Unalaska’s new city manager started this week.
Thomas E. Thomas comes to the island with 22 years’ experience in local government after he was selected unanimously by the City Council last month.
KUCB’s Laura Kraegel sat down with Thomas to ask how he’ll lead City Hall.
THOMAS THOMAS: I’m pretty direct. I’m pretty transparent. I learned a long time ago in this business that everything you say, you might as well accept it will be public. Every email you send, it could be public. You go from that perspective and it makes it pretty simple. You give directives about wanting to go in a new direction. You’re open with it. Say, ‘This is why I’m doing this.’ I’m very open with that, and I explained that to council when I came in. I’m meeting with directors today and getting a feel for them for the first time. When I go out and meet with them at their departments, operations, meet their staffs … I’m beginning to get a feel for how things are running.
KUCB: You’ve spent a long time in local government. Is learning about Unalaska more of the same or is there anything you still have to get a handle on?
THOMAS: Well, learning the fisheries is something brand new for me. I’m going to be spending a great deal of time with our port director and talking to the mayor, because he has a depth of understanding about the fisheries. I’m going to get some opportunities in the next couple weeks to look at some of the businesses that are involved with the fishing industry and the processing. Tour all that. The massive scale of it fascinates me. Having the largest port in the country. The level of automation. That’s the kind of thing I’m looking forward to learning about. Finding out their power needs. Seeing how we can assist them to be more successful. Things like that. The partnerships.
KUCB: Speaking of partnerships, how do you see the city’s relationship with organizations like the Qawalangin Tribe and the Ounalashka Corporation?
THOMAS: Well, I’ve had some initial contact with them during my interview process. But as I get acclimated, I hope to have those kinds of conversations to see how we can mutually benefit each other. Find out what their needs are. Find out where the opportunities are. I hope they realize that I’m coming in with a clean slate. As someone who’s looking to respect what they want to achieve and see what we’re willing to give and get that’ll benefit both of us.
KUCB: I know you’ve only just arrived on-island. But at this point, do you have any sense of how long you might stay in this role?
THOMAS: I intend to stay as long as the council wants me to be here. My kids started school on Monday. They’re already enjoying that. They’re already enjoying the recreational opportunities as well. Being within three or four minutes of work has been extraordinary, too. So no, I don’t put a timeframe on it. I put a timeframe on being able to accomplish things. If it reaches a point where the mayor and council don’t think I can continue to move the organization forward, that’s when we reach a separation. But no, I’m here to stay as long as I can.
KUCB: You left your most recent municipal job in Rock Island, Illinois after the city’s efforts to get a Walmart built in the community fell through. Can you tell me anything about what happened there and what you may have learned?
THOMAS: Well, it was a good tenure there. Five years. I left on good terms with the organization. It had nothing to do with Walmart. I was looking to move on and look for other new challenges, and this was the kind of challenge I was looking for in the future. Coming here. So it was all positive.
KUCB: Thank you for your time, Thomas. But before I let you go, I’ve been wondering if there’s any interesting story behind your name?
THOMAS: It goes back to my mother’s father, who was named Thomas. She always promised him that if she ever had a son, she would name him Thomas. But she didn’t count on marrying someone whose last name was Thomas. My grandfather was business owner for 50 years and ran five stores. Very successful. He was strong-willed, and he kept people to their promises. So that’s how I wound up with the name Thomas Thomas.