Kenai council considers city manager candidates

Kenai City Council members have selected five finalists for the position of Kenai City Manager from 28 applicants.

The council is expected to hire a new city manager before present City Manager Rick Koch leaves his position at the end of the year. According to Kenai’s code and charter, the city manager supervises and hires city employees, monitors the city’s financial condition, and serves as the administration’s non-voting representative at council meetings. After serving as city manager since 2006, Koch resigned in June 2016 to run for the Alaska State House of Representatives District 30 seat. He was defeated in the Republican primary election by Gary Knopp, a current Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member. Koch’s resignation from the Kenai administration becomes effective Dec. 31, 2016.

The five finalists selected by the Kenai City Council are Steve Dahl, a former city manager of the approximately 4,600-person town of Phoenix, Oregon; Jim Dinley, former Municipal Administrator for the City and Borough of Sitka; Jason Hooley, who has held various staff positions in the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and in the office of the Alaska Governor and Lieutenant Governor; Martin Moore, city manager of Eunice, New Mexico; and Paul Ostrander, Chief of Staff for Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

The Kenai City Council discussed the applicants in a closed executive session Sept. 28, in which they examined the finalists’ responses to five questions about their government experience, professional strengths and weaknesses, views on the roles of city council members and the city manager, relationships with other officials that could benefit Kenai and how the applicants would deal with a hypothetical scenario of informing council members on a divisive issue.

Dahl emphasized economic development experience in his questionnaire responses, stating that he had previously served as an Economic Development Coordinator for Oregon’s Grant County and for the Oregon city of Grant Pass, as well as his city manager experience in Phoenix.

According to a May 2016 article by the Medford, Oregon-based newspaper Mail Tribune, Dahl was fired that month from the city of Phoenix by a 4-1 vote of the Phoenix City Council after serving as manager since July 2013. The Medford-based News Channel KTVL cited a City of Phoenix press release which said the city had “different needs than we had when (Dahl) was hired 3 years ago.”

Dinley’s response stated that he had served six years as administrator of the combined City and Borough of Sitka, while previous administrators each served less than three years. Dinley wrote that he had an “excellent relationship” with Sitka’s state Senator Bert Stedman and also “a low tolerance for office gossip; use of use drugs (sic) by a staff member or when an employee lies, cheats or steals.”

The Sitka Sentinel reported Dinley’s resignation as administrator in April 2013. Sitka radio station KCAW reported Dinley had received an unfavorable annual evaluation a week before his resignation, and had recently been suspended for two weeks following a city employee’s complaint over “inappropriate comments Dinley apparently made.” The KCAW story quotes Sitka Mayor Kim McConnell as saying the suspension and unfavorable review were not related.

Jason Hooley wrote in his responses that he “managed multiple legislative projects” as a staff member in the Office of the Governor and the Department of Health and Social Services between 2002 and 2015, working “primarily in health-related positions.”

“My familiarity with board processes and staff will help in seeking to leverage non-City resources — such as grants, legislative appropriations, and other funding mechanisms — to the extent possible in today’s political and budgetary landscape,” Hooley wrote in the questionnaire.

A 2013 Alaska Dispatch article stated that Hooley had then been recently transferred to the Department of Health and Social Services from the office of then-Governor Sean Parnell. A 2012 Anchorage Daily News article identifies him as Parnell’s Director of Boards and Commissions, a job which Hooley wrote “provided quasi-HR duties in the recruiting, vetting, and appointing of 1,200 board members.”

Hooley listed a present address in Phoenix, Arizona, where he wrote that he is working for a consulting firm.

Moore is the present city manager of Eunice, New Mexico, a town that he wrote is “currently involved in a critical situation… where revenues have dropped 55 percent in the past three months, available cash is low, and difficult decision are required as to when and how wages should be cut, and which employees have to be laid off.” A Sept. 16, 2016 story in the Albuquerque Journal reported a 55 percent drop in Eunice’s sales tax revenue, which the author links to the effects of declining oil and gas prices.

Ostrander became Chief of Staff for Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre when Navarre took office in November 2011 and wrote in his questionnaire response that he is “involved in every aspect of the business of the Borough.” Giving examples of his ability to work with controversial issues, he cited his chairmanship of the Borough’s Anadromous Fish Habitat Task Force and vice-chairmanship of the Marijuana Task Force. Before becoming chief of staff he was the vice president of Alaska Wireless Communications and owned Rural Wireless Consulting Group, according to previous Clarion reporting. Prior to that job, he worked for the borough as a land management officer.

Though the Kenai council’s discussions of the applicants are closed to the public, council members expressed differing opinions about related issues at the Sept. 28 meeting. Council members Bob Molloy and Mike Boyle said the city manager should be chosen by the new council members who will take their seats after the Oct. 4 election. There was also dispute over whether the city manager candidates should be discussed in a closed or open session. Molloy, Boyle and council member Terry Bookey voted unsuccessfully to hold discussion publicly rather than in an executive session.


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