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City of Dillingham hires permanent manager after year-long search

Robert Mawson at a community reception in Dillingham. October 2021
Izzy Ross/KDLG
Robert Mawson at a community reception in Dillingham. October 2021

After more than a year of searching, Dillingham's elected leaders have hired a city manager.

The City of Dillingham has been looking for a permanent manager since December of 2020, when former manager Tod Larson resigned. It hired three interim managers during the year-long search for a permanent replacement.

At the end of January, the city announced it had found a permanent manager, Robert Mawson.

Mawson was the city council’s first choice to fill the position when he applied this fall. But he withdrew his application from consideration, citing personal reasons.

Mayor Alice Ruby said in an interview Friday that has changed.

“We're really happy that things turned around for him and his family," she said. "We re-engaged with him, and we were able to negotiate a contract, and we’re really happy to have that position filled.” 

The city advertised a salary of at least $130,000 plus benefits. Ruby said Mawson's final salary is higher than that, but didn't have the number on hand. In an email, the city clerk said the city does not post individual salaries on its website.

Since December of 2020, three people have worked as manager on an interim basis: former Bristol Bay Borough Manager Gregg Brelsford, former EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick, and Mark Lynch, who also managed the Bristol Bay Borough, Cordova and Whittier. Ruby said the city has been lucky to work with them over the past year. But a permanent manager will help the council address some longstanding issues, including under-staffing and turnover in city positions and infrastructure projects.

“They really feel strongly we need to get fully staffed," she said. "And also, right now they're looking at our capital projects. There appears to be a lot of money coming down from the federal government. And the city really wants to be positioned to try to address the projects and the needs that we've had on our list for a while.”

Ruby said that includes the city’s capital project list and the recent assessment of city services.

 “There's equipment needs, there's building needs, that we really want to try to address," she said. "So we’re looking forward to really trying to move forward with those areas in the future.”

Robert Mawson speaks to people at a community reception in Dillingham. October 2021.
Izzy Ross/KDLG
Robert Mawson speaks to people at a community reception in Dillingham. October 2021.

Mawson comes from Miami, Arizona, a city of around 2,000 people. And he has worked on the county and local levels of government. For the past two years, he has worked as the community and economic development manager for Central Arizona Governments, a regional planning agency for two counties.

Mawson’s first time in Alaska was last October, when he traveled to Dillingham to interview with the city council and see the community. He hadn’t planned on coming to Alaska — or even getting a new job.

“I wasn't looking for work. It just caught my eye, kept coming to my mind. And eventually, I think the day before it was going to be closed up or at least reviewed, I went ahead and put in my application," he said. "I just couldn't get it out of my head. There were a lot of items here that mash up with my experience. And I felt I could be a value here, so I went ahead and applied.”

Mawson served two stints in city management — for four years in Miami, Arizona, and in Bandon, Oregon, where he was the city manager and director of utilities for three years. Bandon's local paper reported that he resigned unexpectedly in October 2019.

Mawson said his experience with budgetary deficits will be an asset as manager.

“Everywhere I've been, there are challenges in the budget," he said. "Many cases there were deficits with no cover, we didn't have any savings. Dillingham has been fortunate to have some money put away to be able to cover some of those deficits, but I understand they're not gonna last forever. So it's really a matter of taking a look at what's in the cupboard, seeing what you're actually doing, what may be the most important things to do.”

Mawson served on a school district governing board for more than 21 years, and he was a bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints for nine years.

Mawson said in his application that he developed and managed 13 annual operating and capital budgets for four county, municipal, and Tribal governments, and recently completed a comprehensive economic development strategy for the Central Arizona Governments region. He said he sees working with the Curyung Tribal Council as an important part of his new job.

“I enjoy speaking with the Elders and the communities and finding out a little bit about what they believe to be the important things in life," he said. "It's not always what we think of, because quality of life differs. But sometimes you do get lost in taking care of what's urgent instead of what's important. And so, I like to go around and meet people and work with people and establish relationships and trust.”

Mawson starts as city manager on March 1.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the city does not post individual salaries on its website.

Contact the author at or 907-842-2200

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.
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