Janesville City Council members cite new city manager's attributes

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Marcia Nelesen
Monday, August 26, 2013

JANESVILLE–Janesville City Council members Monday admitted they initially had reservations about Col. Mark Freitag—a man who had spent his career in the Army and who Saturday they offered the job as city manager.

But Freitag, 47, quickly made inroads among those he spoke with during numerous interviews last week, including with city staff, the public and an ad hoc committee formed to share impressions with council members.

Freitag was excited to accept the job and is expected to sign the negotiated contract, Councilman Douglas Marklein said. Freitag is scheduled to start here Dec. 1.

Marklein said Freitag thanked council members after his first and second interviews for taking a chance on exploring someone with a military background, Marklein said.

City council members interviewed by The Gazette cited Freitag's leadership skills, intelligence and confidence.

Marklein said Freitag is “geared for success,” and positive feedback from residents convinced him to consider Freitag as a contender.

Freitag essentially was city manager from 2010 to 2012 of Fort Hood, Texas, which offers all the services of Janesville and more, Councilman Jim Farrell said. Freitag also commanded armored units in Desert Storm and the Iraq war.

Farrell said he was skeptical, too, when reading Freitag's resume.

But he “resonates an air of confidence,” Farrell said. “He'll be a good spark for this city.”

He is personable and has a sense of humor, and his engineering degree from West Point brings another skill to the table, Farrell said.

Marklein said it “wasn't any one thing,” that sold him on Freitag. “It was the whole package. He's geared for success.”

Freitag brings fresh eyes and new perspectives, which can be a plus, Marklein and Farrell said.

Freitag acknowledged he is not as well versed as he'd like to be on economic development—the council's No. 1 goal—finances and taxes. But Farrell said Freitag is a “quick study” who will quickly absorb what he needs to know.

Members of the ad hoc committee formed to advise the council on the city manager candidates, were “extremely positive” about Freitag, especially the business people on the committee, Farrell said.

Marklein agreed Freitag consistently placed among the top one or two candidates when the ad hoc committee gave feedback. Residents rated him consistently high, as well.

By Friday night, Marklein said, he had to look past his initial prejudice when learning of Freitag's military career and ask, “Does he sound like a city manager? And he did,” he said.

“He's not as military as it reads on paper,” Marklein said. “He's not a 'No, sir. Yes, sir. My way or the highway, these are my orders' guy,” Marklein said.

Rather, he's a team player, personable and easygoing.

“He's a little intense, but in a good way,” Marklein said.

“He said basically all the right things, not knowing that what he said is what we were looking for,” Marklein said.

Marklein said Freitag and his wife, Patty, are a “dynamic and enthusiastic couple.

“We were looking for that,” Marklein said. “If they like the town, they can sell the town.”

Councilman Matt Kealy said Freitag's personality and enthusiasm were “very apparent.” He left a good impression on many of those who spoke with him, Kealy said.

Councilman Brian Fitzgerald agreed that Freitag surprised everybody.

“He's a pretty dynamic guy,” Fitzgerald said. “It's pretty obvious he's a leader. We had a lot of good candidates. This was not an easy process.”

All council members said it was a difficult decision, especially because Jay Winzenz, acting city manager, had applied for the job and was one of the two finalists.

 Winzenz has earned praise after serving two stints as acting city manger, first after longtime manager Steve Sheiffer retired and then after Eric Levitt left for another job in May.

Farrell said the men's skills would complement each other.

“If you put these two individuals (Freitag and Winzenz) together as a team, you're going to have a really tremendous high level of leadership,” Farrell said.

The council had agreed it would not hire anybody on a 4-3 vote but also agreed the decision did not have to be unanimous, Marklein said.

The vote in open session was unanimous.

Council President Kathy Voskuil said she believes Freitag has the leadership skills to “take us to the next level with the great team at City Hall.”

“He's exceptionally personable,” she said. “He wants to get out in the community. He has the desire to learn, to take on feedback … He wants to understand how we as a community move forward and help facilitate a vision for the community.”

She noted the understandable focus on Freitag's military background.

“At the end of the day, Mark's leadership skills were displayed in a city manager capacity in a town of 90,000,” she said.

Said Farrell: “They (the couple) were impressed with what they saw in Janesville. They want to stay here, settle down here and have a non-military life.”

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