Fairfield prepares for more leadership changes

City manager anticipates retirements of Fairfield’s fire chief and public works director.

Fairfield has seen a lot of turnover in recent months among its executive-level staff members, but City Manager Mark Wendling said that wasn’t unexpected.

Six members of Fairfield’s senior staff have left in the three years since Wendling took over as city manager — and four left this year — though most retired.

Most of those department directors that left had been in those positions for 20 years or more.

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“We did know that a lot of our senior staff was reaching a point in their career they would be looking at retirement in the not-too-distant future, and that is what has evolved,” Wendling said.

In just over three years, the city manager replaced his police chief, development services director and parks director, all of whom retired, and Wendling’s public utilities director retired two months before he was promoted to city manager. Also, Wendling’s assistant city manager — who replaced him — and finance director left for new jobs.

Wendling said he anticipates there could be at least two more departures as the city’s fire chief and public works director could retire in the next few years.

Wendling was hired about seven years ago as assistant city manager to be then-city manager Art Pizzano’s replacement.

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Fairfield’s executive leadership has positioned the city to be one of the top 30 cities in Ohio, said Councilman Tim Abbott, who has served 12 years on City Council. He said it’s important to “continue to get those key staff people to position Fairfield for success in the future.”

“And that’s not just five or 10 years down the road, but a quarter-century down the road,” Abbott said. “There will be a lot of twists and turns and hurdles and we just have to have people who are visionaries and can deal with it.”

Abbott said the city’s leadership has helped Fairfield develop an Aa1 Moody’s bond rating — the second-highest possible rating — “which affords us the ability to finance projects.” Two of the biggest projects for the city now are the development and expansion of Marsh Park, and the redevelopment of Harbin Park.

“Mark has surrounded himself with good visionary people that bring lots of good ideas and successful projects that they have managed in some of our peer cities,” he said.

Public Utilities Director Adam Sackenheim was hired in May 2015 to succeeded Dave Crouch, who retired after 30 years with Fairfield. About 18 months later, Development Services Director Greg Kathman was promoted to succeed Tim Bachman, who retired after 31 years with the city. This past February, Police Chief Steve Maynard was promoted to succeed Mike Dickey, who retired after 19 years with the city.

Then three more departures happened in the past few months: Fairfield Parks Director Jim Bell retired, Assistant City Manager Greg Preece took a job in California, and Finance Director Mary Hopton took a job with Great Parks of Hamilton County. They were succeeded by Tiphanie Howard, Dan Wendt and Scott Timmer, respectively, all in September.

Wendling said there’s no prototypical Fairfield employee or department director, but he prefers to have “servant leaders” within the city, “someone who wants to build staff, someone who wants to develop staff, someone who wants to help develop future staff members for succession potentially.”

“It’s really important to me that the directors understand the value of staff,” he said. “We’re only as good as the people that we hire, so I want to hire people who have a strong work ethic, who understand the value of customer service, who understand the value of being a public servant and what that means.”

And as Wendling plans for future staffing changes, Vice Mayor Craig Keller said finding the right people to lead the city’s departments is “critical.”

“It’s critical that you make good hires, and have good people in place,” he said.

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