Janesville seeks '1-year notices' amid flurry of retirements

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Neil Johnson
Friday, August 8, 2014

JANESVILLE--Janesville City Hall has handed down a new “non-binding” rule for city employees thinking of retiring.

If you plan to retire, please give the city a year's notice.

Human Resources Director Susan Musick said in an email that the city has put in place a policy that asks employees to give the administration 12 months notice if they are “seriously considering” retirement.

The rule comes after a span of months since late last year when the city has had to fill six major administrative and department head positions because of resignations, retirements or employees leaving for other positions.

In an interview Thursday, City Manager Mark Freitag said he inherited plans for the retirement of several department heads last year, as he was starting his job after Eric Levitt's departure.

He said those departures were an expected challenge, but then he learned two "mid-level" managers planned to retire this year. He said officials in those departments knew of the retirements, but top city administration and human resources did not.

"There seemed to be a breakdown in communication between the individual offices and the municipal  building," Frietag said.

Hence, the new policy.

In her email, Musick said the policy requests an initial “non-binding” notice that an employee is thinking of retiring. The request is intended to allow the city to start planning to make an employee's transition to retirement “a smooth one” for both the retiree and the city.

The rule gives the city a chance to jumpstart searches to replace departing employees and find potential candidates to replace them, Musick said.

Freitag said the retirement policy has a "checklist" to guide employees in the months before they retire, including exit interviews he'll conduct himself.

Under the policy, employees do not have to commit to retirement until 90 days before their retirement date. But the year-in-advance notice allows the city to act without potentially jumping the gun on a search for a new employee.

“Sometimes, a city employee will change their mind about retiring. That's why the initial notice is non-binding,” Musick said. “Ninety days out from retirement, the employee needs to confirm their retirement or let management know of their change of mind because, at that point, we're starting a recruitment process for their replacement."

The rule extends to all city employees, but they aren't required to publicly announce their retirements until a few weeks before their official retirement dates, city spokeswoman Maggie Hrdlicka said.

Musick said people typically plan “well in advance” for retirement and have a good idea of when they might do it. Yet recently, retirements, resignations and turnover have become more common among city ranks.

The city has seen a glut of turnover this year through retirements and resignations. All told, it has lost 180 years of institutional knowledge in some of its top offices.

Hrdlicka said she has not been directly involved in hiring and employment conversations, but she believes the city's policy on retirements stems from recent losses of top employees.

In the last nine months, the city has had department head positions open up in the parks and recreation and public works departments after Parks Director Tom Presny retired and Public Works Director Carl Weber resigned.

On top of that, the city late last year brought in a new city manager in Freitag, and the city just brought aboard new Finance Director Tim Allen, who replaces outgoing comptroller Patty Lynch. Lynch is retiring later this month.

Meanwhile, Economic Development Coordinator Alan Hulick is among finalists for the city of Milton's open city administrator seat.

Factor in the resignation earlier this summer of longtime city employee and sometimes Assistant City Manager Jay Winzenz, who left the city to take a finance director job in the city of Eau Claire.

Add to the list of retirees Janesville Transit Director Dave Mumma, who Musick said plans to retire in January 2015, Janesville Deputy Fire Chief Gerry Luiting and Janesville Police Lt. Rick Larson, who retired earlier this week.

Two more longstanding city department heads plan to retire next summer and have given administration a year's notice, officials said. Those two employees haven't formally announced their retirements yet, and they're still within the six-month period during which they are allowed to reconsider, officials said.

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