A native of Frenchtown, Mont., Debbie Lund moved west to attend college at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Human Resources. After working in various capacities in several arenas at The News Tribune, including human resources, advertising and marketing, Lund went to work for the City of Tumwater. After 18 years there, Lund accepted the position of Human Resources director for the City of Aberdeen in June. Debbie and her husband, Tim, have been married 25 years and have two children. Their son is a mechanical engineer for Nike and their daughter is a sophomore at Western Washington University.
What are the challenges of moving from human resources in Tumwater to heading up the department in Aberdeen?
Learning everyone’s name! The financial situation here in Aberdeen is much more dire than in Tumwater. Employees at the City of Aberdeen wear many hats. Figuring out who does what and what all of my hats are has been challenging and interesting.
Learning the nuances of the four union contracts, personnel policies and ordinances takes time. Working with the pension boards is new and comes with a learning curve to ensure we are meeting our responsibilities to these retirees while maintaining accountability to the taxpayer.
What changes have you implemented so far in the operations and what is on your list for the new year?
At this point I’m focusing on updating policies and procedures. So far we have finished changes that were started in the pension policies, updated the civil service rules, implemented a new cell phone policy, and made a change in office space and desk positions in the department to improve functionality. Changes in human resources are a constant, there’s always a new law or interpretation of a law that keeps us on our toes.
In 2014 I am hoping to do a thorough review of the personnel policies and make updates where they are needed. We will also be refocusing efforts on our city-wide safety program in an effort to lower our worker’s compensation costs.
The city employees contract has been signed, how are the negotiations for police and firefighters going?
Negotiations with the three remaining unions continue.
The city faces a ticking budget bomb in the form of pension and health benefit payments for those retiring under the LEOFF (Law Enforcement Officer and Fire Fighter) I system. Why is it difficult to predict? What budget changes need to be made to help mitigate the outlay?
Aberdeen, like most other cities in the state, struggles to fulfill the obligations to these retired fire and police personnel. We are responsible for health care costs for these individuals from cradle to grave. Just like you and I cannot predict what our future medical needs will be, the city cannot predict the future medical needs of these 69 men. We will again look into insuring against the most expensive potential cost — nursing home care. In the meantime, we will continue to set aside whatever we can afford to each year in order to build some reserve in case someone needs an expensive procedure or another retiree needs to move into a care facility.
What talents does a human resources director need to be effective?
You have to be organized, flexible and able to juggle. Every day is unpredictable. You are working with employees and their needs vary greatly and take priority over all the things you thought you were going to do that day. You have to be approachable and be able to maintain confidentiality.
What pursuits you do enjoy in your time off?
I enjoy watching almost all sports. We have enjoyed being closer to the ocean beaches and clam digging again. I enjoy yard work and gardening. We like to camp and relax with friends.
If you could throw a party for anyone living or dead, what kind of party would it be? Who would you invite? And what would you serve?
I’d have a cocktail party for Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. In recognition of his brewmaster father and grandfather, I’d serve a good German beer. I’d have fun with some of his book themes for the appetizers, green eggs and ham, “roast beast,” etc. As a former school board member, and in honor of their service and work on behalf of our students, I’d invite current and former school board members, administrators, teachers and librarians to spend an evening with Dr. Seuss.