Kenai was where Linda Snow says she first got the urge to get into municipal management. After leaving her job as director of the mental health center here in 1980, she returned to school to study public administration and soon went to work as manager of the Kuskokwim River village of McGrath, current population 401.
After nine years there, Snow said she needed a bigger challenge, and accepted the job as Petersburg (pop. 3,200) city manager in 1994.
Now, after 16 years off the road system, she wants to return to where it all began for her, and be the new manager of the city of Kenai (pop. 7,000).
Both Snow and Dillingham's city manager, Chris Hladick, were interviewed -- in public -- by the Kenai City Council last week; the former on Wednesday, the latter on Friday. (For more on Hladick, see related story page A-1.)
"Kenai is so much prettier now," Snow said, complimenting the council on the parks and green areas that she says have improved over the past 20 years.
"Kenai has great vibes. It's good to be here."
After introducing themselves to Snow, the council members began the formal interview, starting with a topic and then discussing it further.
Council member Bill Frazer asked Snow about her land issue experience; she said McGrath was the first city in the state to complete the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act 14(c)3 municipal land selection.
"No one had gone through the entire legal process," she said. "We dealt with four consolidated Native councils, and it was very hard to do.
"Every selection we made was either a hunting ground or a burial ground."
Eventually, the deals were struck and the city of McGrath received its 1,280 acres.
In Petersburg, the major land issues she'd dealt with there an unplatted road the city wound up taking over and a new road built into the wilderness to tap fresh water resources for the city, which at the time was experiencing a water shortage crisis. Both were settled to the satisfaction of the citizens, she said.
"How do you balance the issues?" Frazer asked.
"You have to involve as many people as possible. You have to find middle ground and not just hear from the extremes," Snow said. "You have to have community buy-in on every project."
She also said she tries to use her office as a mediator in citizen disputes before they become so serious as to require a hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Council member Duane Bannock pointed out that the city of Kenai is about to embark on a new comprehensive plan and asked what her experience with them was.
"McGrath and Petersburg had not reviewed theirs in years, and I urged them to do them," she said.
She said the comprehensive plan process is a great way to get community development issues out on the table for discussion.
Bannock asked Snow what direction she thought the city had grown since she left in 1980. She said "toward Soldotna."
"That's the right answer," Bannock said.
Much of the Kenai Spur Highway corridor is not zoned commercial, and Bannock has led the fight to have its zoning changed so it can be further developed. Snow said she would not shy away from zoning issues.
Council member Jim Bookey asked Snow about her management style.
"Participatory," she said. "I give my department heads the authority and resources to operate, and I have what I think are fair expectations of them.
"I rely on them and trust them," she added. "The same goes with the council."
She said she has an open door for any employee to come and talk to her, but she said she makes it clear that she will not deal behind the backs of department heads.
Mayor John Williams asked if there had been much turnover in department heads under her administration.
"Not for a long time, but we've had a lot of retirees lately (in Petersburg)," she said.
Snow said two of them gave one-year notices.
Council member Joe Moore asked Snow if she saw any weaknesses in the city of Kenai, to which she replied, "there's always work to do."
"There are always issues facing a city coming of age. It's hard to keep the infrastructure going, and there are some space needs and economic development issues," she said. "There are some challenges, but I can't say that without being extremely complimentary in areas where you have been proactive."
Both council members Pat Porter and Linda Swarner asked about Snow's community involvement.
Snow said she would be at every work session and hear from every citizen she can.
"That can't be overrated," she said.
She also said she is the treasurer of the Rotary Club in Petersburg, which drew applause from Bannock, the local Rotary president.
"But often I have to write a membership check (to organizations) more than go to meetings," she said.
According to her resume, Snow is a founding member and past president and board member of the Women's Resource and Crisis Center in Kenai and has served as a tutor for handicapped students at the University of Alaska Anchorage, as well as on the Alaska Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and as a volunteer library clerk and volunteer firefighter in McGrath.
Bannock, who said his pet phrase was "I want to change the world," asked Snow what she's done to "change the world" in Petersburg.
"When I came to Petersburg, I felt I had a calling, that there was a role for me to play there, to bring stability to the community," she said. "There is nothing I'm more proud of than the fact that the people of Petersburg can now expect government to work for them."
Williams asked if she'd be able to work with Soldotna and its city manager, Tom Boedeker, on common issues, as the two councils are planning on doing.
"I know Tom, and I'm sure we can work great together," she said.
She described the relationship between Wrangle and Petersburg as being competitive for projects, just like Kenai and Soldotna, and said she has had a good working relationship with all the city managers Wrangle has had in her time in Petersburg.
"We are always on the phone talking about things to benefit our cities," she said.
Snow said she would be available to go to work in Kenai in as little as four weeks after being offered the job, but said six weeks would be even better, so she can help Petersburg replace her.
"But four weeks is just fine," she said.
The council will decide who to chose Wednesday night at 7 at a special meeting.
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