Our Views: New retirement policy at Janesville City Hall is troubling

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Janesville City Hall has enacted a rule requesting that all employees give the administration a one-year head’s up before retiring.

Human Resources Director Susan Musick announced the “nonbinding” policy by email. Employees don’t have to commit until they’re within 90 days of retirement dates. The policy comes on the heels of departures the past nine months of six top administrative and department leaders through retirements, resignations or new jobs elsewhere.

Sure, the administration would like as much notice as possible about each worker’s retirement so it can groom another staffer or start a search to replace that person and smooth the transition. However, this is a bad policy.

Though the new policy isn’t binding, what might happen to a worker who announces plans to retire in two weeks? Might that person be reprimanded or fired?

The vast majority of positions don’t need one-year notices. In the private sector, a two-week notice is common. Even 90 days is a lot in many cases. With a one-year lead time, will the city double up staff by replacing an outgoing worker early and spending more tax dollars?

It’s understandable if City Manager Mark Freitag feels like the captain of a listing ship with too many lieutenants jumping overboard. He knew as he came aboard late last year that several department heads planned to retire. Adding to those challenges are plans of two more “mid-level” managers to retire this year. Freitag says officials in those departments knew of those plans, but top administrators and human resources did not.

The city should be embarrassed to admit it needs this policy when it sounds like the problem is a communications gap between departments and top officials. In last Saturday’s Gazette, Freitag even admitted to this “breakdown in communications.”

To recap the past nine months: Parks Director Tom Presny retired. Comptroller Patty Lynch is retiring this month. Public Works Director Carl Weber resigned. One-time Assistant City Manager Jay Winzenz, who twice filled in as city manager, left for Eau Claire. Janesville Transit Director Dave Mumma plans to retire in January. Deputy Fire Chief Gerry Luiting and police Lt. Rick Larson retired last week.

Meanwhile, respected Economic Development Coordinator Alan Hulick is the lone remaining finalist for Milton’s city administrator post. Two more longtime department heads plan to retire next summer and have given a year’s notice. They could still reconsider, and their retirements haven’t been announced publicly. The new rule says they don’t have to be announced until a few weeks before their retirements.

Given the rash of departures, here is what an appropriate email might have stated: “Retirement is a life-changing event that requires planning. If you are considering retirement, feel free to stop in at human resources or discuss your plans with your supervisor. We can provide valuable information about benefit transitions, etc. Each person’s situation is different because of age, marital status, eligibility for Social Security and Medicare and other factors. Your work here is important, and supervisors value the chance to provide a smooth transition for you and your replacement. While retirement notice isn’t required, it is always greatly appreciated.”

That would have been much more reasonable than this policy.

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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