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Friday, 10 January 2014 09:36

New city manager puts military experience to work in civilian role

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Mark Freitag served in the U.S. Army for about 25 years before making the transition to civilian life late last year when he accepted the position as Janesville’s city manager. Freitag said he’s enjoying learning about how the city works as well as getting to know his fellow residents. Mark Freitag served in the U.S. Army for about 25 years before making the transition to civilian life late last year when he accepted the position as Janesville’s city manager. Freitag said he’s enjoying learning about how the city works as well as getting to know his fellow residents. Terry Mayer

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- After serving in several leadership positions during his 25-year military career, Mark Freitag has taken on another type of leadership role.

Freitag was hired as Janesville’s city manager in August and officially began his new job Dec. 1. Freitag said after deciding to retire from the military, he felt a job as a city manager would be the right fit for him.

“When I decided to retire from the military, I wanted to pursue a city manager job as part of my post-Army career. I started looking, and I had some nibbles and bites, but when Janesville called and said we would like you to come interview for the (city manager) job, my wife and I were absolutely ecstatic,” Freitag said. “When we came in, we looked around at the other candidates and realized the other candidates were pretty well qualified; all of them had a lot of city manager experience, and in my case, I didn’t, so I kind of thought I was the odd man out and probably didn’t have much of a chance.

“But the interview process worked out favorably for me and when they offered me the job, I was absolutely ecstatic and so thankful for the council’s kind consideration.”

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Freitag said he feels the city of Janesville is the right fit for him and his family. The community has been welcoming, he said.

“My initial impression is that everything is neat, clean and orderly. Being a military guy, I like things neat, clean and orderly. So that was a great first impression,” Freitag said. “The other neat thing is that people are extremely friendly here. We’ve had neighbors who have come out and said hello.

“We’ve had people who have recognized us from pictures in the paper and will stop us in the parking lot and say, ‘Hey, aren’t you the new city manager?’ So people are extremely friendly.”

Janesville City Council Vice President Matt Kealy said Freitag had the qualities that the city council sought.

“Mark has a positive personality. He has workable knowledge and different experiences that will be beneficial to the residents of Janesville,” Kealy said. “When you shake his hand, you leave with the impression that he is a positive person.”

Freitag said his goal during the next few months is to become more familiar with local government, city programs and services and city facilities and infrastructure. Freitag said he will work closely with city staff to become more familiar with the responsibilities of the job.

“My biggest challenge is, because I’m not from Janesville and not from the area, this is all new to me, and I’m discovering my learning curve is absolutely vertical right now,” Freitag said. “Every person I talk to, every engagement I have, it’s all new. It’s all fresh, and it’s filling up this 10-gallon head.

“It’s going to take time to sink in, but I think after 90 days I will have a better understanding of the area and the city government, then I will be able to start to implement my plan of how I want to move the city of Janesville forward. Obviously, there will be a lot of people who will have a say in what that is, but I’m excited about developing that plan with the city and the community.”

Freitag said he also plans to attend courses in economic development, revenue generation and budgeting.

“There’s things that go on in a city that don’t happen in the military. (In the military) we don’t collect revenue. We don’t collect taxes. We don’t do any economic development activities,” Freitag said. “Whereas, that’s a big part of what we do (in city government.) So I’ve got some learning to do.”

Kealy said city staff will work closely with Freitag to help him transition into the position.

“He will receive a lot of knowledge by working with ... Jay Winzenz. He also will be working with a lot of knowledgeable department heads,” Kealy said. “So he has a quality staff that will help him bring more knowledge to the job and more positives to the city of Janesville.”

Before coming to Janesville, Freitag served as deputy commander for the U.S. Army at Fort Wainwright in Alaska, helping to oversee 12,000 soldiers and their families. Freitag said even though winter weather in Wisconsin can be tough, it’s not as bad as the winters in Alaska.

“I called back to the office (in Wainwright) recently and asked what the weather was like, and they said it was minus-25 degrees, they had a little over 2 feet of snow on the ground,” Freitag said. “It’s a very harsh climate. I like the snow and I like the cold, but I think that was pushing my limits in enjoying cold weather. I think Wisconsin will fit me a little bit better.”

Freitag also served as garrison commander in Fort Hood, Texas, from 2010 to 2012, which was similar to a city manager’s position. Freitag said Fort Hood was the largest Army garrison in the United States during that time.

“I hadn’t had any previous experience with being an installation commander and taking care of all the installation functions,” Freitag said. “But when I got there, I realized God gave me two ears and one mouth, and I realized I had to use them in that proportion. So I did a lot of listening and a lot of learning and learned how the organization functioned and what we had to do, and were successful. That’s what I’m trying to do now, because everything is new.”

Freitag began working at Fort Hood about six months after the 2009 shooting rampage by a former Army major that left 13 people dead and 32 people injured. He said when he arrived, people were still trying to recover from that incident.

“I think there was still a little bit of uneasiness, but by that time the Army had already completed its after-action review of the shooting incident,” Freitag said. “So what I found myself doing was putting systems and procedures in place that would prevent that kind of incident from happening again. Over the next two years a lot of energy went towards making sure that kind of incident couldn’t happen again.”

Freitag said he was inspired to join the military because of his father, who was in the service for 32 years. Freitag’s father served two tours of duty in Vietnam and a tour of duty in Korea.

“I grew up in Army posts across the United States. In fact, the longest I’ve lived anywhere was four years and that was in college,” Freitag said. “So the idea of spending some quality time in some place, and Janesville seems like that kind of place, we’re really excited about that opportunity.”

Freitag said he decided to retire from the military because he felt it was the right time.

“You can retire at 20 years, but you must retire at 30 years. You can’t serve more than 30 years, so I was right in the middle of that 20-year and 30-year period, and I started to think, ‘What does the next five years in the military look like for me’ and the answer was a lot of the same stuff I’m currently doing, and I thought, ‘Do I really want to spend the next five years doing that or is it time to make the transition to a civilian career and a post-Army career?’” Freitag said. “People told me, ‘You’ll know when it’s time to go.’ I started talking to my wife about it, and she said, ‘It might be the right time to go,’ and I said, ‘OK, I think I’m going to make the jump.’”

Freitag said he feels his military career helped prepare him for his job as city manager.

“I think leadership is leadership, so one of the things I think I bring to the city manager position is a very strong portfolio of leading various sized organizations that are doing multiple things simultaneously. That’s what the military really trains people to do,” Freitag said. “There’s a lot of things that go on in city government that happen in a garrison like Fort Hood, so I’m familiar with a lot of the same types of programs.”

Freitag and his wife, Patricia, have been married for 21 years. The couple have a daughter, Bethany, and an 18-month-old granddaughter, Abby.

Freitag said when he is not busy fulfilling his new city manager duties, he enjoys working around the house.

“One thing you will learn about the Army is that you’re on duty 24/7, 365,” Freitag said. “I’m a workaholic. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s the truth of who I am.

“I tend to spend my time either at work or at the house working on something. We bought a house in Janesville where the previous owner has an immaculate, beautiful yard, so I can’t wait to keep that up for her, because it’s just a beautiful yard.”

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