Janesville City Council chooses military man for city manager
JANESVILLE—A man who led soldiers in battle will lead Janesville into the future.
The Janesville City Council announced Saturday that it had chosen Mark Freitag as the new city manger.
Freitag, 47, is an Army colonel now posted in Alaska. He commanded armored units in Desert Storm and the Iraq war.
Freitag (pronounced FRY-tag) is expected to take the reins at the Janesville Municipal Building on Dec. 1
The council's decision was unanimous. The appointment is subject to finalizing Freitag's employment contract.
The council interviewed five finalists in private Friday and then met behind closed doors Friday night and much of Saturday.
The two final interviews Saturday were Jay Winzenz—the acting city manager and 25-year city employee—and Freitag, said council member Doug Marklein.
Council President Kathy Voskuil would not confirm that Winzenz was interviewed Saturday.
Freitag said it would take about 60 days to complete his separation from the military. His start date in Janesville is Dec. 1.
Marklein said Winzenz has agreed to continue running the city in the interim.
“I think its most of our hope that he'll stay a lot longer than that,” Marklein said.
Winzenz has said throughout the process that no matter the outcome, he would stay.
Freitag and his wife, Patty, looked at houses in Janesville on Saturday. They fly back to Alaska on Sunday.
Patty said both are looking forward to a settled life in the Midwest, as contrasted with the military, which typically uproots families every few years.
Freitag was asked in an interview with a citizens advisory committee on Friday why he wanted to leave the Army.
Freitag told of the plight of many like him, whose only upward career move is promotion to general. With lots of colonels and few general slots, a colonel often has to look forward to similar postings for years to come. Many get out.
Freitag said the easy route would have been to work for a defense contractor, but he looked back at his career and asked himself what made him happiest. His answer was his time at Fort Hood, Texas.
He was garrison commander at Fort Hood, “the Army's largest city-installation,” from 2010-12, he said in his resume.
The position was the Army equivalent of city manager, he said. He was in charge of making sure things such as streets, utilities, and gymnasiums were running for 90,000 residents and about 400,000 others who lived nearby.
His budget at Fort Hood was $400 million, with 5,500 employees, at a time of major restructuring and downsizing, he wrote. Janesville has an operating budget of about $43 million.
“As an Army leader, I am accustomed to serving the public and collaborating and partnering with surrounding entities” Freitag wrote in his application letter. “As a member of the nation's largest team, I have excellent organizational and professional development skills, know how to empower appropriately and can create a strong sense of unity and team.”
Voskuil said details of Freitag's contract are still being worked out, so she could not yet say how much he will be paid.
Freitag said he didn't anticipate making changes during his first 100 days on the job. That's when he will be learning the city's processes and systems and meeting city and community leaders as well as leaders from surrounding jurisdictions.
“I want to be sure I set myself up for success,” and meeting key people in business and other sectors is an important part of that, he said.
Many observers—perhaps even Freitag—expected the council to pick Winzenz.
“I thought I was going to be the outsider looking in—a very pleasant surprise,” Freitag said of the council's choice.
Winzenz was assistant city manager under the last city manager and has extensive experience in budgeting. The council will be well into its budget process by the time Freitag joins the team.
Voskuil delivered the news to Winzenz by phone, Marklein said.
“A short, bittersweet conversation, I'm sure,” he added.
City council members stayed away from specifics when asked why they chose Freitag.
“I think he's what Janesville needs at this time, with the changes we're going through,” said council member Sam Liebert.
Voskuil pointed to Freitag's success over 25 years in the military. “We think he'll do a great job here,” she said.
Voskuil said the council was impressed with Freitag's desire to get out and meet the public.
Freitag told the interview committee on Friday that he had quarterly meetings with neighborhoods at Fort Hood. He also held weekly brown-bag lunches with various employee groups.
“I don't know if that would work here, but I am certainly willing to try,” he said.
Freitag was not the only finalist to mention in interviews that Janesville lacked a vision and a mission statement. Voskuil said the council has objectives, such as job creation and quality service, but she expects the council and manager to embark on a planning process to define the city's vision in the coming year.
Freitag has experience in this area. He led the creation of a plan called Fort Hood 2030. The process included community input from surveys and at town-hall-style meetings, and he attended all of those, he said.