Story last updated at 3:46 p.m. Thursday, November 7, 2002

City manager resigns
by Carey James
Staff Writer

Homer's city council accepted the resignation of City Manager Ron Drathman on Monday night, and approved his proposal to stay on the job until Jan. 29 to finish up projects and pass others on to his replacement.

Drathman's resignation became public Friday after information about a confidential resolution asking for Drathman's resignation was leaked to a local radio station. The resolution was rumored to have been sponsored by Councilmen Rick Ladd and Ray Kranich as well as Councilwoman Rose Beck. Councilman Doug Stark, a vocal opponent of Drathman, said he was not connected to the resolution, but assumed Drathman knew he would also vote in favor of the manager's resignation.

In his resignation letter, Drathman said it had become apparent that "the newly elected council intends to go in a different direction." He added that he has enjoyed his work for the city and thinks the city has accomplished "a few things" during his tenure.

The move came as a surprise to some, considering the council's recent evaluation of Drathman's performance in an executive session Oct. 21. The council announced following the review that it had "acknowledged that major accomplishments were completed" and that "recommendations and criteria were given for improving management skills" which the council would re-evaluate at the last meeting in March.

Though Drathman is touted by most as having been an effective city manager, he has been criticized by some as being unapproachable and terse in his management and interpersonal style.

According to Stark, a headline in the Oct. 24 Homer News saying the council gave Drathman a "thumbs up" inspired many citizens to call council members and voice their concerns.

"The article resulted in people talking to council people, saying, 'You people are crazy. He's terrible and we want him out.' I think that brought enough people around so there was four votes to seek his dismissal. But that's all supposition," Stark said.

Cushing said, however, that people approached him speaking in favor of retaining Drathman, who has accomplished significant projects during his three years working for the city. Cushing said he believes people chose to approach city council members who they felt were sympathetic to their position.

Stark's motives were questioned during the meeting when Councilman John Fenske noted that Stark had offered to fill in as interim city manager if necessary. Fenske asked if Stark had a conflict of interest in voting on Drathman's resignation.

Stark's move seemed to baffle Mayor Jack Cushing.

"The ramifications of wanting to be disposing of the city manager and then step into his position as you report to yourself are somewhat confusing," Cushing said.

The situation was settled, however, when Cushing discussed the issue with the city attorney and was told Stark couldn't be both an interim city manager and councilman at the same time due to city code.

Stark said in his defense that he only suggested he be made interim city manager so the council would know it had a person who could fill the position. Stark, who was acting city manager for several months in Petersburg in the '70s, said he was "highly qualified to do it, particularly on an interim basis."

Though he had applied for the Homer city manager position 11 years ago, Stark said he is no longer interested in the position on a permanent basis, and would not have accepted pay for his work as interim city manager.

"I just wanted the council to know there was an option, because they might have felt the city would be adrift if they lost the manager," he said.

Drathman said Tuesday that he assumed everyone on the council had handled the situation the best they could, and said he found Stark's actions "interesting."

Several citizens attending the city council meeting gave testimony in favor of Drathman's resignation. Former council candidate Stan Welles provided the lone voice in support keeping Drathman on board.

While Welles admitted Drathman has been criticized for his "bedside manner," he said the manager has done his job well, providing balanced budgets and actively pursuing new economic opportunities. He commended Councilmen Fenske, Mike Yourkowski and Mayor Cushing for their efforts to retain Drathman.

"To the rest, I encourage that you gather together and seek out Ron, offer an apology and ask him to remove his resignation," Welles said.

Several speakers disagreed, however, asking for the council to remove Drathman immediately.

"Everyone will be best served by a city manager who is not controversial," said Pam Brodie.

Kevin Hogan said he appreciated all the hard work Drathman had done for the city, and had at times agreed and disagreed with his policies. But he expressed concern about retaining the city manager for 90 more days.

Hogan said his concern stems from his experience that Drathman often made derisive comments about others, from council people to agencies and individuals. The alleged negative comments were a liability for the city, Hogan said.

While Ladd, Kranich and Stark alluded in the past to being critics of the city manager, Beck's vote in favor of a new city manager apparently tipped the balance.

Beck said she did not want to discuss the confidential resolution or her involvement in it. She also said she preferred not to discuss her rationale for changing her mind following the evaluation and review last month. She said she is comfortable with her decision, however.

"Until we got a new city manager, it would have been impossible (for the council) to come together," she said. "Sometimes things have to come apart before they can come together."

Fenske, however, criticized Beck and the other council members who moved forward with the confidential resolution instead of sticking with the council's earlier decision to give Drathman five months to respond to the council's concerns.

"The council has one voice," Fenske said. "As a body, we said we didn't like how he was doing his job and would review it in March. That was the consensus of the council."

Fenske said he didn't know why the council members strayed from their earlier decision.

Cushing also expressed concern about how the executive session decision was bypassed. If council members had changed their minds about the session, they could have called another executive session to discuss it, he said.

"That would have given the entire council an opportunity to weigh in," Cushing said.

Stark said, however, that he didn't think the executive session and the statement that was issued following it represented the entire council.

"I think the statement was drawn up by the supporters of the manager. The people who weren't in his fan club just went along with it," he said.

While Beck apparently did shift in favor of Drathman's resignation, she didn't continue her voting affiliation with Ladd, Stark and Kranich when Ladd introduced two amendments asking for Drathman's termination to be hastened. Instead, Beck said she believed Drathman would do a good job during his remaining 90 days as city manager.

Beck said with all the energy the council will need to spend hiring a new city manager, it would be better served by having Drathman remain in his position until Jan. 29.

"I don't think (Ladd's) amendment benefits the smooth operation of the city," she said.

Cushing mirrored Beck's sentiment, saying the city had enough work on its plate right now without having the added concern of having to cover the duties of the city manager, were he to leave earlier than 90 days.

Other council members voiced concerns about Drathman's decision not to attend future city council meetings.

Drathman said that he believes the city's department heads and acting city manager, Police Chief Mark Robl, could effectively cover the council meetings, but if that turned out to be a problem, he would revise his plan.

Drathman, a former Kenai Peninsula Borough assemblyman, was hired in April 1999. The decision to hire Drathman was not unanimous, with then-councilmen Luke Welles and Al Waddell voting against his hire.

Drathman said he doesn't have any plans for future work yet, and is currently focused on wrapping up his efforts with the city.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@