- Category: Local News
- Created on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 22:59
- Published on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 22:59
By TOM HESSE
Sentinel Staff Writer
The Assembly voted Tuesday night to offer Mark Gorman the municipal administrator position.
Gorman, a Sitka resident since 1978 and currently head of a non-governmental relief organization in Laos. Gorman is currently in the South Asian country and commented via email:
“I am really thrilled by the news,” Goman wrote. “As the Assembly was going through its selection process, I was returning to Laos, checking Wi-Fi hotspots in Seattle, Tokyo and Bangkok. It was a real nail biter.
“When the Assembly went into its final deliberations I had just left Vientiane by flight for northern Laos to visit one of our field offices. The news was emailed me just as I entered a meeting with Government of Laos provincial authorities. Needless to say, I was not very focused in that meeting.
“I am extremely grateful and honored to be selected. I am also very humbled by the tremendous outpouring of support and guidance that I received from so many in Sitka. I am very much looking forward to returning home and going to work for our community.”
The Assembly’s vote for Gorman was unanimous, but it came only after members dealt with the public outcry over their sudden decision Monday night to add City Finance Director Jay Sweeney’s name to the list of administrator candidates who had undergone a rigorous selection process.
The formal public interviews ended last Friday, with four finalists for the position: Gorman, Jim Pascale, Cynna Gubatayao and Pam Caskie. Sweeney has been acting administrator since the resignation of Jim Dinley in April. The Assembly met in executive session at a special meeting Monday night to select one of the four. Instead of announcing a choice, Mayor Mim McConnell emerged from the closed-door session to report that the Assembly was adding Sweeney to the list of those being considered for the position.
At Tuesday night’s regular meeting two members of the city staff spoke during the public comment section of the agenda, stating their concerns about the Assembly’s sudden decision to change the rules for selecting the administrator.
School board president Lon Garrison also objected.
“I think it’s been a relatively good, public process, at least until last night,” he said.
Garrison said Monday night’s sudden decision to add Sweeney’s name to the list, could “cast into question the transparency and equity amongst the other four members applying for the position.”
City Human Resources Director Mark Danielson, who has overseen the hiring process starting with the screening of the 53 original applicants, said that Monday night’s twist had cast doubt on the process.
“I’ve heard the term ‘back door deal’ at least a dozen times today,” Danielson said.
Sweeney himself came forward to speak.
“I think it would be a misstatement to say I don’t have aspirations to be an administrator some day, but I’m not sure that day is today,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney explained that when he told the Assembly that he was interested in the job during the Monday night executive session he was sincere, but that he was willing to take the job more out of a sense of duty than as an opportunity to move up.
“All along I’ve told the Assembly that if it was hopelessly deadlocked then I would be willing to serve in a temporary or permanent fashion,” Sweeney said.
He added that he was “really concerned about the public’s perception about the process,” and that he didn’t want his consideration to be a source of controversy.
After the public comment the Assembly voted to stay in regular session for a short discussion rather than go immediately behind closed doors as they did at Monday’s special meeting.
Mayor Mim McConnell said it was important to have the discussion about the hiring process in public to dispel concern that the Assembly had overstepped its bounds during executive session. The official reason that had been given for Monday night’s closed-door session was to discuss “subjects that tend to prejudice the reputation and character of any person for a candid discussion and review of the CBS Municipal Administrator candidates: Mark Gorman, Cynna Gubatayao, Jim Pascale and Pam Caskie who were recently interviewed.”
Sweeney and City Attorney Robin Koutchak attended the Monday night executive session, and McConnell reiterated Tuesday night that after Sweeney’s name was introduced as a possible choice, he was excused and the closed-door session was quickly concluded.
Assembly member Thor Christianson said he was the one who brought up Sweeney’s name, saying that when the Assembly was struggling to find common ground among the four original candidates, he pointed out that Sweeney, as acting administrator, met many of the qualities the Assembly was looking for.
“We weren’t coming to a consensus, and I don’t see us coming to a consensus anytime soon,” Christianson said.
Christianson addressed the issue of fairness by saying he was concerned about filling the position with the best available person.
“I don’t feel all that obligated for fairness to be my number-one issue. I see finding the best person for the job to be my number one issue,” Christianson said.
Mike Reif said he wanted to return to the list of candidates and either make a decision on a candidate or start the process over.
“I still believe we have four well-qualified candidates, and I also believe we can reach a consensus on one of those four candidates,” Reif said.
He added that the Monday night action could have damaged the Assembly’s relationship with the finalists, and that he knew there would be negative fallout from the decision as soon as he got home.
“Last night my most important constituent gave me heck, my wife,” Reif said.
Assembly member Phyllis Hackett said the public’s negative reaction to Monday night’s action was due to a “misconception,” but said it had damaged the reputation the Assembly had built up.
After some discussion, the Assembly agreed to remove Sweeney’s name from consideration, and to go into executive session again to make a decision among the four original candidates. Danielson was the only person besides the seven Assembly members to take part in the executive session, but he was excused after 20 minutes.
When the Assembly did return after 73 minutes of closed-door discussion, they put the names of two candidates on the table for a vote in open session: Gorman and Gubatayao, of Ketchikan.
Gubatayao received votes from Reif and Pete Esquiro, and the other five votes were for Gorman.
The vote was followed by a motion for reconsideration, which was approved. Reif said he would change his vote because he wanted a unanimous decision and because he had previously stated he was happy with the qualifications of all four candidates. Esquiro, too, changed his vote making it unanimous for Gorman.
Danielson emailed Gorman with the news immediately following the meeting. The offer includes a $125,000 salary, $15,000 of moving expenses if applicable, and two weeks of accrued leave already in the bank. A severance package like the one that had been negotiated with Jim Dinley, was not included. Gorman said during the interviews that the advertised terms were acceptable.