Wrede is longest serving manager in city’s history

Following Homer City Manager Walt Wrede’s announcement last week that he will not seek renewal of his employment contract, the Homer City Council and Mayor Beth Wythe have started the process to find a new manager. Monday, the council appointed a three-member committee to review applications.

In a letter sent to Mayor Beth Wythe and the council last Thursday, Wrede gave his three-month notice, saying he did not intend to work past the end of his contract on Dec. 31.

“This has been a difficult decision to make for a variety of reasons,” Wrede wrote in his letter. “I have truly enjoyed my time in Homer. I believe we have accomplished a lot together over the past 12 years. I am proud of that and I hope you are as well. I really appreciate all of the support I have received from the council and the community at large.”

Wrede, 61, said that he felt the time was right to make a break. His wife, Mary McBurney, has taken on a new role working as an advisor to the federal subsistence board through the National Park Service and will work with the regional office in Anchorage. They have a house in Anchorage, but also will keep their house in Homer.

“We have spent a lot of time apart over the past two decades because of the requirements of our jobs,” Wrede said. “At this point in our lives, we don’t want to do that anymore.”

Wrede is the longest serving city manager in Homer’s history. Larry Farnen served the next longest, nine years and three months.

“In the world of city managers, it’s extraordinary,” council member Barbara Howard said. “There seem to be two ends of the spectrum: either you last forever or you’re out.”

Mayor Beth Wythe praised Wrede’s work.

“I have enjoyed the privilege of sitting next to him at the (council) table for 10 years, and I have learned so much about representing this community from him,” she said.  “It has been a great 10 years working with Walt to serve this community, and we will not be able to fully measure the loss until he is gone.”

Howard also honored Wrede.

“I admire his patience. I admire how he keeps priorities and how he supports his staff,” she said. “I think he provides good support and direction to them.”

Wrede started as city manager in February 2003 and was hired after the late Ron Drathman resigned in November 2002. Wrede was chosen from an initial list of 30 applicants and a short list of three. In 2003, he told the Homer News his goal was to help the council and community “get to where they want to be.”

“Is there a way to find a balance between economic development and maintaining the sense of community? There’s a lot of interest in where we’ll be in 10 years,” he said then.

Before coming to Homer, Wrede had been borough manager of the Lake and Peninsula Borough in King Salmon and in private practice as a political consultant in government affairs. He also had worked as Cordova City Planner, community development planner for the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association and as an adjunct professor of sociology for the University of Alaska Anchorage. Born in Sellersville, Pa., he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Monmouth College, New Jersey, and a sociology master’s degree from the University of Washington at Pullman. He came to Alaska in 1980 and met McBurney in Cordova.

Howard said Wrede’s biggest recent contribution was helping get natural gas to Homer.

“I think that was extraordinary leadership, not only with the citizenry, but with Enstar,” she said. “I don’t think he forgets who he’s fighting for and why. He takes a lot of guff sometimes.”

Wrede has taken criticism over the years on issues like the City Hall Town Square Project, natural gas assessments and an initial refusal to settle with homeowners over a sewer line backup.

“The position of city manager is often thankless, wading through the innumerable community concerns, which often present themselves as complaints, and knowing that it is virtually impossible to make everyone happy,” Wythe said. 

As some of his accomplishments, Wrede mentioned the natural gas line, Homer Port and Harbor improvements, and the trail and bathroom improvements paid for with cruise-ship tax money. His first project as city manager was getting the new Homer Animal Shelter built. Other accomplishments include a remodeled city hall, the new Homer Public Library, a new water treatment plant and a new city website.

“We’re always looking for new ideas to reach out to people,” he said. “There’s that great silent majority out there. There’s a small group who know how to participate and get things done.”

Wrede said his biggest disappointment was not getting voter approval of a proposed new city hall and development of the Town Center.

“I think that’s probably one of my biggest disappointments, that it went down in flames,” he said.

Wrede said he has no immediate plans for what to do next. On his punch list before the end of the year is presenting to the council a 2015 budget and working to get that passed, something Wythe said Wrede was adept at doing. He said he’s not ready to retire yet, but that when he does, he and McBurney may retire to Homer.

In his resignation letter, Wrede praised the community.

“Any success I might have had over the years I owe entirely to the council, the staff and the people of Homer. I can’t thank the council and the town enough for giving me this opportunity,” he wrote. “It was a privilege to work for you. I leave with a deep fondness for this community and I wish the council and the town nothing but the best in the future.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.