create a business park. As incentives, the city offered infrastructure improvements.

“We achieved a lot without having to give money away. …We opened up new areas of development.”

Johnson: While not citing a specific example, Johnson mentioned his philosophy of focusing on infrastructure as a way to spur economic development. “If you get the first 100 feet right, it will attract additional development.”

Isaacson: Describing North Pole as “a blue tarp city” with a perception that it was poor and living in the shadow of Fairbanks, he said, “My greatest economic development success was turning around the mentality of the city and the appearance of the city.”

Meyer: “It’s been my experience that local government can’t create jobs locally, but it can create an environment that encourages business to expand or new ones to relocate.”

Question 6b: One challenge Homer faces
is balancing economic development and quality of life.
How would you balance the two?

Trinker: “In the case of Homer, the natural beauty, the natural resources are precisely why people come there … It’s always important to keep in mind leveraging economic development with the natural resources, the amenities the city and the area have to offer.”

Johnson: “It’s not going to be good for the city of Homer and any city if economic development is driven to bring in funds or growth that takes you away from your history, what makes your community great.”

Isaacson: “It’s finding the synergies, finding those symbiotic relationships, helping the private sector succeed. The government’s goal is to facilitate economic development that encourages economic investment.”

Meyer: “Some economic development has to be rejected because it affects our quality of life. … Economic development leads to a lower cost of living. The city also needs to remind us we all came to Homer for what it is. If we don’t set guidelines, we might lose it. We have to find a balance.”

Question 7: If you were city manager,
you would provide leadership to about 100 employees. What would be your approach to managing them?

Trinker: “I would not be the proverbial Wizard of Oz, the guy behind the curtain … I believe in going out and talking to everyone in the administration, not just department heads … I think visibility and approachability is the key.”

Johnson: “There’s always a core group or leadership team that works to lead the organization. My efforts would be to work with the leadership team. … I tend to trust and create clear expectations.”

Isaacson: “It’s working with the department heads to make sure they understand the mission they’re supposed to accomplish, making sure they have the tools.”

Meyer: Saying he uses the academic approach of “MBWA,” or “management by walking around,” Meyer said it’s important to engage employees and meet them in the trenches.  “Listening is more important than speaking. I’m reminded of the old Chinese proverb, ‘We should listen twice as much as we speak. We have one mouth to two ears.’”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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