The City of Seward is moving forward with three finalist candidates in their search for a new city manager after reviewing seven applications during a Feb. 4 city council work session.
The council considered applications from candidates across the country, with all candidates were “fully vetted” by GovHR, the company who has been conducting the search, Seward City Clerk Brenda Ballou said Monday.
The Seward City Council voted 5-2 last October to fire then-City Manager Scott Meszaros, effective immediately. In the interim, the council appointed Harbormaster Norm Regis as acting city manager.
The council will interview the three finalists on Feb. 11 via Zoom and decide whether or not to offer one of them the position, Ballou said. If the council does not feel that any of the three candidates are the right fit, they can pursue other applications. GovHR Senior Vice President Rachel Skaggs moderated the work session.
Robert “Fritz” VanVolkenburgh will be interviewed at 5 p.m. Janette Bower will be interviewed at 6 p.m. and Scott McClure will be interviewed at 7 p.m.
VanVolkenburgh currently serves as the chief of staff to the Brevard County commissioner in Merritt Island, Florida. He holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, a Master of Business Administration from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Oregon and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from SUNY Buffalo.
In his letter of interest in the position, VanVolkenburgh said that his experience in government, as a finance manager, as a firefighter/EMT reservist, in the private sector and as an assistant state attorney makes him a good fit for the position.
“Although thousands of miles apart, and in different temperate zones, the county I work and reside in is similar to Seward in that it is a coastal community with a transportation network that includes cruise and cargo ships, rail, buses, airports, and highways and local roads,” VanVolkenburgh wrote.
Janette Bower currently works as the city administrator at the City of Wadena, in Minnesota. Bower attended Griffin Business College and has worked in local government for 20 years, 16 of which were in Alaska, including in Palmer and Bethel.
Skaggs said during the Feb. 4 work session that in some states the titles “city administrator” and “city manager” are used interchangeably, but that city administrators may have slightly less authority than city managers.
In her letter of interest in the position, Bower said that she believes in open communication and developing new processes to create more efficiency. Bower also said that her leadership style fosters teamwork and that she has a demonstrated ability to remain neutral amidst conflicting political opinions.
“I believe in “uncomplicating” the governmental processes to provide the public with a greater understanding of their local government,” Bower wrote.
Scott McClure has most recently worked as a city administrator at the City of Canby, Oregon. He has also worked for the cities of Monmouth, Oregon; Coos Bay, Oregon; Brush, Colorado; Gresham, Oregon; and Gladstone, Oregon. McClure holds a Master of Public Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Political Science, both from Portland State University.
In his letter of interest in the position, McClure said that in addition to Seward being a unique city to work and live in, the city seems progressive and offers a lot of services.
“I provide the highest levels of support to elected officials, management and line staff,” McClure wrote. “I am also highly engaged in the community and in professional organizations, including serving on business and non-profit boards.”
Several members of the Seward City Council voiced their support for Bower and VanVolkenburgh during the Feb. 4 work session, but Skaggs recommended selecting a third applicant to interview in case either of the two were pursuing other positions or dropped out.
The council ultimately decided to add McClure as a third candidate, citing his the 12 years he served as Monmouth, Oregon’s city manager.
During the work session, the council heard public comment on the candidates. One person who testified raised concerns about some of the candidates who had been fired from previous city manager positions.
According to his application, McClure was fired from the City of Canby in 2020 and was fired from the City of Coos Bay in 2006. Both cases, he wrote, were “no cause” terminations with severance packages and release of claims.
Skaggs said that when she spoke to McClure about the positions from which he had been fired, she felt that their answers were “reasonable and sound.”
“There really wasn’t any reason for me to eliminate them as a candidate,” Skaggs said.
Both Bower and McClure also applied for a city manager position offered by the City of Bethel as recently as December 2020, according to Bethel city council agendas. The letters of interest McClure and Bower submitted to the Bethel City Council for consideration are nearly identical to those they submitted to the Seward City Council.
Only Bower and one other applicant, Pete Williams, were ultimately interviewed for the position, with Williams eventually being selected. Williams had already been serving as Bethel’s interim city manager.
Thursday’s interviews can be streamed live on the City of Seward’s YouTube page or via Zoom with meeting ID 948 7095 2351 and password 129834.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.