Kenai is the second community on the Kenai Peninsula of which Chris Hladick has applied to be the city manager. Two years ago he was a hopeful for the city of Homer's job, but lost to former Homer assembly member Ron Drathman.
Currently the city manager of Dillingham, Hladick turned down a contract renewal offer earlier this year. He will remain on the job there until July 31, and the city is advertising for his replacement.
He is one of two candidates for the job, along with Petersburg City Manager Linda Snow. Both were interviewed by the council in public last week.(For more on Snow, see story page A-1.)
Hladick (pronounced "ladd-ek") began his career in public administration in the small Interior village of Galena, current population 675, where he spent four years as city manager, before going to Dillingham (pop. 2,400), in 1994.
"In May 1991, (Galena) asked me to be interim city manager," Hladick said. "Within six months they asked me to stay on full time. I was the sixth manager in five years."
He described his next job as challenging.
"Dillingham was deeply troubled," he said. "But we got a lot done there."
Two projects that had been on the table for years before Hladick showed up made significant progress. A $5 million erosion control sea wall at Snag Point in downtown was built, and a new $4 million landfill was permitted and is expected to be finished this summer.
"I have a pretty good rapport with the corps," he said of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Council member Jim Bookey asked Hladick why he was interested in coming to Kenai.
"I don't know too many city managers who wouldn't want to come here," he said. "It has a lot to offer: oil, fishing, tourism, retail. It seems like a real stable community and city."
Council member Linda Swarner asked Hladick what he has to offer to make the city even better.
"From a community standpoint, my wife and I are always on committees wherever we go. We're always involved beyond our jobs," he said.
He said he is especially interested in youth sports and organizations, and his wife currently serves on the Dillingham Chamber of Commerce and the advisory board for public radio there.
"As far as city government, I'm a driver and like to get things done," he said. "I like projects, but I make sure the organization is healthy."
Council member Pat Porter asked Hladick what his management style was. He said he takes a team approach.
"I hire department heads and let them do their job," he said. "And I have an open-door policy; I'll talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime."
Council member Bill Frazer asked about land use planning and zoning in Hladick's background.
"I promoted zoning in Dillingham for a long time, but they haven't taken it up," he said. "That's too hot of an issue in the Bush. I have no direct experience in zoning."
Mayor John Williams asked Hladick to expound on his relationship with the Corps of Engineers, and if he had gone through environmental assessments or impact statements on any projects. Hladick said he spent $500,000 on a study before the sea wall project.
"Then I went after them," he said. "It got to the point that (the corps) probably didn't want to hear Dillingham was on the line."
Williams described a sea wall along the Kenai bluff as the most important issue in the city.
Hladick said Dillingham only raised taxes once in his seven years there. The personal property tax, which includes commercial fishing boats and airplanes as well as homes, recently was raised from 8 mills to 14 mills, which shocked some council members until Hladick told them the Dillingham City School District is funded with a 4 mill equivalent by the city. He said of the six mill increase, 1 mill would go to the city, 2 mills into a savings account and 3 mills to the schools.
He said he has offered the council and the citizenry an option to reduce the mill rate down to 11, if they pass a 1 percent increase in sales tax, which will go to the school district. The sales tax currently is 5 percent.
"Around here that might be called slight of hand," Williams said. "What was the reaction?"
Hladick said he did a good job educating the city and there has not been much fall out.
"But I don't know what the response from the fishermen will be when they figure out what happened," he said.
Hladick's years in Dillingham were marred by one citizen, who was delinquent on his taxes and then ran successfully for the city council.
"He ran on a platform of not paying his taxes and got on the council," Hladick said.
The situation was compounded because the individual in question, Jackson McCormick, owned a local radio station and lambasted Hladick and the city every evening at 8 on the air.
McCormick appealed his tax bill to the Alaska Supreme Court and lost.
"We're making sure he pays (his back taxes)," Hladick said.
Williams asked Hladick how he sorts out divisive community issues, such as the McCormick situation.
"I always talk to people," Hladick said. "I end up making a judgment call based on who has the most credibility."
The mayor also asked what he thought of having a big jail adjacent to city limits, such as the new 1,000-bed prison proposed for near Wildwood.
"I would want to have baseline data done beforehand and go back to the Legislature with the data of its impacts in black and white," Hladick said.
Council member Joe Moore asked if he saw any weaknesses in the city of Kenai. Hladick said no.
"I didn't see any flags. There's nothing major," he said. "There are competent department heads, employees who take pride in their jobs and a clean workplace.
"It's nonunion, which means they have been treated well," he added. "You have employees here for a long time and that indicates health."
Swarner asked what Hladick thought his strengths and weaknesses were. He said he provides leadership by example, but he "sometimes expects more than people can sometimes deliver."
"But experience has tempered that," he added. "I'm a very patient individual."
Porter asked how soon he would be available to take the job as Kenai city manager if he was selected.
He said he told the Dillingham City Council his last day would be July 31.
"That would get them through the budget, (finding) an interim manager and the commercial fishing season," he said.
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