Council interviews top 3 city manager candidates

Candidate chosen to fill big shoes as Cordova’s new city manager has yet to be announced

Cordova City Council officials decided in advance not to make any quick decisions when it came to selecting a new city manager.

The Council interviewed their top three candidates Saturday — Alan Sorum, of Valdez; Alan Lanning, of Steamboat Springs, Colo.; and Bradley Hanson, of Onawa, Iowa.

Council members Timothy Joyce, Robert Beedle, David Allison, Tom Bailer, Joshua Hallquist, James Wiese, James Burton and mayor Clay Koplin joined by Cordova City Clerk Susan Bourgeois conducted the interviews 10 a.m. Saturday at the Cordova Center. The interviews were open to the public, but had fairly low community turnout.

After a short recess near 1 p.m., the Council went into executive session to discuss the candidates’ interviews, while the information gathered was still fresh in everyone’s minds.

“Council had decided in advance not to make any hasty offers,” said Koplin, “But, to sleep on their selections and make individual scoring assessments that will be compiled for Wednesday’s regular meeting. Council intends to make a final selection (Wednesday). “

Koplin said the Council planned to contact the favored candidate quickly, possibly on Thursday. The Council expected to approve an offer at the regular City Council meeting Wednesday, Sept. 21, but the announcement may not be public until after press time.

Advertisement

Koplin said the interviews went extremely well. Councilmembers took turns asking each candidate questions in an open forum.

Alan Sorum

Cordova City Manager candidate Alan Sorum, from Valdez, waits for his interview to begin Saturday, in Council’s chambers at the Cordova Center. Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times
Cordova City Manager candidate Alan Sorum, from Valdez, waits for his interview to begin Saturday, in Council’s chambers at the Cordova Center.
Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

Sorum hails from Valdez and is the project manager and maritime operations manager on the Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council in Prince William Sound. Sorum’s wife, Ruth E. Knight, is the mayor of Valdez and a teacher for the Valdez School District. They have lived in Alaska for 25 years.

Councilmember Joyce asked Sorum how their commitments in Valdez could be met, as Sorum’s wife is serving as mayor and still serve Cordova’s interests as well.

“We intend to finish our obligations in Valdez,” Sorum said, “And my wife intends to fulfill her obligations should I be selected as City Manager (in Cordova).”

Sorum said his wife would like to retire and he intends to keep working.

If Sorum is selected, he would look for a room to rent until other arrangements could be made and would hope to take occasional weekend leave to visit Knight in Valdez.

Koplin questioned Sorum about potential conflicts of interest.

“The only way to handle it,” Sorum said, “Is to be transparent and open. We would have to be upfront at all times.”

Sorum said every small town is different and every small town has its strengths.

He and his family lived on Wrangell Island. Sorum is a former manager for the Municipality of Skagway.

Sorum said he believes in getting the community together for brainstorming and making long-term plans, and once those plans are made, stick to them and show the community both long-term and short-term, that goals are being met.

“People have to see that there’s value in the decisions made and they need to see that we’ve actually done something,” Sorum said.

What challenges does he see in Cordova today?

“The state budget and cuts,” Sorum said. “And it’s not going to be pretty. But, it has to be done. Funding the Cordova hospital has been a big issue. And, what’s next for the Cordova Center? You have a beautiful building here, but where is it going next?”

Sorum told Council during the interview that 90 percent of the battle is showing up to work. If he’s chosen as City Manager, he will show up every day and do the job that he would be hired to do.

He’ll go down to the docks every day and talk to people. He’ll invite them into his office and drink coffee with them.

“I’m there,” Sorum said. “I pride myself on being there and I enjoy my work. I believe that makes a difference.”

Bradley Hanson

Cordova City Manager candidate finalist Bradley Hanson, from Onawa, Iowa, appears to be relaxed and happy prior to the start of his interview on Saturday. Hanson said being in Cordova last weekend made him giddy. Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times
Cordova City Manager candidate finalist Bradley Hanson, from Onawa, Iowa, appears to be relaxed and happy prior to the start of his interview on Saturday. Hanson said being in Cordova last weekend made him giddy.
Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

Hanson, from Onawa, Iowa, is a former City Administrator for the City of Onawa and is on the board of directors of the Iowa Floodplain and Stormwaters Managers’ Association. Hanson was the second candidate interviewed Saturday.

Hanson said what really sold him, and his wife, on Cordova, was seeing the videos on the City of Cordova website, following those videos to YouTube, and then watching videos made by local videographer and drone pilot Charlie Acoba.

“Why Alaska? Why Cordova? This is a place where people really love their community,” Hanson said. “I interacted (Friday) night at the meet and greet with the locals and it was great. Cordova is temperate. We can go hiking and my wife loves to hike.”

Hanson said family would have loved to have joined him for the weekend in Cordova, but had school-related obligations in Onawa they couldn’t miss.

Councilmember Wiese asked Hanson how he would deal with declining city revenues.

“Sometimes, we have to make hard decisions,” Hanson said. “Sometimes we have to take heat for those decisions, sometimes we have to eliminate a position or do some reshuffling. I experienced that first hand when I was let go in March as City Manager in Onawa, when the position was eliminated.”

Hanson said, with a laugh, that he wasn’t in favor of that particular decision.

“I still went back (to work) in April, even though I was no longer employed with them, to help when it was needed,” Hanson said. “When you hire me, I’m buying in.”

Hanson said he believes Cordova should work on sustainable, economic development and that can be achieved with community participation and communication.

“We have to talk with everyone across the board,” Hanson said. “It’s a long process to obtain sustainable economic development and that has to be what we’re working toward. I see that there are challenges here, such as the harbor needs work, the personnel policy manual needs to be redone, there are housing challenges, the community hospital is struggling.”

Hanson suggested marketing a world-class golf course would bring in more people and revenue to Cordova.

“There are two airports here,” Hanson said. “And immense fishing opportunities, hunting, photography, nature. So many people come to Alaska. If the runway could be extended, people could fly their Learjets in to go golfing here – this is a phenomenal area here to fly in and golf.”

Hanson said he is willing to relocate to Cordova as soon as possible should the Council offer him the position.

“I love Alaska and I want to be here a long time,” Hanson said. “I mean that. I’ll learn the job and learn the people. I’ve always wanted to take up hunting. If I were a kid, I’d tell you right now that I’m giddy.”

Alan Lanning

Cordova City Manager candidate finalist Alan Lanning, from Steamboat Springs, Colo., uses the white board in the Council’s chambers at the Cordova Center on Saturday, to explain his method of communication and brainstorming with the community. Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times
Cordova City Manager candidate finalist Alan Lanning, from Steamboat Springs, Colo., uses the white board in the Council’s chambers at the Cordova Center on Saturday, to explain his method of communication and brainstorming with the community.
Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

Lanning is from Steamboat Springs, Colo., and was the final candidate interviewed Saturday.

Lanning is a former City Manager of Lake City, Minn. and has served in multiple posts and locations as a city manager and/or city administrator.

“I can’t imagine a more beautiful place than Cordova,” Lanning said. “It’s picture perfect. I saw seals swimming in the harbor this morning.”

Koplin asked Lanning what specifically were some of his first impressions of Cordova.

“Cordova is a community that demonstrates that they want to move forward,” Lanning said. “This building (the Cordova Center) is a perfect example of what a community can do if they want to move ahead.”

Wiese asked Lanning how he would handle declining revenue in Cordova.

“Diversification of the (city’s) income streams,” Lanning said. “The city cannot become too reliant upon any particular income stream. There must be good planning in terms of spending by looking 10 years ahead and then stick to it. You cannot divert from the plan. A key to a healthy economy in the community is to keep on track with orderly spending.”

Lanning said he understands that finances for the State of Alaska are a concern, as well as housing in Cordova, contributing financially to the Cordova Community Medical Center and the decline in school-age children.

“We need to develop a tourism opportunity that supports community,” Lanning said. “A successful community can market themselves. People on vacation aren’t watching their spending and they will spend a lot of money. I say this coming from a major resort town.”

Lanning said he heard there are drug problems facing the community.

“I understand that there is a bit of a meth problem in town,” Lanning said. “That would be something that we would have to address. We must create a community atmosphere that does not support (drug) activity. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but it is definitely something that we can address.”

Listening to the people in the community is high on Lanning’s list.

He wants to spend time with people and he said there’s no substitute for that. He wants to hang out with Council and city staff, and get to know their ideas. He wants to facilitate community contact and to understand what everyone wants, then bring it together into something that Cordova can move forward with.

“I’m willing to do whatever it is the community wants,” Lanning said.

“My record will demonstrate that you will have less concerns about your finances,” Lanning said. “Strategic planning, financial planning and a healthy budget means we will have less concerns about where the money is coming from.”

Lanning said he is available to start as Cordova’s City Manager as soon as the Council deems it appropriate, should he be offered the job.

Council was expected to make a decision at the Wednesday meeting, although that decision may be made in executive session.

Overall, Koplin said that the interviewees were prepared and at ease in our community.

“I believe that there is significant leadership talent among the candidates,” Koplin said, “And that a good leader will emerge for Cordova.”

Advertisement