A 22-year veteran in Alaska municipal government has been named interim city manager for Homer.
Marvin Yoder will start after Jan. 1, and in the last two weeks of December will visit Homer, meet with outgoing City Manager Walt Wrede and get to know city departments, the city announced in a press release last week. Yoder will serve as interim manager for no more than six months.
Yoder comes to the city from the Alaska Municipal League’s Interim City Manager Program, and currently is interim city manager for the city of Fort Yukon.
On Oct. 27, the Homer City Council passed Resolution 14-117 giving the City Manager Selection Committee authority to select and negotiate the hiring of an interim city manager. Homer Mayor Beth Wythe had noted earlier the possibility of hiring a temporary city manager through the Alaska Municipal League program.
After consulting with City Attorney Tom Klinkner, Wrede said on Tuesday that city code requires the appointment of a city manager by the council as a whole, even for an interim manager. Wrede has asked the clerk’s office to put such a resolution on the council’s agenda for its Jan. 12 meeting.
Previously, Yoder served as deputy administrator for the city of Wasilla, interim city manager for Seward and city manager for 10 years in Galena. Yoder also was one of the top-three applicants with Wrede and former Homer city manager Phil Shealy when Homer last had a vacancy for city manager in 2002. He started his work in government in 1990, when he worked as Klawock city administrator for six years.
“Marvin is a very experienced and proven municipal manager,” Wrede said. “He has done excellent work wherever he has been.”
Meanwhile, the City Manager Selection Committee continues its search for a permanent city manager.
“Right now we’re in the preliminary phase of reviewing applications,” said Homer City Council member Francie Roberts, chairperson of the selection committee, at the Dec. 8 council meeting. “We’ve met approximately three times and have reviewed a considerable number of applications. We’ve narrowed it down, but are not ready to release the names.”
The plan is to have Yoder work as interim city manager while the committee continues its search for a permanent replacement for Wrede. The selection committee is comprised of Roberts, city council members Gus Van Dyke and Bryan Zak, and Mayor Beth Wythe.
During committee meetings, discussions with applicants have been held in executive sessions with City Clerk Jo Johnson and Human Resources Coordinator Andrea Browning sitting in.
Last week, Ken Castner, a longtime Homer resident who successfully sued the city over its assessments of condominiums for the natural gas line, filed a records request asking for a list of questions for city manager candidates, their resumes and letters of recommendation.
On Dec. 8 at the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Castner had questioned the City Manager Selection Committee’s closed-door executive sessions. He compared that with prior city manager selection processes.
“Interviews were open,” said Castner at the meeting. “It seems like we have a more closed process. I don’t know what was wrong with the last process. We got a city manager who lasted 12 years.”
Human Resources Director Andrea Browning denied Castner’s records request. Castner appealed to Wrede. Castner said Browning’s response was intentionally misleading. Castner said under city code employment applications of a city official appointed by the council “may be disclosed.”
Wrede wrote in a memo that Castner was correct, but that the word “may” led him to conclude that releasing the information is a decision that should be made by the council. He recommended that this issue be brought up at the next City Manager Selection Committee meeting. No date for that meeting has been set.
In an email response to Wrede, Castner cited case law, including City of Kenai v. Kenai Peninsula Newspapers Inc., a 1979 case in which the Peninsula Clarion challenged the city of Kenai meeting in executive session to review city manager applications. In a reply to Castner, Wrede acknowledged Castner’s point and said he sent the question to the city attorney for interpretation and review.
In the Peninsula Clarion case, the Alaska Supreme Court later considered it in a consolidated case in which the Anchorage Daily News also sued the Municipality of Anchorage seeking access to public records regarding a search for a new police chief. Klinkner’s law firm, Garnett, Klinkner & Bendell, represented the City of Kenai.
Under Alaska’s Open Meeting Act, the council and other governmental bodies can go into executive session to discuss “subjects that tend to prejudice the reputation and character of any person, provided the person may request a public discussion.” In its 1982 decision, the Alaska Supreme Court said some discussions of candidates should be open.
“Ordinarily an applicant’s reputation will not be damaged by a public discussion of his or her qualifications relating to experience, education and background or by a comparison of them with those of other candidates,” the court said.
The court did say that a government body could meet in executive session while discussing the personal characteristics of the applicants.
During Roberts’ committee report at the Dec. 8 council meeting, she said the meetings include a public portion, as well as an executive session “when we consider applicants for personnel reasons.”
According to minutes from the selection committee’s Nov. 24 meeting, the committee spent 21 minutes in executive session.
“Vice Chair Van Dyke reported the committee met in executive session and reviewed a few more applicants and has a good short list. We have authorized the HR (Human Resources) manager to contact a probable interim city manager and gather information for us,” the minutes said.
A schedule of the meetings and link to committee packets and meeting agendas can be found on the city calendar, cityofhomer-ak.gov.
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