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City Hall aims to ease transitions

September 1, 2012
Meg Alexander - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Replacing retiring Baby Boomers is a daunting task, due in part to the sheer numbers, but also the difficulty in losing the knowledge and skills the retirees gained through years of experience.

Fairmont City Hall presents an excellent microcosm of a national issue. In 2012, retirement is claiming numerous high-ranking city employees. Thanks to diligent planning, the local transitions have been relatively smooth.

Instead of seeking new employees to fill every position that has opened, Fairmont has often opted to consolidate positions and hire from within. The consolidations mean big savings for taxpayers - about $263,000 per year - although not much more can be gained through cuts without visibly interfering with city services.

In the past 10 years, City Hall's workforce has been reduced at least 20 percent, according to city administrator Mike Humpal.

"I don't believe we can consolidate much further," he said.

When departments get too small in size, covering for people when they go on vacation or call in sick can become extremely difficult.

Here are some of the retirements that have taken place recently or that are slated for the near future and how City Hall plans to fill these jobs:

o Fire marshal and zoning official Randy Musser retired last year, and his duties were split among two other employees. Building official Pat Parsley now covers fire safety, while Leanne Zarling became community development coordinator - a new position, in which she answers and researches zoning questions, in addition to her regular duties.

The savings by combining Musser's responsibilities instead of hiring a new employee add up to $63,600 per year.

o City administrator Jim Zarling retired this spring and was replaced by Humpal, the economic development director. Humpal is continuing his work in economic development. The combination of duties results in a $128,700 savings annually.

o Building maintenance supervisor Ralph Schwab had been with the city 30-plus years when he retired July 31. His duties included taking care of buildings and the city's aquatic park.

Knowing Schwab would retire this year, the city began training Dean Sandberg, an employee from the parks department. That opened a position in the parks department, which was filled by Scott Becker, who was working full time as a clerk at the municipal liquor store. Instead of hiring a full-time replacement at the liquor store, the city is advertising for several part-time positions.

For any union positions, cities are required to post the job opening for 10 days to other union employees before advertising publicly.

o Streets and parks supervisor Rande Isenberg will work his last day for the city on Oct. 31. Last summer, city officials decided his replacement should shadow Isenberg for a full year.

Three city employees applied for the non-union job, and administrators chose Nick Lardy, the city's lead mechanic. Since Lardy was selected, he has learned about the leaf pickup program in the fall, snow removal in the winter, opening the parks in the spring, and park maintenance for the summer.

To replace Lardy, the city has posted a job opening within the union for a mechanic. The position will not be easy to fill, according to Humpal.

"A person has to be able to fix everything from a weed whip to a motor grader," he said.

o City clerk Susan Olson is the last employee slated to retire this year, with her final day on Dec. 31. Patty Monsen, who works as a paralegal and assists the engineering department, will take Olson's place.

In addition to her duties as city clerk, Monsen will continue her legal work for the city attorney. The city will not hire someone to replace her in the engineering department.

Monsen has already begun shadowing the current clerk, gaining as much knowledge as possible before Olson, a long-time city employee, retires. This is a good year for Monsen to learn the ropes, Humpal said, with a primary election and a major general election for the city clerk to oversee.

Having Monsen take over as city clerk will save the city about $70,000 per year.

Two additional employees are eligible to retire this year, but Humpal has not yet received announcements from them.

"It's amazing to me how much institutional knowledge is walking around here, and when they leave, it's gone," he said.



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