Story last updated at 1:21 p.m. Thursday, November 28, 2002

City council considers land, hiring process
by Carey James
Staff Writer

In another marathon meeting, the Homer City Council discussed several complex issues Monday night, including the city manager hiring process and future deals between the University of Alaska and the city.

Councilmen Rick Ladd and Ray Kranich introduced an ordinance revamping the city manager hiring process to include public input during the interview stage as well as possible background checks on candidates.

Kranich said the ordinance was born out of concern that there were a host of issues regarding the hiring process that were not being addressed by the council.

Ladd, as well as others, said hiring the city manager is perhaps the single most important thing the council does, and expressed concern that the council review the qualities it is looking for in a manager as well as his or her eventual job description.

"This clarifies the need for us to have some common ground rules," said Ladd after considerable discussion of the issue. "This just says to me that we don't have it together on this."

Due to the lateness of the hour when the ordinance finally came, the council tentatively scheduled a brown-bag lunch session on Monday to review the many issues pertaining to the hiring.

Acting City Manager Mark Robl suggested the council seriously consider hiring a private investigator to look into the backgrounds of potential candidates. Robl also suggested that if an interim city manager is needed, the council might consider looking at those who had held the post in the past and would have less problem getting up to speed on the workings of the city.

Current City Manager Ron Drathman resigned from the position earlier this month, agreeing to stay on the job until Jan. 29. The city is receiving applications for the position, with a deadline of Dec. 16.

The council also took time Monday night to hear from Kachemak Bay College Director Carol Swartz on the future plans of the campus. Suggestions have been made in the past that when the city decides to move out of its current home at city hall, the college might be interested in expanding into the space.

With a current $3 million-expansion project in the works for the college, some members of the council were hoping to coordinate with the college so its expansion might be made in the direction of city hall, eventually facilitating the building takeover. Swartz said that unless the council tells the college it is planning to move from the building in the near future, the college would likely expand into the land behind the campus that the college intends to purchase by next summer.

Several council members, however, cautioned that the idea had not been fully thought out, and any action would be made in haste.

Further adding to the issue are several pieces of land the university owns that could present the possibility for a partial trade with the city, if the university chose to purchase city hall. One such piece lies in the center of town, in the area of the proposed Town Square project, with other lands surrounding the Homer reservoir.

The 4.7 acres of land in town is owned by the university for the purpose of expanding its facility, but since the new university plan is to expand on its current site, the land is scheduled to be put on the market later this summer.

Councilman Doug Stark introduced a memorandum asking the council to send a letter to the university expressing interest in acquiring the land in town. Stark said the idea was solely to buy the city time to consider purchase of the land, and was not binding, but the council voted the idea down, with Stark's vote the only one in favor of sending the letter.

Several council members said the land owned by the university surrounding the Homer reservoir is of much greater interest to the council than the Town Square land. Swartz said the college has much less ability to negotiate with that land, as it is owned by the University of Alaska Foundation, and is not tied to the Homer campus.

Stark expressed his frustration with the council's caution in negotiating with the university.

"Where there is no vision, people perish," Stark said. "I think we have to get the ball rolling and tie these things together. We have to move on that rapidly. If we don't do something, events will pass us by."

In other news, the council:

* Appropriated $10,000 for a community survey being conducted by an independent company. The survey, which has recently been sent to many Homer residents, is aimed at gaining a better understanding of the concerns and priorities of Homer's citizens.

* Heard a report from the Homer Hockey Association on its plans to build a refrigerated rink on HEA land below the HEA facility. The association asked the council to write a letter of support to be used for future grant-writing efforts, and listed several other ways the city might be able to show support for the facility without significant financial investment. The association said, however, that it was moving ahead with plans to break ground next spring regardless of the city's ability to invest in the project.

* Accepted two tax-foreclosed properties in the Ocean Drive Bluff Erosion Control assessment district, and agreed to absorb the $120,217 due from the properties to the seawall project.

* Voted down a memorandum by councilmen Rick Ladd and Ray Kranich to reactivate the Economic Development Advisory Commission. Several council members expressed concern that while the idea of creating some sort of commission for looking at economic issues in Homer is a good idea, more discussion is needed on what the commission would be charged with, and how the council would respond to requests from the commission that included a financial commitment.

"I think it's a good idea," said councilwoman Rose Beck, who expressed concerns about the vagueness of the priorities outlined in the memorandum. "Do we want to bring in seven more people, then frustrate them because we can't do the things they want us to do."

A budget work session is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday at city hall, with the next regular meeting scheduled for Dec. 9.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homer