As City Manager, Reinders To Focus On 'Communication, Integrity, And Collaboration'
Following her oath of office last week, Erin Reinders is now on the job as Unalaska's city manager.
She was tapped for the post in April after eight years of working for the city — first in the Planning Department and then as assistant city manager.
KUCB's Laura Kraegel sat down with Reinders to hear why she wanted the top job and how she's approaching it.
ERIN REINDERS: Honestly, I've always to be city manager for a local government. My career path has been slowly working that way. I absolutely love local government, and I think starting off my career in the planning world was a great opportunity to get a feel for the various roles a local government plays and the services it provides to communities. So this is just kind of that awesome next step in my career.
KUCB: You actually had two ways you could've taken that next step. You had the job offer in Unalaska, but that was only after you'd received the city manager job offer in Seward. What kept you here specifically? What had you turning down that Seward offer to take Unalaska's?
REINDERS: I'm going to start crying. [laughs] Unalaska is totally home. I tell this story all the time, but it is totally true. In 2011, [my husband] Matt and I flew in for an interview, the plane landed, and legitimately, we turned to each other and were like, "This is so perfect! This is it." And I've never questioned that decision since. As with most times in your life when you're looking to advance your career, sometimes you need to look outside of home in order to continue that growth. That's what was happening a couple months ago. I had the pro/con list out — with various offshoots of that pro/con list — and lots of good friends to bounce ideas off of and to meditate on. Ultimately, it worked out in an amazing way that I could never have predicted when I was flying off the island for interviews.
KUCB: Now that you've got the job, what's your philosophy? What's your approach to leading this local government?
REINDERS: Communication is key. Having these conversations is important because we are all people and it's important we understand that we're more than just our role — that there are these inner motivations, and it's good to know all of that. Especially in local government, where we're the stewards of a lot of public resources. So we need to make sure that we, as an organization, do a solid job in communicating what we're doing with those resources and communicating with employees about what we're doing and why we're doing it. So that's a key focus of mine. Integrity is a key focus of mine — basically, making sure that everything we're doing is in alignment with each other and with what we said we were going to do. You know, that the budgets actually jive with our comp plans and that comp plans and master plans actually make sense and that our goals that we're throwing there actually all fit together. And then finally, collaboration. I talked with the [department] directors a bit about this this past Wednesday. It's not possible for us all to be masters and experts in everything. We depend on each other, and that's frankly what makes a community. So I think collaboration is key within the organization itself. But as a community, we've got nonprofits for quality of life, for health care, for support. We've also got industry that obviously plays a role for a gazillion reasons. So it really takes all of those players to be working together. Those are broad, but those are really my areas of focus. And in the end, that's kind of what I find myself sitting with when we're making decisions on how best to move forward.
KUCB: Moving forward, you'll be representing all of that work — all of your work and City Hall's work — to the mayor and the City Council. The last two managers — Dave Martinson and Thomas E. Thomas — both had tensions with the mayor and council and ultimately resigned. So how do you plan to handle potential conflicts in this role? Do you have concerns about that sort of thing?
REINDERS: I think it's really focusing on roles and responsibilities. I am staff. I work for council. All of the employees of the City of Unalaska are staff, so it's really our job to do the research, make solid recommendations based on best practices, and then present those to council. Then it's council's job to make the decision — A, B, or C. Then it's our job to go and get that done.
KUCB: Right now, I imagine that city staffing is probably a big priority for you. There are a number of key positions that are vacant or filled by interims — from John Lucking acting as police chief on a temporary contract to there being no city engineer. Where do we stand, in your view? And how do you see hiring and recruiting going?
REINDERS: Yes, that is a top priority at this point. I am thankful that we have a human resources manager here now. That's a huge, huge benefit for our organization. I think we're in a good place. We've got a solid interim chief in place. We've got a great interim finance director in place. We do have consulting resources available for engineering support. So I think we're okay, and that kind of allows for us to take a little bit of a breath. But then — and we're already starting this — we're getting together and making sure we've got job postings and that we're talking with people who have said they're interested in positions. We're moving forward.
KUCB: Thank you, Erin, for speaking with me and taking the time. Is there anything else we should be talking about before I let you go?
REINDERS: I try really hard to be the same person all the time, so I don't think there's any new, grand announcement I need to be making. Other than: I'm really just looking forward to serving the community in this new capacity and serving the organization in this new capacity. It's my job to make sure everybody understands the rules of the road, to be casting that vision for the employees, and then to really get out of the way and let people do what they're best at doing — obviously, always being available to help and jump in with assistance. And then just always being appreciative in the end for the work that everybody is doing. I really hope to help cultivate that environment.