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List of departing city officials swells; total increases to four

Conditions ideal for more retirements

Oct. 20, 2010

The list of top city officials who are leaving has just increased by two more.

Public Works Director William Kappel has announced he will retire at the end of November. City Finance Director Ron Braier retired quickly and unexpectedly this month.

This follows the announcement that Fire Chief Dean Redman will leave in January. The city has already lost Chief Building Official Dave Wheaton, who died of a heart attack in September.

The city has retained a recruitment firm, Voorhees & Associates, to look for the next public works director and will likely do the same for the finance director. The search will span the nation, but internal applicants are expected. The firm was used when Wauwatosa was hiring its economic development director this spring.

Kappel has worked for the city for 13 years. He is planning to move north and spend time golfing and being a grandfather.

Finding a public works director typically takes six months, but city staff is hoping to move the process along faster.

"We'd be pleased if (the hiring) was in February," said Human Resources Director Beth Aldana.

Few details are available about Braier's abrupt decision to retire in the middle of budget deliberations and as tax-bill season approaches.

"He is retired, and he is retired in good standing with the city," City Administrator James Archambo said.

Braier had worked for the city for 26 years and his finance experience is missed, said Alderman Brian Ewerdt, who heads up the Budget Committee. However, the city administrator has a "great command" of the city's financial situation and he has helped during the transition, Ewerdt said.

A new finance director could be in place early next year, the city administrator said.

"As tough as the timing is, the timing is good to get experience before the next budget which really starts again in early April or May," he said.

City officials are also recommending the recruiter assist the Police and Fire Commission in its search for a new chief. The Commission met Wednesday after the NOW's deadline to make a decision on working with a consultant to find a permanent chief and choosing an interim chief.

The city administrator, mayor, and chairmen of Common Council committees have recommended the commission consider Police Chief Barry Weber for the interim fire position.

"We're not saying pick him, we're just saying that as you do your interviews, here is another option," Archambo said. "The position is to manage an emergency until we have a new chief in place."

Redman has said he'll leave his post Jan. 4 after 14 years with the city, and a new fire chief could be in place by spring, Aldana said.

Losing three out of 15 department directors at one time is a big hit, especially when there are a number of others who had been hired in the past two years. With a number of employees eligible for retirement it was somewhat expected, but the economy may have delayed some so more are now happening at one time, Archambo said.

Another director is qualified to retire and five more could do likewise with some diminished retirement benefits.

The likelihood that pension payments could go down next year and a proposal to increase non-represented employees' health insurance premium contributions, including those that retire, after Feb. 1 could motivate more to retire, the city administrator said.

There are positives to be found in any change, namely a cost savings, since they are at the top of their pay scale. But initially some of that money will be spent on recruitment, Aldana said.

City officials have directed recruiters to look for people who are innovative, with good work ethics and a demonstrated ability to put in place modern, technical change that can bring efficiencies. Archambo noted that organizations can get stuck in ruts without these traits.

"That's in no way to say we are doing something wrong. You just constantly have to look at different ways to provide services," he said.

As for Wheaton's position, his job and the building division - which falls under the umbrella of the Community Development Department - will be reviewed to determine if some of the duties can be redistributed.

Wheaton has experience as a volunteer firefighter, which made him uniquely qualified to deal with disaster damage estimates. During last summer's flooding, he dealt with about 250 residential and three commercial properties.

He also had a calm demeanor and refrained from panicking, Community Development Director Nancy Welch said. She recalled when GE Medical decided to build in Wauwatosa.

He has said he was looking for a challenge, so she handed him a big one: making sure the $27 million project went up quickly, safely and competently.

"We had a very tight construction time span, about 20 months from the time government announced the project to occupancy," she said.

The city looked to Wheaton to provide progress reports before any payments were made, since GE Medical fell in a special tax district. He worked with architects and developers to make sure plans were reviewed and codes met. His intimate knowledge of the development and years of experience allowed him to troubleshoot any potential problems before they occurred, Welch said.

Wheaton also was a certified building inspector and a background as a contractor in the private sector. He aided the development of the medical complex and was active at the state level on code and compliance issues.

Ultimately, someone will be hired but it likely won't be for the exact same position, City Administrator James Archambo said.

"We're not likely to find someone with the same skill set, he said.

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