Ketchikan could soon have a new city manager. Ketchikan’s City Council voted Saturday to start negotiations with Delilah Walsh of Las Cruces, New Mexico after a three-month search.
Walsh is currently the utilities director for the city of Las Cruces. Mayor Dave Kiffer says that made her a good fit to manage both Ketchikan’s city government and the publicly-owned water, electric and telecom provider, Ketchikan Public Utilities.
“First of all, she’s got experience in both utilities and in government. So that’s what we were looking for, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure we were going to find that. And yet all four of the candidates had experience in some manner or fashion in both areas. So I think we were pleased that we got to choose from areas of strength rather than going ‘well, you know, what can we ignore here?’” Kiffer said.
Walsh and three other candidates — Scott Thomas of La Conner, Washington, Paul Dyal of Lake City, Florida and William Appleton of SeaTac, Washington — flew in to Ketchikan this weekend for a three-day series of events that culminated with interviews with the City Council. Kiffer says he was glad to show Ketchikan off.
“I had the chance to actually drive all four candidates and their spouses around and give them tours of Ketchikan on Friday, which was fun. We also saw all four candidates in a public forum on Friday night, so, in a sense, we kind of got to see them in two or three different forums,” he said. “And all I can say, basically, is the council — not quite unanimously, as you saw, but pretty unanimously — agreed that of the four, she was the most qualified, and she was the one we wanted to go forward with.”
The final vote was 6-1 with Council Members Mark Flora, Judy Zenge, Jai Mahtani, Abby Bradberry, Lallette Kistler and Janalee Gage voting in favor. Council Member Riley Gass was the lone vote against.
Before her work with the city of Las Cruces, Walsh spent 10 years as the top administrator for Socorro County south of Albuquerque. Kiffer says Walsh also spent time as a vice president with First State Bank, a community bank with branches in western and central New Mexico.
“She grew up in New Mexico and graduated from New Mexico Tech and went into banking, and she got into government because she was basically asked to come try and dig the county of Socorro out of a horrendous financial bind that was so bad that, as she pointed out, people actually went to jail — it was pretty bad when she got there,” he said. “She ended up spending 10 years as the the county manager, and then she spent the last three years as the assistant (utilities manager) or the utilities manager.”
Kiffer says it’s unlikely Walsh will lead Ketchikan city government for as long a time as her predecessor, Karl Amylon, who served as city manager for more than a quarter century before retiring last year. But Kiffer says she’s no short-term hire.
“No town of our size or bigger keeps a city manager for that long. I think we’ve made it clear, though, that we’re not looking to be a stepping stone,” Kiffer said. “We’re not looking for someone who wants to come in for two or three years and then head off. And all four of the candidates indicated that they saw Ketchikan as being a long-term place for their for them and their families.”
Kiffer says the city’s contracted recruiting firm is working with Walsh to negotiate a final deal. The advertised salary range for the position was between $210,000 and $240,000. He says a contract with Walsh could be ready for the council’s final sign-off as soon as Thursday.