Our Views: With Jay Winzenz, Janesville's loss is Eau Claire's gain

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Monday, June 9, 2014

It should surprise no one that Jay Winzenz is leaving for Eau Claire.

His decision is understandable yet disappointing. It might be a cliché, but Janesville's loss is Eau Claire's gain.

When Janesville started looking for a new city manager last year, some observers thought it wasteful to conduct a nationwide search. After all, Winzenz was capable and seasoned. During the seven months the city council took to pluck Mark Freitag from the military, Winzenz filled in as acting city manager. It was the second time in six years Winzenz filled that role.

He did so both times with aplomb.

This time, the level-headed and confident Winzenz didn't let Janesville idle until a new leader was named. Instead, he helped the city craft and approve its 2014 budget. He oversaw plans for a new fire station and park improvements. He steered realignment of tax incremental financing districts and the division of downtown redevelopment roles. Perhaps most important, the city lacked an economic development director, and Winzenz guided GOEX, United Alloy and Seneca Foods through expansion plans. The latter plan earned a $359,000 Focus on Energy grant for a city wastewater pretreatment facility that could entice more food processors to Janesville.

Despite Winzenz's efforts, the council chose Freitag, who lacked municipal government experience. Freitag's leadership success and growing responsibilities throughout a 25-year military career struck a chord with council members.

Winzenz had said he had no plans to leave Janesville, no matter whom the council chose. Perhaps that helped sway the council toward Freitag. After they named Freitag, more than one council member suggested Freitag and Winzenz would make a great team to lead Janesville forward.

It was apparent something was amiss between the two, however, when Winzenz resigned as assistant city manager soon after Freitag came on board in December. Winzenz continued to serve as director of administrative services.

Last week, Winzenz told reporter Marcia Nelesen that the council's choice disappointed him—understandable—but that's not why he's leaving.

Winzenz added: “Things did not work out between the new city manager and I, and I found it was in my best interest and my family's best interest to relocate.”

He called his July departure bittersweet because he's leaving behind great people he worked with well.

His loss leaves the city with a void in institutional knowledge, particularly in budgeting. It doesn't help that Comptroller Patty Lynch is retiring this summer. Together, she and Winzenz had about 50 years of municipal experience. Her replacement, Tim Allen, has a background in manufacturing but, like Freitag, no municipal experience.

Whether this lack of seasoning for Freitag and Allen creates budgeting challenges remains to be seen. Maybe their fresh, unvarnished perspectives will serve the city well.

It might be years before we know whether the council's choice of Freitag was wise. Residents will never know, of course, what might have been under Winzenz because he didn't get the chance.

Regardless, Freitag appears to be off to a solid start. He's personable and has been getting to know residents and key organizations. He has been a quick study of the state's open meetings law, and his push to add City Hall transparency is refreshing.

The council made its choice, and Winzenz has made his. We wish him well.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper's editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.


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