In the final stage of the city’s search for a city manager, the City Council will choose between two candidates, each of whom, in interviews Thursday afternoon, boasted relevant government experience in rural towns of size similar to Seward.
The choice presents a challenge to Seward’s elected officials, who confessed Thursday to facing a tough decision.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed,” Council Member Suzi Towsley said after Thursday’s interviews. “We just heard from two very qualified and talented people.”
“I think we’ve got two candidates that are going to be a difficult choice,” Mayor David Squires added.
The two candidates – Scott Meszaros, former town manager of Meeker, Colo., and Erin Reinders, current assistant city manager of Unalaska, Alaska – each faced a volley of 25 questions, many of which probed the candidates’ managerial style, experience in municipal planning and interest in Seward.
Both emphasized the importance of communication between the manager and the council, indicating that consistent and clear communication would form the bedrock of an effective council-manager relationship. They both also suggested that they work with an ‘open door’ policy.
“We should be up front and open,” Meszaros said of managers. “Even if I have to tell you something that you don’t want to hear.”
“I very much view the role of the manager is to offer professional assistance and advice,” Reinders told the council. “And then it is the elected body that has the privilege to make the hard decisions.”
The council also asked the candidates about their experience managing or working with public utilities and other public services, since Seward operates its own utilities as well as a harbor.
Reinders told the council that she has experience in all the same areas that are relevant in Seward.
“We are an island community,” Reinders said of Unalaska. “So we’ve got have all our public utilities handled by the municipality,” including power, water and solid waste. Unalaska even maintains 16 housing units for municipal employees to help address a housing crunch.
Meszaros indicated that most of his experience involved water provision, a major issue in the water-scarce Southwest, where it has long been known that demand for water would eventually exceed the supply. Meszaros has also worked as a grants administrator for Douglas County, Colo., experience he said has always helped in project development.
“My background in grants – that’s always been a fallback for me,” he said.
The candidates also met members of the public at an evening meet-and-greet at the Harbor 360 Hotel, where they answered additional questions.
Stephen Veitch, vice president of GovHR USA, the firm hired to assist council in the manager search, was on the line during Thursday’s interviews. Background checks on both candidates came back “absolutely clear,” Veitch told the council.