Homer offers city manager position to Randy Robertson

The Homer City Council will offer the position of city manager to Randy Robertson, the next step in finding a replacement for outgoing City Manager Katie Koester.

Following hours of deliberation in a special meeting last Wednesday at Homer City Hall, the council voted 4-2 to offer the job to Robertson, currently the city manager of Aberdeen, Maryland. Council members interviewed two candidates on Tuesday and interviewed Robertson, the third candidate being considered, on Wednesday before going into deliberations.

The council members spent significant time talking about the three candidates in an executive session after Robertson’s interview. The executive session was held so council members could discuss matters that could “tend to prejudice the reputation and character” of the candidates. The rest of the council’s deliberations had to be held in public per the Alaska Open Meetings Act.

Koester announced her resignation in December and is set to take a job as Public Works and Engineering Director for the City and Borough of Juneau. Born and raised in Homer, this was her first city manager position and she’s served the city since 2015.

She told the council last Wednesday night that her last day is April 10.

The council voted 4-2 to offer the city manager position to Robertson. Council members Caroline Venuti and Joey Evensen cast the two no votes.

Robertson is currently the city manager in Aberdeen, Maryland. He has a bachelor’s degree in government and history from Western Kentucky University and three master’s degrees: one in urban planning from John Hopkins University, one in public administration from Western Kentucky University and one in strategic planning from the United States Army War College. He holds diplomas and certifications from a plethora of other universities as well.

Robertson is a retired U.S. Army officer. He was a brigade executive/chief of staff in the U.S. Army in Europe from 2001-05, and was chief of staff for the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico from 2005-06. From there, he went on to serve as a city manager in Ashland, Kentucky, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, and Vestavia Hills, Alabama.

He was city manager of Cordova from 2013-16 before taking his current position in Maryland. In 2019, he was a International City/County Management Association-appointed instructor at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

During deliberation, Evensen and Venuti said they worried Robertson’s extensive military background, and how it influences his management style, might not be a good fit with the culture of Homer. In his interview, Robertson said he “leads from the front.” When asked to expand on that by council member Heath Smith, Robertson said it’s about “getting to know your people,” who they are and what motivates them.

Council members Rachel Lord, Donna Aderhold, Storm Hansen-Cavasos and Smith all said they liked the personality of candidate Michael Bork, the director of Parks and Recreation for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, but that the sheer amount of experience in city manager positions that Robertson holds is what made them lean toward him for the job.

The council voted in its deliberations to eliminate candidate Adam Hammatt from consideration. Hammatt was city manager of Whitefish, Montana, from 2017-2019. He resigned, officially, for personal reasons, he told the council on Tuesday.

“However,” he wrote in his application to Homer. “I had significant concerns with the organizations and chose to resign. I am happy to discuss this decision during the interview process.”

Hammatt clarified during the interview that he hadn’t expected it to be public, and that he had left Whitefish with an understanding that he wouldn’t discuss his reasons for leaving in public. This was not an official, binding agreement, Hammatt told the council, but he said he planned to honor the understanding by not discussing those reasons in public.

Robertson told the council he left Cordova in 2016 to take a job in the Lower 48 because one of his children had had a baby. He and his wife now want to return to Alaska, he told them. In addition to the city manager position in Homer, Robertson applied to jobs in Seward, Skagway and Nome. When asked during the interview whether he had applied for jobs elsewhere in Alaska, Robertson mentioned only Nome.

Robertson was offered the position of city manager in Nome in September 2019, according to reporting by the Nome Nugget, but turned it down. Robertson explained to the council last Wednesday that, despite being up for most challenges, he had found the substance misuse and addiction problems in Nome, coupled with what he said he perceived as a lack of necessary resources to combat that problem, made the position one he did not want to take.

During the period of Robertson’s interview designated for follow up questions, Evensen asked if he had ever not had a contract renewed by a city he worked for or left before a contract was up. Robertson talked about the first city manager position he held, in Ashland, Kentucky.

Robertson said he left that job after about a year because he “butted heads” with the mayor of Ashland and that he saw “the writing on the wall.” Robertson told the council he did not have an official contract for the city that could be renewed or not renewed.

At the time of his resignation from Ashland, Robertson told The Daily Independent that he and “members of the city commission did not see eye to eye on certain issues, but Robertson said those disagreements were not a factor in his decision to leave.”

The Daily Independent quotes him as saying “There was no particular catalyst.”

Robertson also left his position in Vestavia Hills in 2013 before his contract with the city was finished. Robertson said he left because his father-in-law was very ill, according to reporting by Alabama news publication Advance Local.

Evensen, who asked the follow up questions and cast one of the two no votes when it came to offering Robertson the position, said he has concerns over what he perceives as omissions or the “appearance of dishonesty (in) his answers in the interview.”

The city council also voted last Wednesday to authorize the city to begin contract negotiations with Robertson, using Koester’s base salary of $127,000 a year as a starting point. Koester told the council that, after Mayor Ken Castner signs off on a contract, it will come back to the council for final approval.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.