Janesville city manager calls 'all hands' meeting

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, June 24, 2014

JANESVILLE--Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag ripped a page from his playbook as a former U.S. Army colonel, holding a military-style “all-hands-on-deck” meeting of city employees Tuesday afternoon.

About 300 of the city's 530 employees reported to the Parker High School auditorium, where Freitag spoke for an hour about a new city mission statement and strategic plan, setting the tone for his expectations of employees.

Among the meeting's highlights: Freitag gave a briefing on his 25-year military career, showed a film with a montage of images from the Iraq war and touched on city staffing levels and his concerns with city emergency management.

Freitag, who has been city manager for six months, told The Gazette he wanted to gather all employees to establish a clear line of communication up and down the city's ranks.

The style of the meeting is a “military technique” he used most recently as a U.S. Army deputy commander at Fort Wainwright in Alaska and as garrison commander at Fort Hood in Texas, he said.   

“It's an opportunity to communicate with the workforce directly from the leader as opposed to a message trickling down through city department heads and division chiefs. By the time it gets to the lower or entry level employee, the message may have lost its significance,” Freitag said.

It was the first time in memory that a Janesville city manager called a mandatory meeting of rank-and-file employees.

Former city managers, including Freitag's predecessor, Eric Levitt, held employee meetings, but they were informal and voluntary and held in council chambers, city employees said.

On Tuesday, the city bused in employees on four Janesville Transit System buses, while some fire department workers arrived in fire trucks and ambulances. One woman loped across the school parking lot to make the meeting on time.

Freitag plans two all-hands meetings a year, with secondary meeting dates set to maintain on-duty staffing of fire and police employees.

Freitag has spent months with staff crafting mission and vision statements and a strategic plan, all of which the city had not had in place.

His talk was rooted in the new mission statement: “To innovatively provide effective municipal services that are responsive to the needs of residents, businesses and visitors and delivered in a reliable, efficient manner in order to sustain Janesville as the community of choice.”

That's a mouthful, but Freitag broke it down for employees.

“If we're not focusing on how to do things better, we're missing the ball,” he said.

Freitag also gave service awards to several employees chosen by department heads for outstanding work and showed employees the video montage from the Iraq war, where he served in combat from 2005 to 2006. 

He said the video “got his heart pumping,” and he said he'd like to have a similar video produced that shows the public all the work that city employees do.

The city council this week approved a working draft for a five-year strategic plan. It includes short- and long-term plans for city projects, including major street work, facilities plans and downtown revitalization.

Freitag told employees he wants them to pay attention to the steps the city is taking to craft a plan for the future, particularly in the coming weeks. 

“You ought to know we're getting into a budget cycle,” he said. 

Freitag told employees he's aware the city is “lean” on staffing.

City records show the number of employees has been stable the last four years, hovering around 530. But the number of city employees per 1,000 residents lags about 8 to 10 percent behind some peer communities, including Beloit, according to a city study from 2013.   

Freitag said an increase in staffing could be slow coming.

“I don't think we're going to get healthy on the lean part for another year or two,” he said.

Freitag said he's concerned about the city's response in the event of a major flood or other emergency. He said he'd like the city to hire a part-time risk manager and conduct quarterly “table-top exercises” to plan responses to emergencies.

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