Soldotna City Hall sees changes

Two prominent faces in Soldotna City Hall have to order some new business cards.

Stephanie Queen, former director of economic development and planning, has stepped into her new role as Soldotna’s city manager while city council member Keith Baxter has submitted his formal resignation.

Queen’s contract was approved by the council following an executive session at its Feb. 28 meeting. She has been working as interim city manager since former city manager Mark Dixson submitted his resignation in October 2017. She has worked for the city since March 2007.

“I’m excited and I’m energized,” Queen said. “It’s different than my previous position, and that’s exciting.”

Queen graduated from Kenai Central High School and graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She is also a Fulbright scholar, having pursued her Ph.D. research on earthquake risk in Istanbul, Turkey. She’ll now be tackling a slew of projects on Soldotna’s radar.

“We’re really going to be moving forward with these big ideas that are all culminating at the same time — the visitor center project, the fieldhouse, recommendations for annexation,” Queen said. “These are all things that I’ve been previously involved that are now coming to the decision point.”

Queen is excited for the challenge, though, especially in the face of Alaska’s changing economy.

“I’m interested in being more involved in funding for capital projects, being more creative in how we search out funding new projects and how we prioritize them” she said. “In the past, the city has not had to incur much debt in order to build the projects and maintain infrastructure.”

Queen said the city has been able to use grants and make payments, keeping debt low, but the funding landscape has changed and grants are not as easy to come by as they once were.

“That’ll be exciting, that as a city we’ll have to be more strategic to come up with funding in order to maintain projects and fund new projects,” she said.

Overall, Queen said the city is headed in a really good direction and she’s excited to continue that trajectory alongside city staff.

“Our staff is really confident,” she said. “I enjoyed working with them as a peer and now I’m really looking forward to working with them in this new role… and I appreciate that council has the confidence in me to continue leading the city.”

As Queen steps up to fill a leadership role in city hall, another leadership role is soon to be vacant.

Baxter submitted his resignation on Friday, with an effective date of March 27. Baxter was voted to the council in November 2017 and had previously been a council member from 2013 to 2016. Baxter will be moving from Soldotna to Anchorage later this month, leaving his job with Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council for a new role with MSI Communications, a full-service advertising agency.

“It’s fortunate to be able to leave one dream job for another,” Baxter said, but leaving the city council before the end of his term is “bittersweet.”

At the council’s March 28 meeting, the council will vote to accept Baxter’s resignation and declare Seat F vacant. The council will accept applications for the open seat, which requires a financial disclosure statement and a letter of intent. The vacancy must be filled within 30 days.

Baxter said he hopes to see a good turnout of applications for his vacant seat because the city sometimes struggles to find willing, capable applicants due to its small population.

“It’s such a good council right now, really strong,” Baxter said. “There is a lot of experience and new blood. Our new city manager couldn’t be a better fit. I feel really good being able to step out and know that I’m leaving it in good hands.”

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