From left, Soldotna City Council Member Dave Carey, Soldotna Vice Mayor Lisa Parker, Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen, Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney, and Soldotna City Council members Jordan Chilson, Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings and Dan Nelson (on screen) celebrate Queen’s contribution’s to the city during a council meeting on Wednesday, April 26, 2023 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

From left, Soldotna City Council Member Dave Carey, Soldotna Vice Mayor Lisa Parker, Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen, Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney, and Soldotna City Council members Jordan Chilson, Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings and Dan Nelson (on screen) celebrate Queen’s contribution’s to the city during a council meeting on Wednesday, April 26, 2023 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

‘A privilege to do this work’

Stephanie Queen closes out term as Soldotna city manager in emotional council meeting

When Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney adjourned Wednesday night’s city council meeting, the sound of the gavel didn’t just mark the body’s adjournment.

The meeting was the last for Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen, who announced last year that she would not renew her contract with the city after roughly 15 years of service with the city. The tears started flowing early during Wednesday’s meeting, with Soldotna Vice Mayor Lisa Parker choking up while adding to the council agenda a last-minute resolution commending Queen for her service to the city.

While her family watched from the audience, Queen was showered on Wednesday with effusive comments from city council members, who gifted her a whale statue thanking her for doing “a whale of a job.” Those who spoke Wednesday commended Queen for her professionalism and care for city employees.

“I think that caring for the employees to the level that you have has fostered that level of teamwork in the city,” said council member Jordan Chilson. “I believe that you should be able to rest easy at this point knowing that you’re leaving a very capable team behind. The city’s in great hands.”

The resolution passed by council members Wednesday specifically praised, among other things Queen’s role in expanding Soldotna Creek Park, starting Frozen RiverFest, spearheading the Soldotna Field House Project, setting up Soldotna’s Storefront Improvement Program, establishing Soldotna Community Memorial Park and securing a new airport building.

“There are no platitudes, words of thanks, or affirmations which can repay the City’s deep debt to her,” the resolutions says.

Queen took the helm at the City of Soldotna in October 2017 following what she called during an interview with the Clarion on Monday the “abrupt” departure of Mark Dixson. She was serving as Soldotna’s director of planning and economic development, a position she’d held for 10 years, and said she was looking for a new challenge.

“I felt like I had a really good sense of what the job was,” Queen said. “Certainly, I was really comfortable with the community and knowing the different people.”

Queen grew up on the Kenai Peninsula and returned after getting a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cornell University. She said the City of Soldotna and the city manager appealed to her in part because of the good working relationship between city administration and the city council and mayor.

Queen’s five years of service were defined in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic, which she helped guide Soldotna through during both the city’s initial response and subsequent distribution of millions of dollars in state and federal relief funds.

Under Queen’s guidance, the city published in summer 2021 a nine-page report detailing how much money the city received through the federal CARES Act to provide pandemic relief and where that money went. She said the report is one she’s “super proud of” and is an example of the city trying to go above and beyond while working closely with city council members and getting public input.

Of the roughly $10 million Soldotna received though the CARES Act, about $4.6 went to business grants and economic recovery and about $2.3 million went to nonprofit organization and service partnerships, per that report. Additional funds were used for personnel and administrative expenditures, city projects for COVID mitigation and direct relief to city residents.

“I think we were able then to use funds really through that whole two-year period to meet the needs as they changed in time,” Queen said. “So early on, it was getting money out quickly to people and then we were able to pivot to programs that were a little bit more targeted.”

More recently, Queen has been the face of the city throughout a review of Soldotna’s park use policies. Those policies came under fire after some community members protested a drag performance held as part of a pride event in Soldotna Creek Park last year. The incident prompted hours of public testimony, which sometimes grew heated, and months of work by city staff to review and consider park use and obscenity ordinances. The three resulting pieces of legislation were all voted down by council members.

Queen said that, as the city navigated its response to outcry, she was reminded of other issues the city has taken on that evoke a similarly charged emotional response from residents, such as annexation and certain COVID-19 protocols. Meetings where Soldotna’s park policies were discussed, she said, underscored the limits of public meetings when it comes to digging deep into an emotional issue.

“I think back on some of the meetings and I feel like it’s understandable that people might be dissatisfied, or feeling like their particular viewpoint wasn’t heard because, when you’re in a meeting and there’s such a spectrum of viewpoints, it’s really not a forum for a two-way conversation,” Queen said.

Still, she said she’s satisfied with the outcome of that process. Council members were able to take an additional meeting to reflect on the public testimony given to explain their reasoning for voting the way they did, but still ultimately get the final say.

“That is the process as it should work, where people aren’t left surprised and they get a reasonable explanation and they get an extra opportunity to be heard,” Queen said.

In deciding to step down, she cited the demand of always being on the job. It is not uncommon, Queen said, for people to approach her while she’s checking her mailbox or at a hockey game to ask about street sweepers or construction projects. She’s also missed out on some events in the lives of her two kids, now going into middle and high school, and couldn’t have taken on the city manager gig without the support of her husband behind the scenes.

“It’s a privilege to do this work,” Queen said. “I have a lot of gratitude about that. It’s also a privilege to be able to decide and leave on your own timeline.”

Looking ahead, Queen said the leadership transition process is already underway.

Between Queen’s last day with the city on Friday and incoming City Manager Janette Bower’s first day on May 15, Soldotna Public Works Director Kyle Kornelis will take over as interim city manager. Soldotna City Council members approved earlier this year a contract with Bower, who currently serves as the city manager of Seward.

Queen gave notice last November that she would not be renewing her contract with the city and said Monday that she’s been happy to take a backseat to the city’s search for her successor. She’s been able to coordinate with Bower a bit on the construction of Soldotna’s biennial operating budget, a draft version of which the city council met to review this week.

“I think that that sets Janette up to hit the ground running without having to do a lot of that administrative burden,” Queen said. “But she still will be in a position to make decisions if she feels like there are things that she’d like to see done a little differently.”

As for Queen, she said she’s looking forward to taking some time off. For all of the rewards that come with being a city manager, she said she’s looking forward to slowing down, having more time to spend with her family and reclaiming some of her space and privacy. On her agenda: walk her dog, read a book, weed the garden. At this point, she’s not looking beyond summer.

“After I give myself some space and some time, at some point I’ll then start thinking about what I want to do next,” Queen said. “But I don’t have anything in mind right now and I haven’t put that pressure on myself just yet.”

Queen’s last city council meeting as city manager was Wednesday.

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

Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen is recognized for her contributions to the city during a council meeting on Wednesday, April 26, 2023 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen is recognized for her contributions to the city during a council meeting on Wednesday, April 26, 2023 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

tease
House District 6 race gets 3rd candidate

Alana Greear filed a letter of intent to run on April 5

Kenai City Hall is seen on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai water treatment plant project moves forward

The city will contract with Anchorage-based HDL Engineering Consultants for design and engineering of a new water treatment plant pumphouse

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi students walk out for school funding

The protest was in response to the veto of an education bill that would have increased school funding

The Kenai Courthouse as seen on Monday, July 3, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Clam Gulch resident convicted of 60 counts for sexual abuse of a minor

The conviction came at the end of a three-week trial at the Kenai Courthouse

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meets in Seward, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (screenshot)
Borough awards contract for replacement of Seward High School track

The project is part of a bond package that funds major deferred maintenance projects at 10 borough schools

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce, left, and committee Chair Jason Tauriainen, right, participate in the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Four Day School Week Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
4-day school week committee talks purpose of potential change, possible calendar

The change could help curb costs on things like substitutes, according to district estimates

A studded tire is attached to a very cool car in the parking lot of the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Studded tire removal deadline extended

A 15-day extension was issued via emergency order for communities above the 60 degrees latitude line

A sign for Peninsula Community Health Services stands outside their facility in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
PCHS to pursue Nikiski expansion, moves to meet other community needs

PCHS is a private, nonprofit organization that provides access to health care to anyone in the community

Jordan Chilson votes in favor of an ordinance he sponsored seeking equitable access to baby changing tables during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna OKs ordinance seeking to increase access to baby changing tables

The ordinance requires all newly constructed or renovated city-owned and operated facilities to include changing tables installed in both men’s and women’s restrooms

Most Read