P.C., Ottawa County losing wealth of experience

PORT CLINTON By the end of this year, Port Clinton and Ottawa County will have lost a wealth of knowledge and experience.
May 24, 2010



By the end of this year, Port Clinton and Ottawa County will have lost a wealth of knowledge and experience.

In the past five months, the county and city have witnessed six people leave or announce plans to leave key administrative offices.

"I don't know if it's unusual," said Mayor Tom Brown, who is one of six high-ranking administrators leaving. "It seems like we have a very senior workforce in the city and the county. As these years peel off, you'll probably see a lot more people retire."

Brown, who has been mayor since 1996, also served on Port Clinton Council in the 1970s and was council president in 1990. He has decided to retire and is not running for mayor in the Nov. 6 general election.

Nancy O'Neal retired in July after serving nearly 40 years as city auditor, and Rich Babcock, former city safety-service director, resigned in August after he was indicted on charges he stole scrap metal from the city. Babcock pleaded not guilty in September to one felony count each of theft and theft in office.

Within the county, Walter Wehenkel, director of the Ottawa Regional Planning Commission, will retire Oct. 31 after 29 years in office. In September, Dave Robenstine, director of Ottawa County Department of Job and Family Services, retired after five years. JoAn Monnett, Ottawa County Clerk of Courts, retired in June after serving nearly three terms. Monnett had served in a variety of roles for about 22 years.

"It's hard to replace all those years of knowledge and experience," said Ottawa County Commissioner Steve Arndt. "We've had a couple times where we've had a fairly large number retire. This is probably a little bit more because of the key positions they play."

About 10 years ago, the county saw a similar string of retirements.

Ottawa County Commissioner Carl Koebel retired as director of environmental health for the Ottawa County Health Department in 1995. Koebel took over for John Fritz, former Ottawa County Commissioner, after Fritz retired in 1996. The same year, John Papcun retired as Ottawa County engineer.

"It's a natural process that occurs in business and government agencies all around the country," said City Auditor Steve Benko, who took over for O'Neal in August. "Ottawa County and Port Clinton are no different. We'll pick up the torch and do the best we can."

Even though the current retirements are happening so close to each other, the county seems to be well-prepared for the changeover.

"These (retirements) were not something we have not foreseen," Arndt said. "You're always making sure you're grooming someone else or have depth in the organization."

Todd Bickley, assistant director of the Ottawa Regional Planning Commission, applied for the director position after Wehenkel announced his retirement. Bickley has been working under Wehenkel since 1983.

The Ottawa County Commissioners said they would appoint Bickley as director if he is chosen by the planning commission.

"It would be a smooth transition," Bickley said. "I was able to assist Walt and gain that knowledge and history of the community."

With the recent resignation of Babcock, Port Clinton Council could not have planned for his departure.

"In a perfect world, you'd always have a transition plan in place, where you can cross-train," Benko said. "In the business world, it doesn't happen that way. Sometimes a new perspective is what the organization needs."

The administrators will be missed, but it's difficult to understand how big of an impact their departure will have, Arndt said.

"Things are almost automatic because they've been through it a thousand times, and the process is so streamlined," Arndt said. "The general public will never see that. Is there a cost associated with it, and if so, how do you quantify that? I'm not sure you can."