Amid the many changes to daily and municipal life taking place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some things in Homer go on as usual. That includes the arrival of new personnel, like Public Works Director Jan Keiser.
The city announced Keiser’s hiring in February. Since 1999, the city of Homer has had one person serving a combined position of public works director and city engineer. Before that, they were two separate positions.
During the most recent budget cycle, the city split those positions into two again. Carey Meyer, who has been serving in both positions, is now the city engineer, and Keiser has been hired as the new public works director.
Keiser was scheduled to start full time at the end of April. However, she arrived in Alaska in March to get settled and begin training with former City Manager Katie Koester before Koester left for her new job in Juneau. Once Keiser arrived, however, the COVID-19 situation had escalated to the point that she and her husband were asked to quarantine for two weeks. The original plan was for Keiser and her husband to return to Washington state to finish packing and then return, but she’s now here in Homer already working in the position.
Keiser is no stranger to Homer and the way the city operates, either. She was actually Homer’s first ever city engineer from 1982-85. She has a law degree from the University of Washington and comes to Homer now from Poulsbo, Washington where she owned J. Keiser & Associates LLC. for 13 years.
“It’s like coming full circle,” Keiser said of returning to Homer. “… It’s like a do-over. Just remarkable, absolutely remarkable that this opportunity has presented itself.”
Things have changed in Homer since the ’80s, Keiser noted. For example, one of her big projects as city engineer back then was installing sidewalks along Bartlett Street. Keiser recalls a certain amount of backlash from people who didn’t want the addition of sidewalks.
She noted that the town seems to have become a good deal more pedestrian friendly since then.
“There’s a lot more people walking around on the sidewalks,” she said. “There’s more pedestrians.”
Keiser has also taken note of the changes that have occurred out on the Homer Spit and at the Homer Harbor, from improvements at the local fishing hole to the increased development of the boardwalk.
As Keiser explains it, a city engineer, which she was for Homer before and which Meyer is now, is more project oriented. The person in that position gets more into the weeds of a project.
A public works director, on the other had, does more with administration and leadership of that city department. A public works director finds funding for projects, does more longterm thinking and planning, and works with the city manager and department heads on strategic planning for city infrastructure.
A graduate of Kenai Central High School, Keiser said Homer was always “the place where you go” when she was growing up.
“It’s a small town with a fascinating combination of people,” she said.
Keiser described herself as a people person and said she enjoys getting to help a community.
“One of the things I really enjoyed when I was there before was interacting with the community,” she said. It’s something she’s enjoyed in every position she’s held.
Keiser likes being able to meet a person with a problem and, in doing her job, send them away happy. She’s excited to return to Homer more experienced than she was on her first go around.
“Now I’ve had 35 years of experience and lessons from the school of hard knocks, and formal lessons,” she said.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.