After meeting in executive session for almost an hour and then in public for about half that time, the Homer City Council on Monday night narrowed its list of city manager applicants from four to three: Carey Meyer, Homer Public Works Director; Chris Johnson, former deputy executive director of the Port of Anacortes, Wash.; and Jeffrey Trinker, executive director of support services, city of Rosenberg, Texas.
All three candidates will interview in person with the council at the end of February or in early March. The candidates also will get a tour of city of Homer departments and the city. After the interviews, the council will then select Homer’s new city manager.
On a vote that passed without objection, the council eliminated a fourth semifinalist, former Rep. Douglas Isaacson of North Pole.
Council members had scored the applicants based on their resumes and telephonic interviews held on Feb. 2. The scores were done using a rubric, where factors like Alaska residency were given certain points, but those scores were balanced with other factors like how the applicants answered interview question.
Some council members also wanted to take Trinker off the top list, but a vote to eliminate Trinker failed on a vote of 2 yes, 4 no, with council members Bryan Zak and Beau Burgess voting yes. Zak said he scored Trinker lower than the others from how he considered all the candidates and also how he considered the input from the public.
Wythe and council member Gus VanDyke both said they felt positive about Trinker. VanDyke scored him lower, but that was because of the 20 points he didn’t get for being an Alaskan, he said.
“He still gave me a better feeling than the other candidates,” VanDyke said.
Council member David Lewis criticized Isaacson for not knowing that Homer had a hospital and for not answering fully a question about how he would balance economic development with quality of life, a point Mayor Beth Wythe said she agreed with.
Discussion to eliminate Isaacson from the list took about as long as the discussion to go into executive session. Before its public discussion of the candidates, the council considered a motion to go into executive session “to view written public input pertaining to the city manager applications.”
At the Feb. 2 special meeting, members of the public, including city employees, had the opportunity to make written comments about the applicants. It was confusing how and when some people were told the comments would be kept private and only reviewed in executive session.
Those comments were put in an envelope at the end of the Feb. 2 meeting. Some comments also were submitted before and after the Feb. 2 meeting.
On Monday, the Homer News filed a public records request seeking copies of those comments, saying it did not see anything in city code or Alaska law that would allow public comments made at a public meeting to be kept confidential.
“I suppose a piece I don’t understand and want to understand better, until the material was put in the envelope, I’m not sure everyone understood that would be put in the public record,” said council member Catriona Reynolds.
“People were of the knowledge that would be confidential,” Wythe said.
Zak raised the question of if those comments could be hearsay.
“I would like the public to be responsible enough to comment for full disclosure, as much as possible,” he said. “I almost think we should destroy what’s in the envelope.”
Reynolds pressed City Attorney Tom Klinkner on the point of if the comments were public records.
Klinkner said he wasn’t “the author of the process for reviewing candidates.”
“I wouldn’t be able to give an answer as far as the procedure for what the comments were,” he said in reply to Reynolds’ question.
Wythe, who works in human resources at Homer Electric Association, said she felt there should be some confidentiality in discussing applicants.
“I can tell you as a human resources professional there are a lot of things that need to be said, but for the benefit of the applicants, don’t want to be said in public,” Wythe said.
Zak raised a point about discussing applicants in private: While the Alaska Open Meetings Act allows executive sessions to discuss matters that might be prejudicial to a person’s character, the person being discussed can ask that the meeting be public. Zak asked if the four applicants had been given the right to have the discussion in public. Meyer, who attended Monday’s meeting, said at a break that while he was aware of the process, no one had asked him if he wanted a public discussion.
VanDyke advocated for an open discussion.
“This whole process that we’re going through is an open forum,” he said. “The public should be able to know what’s there.”
On the vote to go into executive session to review the comments, Zak and VanDyke voted no and Lewis, Reynolds, Burgess and Roberts voted yes.
The council also voted unanimously on a separate motion to meet with the city attorney to discuss a lawsuit filed by the Dennis Haunschild and Chip Duggan families seeking damages from a 2013 sewage flood.
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