Duane Bannock rarely misses a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting. He can usually be spotted in the back of the chambers, behind the members of the public who plan to address the assembly that evening.
But when Bannock assumes his role as Borough Mayor Dave Carey's acting chief of staff on Monday, Bannock will take a seat amongst the leaders around the U-shaped table.
It's a seat Bannock may one day hope to remove from the table. In a Feb. 12 interview, Bannock said he would like to eliminate one position from within the mayor's office.
In a Feb. 18 interview, Bannock declined to elaborate on earlier comments, but he was willing to discuss the thinking behind his vision.
Bannock's ideal political model would essentially extend the assembly's U-shaped table into a circle around the audience. That circle would put Bannock's usual seat in the back of the assembly and his future seat at the table on a nearly level plane.
Think of the spherical globe Atlas holds atop his shoulders. Government, Bannock says, should be like Atlas: hoisting the world up so that it can spin freely.
Bannock believes government should function under a "levels of support" model, which runs counter to the common "chain of command" paradigm.
"Leaders should provide guidance," Bannock said. "Where are the stumbling blocks? What are the things in the way?"
As the director of Alaska's Division of Motor Vehicles, Bannock put that into practice. His management style allowed lower-level employees to shape some of the office's operations.
"Empowerment is one of my favorite words," Bannock said. "More decisions made at the front-counter level speeds the line up and goes to creating better employees.
"If I assign a job and the employee doesn't like it, it will likely fail. If I present an idea and I have three or four people raising their hands saying, 'Pick me, pick me' then we will go a long way."
In that kind of system, a manager's role is devalued and can often be eliminated. That management style essentially cost Bannock his job with the DMV in 2007. Commissioner Annette Kreitzer fired Bannock in 2007 because the two were "unable to bridge the gulf of differences in management and communication styles," Bannock says.
"I strive to set myself apart from the "business as usual" crowd. Otherwise, what's the point?" Bannock wrote in response to his firing in June 2007. "For me, this was never about a job; this was my chance to change the world."
Bannock said one incident finally led to his termination. Kreitzer suggested holding a bi-annual training session over two days instead of one day. Doing so would allow the DMV not to have to shut down for training because half the employees could attend the training one day and half could attend the next.
Bannock disagreed and let his opinions be known. He told Kreitzer that taking away half of a small office's employees would essentially render the office useless.
Bannock served as DMV director between February 2003 and November 2007. Bannock's resume also says he served as the Kenai Chrysler Center vice president and general manager from 1985 until 2003. After leaving the DMV, Bannock became the general manager of Skinner Sales and Service of Juneau and then the general manger of Stanley Chrysler in September of 2009.
Most recently, Bannock served as the director of the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Spruce Bark Beetle Mitigation Program.
When Carey administered his pay-scale increases last year, Bannock's position received a $3,118 pay increase, from $69,297 to $72,415. Borough code specifies that Bannock, as the acting chief of staff, will receive the minimum salary allowed at the range 7 level, which is currently $79,560.
If Bannock realizes his true political ambitions, he will someday represent the Kenai Peninsula in the Alaska State Senate.
"I've never shied away from the fact," Bannock said of his hopes of ascension. "But that's not the driving force here. This is not a quid pro quo."
Bannock says any political ambitions he harbors stem from a longstanding IOU he feels he needs to repay to the area. "I haven't settled a debt with a community that has allowed me to grow up and to raise my own two boys. This is the only home I've ever known and my dad instilled in me strong community service ethics."
Bannock's past political involvement includes serving as Kenai's planning and zoning commissioner between 1988 and 1993 and holding a seat on the Kenai City Council between 1993 and 2003.
Soon, Bannock will take a new seat.
Andrew Waite can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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