The Soldotna City Council on Monday interviewed four candidates hoping to become the city’s next manager. Alan Lanning, Gregg Brelsford, Janette Bower and Elke Doom all fielded questions from council members during a special meeting, which all candidates attended via Zoom.
The city announced last November that Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen will be stepping down at the end of February, when her contract is up. Queen has served as city manager since 2018 and previously served as Soldotna’s director of economic development and planning.
First up was Alan Lanning, who served as the city manager in Cordova from 2016 to 2019 and holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Dakota.
Since 1998, Lanning has held seven municipal management positions, including five city manager positions, one city administrator position and one town manager positions. He’s most recently worked as a retail associate with Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply in Colorado. He drew from his time as the city manager of Cordova for much of his Monday interview with council members.
Lanning said Monday that he views the Kenai River as Soldotna’s greatest strength and its lack of access its greatest challenge. He said would work as city manager to familiarize himself with the city issues and staff and described his leadership style as “based upon communication.”
As city manager, Lanning said his role would be to be the council’s “most trusted adviser” and to make sure council members have the information they need to make informed decisions. When it comes to conflict resolution, Lanning said listening is key. When asked why he is the best candidate for the position, Lanning cited his extensive experience in the public sector.
“I think if you look at my resume, I’ve been around and I understand a broad spectrum of issues, systems and places that I don’t think every manager gets the opportunity to experience,” Lanning told council members Monday.
Lanning’s experience in municipal governance has been marked with what he calls in his application “philosophical” differences. He cited “philosophical issues” as the reason he left the city of Goodland, Kansas, and a “philosophical difference” as the reason he left Lake City, Minnesota.
Lanning said in his application that he resigned as the manager of Central City, Colorado, “after a vote connected with another agency board (he) served on, conflicted with the mayor’s spouse.” As reported by CBS, Lanning in 2012 was criticized by an elected official in Central City, for traveling to Burlington, Iowa, to interview for a city manager position that he later said he had no plans to accept.
Lanning said in his application that he left the city of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, following a “mutual separation agreement.” He in 2008 received a severance package from the city after “management related issues” between Lanning and the city council, the Steamboat Pilot & Today reported. Lanning also received a $133,000 home loan from the city of Steamboat Springs that he was late to repay after leaving the city, the newspaper reported in a March 2016 article.
Lanning could not be reached Monday for comment.
The council then interviewed applicant Janette Bower, who currently serves as the city manager of Seward. Bower was brought on in 2021 from Wadena, Minnesota, where she served as city administrator. She holds a high school diploma from Magic City High School.
Bower on Monday said she views tourism and Soldotna’s location on the Sterling Highways as among the city’s biggest assets and that, if hired, she wants to spend getting to know the central Kenai Peninsula better. When it comes to communicating with members of the public, Bower said Seward tries to maximize the reach of its social media pages, such as on Facebook — multiple candidates said social media is an effective way to reach residents.
“I’m pretty laid back, but I know my role as a supervisor,” Bower said. “I just really like to communicate and bring people together to work together to accomplish the goals and objectives laid out by the city council.”
Gregg Brelsford, the third applicant interviewed Monday, is a graduate of Harvard Law School who currently serves as a senior advisor for the South African Center for Excellence’s International Legal Institute.
Brelsford served as the interim city manager for the City of Dillingham during the first half of 2021 and as manager of the Bristol Bay Borough from 2018 to 2020. Brelsford ran last year as an independent for the U.S. House of Representatives seat that became vacant after the death of Don Young.
Brelsford also holds a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences from the University of Alaska Anchorage. That’s in addition to varied legal experience, including as law clerk to the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.
He voiced excitement about various projects underway in the City of Soldotna, such as the riverfront redevelopment project, the arts and culture master plan and the field house projects.
“I have extensive and solid and rich experience in the city manager world,” Brelsford said. “As you know, from my resume, it’s all in rural Alaska so it’s a little bit different than what Soldotna is but I think all of the experience and the learning from those positions generalizes and applies to the City of Soldotna.”
Elke Doom was the last to be interviewed. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from Siena Heights University. Since January of 2022, she has served as the interim township manager of Royal Oak Township in Michigan. Doom also emerged as a finalist candidate with the City of Kenai, which recruited for a city manager position late last year.
Doom has also served as the city manager of Eastpointe, Michigan; Oxford, North Carolina; Princeton, West Virginia; and Valdez. During her interview with Soldotna City Council members Monday, she described herself as a strong proponent of collaboration and teamwork.
“I believe I’m best fit for this position because I have absolutely a love of government,” Doom said. “I enjoy what I do immensely. I’ve made this my career choice. I’ve heard so much about how wonderful your community is. Looking at all of the projects that you have, the plans that you have, and goals for the future and then taking a good hard look at the experience and background that I have, I feel I’d be a very, very good fit for your community.”
Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney said during Monday’s interviews that the city’s next steps in the city manager recruitment process include identifying finalists from Monday’s interviews with the goal of inviting those finalists to an in-person interview with the city.
“Hopefully, that will happen fairly quickly,” Whitney said.
Contact information for the four applicants was not immediately available. All interviews can be streamed on the city’s website at soldotna.org.