Succession planning has been on the mind of Council Administrator Kay Kuhlman for a while
Two years ago, an internal study revealed that a third of the city's staff were due to retire within 10 years. Looking at the top 12 leadership positions, Kuhlman estimates that about 50 percent of those employees will retire in five to seven years.
"It's a really quick turn around," Kuhlman said. "And a city our size, that's kind of hard because it's hard to find people."
Staffing challenges are most evident at the management level, she said, where applications have been few and far between and applicants are often unqualified. This has led to a change in strategy for how the city recruits from outside and trains staff internally for advancement.
"Kay is a big believer in promoting from within, keeping our employees engaged, wanting them to have that desire. If you have that desire, there's opportunity there," said Public Works Director Rick Moskwa.
Moskwa started working for the city 35 years ago as a welder. After spending most of his career in the parks department, he became union president, served on different committees, did continuing education at Minnesota State College Southeast, attended the Public Works Academy at Hamline University and became deputy director of solid waste before rising to Public Works director.
"It takes a lot of time to move up, lot of seniority, but if you're willing to wait. the city is promoting a lot of times from within," Moskwa said. He added that his predecessor. Denny Tebbe. was instrumental in helping him grow and being a mentor.
Kuhlman said when she retires in a half-dozen years, there are a few city staff members interested in filling her role. For her remaining years, she is actively supporting their training and development because the continuity would be helpful for continuing the city's long=term plans.
While most people on the cusp of retirement might prefer to coast, Kulman's team is revving up. A one-time influx of tax money from Xcel has provided the city with a rare opportunity to invest in infrastructure and special projects.
"One of the projects is Spring Creek Road," Kulman said. "Our engineering director has said ... he feels really a sense of ownership over that project. And it is a big complicated project, so he's staying. And thank God. To have an engineering director plop into the middle of that would be difficult."
Whereas daily tasks and maintenance used to take up 70 percent of the day and special projects 30 percent, those numbers have now flipped for most everyone on the city's leadership team. Having people who are willing to stay on to complete special projects — and operate at a sprint instead of a jog toward retirement — is something Kuhlman is very grateful for.
"We have this window of opportunity so we've all committed to giving as much as we can while we have this financial blessing, but then we will go back to more of a maintenance," Kuhlman said. "I'm not saying we'll never do projects but you won't see the level of activity that you have now and it's probably a good thing because there's no way that we could maintain it with what we have now. We are really burning people out because they're doing a lot more special projects than they're used to."
Many of the city's senior leaders have worked together for 20 years and their ability to operate as a team is being proven out with the scale of the projects they're now engaged in, they said, from the bridge to the new fire station and everything in between.
Moskwa said one benefit of working in Red Wing is there is much less job jumping than in the metro. He estimates that his team of 80 workers has a net average of 15-17 years experience working for the city.
"We work hard at keeping our employees," Moskwa said. We want to get them licensures, schooling. It's hard for them, they're typically parents, they've got a lot going on, but people have done it.
"That's what makes the city a great place to work. You have the opportunity."