Who will be Cordova’s next city manager?

Koplin: 4 highly qualified candidates present ‘difficult choice’

The City Manager Assessment Committee conducts a video interview with candidate Ernest Weiss. (Sept. 4, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
The City Manager Assessment Committee conducts a video interview with candidate Ernest Weiss. (Sept. 4, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Four candidates for city manager participated in video and phone interviews on Sept. 4-5. The City Manager Assessment Committee selected Alida Bus, Helen Howarth, Kerin Kramer and Ernest Weiss for interviews from among 19 applicants.

Each candidate was questioned about their motivation for applying and their management skills. Interview assessment forms allowed the committee to grade each candidate according to their personal presentation, demeanor, communication skills, job knowledge, motivation and personality.

“There’s no right or wrong answer, but there’s no extra credit for long-winded answers,” Mayor Clay Koplin said as interviews began.

Kramer, despite residing in Cordova, also interviewed remotely in order to maintain a level playing field among the candidates.

“We’ve had some quality applicants,” Koplin said. “It may very well be a difficult choice for council.”

Current City Manager Alan Lanning’s contract is set to expire Oct. 17 and will not be renewed. When Lanning took office in 2016, it was expected that he would remain for around three years, Koplin said. To ensure continuity, the city council needs a city manager who will commit to a new three-year contract, he said.

“Council’s ready to start looking ahead and moving in a different direction,” Koplin said. “That’s not uncommon.”

Selected candidates will be invited to face-to-face interviews before the committee recommends a new city manager.

In their own words

Alida Bus, health care program coordinator for the State of Alaska. Photo courtesy of Alida Bus
Alida Bus, health care program coordinator for the State of Alaska.

Alida Bus

Health care program coordinator for the State of Alaska

On her leadership style:
“I’m a mediator. I can play the middle ground pretty well. I’m not too opinionated or out-in-front on any issues. I’m a listener. I am a relationship-builder, a collaborator … Good communication is always key to any relationship … alerting other parties about something that might be coming down the pipe so that, when it comes to a crucial point, nobody is caught off-guard.”

On resolving conflict:
“I think you have to be open to criticism. In any position, you might rub somebody the wrong way. You might be misunderstood. I think not being confrontational in a public setting, but maybe having a conversation to say, ‘Hey, I think we really butt heads on this topic, so let’s see if we can find some middle ground,’ – those conversations can be hard to have, but they’re important, so that people don’t feel alienated.”

On moving to Cordova:
“I’ve loved Cordova when I have visited. I’ve lived in Alaska my whole life, so I get the isolation and the small-town vibe and lifestyle. I love to hike and trail run and kayak, and be involved in different outdoor recreation opportunities.”


Helen Howarth, owner of Fromagio’s Artisan Cheese.

Helen Howarth

Owner of Fromagio’s Artisan Cheese

On her cheese business:
“Am I a retail shop? Do I sell things? Yes. But, for me, the value is in the experience. It’s in the good relationships I have with my customers. I would say that, over the years, the same is true with every other job I’ve held … I’m always out in the community. I’m always participating. I’m always involved. I’m always listening. I’m always sitting down with people. I think that’s a big part of the role, and the same would be true with staff.”

On her leadership style:
“I empower everyone to do their jobs. I’m not a micromanager. I’m going to assume that the right people are in the right jobs and, if they’re not, finding adjustments so we can manage for success. To me, it’s always about the team and making sure that everyone on the team is working together towards a common goal.”

On being ‘too nice’:
“I don’t think that’s a bad thing – that’s just who I am. I’m a nice person, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make hard decisions.”


Kerin Kramer, former executive director for Native Village of Eyak. Photo courtesy of Kerin Kramer
Kerin Kramer, former executive director for the Native Village of Eyak.

Kerin Kramer

Former executive director for the Native Village of Eyak

On her leadership style:
“I’m there to support the staff, and the staff is there to get good work done and advance the goals of the city. However I can, I support staff and also make sure that staff know what their goals and objectives are and that they are accountable to get those things done.”

On her work with the Native Village of Eyak:
“I’m pretty invested in Cordova, and I think that I can offer a unique perspective. In my role in Native Village of Eyak, I was doing similar things, and had similar concerns, being transportation and the challenges that are facing Cordova. I think my former experience can really help facilitate some solutions to all of these things.”

On problem-solving:
“My strengths are my understanding of what the community needs, my grant-writing ability and my ability to think outside the box, to look at a goal and figure out how to attain that goal, even if the path isn’t clear or is full of obstacles. I’m a pretty good problem-solver.”


Ernest Weiss, natural resources director for the Aleutians East Borough. Photo courtesy of Ernest Weiss
Ernest Weiss, natural resources director for the Aleutians East Borough.

Ernest Weiss

Natural resources director for the Aleutians East Borough

On his leadership style:
“I’m not a competitive person by nature. I’m ambitious, but I’m a team player. I think that working with people in their strengths, you should be able to make it work … A good planning strategy session is key to know what direction you’re going to go in. Leadership takes a lot of forms, but I think a lot of it is letting the good staff do what they’re trained to do and what they’re good at.”

On promoting ecotourism:
“We’re all going to have to change as this fiscal environment, as the actual environment, is changing, with climate change. We just don’t know what we’re facing, so we’re looking for every opportunity to give the people opportunity and to keep those enterprises continuing to bring money in.”

On moving to Cordova:
“I’m a firm believer in hiring in-house. If you hired me, you wouldn’t be hiring in-house. I’m not from Cordova, never been there, but it’s now on my list of things to do, to get there. It looks like a lovely, lovely town.”