City manager candidates meet the public

The CBJ Assembly expects to hire a new city manager by the end of the month. The two finalists took questions from the public Wednesday, followed by an informal reception.

Public feedback is part of the city and borough’s Assessment Center process, used for hiring managers. Far more than interviews, job candidates respond to daily situations and problems they’ll encounter in the job they seek. They face written reports, oral presentations, power points as well as questions from city staff, the Assembly, and Juneau taxpayers.

Just before yesterday’s public presentation, Kim Kiefer and Norman “Buddy” Custard were handed a question: What is your vision to improve and expand the relationship between the general public and city government, and what is the city manager’s role in that?

Kim Kiefer gets questions after Wednesday's presentation.

Kiefer seemed at ease as she entered Assembly chambers with some notes penciled on a yellow pad. She has worked for the city and borough of Juneau for 28 years, managing the Zach Gordon Youth Center, directing the Parks and Recreation Department, serving as deputy city manager since 2005, and as interim manager for six months in 2009 when City Manager Rod Swope took a sabbatical.

She likens the city manager to the chief executive officer of an organization comprised of groups that serve the public. But the list of CBJ services is longer than most cities of 30-thousand people, ranging from fire and police, streets, water and sewer to ownership and operation of several docks and harbors, an airport, a hospital, a ski area, two swimming pools, an ice rink, a football field and track, libraries, a museum…

“We have all of these services that make Juneau function and my job that I see as city manager is to have an umbrella over that so we’re all functioning with the same understanding and same direction of where we’re going to go with that organization,” Kiefer said.

She presented first then left the Assembly Chambers, where the event was held. A visibly nervous Custard was next. He is retiring soon from a 30-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard. This is his second tour in Juneau. He told the audience that he asked the Coast Guard to move him here, because it’s a place he wants to put down roots.

Custard has been commander of four Coast Guard cutters. He said whether it’s running a ship or a city, everything is about relationships, beginning with the department heads who work under the city manager.

Buddy Custard talks with city employees after his Wednesday presentation.

“So it’s taking that energy that they have and then harnessing it and partnering up with the energy of the community and the passion that they have because they’re living in this community and they love this community so how do we merge those two together,” he said. “And I say that’s what the city manager’s job is about.”

If they were hired as city manager both Custard and Kiefer say they if they would reach out to the Juneau community in a variety of ways. Kiefer would start with improving the city website, and put the city calendar on the front page.

“City government is doing so much,” she said.

She would hold neighborhood meetings, reach out to Juneau’s aging population, and find out “what’s the vision for the school district, what’s the vision for JEDC, for the university, chamber of commerce. All those groups are made up of the public,” she said

Custard told his audience that “people are our most important resource. It’s the people that drive the innovation, it’s the people that drive the work, the relationships,” he said. “It’s not about a hierarchal chain of command. It’s about who you know and how well you know them and how you’ve built that trust.”

Custard said if he’s hired as city manager, his first big challenge would be to “reach out and just start to make those connections and to get to where people learn who I am and can trust me.”

Kiefer said her biggest challenge would be “people’s expectations that I know everything when I walk through the door, because I’ve worked for the city for such a long time; and to understand that I’m walking into a job that I haven’t done before.”

Though Kiefer was interim manager for six months, she knew Swope was returning.

“So that’s a different scenario than saying ‘OK, where do you want to take the organization?’ ” she said.

After the public presentation, those listening were asked to rate each candidate on such qualities as professional competence, oral communications, and interaction with the public. Assembly members will consider the public comments as they make their decision.

The Assembly will interview Kiefer and Custard in separate closed-door sessions on Saturday. The goal is to have the new manager hired and working with Swope before he retires at the end of March.

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