HR Excellence Awards 2014

Lifetime Achievement: Chester Christie

From the August 2014 issue of Columbus CEO

Chester Christie
Department of Human Resources director
City of Columbus

Chester C. Christie took an elective course in labor law at the Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University because he thought it sounded interesting.

Interesting indeed.

That single course led to a 30-year career serving public-sector employees from both the labor and management sides of the table to ensure that “human” was never forgotten when it came to human resources.

Now, the New York native readies to retire as the City of Columbus’ director of the Department of Human Resources—and Mayor Michael Coleman’s longest serving cabinet member--but not before bringing home the 2014 HR Excellence Award for Lifetime Achievement.

“Openness is at the heart of municipal management,” says nominator Greg Beaverson, Columbus’ compensation manager.  “The best leaders understand that integrity must come first, and when they place it first, like Chet has, that virtue is a natural benefit to employees. The real difference is that government employees are not servants to a bottom line. Like Chet Christie, most realize from the beginning that they are stewards of the people’s resources and true servants to the public.”

Christie has been serving the residents of Columbus since 2000, when he was selected to lead Coleman’s HR team after the mayor was first elected.

Christie had already proven himself a dedicated public servant, having served as general counsel for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, administrative-law judge for the State of Ohio Employment Relations Board and deputy director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services’ Human Resources Division.

His expertise included representing unions in their dealings with management and representing management in dealing with unions.

“It gave me a perspective to know I have the opportunity to always strive for a level of balance,” he says. “We often hear a scenario from labor and a totally different scenario from management surrounding the identical set of facts. More times than not, the truth is somewhere in the middle. There is usually a win-win, a middle ground that allows each of the parties to walk away from the deal having achieved something that advances their interest.

“Very few situations are totally black or totally white; 90 percent are gray. We always strive for the win-win,” says Christie. During his years with the city, Christie’s responsibilities have included:

Oversight and direction of City of Columbus employee benefits

Overseeing the Equal Employment Opportunity Office

Coordinating labor relations

Addressing compensation management

Training and development

Overseeing Occupational Safety and Health and Drug-free Workplace programs

Christie’s commitment to city employees, however, goes far beyond simple job duties.

He has made the city a standout employer for its policies on supporting veterans and current members of the military, brought attention to issues like health insurance for domestic partners, and developed policies around employee health and wellness, nursing mothers in the workplace, and high school and college internship programs.

To save money and resources, Christie mandated an electronic imaging, filing and archiving system for claims, and also championed the establishment of a new centralized system for several personnel, payroll and IT functions.

His employee-wellness initiatives have centered around education, fitness classes, healthy cooking demonstrations, tobacco cessation, walking programs, health fairs, diagnostic screenings and flu shot clinics.

“It is a tribute to Chet how much people like working for the city of Columbus,” says Dan Williamson, spokesman for Mayor Coleman. “I think, for a lot of people, large government might feel impersonal. That is not the case here. Employees here, in general, feel very at-home. We see that by the number of people who want to work and want to stay employed. Chet deserves a lot of the credit. He sets the tone, makes employees feel cared for, recognized and (that they) receive training.”

Williamson adds that excellent employees have “the opportunity to improve their skills and adapt to changing work environments. He makes sure employees continue to feel fresh.”

Christie will bid the city farewell at the end of the year to spend more time with his wife, Cheryl, who retired in March. The two plan to travel and volunteer, and basically enjoy a life that has less time restrictions.

Before he goes, Christie knows he is leaving the city in good hands.

“I have had a tremendous amount of assistance and support from very talented, competent and conscientious HR professionals who have helped to steer the ship in the right direction,” he says. “Being afforded the opportunity to work with dedicated colleagues who are smart, have a balanced perspective, and are focused on improving the quality of work-life for our employees–has been instrumental in any successes I have had.”