In its second go-round of interviewing city manager candidates, the Homer City Council dipped into its own employee pool: Matt Clarke, deputy harbormaster, and Katie Koester, community and economic development coordinator.
After interviews at a special meeting Tuesday, and in a unanimous decision, the council offered the job to Koester.
“I’m just excited for this opportunity to serve my community in a great capacity,” Koester said after being selected. “I’m a Homer kid and looking forward to playing a role in the future of Homer.”
Council member Gus VanDyke acknowledged the strengths of both candidates and the difficulty in choosing.
“It’s going to be another one of those really hard decisions,” he said. “Between the two of them I found they were so well qualified.”
The council reopened applications for city manager after it offered the job to Jeffery Trinker of Rosenberg, Texas, and Trinker withdrew from consideration. The other top candidate, Public Works director Carey Meyer, also withdrew. For a one-week period the council offered city employees the chance to apply. Clarke and Koester were the only two city applicants.
Koester has worked as coordinator of community and economic development since 2011. From 2004 to 2011 she was chief of staff for Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and also managed his election campaigns in the 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 elections.
Koester was born and raised in Homer, and has a master of political science from Pontific Catholic University of Chile, Santiago, and a bachelor of arts in government from Smith College, Northhampton, Mass.
She is working on a master of public administration through a distance education program at University of Alaska Southeast.
Clarke has worked as deputy harbormaster since May 2008. Before that, from 1998-2007 he was a managing member of Smoke Wagon Water Taxi & Charter and from 1992-96 and 1999-2001 he worked as a commercial fisherman in the Bering Sea crab, Cook Inlet drift salmon, herring and halibut fisheries. He also was a roughneck at Prudhoe Bay from 1996-1998. Clarke has a bachelor of arts in business administration from Western Washington University, Bellingham.
As with the previous finalists, Trinker and Meyer, the council asked the same battery of 15 questions, from identifying strengths and weaknesses to how the applicant would balance economic development with quality of life.
“I want to both give them credit for coming up and interviewing and taking that chance, for wanting to go from a secure position in a town they are living in to an at-will position,” council member David Lewis said. “That takes a certain amount of chutzpah to do that.”
Council member Catriona Reynolds also acknowledged both candidates for taking the risk to apply.
“I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision to put your hat in the ring, but I’m glad you did,” she said to Koester. “But I’m also glad Matt did. He presented a very good case for himself.”
Clarke and Koester both have positions in the city just below department head, a point Clarke acknowledged.
“I’m essentially a junior manager applying for this position,” he said. “It’s a big step. I wouldn’t want to candy coat it either way.”
When asked what she saw as her role as city manager, Koester said she understood she would be the face of the city.
“The public needs to see that you’re out there and feel you’re approachable,” she said.
Council members scored candidates on each question answered, but did not reveal their final scores. Mayor Beth Wythe said she felt Clarke had fumbled one question, using the same answer to two different questions. That dropped his score below Koester, she said. Wythe said she felt Koester was a stronger candidate because of her legislative background as chief of staff for Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, her job before working at the city.
“I feel in that way she comes with a little bit stronger core,” Wythe said.
Wythe also criticized Clarke for asking that if he was offered the job it be for a six-month probation, with his deputy harbormaster job available if he didn’t work out as city manager.
“I understand the concerns of stepping out from a secure position into an insecure position, but to me to have your current employer to hold your job for six months during the busiest time of the year felt like a big oversight to me,” Wythe said.
Reynolds shared that concern.
“They need to feel confident they can do it and go into that whole heartedly,” she said. “I feel a little bit anxious with Matt believing he needs to hold in reserve his old position.”
After voting to offer the job to Koester, the council met in executive session to discuss compensation. In public, Roberts read a statement saying the council would offer Koester a salary of $103,000 for a three-year contract ending Dec. 31, 2018, with health insurance and other benefits. The offer is provisional on Koester passing a background check. The council also has to approve the appointment by resolution. That motion will be on the agenda at the April 13 regular meeting. If appointed, Koester would be sworn in that night.
Interim City Manager Marvin Yoder will continue working until the end of May to help train Koester.