Published in Janesville Messenger on June 22, 2014
Mark Freitag brings a military background to his position as Janesville’s city manager. Despite the obvious differences between the military and municipal management, Freitag has been forced to get up to speed quickly as the city juggles several hot button issues at once. A graduate of the West Point Academy, retired Colonel Freitag is a 25-year veteran of the armed forces, having spent much of that time in a variety of tanks and armored vehicles. Eventually promoted to garrison commander in Fort Hood, Texas, Freitag was in charge of providing services to 90,000 base residents located in a community of more than 300,000. Two years later, following transfer to Alaska, Freitag retired and began his new career as city manager in December.
With a small window to acclimate to his new position, Freitag was only three weeks into the job when the city council began moving on replacing Fire Station No. 1. According to Freitag, of the 12 residents affected whose properties would be eliminated, nine residents got on board with the city’s new vision, two were opposed and one was “on the fence,” following the listening sessions and presentations by Fire Chief Jim Jensen. Freitag cites this as an example of reaching “a solution that the majority of the neighbors could agree on and that this is something they could support.” After the city council reaffirmed its decision to build a new facility next to the current station, Freitag said the city needs to move forward on the project. For many years, little to no improvements were made to the 57-year-old fire station because rebuilding was always on the table. Now, the new station is on schedule to open in the summer of 2016.
When it comes to other projects facing the city, Freitag looks at building a skate park in Janesville as an opportunity to find middle ground for all the parties involved at the two locations currently before the council — Bond and Monterey parks. However if compromise can’t be reached, Freitag accepts the possibility of the skate park project being put on the back burner.
One of the changes Freitag already brought to the city is installing an ATM to allow residents to get cash in order to pay their city bills, while the city is working on being able to accept credit card as well as online payments, hopefully later this year.
Comparing his management style with two of his predecessors, Freitag says his approach is to give the council options along with recommendations and reasons for it. Using military decision-making process, Freitag employs mission analysis, followed by developing course of action and finally pursuing the best available option.
The hierarchy where there are “people who work for you, people who work with you and people who you work for,” is something Freitag says he’s quite familiar with. Freitag considers the city council to be his generals to whom he reports.
When looking at the budget setting process, Freitag refers to the council’s self-imposed policies. It’s up to the council to either adjust its policy or adjustment the budget to operate within those boundaries.
Freitag notes that when Ft. Hood saw its budget of $400 million reduced to $240 million as result of sequestration, he asked his staff to examine what they could reduce in their budgets while going to senior commanders to ask them to fight for the money, eventually resulting in much of the cuts affecting Fort Hood reversed.