Now What?

“OK. Now what do we do?”

By far the most common question I’ve heard since September 30 is “What are you going to do?” I’ve routinely said “Don’t know, but I’ll figure something out.” I’ve several hobbies: I’m a decent photographer, I’m a bicyclist, I read several books a week. I’ve a national reputation as a baseball researcher. In earlier lives I’ve organized political campaigns, written software, officiated at bicycle races, and won a prize for a paper focused on transportation history. I’ve been a bicycle club president, I’ve helped run a computer bulletin board, I’ve been active on church committees, I’ve organized a national convention for a volunteer organization. And I haven’t even mentioned music. I really don’t think finding things to do will be an issue.

What’s less clear, right now, is what I will actually do. I’m planning to get serious about bicycling again, but I don’t expect or want that to take over my life. Photography will likely remain a hobby; it’s always been something I practice diligently for extended periods, then almost completely abandon. I’ll continue to attend baseball games; that’s a lifetime constant. I’ve contributed to The SABR Encyclopedia in the past, and plan to resume doing so. There’s work to do around the house, but neither Joan nor I expect that to be my main pastime. I also have a few long-standing commitments, here and there, that I aim to wrap up, but those are finite projects and none are a life’s work.

Beyond that, there are certainly options. I have baseball research projects I’d like to tackle. There’s some Great Lakes history I expect to research; perhaps there’s a book or two in that. Perhaps Proposal 1 will pass today; I’d certainly consider running for Con-Con Delegate. I might rekindle my railfan addiction, and perhaps build a model pike in the attic. There are places I’d like to (re)visit, books I’d like to read, people I’d like to meet. I probably can’t do all of these things, so I’ll need to make some decisions.

Anyway, I’m confident I’ll find useful things to fill my day. But I’m not hurrying to solve this puzzle.

Although they’re also eligible to retire, some of my colleagues are not sure how they’d fill their days without the pattern of a daily job. So they are staying on. This is good, as their experience will be valuable as new staff joins, and the new leadership reorganizes, state government. Note, though, that they read absence of routine into the "Now What?" question, and vote for structure. There’s another reading for the question. I see a multitude of opportunities.

Pensioned Off

Some notes for my last day of work.

Age 53: Identification

Michigan’s Governor and Legislature have claimed that a major portion of this season’s balanced budget charade was achieved by something they called Pension Reform. This is only half true, as the reform in question actually dates from 1997, when new state employees were first required to enroll in Defined Contribution (401k) plans. This year’s development is that the state government’s remaining Defined Benefits (traditional) pension employees are being encouraged to retire, which will reduce (at least for the short-term) our budget impact. I’ll leave the long-term impacts of the incentive’s pension increase, and the fact that my pension seems not to be properly funded, as an exercise for the reader. I offer a word to describe this political half-truth behavior, though: Irresponsible.

I’ve been a Michigan public servant for 33 years, and my responsibilities for the past twenty have mainly involved reducing governmental costs and improving our response times. I’m actually quite good at this, and one of the reasons is experience. I understand how the work flows in our department. I’ve considerable experience with designing, specifying, testing, and implementing systems (computer and otherwise) to simplify and automate paper-bound processes. I’ve helped move much of our business to the web–and a pair of web projects which have dominated my past year are scheduled to debut before the year’s end. I’ve worked with other departments to reduce friction on shared processes. My hypothetical replacement has valuable skills, but lacks my years of experience. She’ll bring a new perspective to the job, and that’s beneficial, but she’ll also make mistakes I’d have avoided.

Multiply this effect by thousands. Our Secretary of State Branch Offices (Driver License Bureaus, for those who aren’t from Michigan) will have fewer staffers, and on average those workers will have less experience. Joan’s sister’s a prison guard; her job’s risks will increase. This retirement rush is taking effect just as Michigan’s Treasury Department gears up for the annual tax rush. If your business calls a government office, expect the phone queues to lengthen; the person who answers the call will more likely be frazzled and less likely have your answer at his fingertips. Offices performing necessary inspections–in factories, on farms, of bridges–will be short-staffed and less knowledgable. Nearly every state office will lose staff, and the resulting stress will be visible.

Michigan’s state bureaucracy employs many folks who’ve spent thirty or more years in public service. Many of us were planning to retire in the relatively near future, with or without incentives; inevitably we’d be exchanging experience for youth in the process. On the whole, this is a good bargain. But this year’s incentive distorts the hiring pattern, as well as the retirement plans, and the impacts will be more obvious than they might otherwise have been. Again, a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision.

Enough. I’m outta here.

One of These Days

Yesterday was a tough day at the office. Besides the State budget insanity hanging over our heads, it was the last day for a major system’s maintenance contract with folks we’d known long enough to become friends. We’re moving maintenance in-house for excellent reasons, but this is a painful change. I was shepherding the transition’s loose ends, so I was in contact with both teams all day.

And four co-workers–two I’ve been working with daily of late, and two others I’d worked with on several projects–chose yesterday to retire. A day full of good-byes….

This sort of day always sets me to thinking about my own retirement. Not yet. But I can see the end.