Seward city council fires city manager

A conference room with about ten people sitting in chairs
A screenshot from the city council meeting on Oct 26. 2020 (City of Seward)

The city council of Seward voted to fire its city manager, Scott Meszaros at a Monday night meeting. 

Mayor Christy Terry motioned to terminate Meszaros following an executive session on the city manager’s performance. The motion passed 5–2.

Meszaros, who was city manager for 18 months, was not up for a performance evaluation this month.

Terry would not say exactly what spurred the council to terminate Meszaros from his position, citing employee confidentiality.

“Clearly, we’re at a key juncture for Seward and we just need to have the right person that fits our community at the helm,” she said. “We have no ill will toward Scott or his family, and we wish him and his family all the best in their next endeavors.”

The executive session happened several hours into Monday night’s regular city council meeting, which was live streamed for the public via YouTube. However, two hours into the meeting the YouTube livestream failed, said City Clerk Brenda Ballou. Until the IT team fixes that issue, that part of the meeting and the subsequent vote are not publicly available.

Councilmembers Sue McClure and John Osenga were the two “no” votes on the termination. McClure said she didn’t like that the two new council members, Liz DeMoss and Rissie Casagrande, had to vote on firing the city manager at their first meeting.

“I just felt that whether they knew what was going on or had opinions, it just was bad publicly to, on your first few hours on the city council, fire the city manager,” McClure said. “I just felt it was wrong.”

DeMoss was elected during municipal elections earlier this month and Casagrande, who had been on the council previously, was appointed by the council at the start of the meeting to fill a vacancy. Both voted “yes” on the termination.

Osenga’s thought process was similar to McClure’s.

“The newly elected member, I didn’t think it was fair to that person,” he said. “I’ve been in that position before, on the council, and I did not like it, I didn’t appreciate it happening to me. So I didn’t really feel that it was super necessary.”

The Seward city manager position has had a tumultuous recent history. Jim Hunt was manager for seven years before he unexpectedly resigned in 2018. The position went unfilled for almost a year, while the city saw a revolving door of three acting and interim managers.

When it came time to hire a permanent city manager in 2019, Meszaros, who previously worked in local government in Colorado, was the council’s second choice. The council unanimously chose Erin Reinders, of Unalaska, but she backed out to take the city manager position in Unalaska. The council then hired Meszaros.

He said the termination came somewhat out of the blue.

“They just got together obviously beforehand and decided it’s time for them to clean house on that, and I was a little shocked but when the people that got in were sitting across from me at the table, it’s kind of a relief,” he said. “I’m glad I don’t have to be there anymore.”

He said he thinks conflicts of interest are a problem on the city council and that his vision about updating city infrastructure, like the city hall, was not a priority for the rest of the council. 

“It’s time to go somewhere else where I can actually use my skill set,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot, I have a lot of great staff members and I think we did a lot of great work, but there’s a long ways to go.”

This summer, Meszaros submitted an application for the position of borough manager for the Mat-Su, the Seward Journal reported. Meszaros said he was told his application would be confidential unless he was one of the top three finalists — which he was not — and that he was asked to apply. 

“The Mat-Su’s the third biggest job in the state of Alaska,” he said. “It’s more similar to what I did before I came here. It’s not just about pay, but pay’s probably $50,000 to $90,000 more than I get paid here, and it’s probably easier to run the municipality of Anchorage with my background than it is to manage this small community with the people here.”

The council voted unanimously to give Meszaros a two-week severance package.

Norm Regis, who is currently Seward’s harbor manager, is the interim city manager while the council finds a replacement. He said the council asked him to fill that role because he was the last interim manager before Meszaros.

The council will meet on Nov. 4 to talk about hiring a new city manager.