RACINE — Although his contract doesn’t expire until July 9, City Administrator Tom Friedel plans to retire in early 2017, he said Friday.
“It’s a good time.” Friedel said. “I’ve got kids, I’ve got grandkids, I’m not getting any younger. I want to spend some more time with them.”
Friedel, 66, who started in the position in 2009, is Racine’s longest-serving city administrator by a wide margin. Friedel, who succeeded Ben Hughes in the post, said he helped create the position in 2004 while serving as a city alderman, a position he held from 2000 to 2009. Friedel also is a former Racine Unified School Board member.
He first publicly mentioned his plans to step aside “in the first quarter of 2017” on Oct. 17 during the first round of departmental budget presentations. The city administrator position is projected to receive roughly a 30 percent raise to about $130,000 in the proposed 2017 budget so that the city can “attract a qualified candidate.”
While Friedel had talked to each alderman at various times recently about his decision, some were confused by his comments in that meeting. That led Friedel to email the council on Oct. 21 to clarify that he was not seeking to renew or extend his contract.
“Some time this summer I came to the conclusion that life is too short and there are things that I want to do before the opportunity to do them passes me by,” Friedel wrote. “The demands of this position for my time, both physically and mentally, do not allow me enough of those opportunities. I surely will miss being a part of crafting the future of my hometown and am grateful to have had the opportunity to play a role.”
Friedel said he is stepping down early because he wants his successor to have enough time to get acclimated to the job before the 2018 budget process begins. He experienced a serious time crunch when he started in July 2009.
“You need time just to know the players,” he said. “You need time just to know your staff, to get organized, to get comfortable. You get some time to work with the mayor.”
Friedel added that he won’t be directly involved in the interview process. He wouldn’t single out one important characteristic that would make a strong successor.
“It’s not one thing,” he said. “You’ve got to look at it holistically. Sometimes it’s just a fit. It isn’t easy to put it all on paper.”
Mayor John Dickert, on the other hand, will be actively involved in the search process.
“What we’re going to be looking for in a replacement is exactly what I found in Tom,” Dickert said. “Someone with a demeanor like Tom but also someone who is a complement to what I’m not good at. If the city administrator can do that, then we will complement each other perfectly.”
Dickert was effusive in his praise for Friedel’s service to Racine as city administrator.
“Tom will go down as one of the best, if not the best, city administrator the city’s ever had,” Dickert said. “His incredible demeanor with people, which is genuine, honest and patient, it’s almost impossible to replicate that.”
Friedel has not set an official date for his retirement, although Dickert on Friday mentioned April as a possible target and Friedel mentioned giving his replacement “three months” before the budget process, which would lineup with Dickert’s sentiment. Dickert added that the city is currently at “the very beginning of the process” of finding Friedel’s replacement.
Friedel is grateful for the opportunity to have served his city.
“I really care about this city,” he said. “I care about Racine and I want to see it move forward. I’ve been real happy to have a chance to be part of that.”