Saying they liked his eloquence, communication skills and perspective on the Homer economy, the Homer City Council on Tuesday selected Jeffrey Trinker as city manager over Homer Public Works Director Carey Meyer. In a 5-1 tally, with Council member Bryan Zak voting no, the council voted to extend the job offer to Trinker.
The council also considered starting fresh and considering a new batch of applicants, but defeated that motion 4-2, with Zak and council member Francie Roberts voting yes.
In four hours of interviews, the council met with both candidates face-to-face. Each applicant was asked the same 13 questions ranging from “Identify your strengths and weaknesses” to “What is your perception of Homer’s economic base and employment opportunities?” Council members used a matrix to score the responses, with up to 10 points for each answer. Trinker interviewed first.
Meyer has worked 16 years as the city Public Works Director. A professional engineer, Meyer previously worked as project engineer for HBE Corporation in Eagle, Colo., as a senior project engineer for Leedshill-Herkenhoff in Albuquerque, N.M., and associate vice president for Arctic Slope Consulting Group, Anchorage. He graduated in 2008 with a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Alaska Juneau and in 1976 with a bachelor of science in civil engineering from the University of Missouri, Rolla.
Trinker has worked for the city of Rosenberg, Texas, as executive director of support services since June 2013 and before that worked for the city as assistant economic development director since 2010. From 2008-10 he was a management assistant for the city of Sugarland, Texas.
Trinker graduated in 2007 with a master of arts in political science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and with a bachelor of science in international affairs from Florida State University, Tallahassee.
Before discussing the applicants, the council voted to meet in executive session to discuss the parameters of its public discussion with the attorney and interim City Manager Marvin Yoder. It split 3-3 on the vote, with council members Beau Burgess, Catriona Reynolds and Gus VanDyke voting no. Mayor Beth Wythe voted yes to break the tie vote.
In a discussion about the applicants, council member David Lewis summed up the challenge before the council.
“We have the choice of someone new coming in with fresh perspectives, with no real experience and who probably doesn’t understand the uniqueness of what Homer is. There will be a learning curve there,” he said. “With Carey there is no learning curve there, although he brings that baggage in with working here 16 years. It’s going to be a tough choice.”
In public comments, Mary Griswold, an opponent of annexation, said she appreciated the respect Meyer showed to her group of objectors.
“He is honest, direct, smart and a very hard worker. I highly recommend him,” she said.
Roberts and Reynolds both praised Trinker’s skill in answering questions. Roberts said she thought a city manager should be “an excellent communicator.”
“Mr. Trinker, I thought he was very eloquent. He thought well on his feet,” Roberts said.
In contrast, Roberts said she felt like Meyer read his answers from a written response, something she said she thought he did in the telephonic interview, too. Interview questions were available as part of the City Manager Selection Committee minutes and in the council packet for Tuesday’s meeting.
“He was much more articulate and to the point,” Lewis said of Trinker.
Reynolds said she liked Trinker’s response to the question about Homer’s economy.
“At first glance, people would say this is a tourism and fishing town,” Trinker said in his interview. “There’s an incredible art community. There’s other kinds of maritime activity. There are great educational opportunities. This is a regional medical hub. … There’s a lot going on.”
“I really appreciated Mr. Trinker’s answers, even how he phrased it,” Reynolds said. “I thought Mr. Meyer focused on the apparent things.”
Wythe agreed with that point.
“I think in his three or four days in Homer he (Trinker) took a much broader picture of economic opportunities in our community,” Wythe said.
Burgess said he thought communication also was important in a city manager, that the person should make people feel at ease.
“It needs to be someone who takes a position on an issue without alienating someone,” he said.
Burgess also said he liked Trinker’s answer to a question about how he would handle citizen complaints and lawsuits — an answer that also referenced another question about risk management.
“With lawsuits, the thing that’s most important is to do everything you can to not be sued in the first place,” Trinker said. “Be proactive. Keep in mind in all your decisions the risk you face. Bad risk management can result in the city writing a blank check.”
“I like Mr. Trinker’s comment that the best approach is prevention,” Burgess said.
Burgess did praise Meyer’s work and experience with the city, calling him “a known entity” and saying he’d done “an outstanding job.” That presented a dilemma, though: If the council hired Meyer as city manager, it would then have to hire a new Public Works Director, Burgess said.
“Mr. Meyer has extremely valuable insight into our organization,” he said.
Wythe said she felt like in answering the question about risk management, Meyer focused too much on safety.
“There is so much more to risk management than safety,” she said.
Zak, who gave Trinker and Meyer a tour of the city with council member Gus VanDyke, said he scored both candidates about equally.
“Both candidates provided excellent answers to the questions we did have,” Zak said. “However, my scoring wasn’t relatively super high for anything.”
Wythe said she scored Trinker 12 points higher than Meyer. Burgess scored Trinker 11 points higher and Reynolds scored Trinker 37 points higher. Lewis also said he scored Trinker higher.
“I don’t know who would actually do a better job. Each one has his strengths and weaknesses. It’s a toss up,” Lewis said.
Hiring a new face from outside the city might prove valuable, Wythe said.
“When people come in with fresh perspectives, they come in with fresh results,” she said.
In public comments at the end, Katherine George, a retired city librarian, quoted Trinker as a perspective on the city’s choice.
In talking about his strengths and weaknesses, Trinker said, “Sometimes I have to force myself that things don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be good,” he said.
The council has not yet set a salary for Trinker. On its agenda for the Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday is a motion to meet in executive session to discuss compensation. Human Resources Director Andrea Browning said the city has extended a conditional offer contingent upon a background check, with a salary that still needs to be negotiated.
When asked a question during the interview about when he could start, Trinker, who is married but with no children, did not offer a firm date. He would have to give notice at his current job and consider other logistics, but did say he could be flexible.
According to the Longview, Texas, News-Journal, Trinker was a finalist for the job of city manager in Kilgore, Texas, but did not get the job.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.