Ketchikan residents applying for city jobs will now officially have a leg up in the hiring process. Ketchikan’s City Council voted last week to tweak the city’s employment rules to give a hiring preference to Ketchikan Gateway Borough residents.
The proposal from City Council Member Riley Gass came after several recent decisions to hire nonresidents rather than local candidates for city and school district jobs.
“I asked myself, as a policy maker, what can I do to make a positive impact, to try to adjust this pattern that seems to be going on within our town of passing up very qualified local vetted candidates?” Gass said at last Thursday’s meeting.
The new rule says that when the qualifications of two candidates are equal, the city must give an advantage to a Ketchikan resident. Though the initial proposal only gave an advantage to residents within Ketchikan’s city limits, it was unanimously amended to Ketchikan borough residents outside city limits.
Ketchikan Public Utilities Sales and Marketing Division Manager Kim Simpson spoke up against the proposal.
She questioned what made someone a local. Simpson said that despite long family ties to the community, she would not have qualified under the rule as a local hire for her current job.
“My grandmother was born here in 1912. My dad was born here in 1934. And I was born here in 1963. And so that makes me local, right? Well, maybe not, because I went to school in Oregon and worked there for 25 years,” Simpson told the council.
She listed a number of current and former city officials that had moved to Ketchikan for a job and put down roots, including the current head of the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce.
And Simpson said that the city, in practice, already did give a leg up to Ketchikan residents.
“Hiring a person who is not from this isolated, rainy community where there’s no shopping that poses a risk. Why? Because if they’re non-local, they may not stay, and it’s expensive bringing them here,” Simpson said.
City Council members acknowledged that the move was largely symbolic. Vice Mayor Mark Flora presided over the meeting in the absence of Mayor Dave Kiffer, who was absent because of a medical issue.
“There seems to be broad consensus at the table and in this room that … hiring local is the way to go. Probably the very best way to get there is through apprenticeship and succession planning, and the language in this is, in the end, benign — not going to cause much in the way of substantive changes,” Flora said.
But Flora said he was concerned the City Council was micromanaging things.
The hiring policy passed 6-1 with Council Member Janalee Gage dissenting. She said she was concerned the policy would prevent management from hiring the most qualified people.