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Portage panel plans for fire chief, other leaders succession

December 14, 2017

Portage Fire Chief Clayton Simonson has been at the helm of the Portage Fire Department for 13 years, and hasn’t indicated any readiness to retire.

But when the time comes for Simonson to hang up his turnout gear — temporarily or permanently — there’s a plan in place to pinpoint his successor.

The city’s Human Resources Committee on Tuesday took a long look at a draft of a succession plan for Simonson.

City Administrator Shawn Murphy said this is the second plan formulated for succession of a city department head, and it won’t be the last.

In October, the panel analyzed a succession plan for Police Chief Ken Manthey, who recently celebrated his 40th anniversary with the department, and who has indicated the likelihood of his retirement within two years.

The fire chief’s succession plan was put together by Murphy and Police and Fire Commission Chairman Tom Drury, with input from the incumbent department head, Simonson.

Murphy said the succession plans serve two key purposes: to pinpoint both the required and desired characteristics for a person in a department head position, and to identify current employees who either have those characteristics or who could attain them with additional city-paid training.

In the case of the Fire Department, there were four people identified as potential successors to Simonson: Fire Engineers Andy Anderson, Mark Bublitz and Steve Dehn and Engineer-Inspector Craig Ratz. A fourth engineer, Mike Hudgens, recently announced his intention to retire at the end of this year.

HR Committee Member Dennis Nachreiner asked if the department’s paid-on-call firefighters could be considered for chief if Simonson retires, and whether they’d be eligible for city-paid training.

Murphy replied that anyone, including the department’s 22 paid-on-call firefighters, could apply for the chief’s post if it becomes open.

But in the event that an interim appointment is needed, he said, the paid-on-call firefighters are not city employees, and would be unlikely to be considered either for the interim post or city-funded training. On-call firefighters have other jobs, he said, and would have to give those jobs up if they were to step into the fire chief’s role, even on an interim basis.

In addition to the core skill requirements for a fire chief candidate — such as a bachelor’s degree, at least 10 years of firefighting experience and five years of managerial-supervisory experience — the succession plan identified several “desired” traits for a new chief, including:

Experience in preparing annual operation and capital budgets.A “positive record of team-building,” including the ability to bring about and manage cultural changes in the department, inspire creativity and recognize individual differences in the workplace and the public.A “proven track record” of adapting to changes in areas such as technology, community conditions, political environments and unforeseen circumstances.

As is the case with the police chief’s succession plan, the fire chief’s succession plan includes worksheets to assess the extent to which the identified potential successors possess the “desired” qualities or are able to acquire those qualities with training.

Committee Member Doug Klapper asked what level of training might be required, and whether potential successors might ask for, and receive, city-funded tuition for a four-year university education.

Typically, Murphy said, the kind of training needed would be available from sources such as Madison Area Technical College, and wouldn’t necessarily be degree programs.

Mayor Rick Dodd, who chairs the Human Resources Committee, said he wasn’t seeking the committee’s vote of approval on the plan Tuesday night — just feedback.

In the near future, he said, there will likely be succession plans for leadership posts of other city departments, including City Clerk, Administration, Finance, Public Works, Utilities, Parks and Recreation and Municipal Court.

“We’re going in the right direction,” Dodd said.