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Amylon led Ketchikan city government for more than a quarter century

Looking back at a long reign


August 28, 2022

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska -   In the world of municipal management former longtime Ketchikan city manager Karl Amylon was a unicorn.

The International City/County Management Association estimates that the average city manager stays in one job for between three to five years. In more than 40 years as a municipal manager, Amylon basically only had two jobs.

Amylon was fresh out of Bucknell University in 1978. when he was hired to be confidential assistant to the city manager of Watertown, New York, By 1982 he was the acting city manager and then became assistant city manager in January 1983. Eleven months later he was appointed full time Watertown city manager.  Watertown is about 160 miles north of Corning, New York, where Amylon grew up. 

jpg Amylon led Ketchikan city government for more than a quarter century

Karl Amylon
Photo courtesy City of Ketchikan

At the time, Amylon, 28, was one of the youngest municipal managers in the country. He would hold that job for the next 11 years before resigning in 1994. In 1995, he would be named city manager in Ketchikan, a job he would hold for 26 years before resigning at the end August of 2021, just about a year ago. 

Amylon then died of cancer in September of 2021.

When Amylon passed away in 2021, the current Watertown city manager, Kenneth Mix, spoke about him in an article in the Watertown Daily Times.

"Karl was a very intelligent person" who knew how to get things done, Mix told the Daily Times, noting that he had worked with Amylon back in the 1990s. He said among Amylon's major accomplishments in Watertown was negotiating a power purchase agreement between the city and Niagara Mohawk that decades later still provides the city with millions of dollars of revenue each year.

But Mix also noted that Amylon was forced to leave Watertown because of a pair of controversies involving the Watertown police department. First, in 1986, he was criticized for naming Michael Hennegan of the Niagara Falls police department to head the Watertown department in 1986. Several years later, a lieutenant with the police department was accused of a serious crime and, according to the Daily Times, Amylon publicly said the officer would be found guilty. When that didn't happen the city council forced Amylon's resignation.

"We lost him, and he went to Alaska, but I think he found a good place, he was in Alaska for 26 years," Mix told the Watertown newspaper.

Amylon was born in Corning, New York in 1956. After growing up in Corning, he attended Bucknell University, graduating with a degree in political science. He later received a master's degree in public administration from Syracuse University. 

When he arrived in Ketchikan, it was not without some controversy. He took over for a long-time assistant city manager who was one of the candidates for the full-time position and the city council received more than a little grief for not "hiring local."

Also, in 1999, the city council decided to add the management of Ketchikan Public Utilities to the city manager's portfolio after having separate utility and city government managers for many years. The idea was to limit what had become numerous skirmishes between the city and utility managers in recent years.

There were many major projects during Amylon's two decades at the head of Ketchikan city government. 

On the city side there was the $50 million renovation of the medical center, the construction of the new downtown fire station and the new city library in Bear Valley. The centennial building and the Tongass Historical Museum were remodeled. There were also several city hall remodeling projects, and upgrades to Bayview Cemetery and the city landfill.

Roads were a major issue and Amylon oversaw the reconstruction of Water Street Trestle and the work on numerous other city roads, as well as a few state ones in the city.

There were also public-private projects and Amylon promoted the city interests in the private company building of Berth 4 and the expansion of the Ketchikan Shipyard.

Perhaps, the biggest change to the city was creation of the port facility downtown with nearly $100 million going into the establishment and improvements of Berth's One, Two and Three and the Waterfront Promenade as well as upland developments to handle a cruise industry that went from 200,000 visitors in Amylon's first year to more than 1.3 million by 2019.

There were also major changes at KPU when Amylon was in charge.

The water disinfection facility was built, the Whitman Lake Hydro Dam was built. A $15 million subsea fiber optic cable was built to Prince Rupert.  The Bethe Electrical Substation was built and the city negotiated the transfer of responsibility for operating the Swan Lake hydro operation from the city to the SEAPA. 

All told, Amylon helped lead the city through more than $300 million in new construction projects in his two decades, besides implementing combined city and KPU budgets of more than $100 million yearly.

Another area where Amylon was involved was in the transfer of the city's responsibility for operating Gateway Center for Human Services to the State of Alaska.

Politically, the city responded to the potential loss of sales tax dollars by annexing the Shoreline Service Area where Walmart would be located.

After retiring, Amylon received several posthumous awards.

The Alaska Municipal League gave him the Vic Fischer Local Government Award in 2021.  Southeast Conference named him the 2021 Southeast Alaska Person of the Year and the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce gave him the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award.

And the Ketchikan City Council renamed city hall, the Karl R. Amylon City Hall.

When Amylon was first hired, several letters to the editor of the Daily News predicted he wouldn't last very long in the community. 

He proved them wrong.

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Columns by Dave Kiffer

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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