Our Views: Janesville's Winzenz deserves planned accolades

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Jay Winzenz did a great job as Janesville's acting city manager.

Those who know him expected no less in the seven months between when City Manager Eric Levitt left for California and Mark Freitag arrived from Alaska this week. It might have been easy for Winzenz to figure, “Let the new guy handle these projects when he gets here.” After all, Winzenz applied for the top job. Many observers believed this second-in-command had the experience and talents to move up.

It had to be a bitter disappointment for Winzenz when, in late August, the council picked Freitag. The former military colonel had never worked for a municipality, though he served a similar role from 2010-12 at Fort Hood, Texas. Winzenz could have idled and kept the status quo until Freitag got here.

That, however, is not Winzenz. Just as he did when he served as acting city manager in the months between Steve Sheiffer's retirement and Levitt coming on board in 2008, Winzenz served Janesville like a professional.

The city needed to craft and approve its 2014 budget. The budget couldn't wait, but Winzenz led efforts to reduce use of the fund balance and enact priority-based budgeting to focus resources on high-priority services.

Winzenz didn't stop there. He helped lead the city to an improved bond rating, site exploration for a new fire station, a planned study of upgrades to Traxler Park and planning for a splash park at Riverside Park.

More prominently, Winzenz helped guide GOEX as the manufacturer started an expansion and United Alloy as it got city incentives to expand. At a time when the city lacked an economic development director, he oversaw a creative expansion plan for Seneca Foods. That, as The Gazette announced Thursday, earned a $359,000 Focus on Energy grant that will cut city costs to build a wastewater pretreatment facility.

Now, with his guidance, the city has restructured its economic development department.

Council President Kathy Voskuil says that Winzenz did anything but coast and that the city's initiatives seemed to increase in the last six months. She admires Winzenz's professionalism and ethics.

“I think he's done a fabulous job,” Voskuil said. “I think that people do need to acknowledge him.”

Voskuil intends to recognize Winzenz on Monday as Freitag takes the helm at his first council meeting. She realized Winzenz would not seek such recognition.

“So I just asked permission persuasively, and then I told him I was going to do it. I didn't want it to be a surprise.”

Of Winzenz handling so many initiatives, Voskuil said: “He views these as an expectation of what he was charged with. He doesn't see this as going above and beyond; it's part and parcel of what he does.”

The Gazette Editorial Board joins Voskuil and many others who hope Winzenz stays in Janesville and forms a strong team with Freitag. Winzenz's vast institutional knowledge, after 25 years of working for the city, makes him a valuable asset to Freitag and the city.

Said Voskuil: “I think the combination of Mark and Jay, in conjunction with our strong department heads and managers, is going to move the city forward, hands down.”

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