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Seward considers changing city manager residency requirement amid housing issues

Today, Seward's utility is owned by the city. It tried to sell the utility in 2000 and 2002, though both attempts failed.
Sabine Poux
Seward Mayor Sue McClure said finding housing for city managers has been an issue in the past. She said extending the boundaries out even a few miles could provide candidates with more options.

Voters in Seward could decide this spring whether to strike the residency requirement for their city manager, as the city continues to grapple with a housing shortage and a potential vacancy for the position.

But before it puts the question on the ballot, the Seward City Council will decide this week what new boundaries to set to make sure the city’s head is still close by when crisis strikes.

“When the charter was created, nobody hardly lived outside the city limits,” said Seward Mayor Sue McClure at a council meeting last night. “These are different times.”

As it stands, Seward’s manager must live within the boundaries of the city — which extend to the three bridges right outside of town, near Mile 3 of the Seward Highway.

Janette Bower has been city manager of Seward since 2021. She was offered a job by the City of Soldotna earlier this month— although McClure said as of Monday, Bower hadn’t yet made a public decision about the job.

But she said discussions about residency requirements predate Bower, and that city managers and interim city managers before her also had a hard time finding good housing. Seward has had a revolving door of city managers for the last few years.

Housing issues aren’t limited to city officials, either. Teachers and administrators in local schools have had to commute from Anchorage and live in trailers to make their jobs work, according to the Peninsula Clarion.

A handful of Seward residents who testified at Monday’s special meeting pushed back against the proposed change, saying they thought it was important for Seward’s city manager to know what it’s like to live in the city, and to be close enough to respond in an emergency.

“We are in a very high hazard zone, as a community,” said long-time Seward resident Darryl Schafermeyer. He remembered when a large flood hit Seward in 1986 and the city manager was unable to get back into town after a meeting in Soldotna.

“It’s important that we have somebody that’s here that can manage those kinds of events,” he said. “And that’s your city manager.”

Some also suggested the city provide housing for city managers, as other employers already do. McClure said there are several housing developments in progress in the city to chip away at the housing crisis.

If the council decides to put the residency question to voters, it will get added onto the special May 2 ballot. Seward voters are already deciding in that special election whether to sell their city-owned electric utility to Homer Electric Association. The city manager question would be Proposition 2.

Members of the city council are also considering adding specific boundaries to make clear the manager would still need to live relatively close by, and on the road system, which would exclude communities like Lowell Point. At a special meeting Wednesday at noon, the city council will parse through new geographical boundaries and make the final decision about putting the question on the ballot.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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