LIMA — According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans are staying in the workplace longer now than in the past, with 8.4 million Americans age 65 and older in the labor force. From 1985 to 2014, the percentage of senior men still in the workforce rose from 15.8 percent to 23 percent, while the percentage of senior women rose from 7.3 percent to 15.1 percent in the same time period.
However, no matter how long individuals remain in the workforce, the time will eventually come when they must pass the baton to the next generation. That is true for both the public and private sector, and municipal governments can take a variety of approaches in making those workplace transitions.
At 58, Tony Geiger, the law director for the city of Lima, knows he has several productive years left in which he can serve the city. However, he knows that, ultimately, a time will come when he, like everyone else, will have to look to others to lead the Law Department.
“If something were to happen to me, council would select my replacement for the rest of my term, and I would be comfortable if they were to select the deputy law director,” he said. “That’s my goal when I hire someone.”
While private-sector employees can sometimes have a more direct line to move up the ladder in a company up to management, some public employees do not have that option, with some positions, such as Lima’s law director, decided through election.
“You can’t control any type of succession in that regard,” Geiger said. “Anyone who’s a licensed attorney in the state of Ohio could run for law director.”
Having said that, Geiger, who served as an assistant law director for 10 years before being elected, sees the value in helping those in his department gain the skills and experience necessary to serve in his capacity.
“Municipal law is very unique,” he said. “You have to be able to handle and work a wide variety of civil and legal matters.”
Non-Elected Positions in Lima
For those who do not have to rely directly on the voters to work in Lima, other factors come into play when it comes to bringing up future leaders in their departments.
“When someone comes in to work for the city, they are under the Civil Service requirements, so they have to get on a list before we can consider them,” according to Public Works director Howard Elstro.
Several positions in the city are also protected by labor unions, another factor that needs to be considered when bringing in young talent.
“In my department, most of the positions are protected by [The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees], so promotions are done by the most senior qualified, not the most qualified senior,” Elstro said. “So whoever’s here the longest who meets the minimum qualifications, those are the people who get promoted up within the union positions.”
Supervisory positions are not union protected but are under Civil Service rules, which encourages internal promotion before looking outside the workforce. However, the city must also abide by state and federal guidelines, which may require a supervisor to hold a certain license, certification or degree.
“There are skill-based pay systems in place for employees who receive a certification or license level,” Human Resource Director Vince Ozier said. “For wastewater plant operators, if you’re at a Class 1, you get paid a certain amount. If you’re a Class 2, you get a higher amount. The restrictions can sometimes make choosing candidates who are best suited for the position difficult.”
Those higher pay scales encourage upwardly minded workers to continue their education, but because of budget restrictions, the city does not provide tuition assistance. Whether a worker would choose to take the steps to move up is up to them, Elstro said, so administrators try to take that into account in the hiring process.
“We look at the immediate needs, but in the back of our minds, we consider if they have the aptitude and interest to groom themselves for the next set of managers who will be helping to run the city 10 or 20 years out,” he said.
While Lima is a larger municipality with a workforce that can more easily accommodate internal promotion, smaller communities may not have the infrastructure for that, so those municipal governments have to take different approaches.
“There’s no one currently being groomed to take this position,” according to Wapakoneta Safety Service director William Rains. “Traditionally, what the city has done in the past is hire an outside consulting firm to do a job search, and then the mayor and members of council do interviews and select from that pool.”
Another reason these communities may have to look outside for future leaders is budget concerns, according to Rains.
“These are at the top end of the pay scale, so it’s expensive to have someone in the wings for four or five years,” he said. “Ideally, it would be great, and certainly in a bigger municipality, depending on the form of government, you could be able to do that, but for smaller communities, it’s just not available.”
Ottawa Mayor Dean Meyer said that his community takes another approach when it comes to covering departures in municipal government.
“We pretty much cross-train all of our employees,” he said. “Obviously, every one of our employees can’t do every job, but we have cross-training for every job we have. So if something would happen, we have someone who could step in and take over.”
However, when it comes to replacing administrators or other supervisors, all options may be on the table, depending on the situation.
“If something happened to one of our key employees, I’m not sure if we would advertise or not,” he said. “That would be a council decision, not a mayoral decision. But I feel very comfortable that we have qualified individuals in our village who would be more than capable of taking on the job.”
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.