Ostrander to leave City of Kenai in January

Ostrander has served as the city manager since 2017

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander will leave the City of Kenai in January, the city announced last week. His departure will come at the end of his second three-year contract with the City of Kenai, which he joined in 2017 after serving as chief of staff for former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

The city announced in a press release last week that Ostrander would not be renewing his current contract with the city, which is set to expire on Jan. 9, 2023. Ostrander said last week that he does not consider his departure from the city as retiring, but rather as “recharging.”

“I’ve still got a lot of energy to do things and I get pretty bored if I don’t have something that engages me every day,” he said.

The Kenai City Council is tasked with hiring the city’s manager, a role that Ostrander described as akin to being the CEO of an organization. City council members establish the city policies and code and it’s the city manager’s job to carry those actions out. Kenai’s 11 department heads report directly to Ostrander.

In reflecting on his six years at the city, Ostrander said he’s particularly proud of the progress made on the Kenai Bluff Stabilization Project, the establishment of the city’s fund balance policy and rewrites of the sections of city code that address airport and city-owned land.

The Kenai Bluff Stabilization Project aims to stabilize roughly 5,000 feet of the Kenai Bluff from erosion. That project, which has been a city priority for decades, received major funding boosts this year including from U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who secured $28 million in federal funding, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who included $6.5 million for the project in Alaska’s fiscal year 2023 budget. The city plans to soon put the project out to bid, Ostrander said.

“That’s a huge accomplishment and that road was incredibly rocky,” Ostrander said. “The hurdles that we faced over the last six years to get to where we’re at now were significant, and through incredible support from our legislative delegation, support from the council, and, in particular, Mayor Gabriel, has really gotten us to this point.”

Between now and January, Ostrander said he has a list of nine tasks he wants to accomplish. The list includes wrapping up loose ends on the bluff project, taking next steps on the city’s newly minted land management inventory and to begin moving forward on the Kenai Waterfront Redevelopment Project.

All of those projects factor into where Ostrander said he’d like to see the City of Kenai be in the next five to 10 years. Ostrander has been a consistent proponent of the Kenai Waterfront Revitalization Project, which aims to revitalize the section of waterfront from Millennium Square to the city dock along Bridge Access Road by incentivizing development.

“I see that, again, I think really being the future of the city and becoming an area that it’s incredibly attractive to people not only in the community, but from outside,” Ostrander said of the project area. “I think that needs to be a focus of the city — don’t lose that momentum that we’re seeing here.”

Looking ahead, Ostrander said he’d like to see the city implement property tax exemptions and permit waivers, as well as a storefront improvement program, as a way to help incentivize the development and revitalization of Kenai businesses and buildings.

On the Kenai City Council’s Wednesday night meeting agenda is a discussion about the city manager position, including the job description. Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel wrote in a Sept. 27 memo to council members that the city’s job description for the position has not been updated since 2016 and that a review “is necessary” ahead of the upcoming recruitment process.

Ostrander said he’s already working on a transition report for whoever is next to take the helm of the city. When asked what qualities make a good city manager, Ostrander emphasized the importance of creating a positive culture, fiscal constraint when it comes to the city budget and establishing productive relationships with city officials and elected representatives.

“I think establishing the culture of an organization — what you stand for, how people perceive you, and the employees that work for you, how they feel about their jobs as they go through their work day in and day out — is one of the most important things that you establish as a city manager,” Ostrander said. “It starts from the top and it filters down. Really (maintaining) a culture that’s accountable and transparent, but supportive and empowering for employees is really important.”

Ultimately, Ostrander said he is grateful for the opportunity to serve as Kenai’s city manager and thanked Mayor Brian Gabriel for the work they’ve done together during Ostrander’s time at the city.

“Working with Mayor Gabriel for the last six years has been something that I’ve greatly appreciated, and will always remember as something in my career that I’ll treasure forever,” Ostrander said. “He’s been an ideal mayor, to work for and the relationship between the two of us has enabled us to get some things done that, without that strong relationship between the city manager and mayor, I don’t think would have happened.”

Upon leaving the city, Ostrander said he has no plans to take on another job and is looking forward to spending time with his family. He said, for example, that he and his wife — who, like Ostrander, grew up in Kenai — plan to tour various parts of the Lower 48 and that he hopes to spend a lot of time fishing.

“For the next six to 12 months, I’m really going to do just whatever I want to do,” Ostrander said.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.