New city manager settles into role

Homer’s new city manager, Rob Dumouchel, has been settling in with over a month on the job so far.

Dumouchel, who came from Eureka, California, replaces former City Manager Katie Koester, who left this spring to work for the City and Borough of Juneau.

After the Homer City Council’s first pick for the job turned it down, the city entered a second round of searching for applicants, and Dumouchel was offered the job in July. He started on Aug. 17 and was sworn in at his first city council meeting in September.

Though he joins the City of Homer from California, Dumouchel spent time in Wisconsin when he was young. He’s found a few similarities between this coastal Alaska town and Eureka, which is in Humboldt County.

Besides the physical geography being similar, both are smaller cities, and both Homer and Humboldt County have robust fishing communities, Dumouchel said. Harbors are important and interconnected with the cities in both places.

“Both are just really strikingly beautiful places,” he said.

Dumouchel said he spent his first few weeks on the job adjusting to the city organization, meeting staff and getting to know how things work, he said. He likened himself to a “municipal anthropologist,” observing the city culture and evaluating its social networks.

“It’s going pretty well so far,” he said of settling in. “I mean, it is a challenge to step in during a pandemic.”

Dumouchel said some of the outreach and connection building he would normally do has been made a bit harder for COVID-19 restrictions. Right now, he said he’s trying to take in a lot of information and taking his time.

Dumouchel said he’s felt welcomed by not only the city staff and council, but by the people here.

“I’ve been really impressed with just how really engaged people are in their local government here,” he said.

In many places, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the normal public engagement process when it comes to city government. It can be harder to get people to engage via Zoom and other technologies as opposed to in person, but Dumouchel said he’s still seeing a level of public engagement in Homer.

He’s been attending the city’s various advisory commission meetings to get a sense of their work. Dumouchel said it’s positive to see how many community members are willing to participate in their local government that way.

In the shorter term, Dumouchel said his focuses for his work at the city will be to get up to speed on the city’s finances and emergency relief programs. Some of his other priorities are helping the city to find more ways to engage the public and give them more opportunities to weigh in on city issues.

While he said he’s still reserving his opinion on some city issues while he gets to know them, Dumouchel said that longterm, he’s focused on development, quality of life, public parks and similar areas of city government.

“I think we’re poised to do a lot of good work in some of those areas,” he said. “I have an eye toward emergency response and just existing facilities, and making sure we have the appropriate buildings and gear.”

Dumouchel said he felt he had a public welcome to the city through its interview process, most of which is open to the public. He said he’s learning fast and is happy to be here.

“I’m a pretty easy to talk to person,” he said.

While he might have a busy calendar, Dumouchel said he’s always willing to make time to talk with people about their issues with or goals for the city.

Now that he’s settling in not only to the city but life in Homer, Dumouchel said he’s looking for other people to go open water swimming with. Having done open water swimming marathons in the past, Dumouchel said he’s looking for similar opportunities in Kachemak Bay.

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