SHARING CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD

Skagway elementary school children wrote and performed their own play about holiday traditions in Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Japan, Mexico and the USA. Elves Abbie Dodd, Rosalie Westfall, Rebecca Hollander, and Amanda Hoover finally located Santa (Greg Eagan) in Skagway. The play and desserts afterwards raised about $350 for the school’s “Have a Heart” campaign. So far they are about one-third of the way to their goal of $10,000 by the end of the school year. See more photos from the season on the Yultide page below in features.

Photo by Jeff Brady

SKAGWAY BOROUGH APPROVED: Local Boundary Commission debates five overall standards; Chair Hargraves breaks tie for Skagway Borough (click here for LBC coverage)

No new manager yet
First round finalists don’t score high enough

By JEFF BRADY
There will be no new Skagway city manager to start the new year. After interviewing two finalists for the position on Dec. 8, the manager selection committee determined that neither candidate was viable for the position.
The two candidates, Esker Coffey of Anchorage and Amy Guerra of Portland, scored in the mid-60s out of a possible 100.
“That was not high enough in our minds,” committee chair Mike Korsmo told the City Council in special session on Dec. 15. The committee took a vote, and it was 4-2 to recommend neither, he said.
Council members discussed the situation and decided to have the committee meet again Jan. 3 and redraft a new advertisement which will state that the position is “open until filled.” Korsmo said current manger Bob Ward, who is due to retire at the end of February, is willing to stay on a while longer. Ward had hoped to be training someone by mid-January for an easy transition until his retirement date.
By leaving the job open until filled, Korsmo said that when a qualified candidate comes forward, they can bring the person in to interview. Apparently at least four other Alaska cities are in the same situation – having trouble attracting qualified city manager candidates, and others said it was a nationwide trend. Last fall’s advertisements were well-circulated in state publications and on national city and county government websites, noted City Clerk Marj Harris.
Councilmember Dave Hunz said Skagway needs someone by March to start work on budgets, and suggested that the committee explore hiring a service to conduct a “professional search.” Korsmo said that the council will need someone with experience as the city makes its transition into a borough.
The two finalists were interviewed separately Dec. 8 by the entire committee comprised of City Councilmembers Korsmo, Craig Jennison and Dan Henry, along with community members Dennis Corrington, Mark Larsen, and Scott Logan. Harris also participated, taking notes and compiling results from evaluation forms that members filled out based on answers to about 10 prepared questions.
The question and answer sessions were open to the public, then the committee went into executive session to prepare its recommendation to the full council last Friday.
During the questioning, each candidate was first asked what prompted them to apply for the Skagway manager’s job. Coffey said his wife and he were looking for a professional position with benefits and a place to raise a family. Gurerra said she had been keeping tabs on job openings here, as she and her husband wanted to return. She felt the manager’s job was a year-round position in which she could use her education and experience.
Neither candidate had experience working directly with a city council, but they had reported to other oversight bodies. As a city engineer for a year in Nome, Coffey said he usually dealt with the city manager and planning commission. While with AAA, Guerra said she reported to a board of directors and vice president, and was the spokesperson for travel services for the entire Oregon and Idaho region. Neither had grant-writing experience, although both had sat in on courses. As for experience working with the federal government, Coffey said he had been on a community council that worked with the FAA, DOT, and Alaska Railroad. He also had worked for the State DOT in western Alaska for a year. Guerra said that as the director of operations for Skagway Street Car Co. she worked with various licensing agencies.
Both had been in positions overseeing financial responsibilities. Guerra had helped start a successful software company in Texas from the ground up, and recently built a $600,000 marketing budget with various industry partners in two states with AAA. Coffey’s biggest financial responsibility also came in the private sector, as project manager for Alaska Mechanical’s work on Concourse C at Anchorage International Airport, where he oversaw 110 people.
Both candidates felt they had the organizational skills for a job that requires multi-tasking, but they were initially stumped when asked to explain an example of an issue in their background where they had to deal with conflicting positions and finding a solution. Both had to think about it, answer other questions, but then came back with examples settling office or on-the-job disputes.
Coffey had some capital project experience, but Gurerra had the better grasp of Skagway issues, even pointing to the budget and saying it needed to be more transparent.
But in the end, one scored 63 and the other 65, and that was not high enough to advance either to the job.

Police given salary increases, funding uncertain

By ANDREW CREMATA
At its Dec. 7 meeting, City Council approved an increase in the Police Department’s pay scale of approximately 24 percent. The increase, which will go into effect Jan. 1, is the first adjustment of the department’s pay scale since 1997. As of now, it is unclear where the city will get the money to pay police higher wages in this budget cycle, and with other city departments sure to seek pay scale increases of their own in the coming weeks, raising taxes may be the only way to compensate for city-wide increases in the next budget cycle.
At the meeting, City Manager Bob Ward made the recommendation that the city reject the resolution, citing the need to address pay scale issues in all of the city departments.
“I have a responsibility to all of the city employees,” Ward said.
He said that by waiting until the next budget cycle, the city would have six months to investigate individual department needs and be more informed when proposing the necessary adjustments.
“When it does get addressed the council can sell it to the taxpayers,” he said.
He added that the city did not normally change pay scales in the middle of a budget cycle, but if the council chose to accept the resolution, the current budget would have to be amended by $64,000 to pay for the increase.
Where the money necessary to pay for the resolution would come from became a topic for debate. With the city facing budgetary shortfalls due to a drop in enrollment at the school, and Mayor Tim Bourcy’s request of a “hold the line” budget from all city departments, members of council admitted that the money simply may not be available.
Councilman Dave Hunz said city departments should look to their own budgets to pay for such increases. He added that the fire department’s budget could be used to pay for the wage scale increase at the police department, since a dispatcher position was moved from the former to the latter.
The meeting was well-attended by current police department personnel, many of whom spoke out after hearing Ward’s comments.
Sergeant Ken Cox expressed frustration that the increase did not make it on the current budget, as he approached the Public Safety and Finance Committees about the issue before this year’s budget was adopted.
“Now we’re in a position where we have a resolution here, but no funding...,” Cox said.
He said that when the issue was raised in May, he was told that it was too late to add it to the budget, and that it would be no problem to make adjustments during the budget cycle in July.
Resident Sharon Bolton spoke in favor of the resolution saying that other department pay scales could be dealt with individually and said, “Funds to cover (police pay) for the last half of this fiscal year can be found.”
Retired Police Chief Dennis Spurrier said dealing with the city to get police department pay scales “up to snuff” has been a “continuous battle” over the years, and echoed Bolton’s comments when he said, “You guys can find the money.”
“As a taxpayer now, I encourage the city to adopt Resolution 06-21R,” said Spurrier.
Comments from the council made it clear that actually finding the money to pay for the resolution in the middle of the current budget cycle would be much more difficult than simply saying it could be done.
As far as the next budget cycle is concerned, it remains to be seen how other taxpayers will react to potential increases in either sales or property tax. The increase to the budget from the police department alone adds up to $128,000 for the next fiscal year, and when other departments weigh in, that number is sure to go up.
Raising the sales tax to pay for next year’s budgetary increases may not sit well with the community. A one percent sales tax increase proposition appeared on the October ballot and was soundly defeated, garnering just 37 percent of the vote.
The proposition, prepared by Councilman Dan Henry, would have also eliminated sales tax on food. Henry said that he will revisit the idea at the next election, but blamed himself for its poor initial reception.
“Maybe I should have put a little more effort into it,” he said. “Shame on me for that.”
Ward said that he didn’t think it was fair to adopt the new pay scale for one department when it was obvious that other departments were also being underpaid, some “significantly.”
Resident John Harris, whose wife is city clerk, said the increase should apply to all city departments so as to make it fair.
The council agreed that they could only deal with what was in front of them and that other departments would have to conduct studies comparing their pay to that of other Southeast communities, so that the city could adjust their pay scales as necessary.
The resolution passed with only Councilman Mike Korsmo casting a dissenting vote. Korsmo said he would like to have more time to look at various pay scale increase options other than the one presented by the police department.
Since the meeting, Ward has contacted all of the department heads to conduct similar comparison studies to the one that the police department spearheaded. After the holidays, the council should get a good picture of exactly how much money will be needed to raise salaries city-wide in the next budget cycle.

Palin cancels pioneer road contract

Gov. Sarah Palin on Dec. 14 directed the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to terminate the construction contract for the planned 11-mile pioneer road to begin the Lynn Canal Highway.
In a press release, the new governor concluded that the one-lane pioneer road initiated is not what Alaskans need, nor is in the best interest of the state. “Alaskans expect practical results and a transparent process,” Palin said. “I am canceling this project because it would only achieve a narrow road, with incomplete segments including two major rivers without bridges and would not be open to the public when completed. I also believe the use of an emergency procurement was questionable and a more straightforward approach is appropriate.”
The pioneer road idea was pushed in the last days of the Murkowski administration, even though bids came in high. Though the DOT&PF signed a contract with Southeast Road Builders of Haines on Nov. 30, the DOT&PF gave notice Dec. 14 of its intent to terminate this contract in the best interest of the state. The actions should also resolve the outstanding procurement protest filed by an unsuccessful bidder, Kiewit Pacific Company, of Vancouver, Washington, the press release said. Gov. Palin also directed the state agency to delay any further contracting for construction of the project until such time as the new administration has further reviewed this and several other major projects that DOT&PF has underway.
“The next logical window for a normal construction contract would be in early 2007, after all permits have been issued for the project,” said Mal Menzies, DOT&PF Southeast regional director. “With the federal permits, the project could then use federal funds to build a two-lane highway instead of using 100 percent state funds to build a pioneer road.”

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

SNOW BIRDING
Heavy snowfall didn’t hinder the turnout for this year’s Christmas Bird Count Dec. 16, sponsored by the Audubon Society. In this photo, Emily Willis and Elaine Furbish enjoy the antics of a trio of snow buntings. Looking up into trees during a snowstorm presents many difficult issues for birders, not the least of which is snowflakes impacting the eyeball. Photo by Andrew Cremata

• FEATURE: Helen B. Clark Award to Alvin and Lorene Gordon

• SHS & SKAGWAY ACTIVITIES: SHS hoop teams prepare for quick start; Jr. high girls unbeaten; Etue picks up a win at State wrestling meet

YULETIDE 2006: Beginnings, Schedule, Photos

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