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Seward starts search for new city manager

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 has had several full-time, acting and interim city managers in the last few years.

The search is underway in Seward for a new city manager, after current manager Janette Bower took a job at the city of Soldotna.

At a special meeting Monday, Seward’s city council decided to start the search in-house, rather than contract with recruiting firm GovHR for the search.

The new manager will be the third the city’s hired since 2018, when then-manager Jim Hunt resigned. The city had an interim manager for a year before hiring Scott Meszaros in 2019, but the city council fired him 18 months later, without publicly giving a reason. Bower, the current manager, has been in the role since 2021.

Councilmember Mike Calhoon said starting the search in-house would be a chance to try something new. The city contracted with GovHR the previous two times.

“And I don’t want this to sound like it probably is going to sound: We did this in 2019, we did this in 2020. And now we’re doing this again in 2023,” Calhoon said. “It hasn’t really worked out that great yet.”

The city council also said starting the search with its own human resources department would save them money. It just postponed the $30,000 contract with GovHR; in June, if it still hasn’t found candidates, it may reconsider.

At the meeting, council members underscored the importance of finding candidates with experience in Alaska, who might be willing to stick around for a few years. Mayor Sue McClure said it would also be important to find a candidate who could hit the ground running.

“We hope to find someone that will continue with the projects leading up the projects we’ve got going, we’ve got a lot going right now,” she said before the meeting Monday.

She said the city is working on building a new public works building and potentially selling its electric utility, for example.

In the interim, the city council tapped Harbormaster Norm Regis to fill in, again, like he’s done during previous searches. He’ll start when Bower leaves May 10 and fill in for up to six months.

McClure said they hope to get a city manager in that time.

“We’ve got a really good council right now, and a good assistant city manager, and a good acting city manager,” McClure said. “And I think we’re in good shape. We just have to go through this again.”

Councilmembers say one factor that could make the job more desirable is access to better housing, amid big housing shortages in the city.

Next week, voters will decide whether to change the residency requirement for the position, to make it possible for the city manager to live just outside Seward city limits. On the same ballot, May 2, voters will decide whether to sell their city-owned electric utility to Homer Electric Utility.

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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