Chet Christie ’81: Directing Human Resources for Columbus’ 10,000 Workers
Police and Firefighter Union contract negotiations, a $75 million insurance budget, $11 million in Workers’ Compensation claims, and a docket of grievance arbitration hearings are just a few of the issues Chet Christie ’81 deals with as the human resources director for the city of Columbus.
“My job affords me the opportunity to deal with issues that affect people’s lives on a day-to-day basis,” said Christie, a native New Yorker.
Husband to a fellow Buckeye and father of two adult daughters, Christie was appointed to the position of director for the human resources department by Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman in February 2000.
As director, Christie has responsibility for the oversight and management of labor relations, employee benefits and compensation, staff training and development, occupational safety, and equal employment opportunity programs affecting 10,000 uniformed and civilian city employees. Most of the employees are represented by 1 of 6 unions. The city is a self-insured organization that manages a $75 million insurance fund that provides health, disability and life insurance coverage for all city employees.
While attending law school at Moritz, his main interests were labor and employment law. “I took whatever courses were available that pertained to this area of the law.”
His interest was solidified with his internship in the second summer of law school at the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, a public sector labor union. He continued to intern there during his third year of law school and joined the legal staff as general counsel after graduation in June, 1981.
In 1984 Christie was appointed to the position of administrative law judge with the State of Ohio Employment Relation Board (SERB). During his tenure there he presided over a high profile case involving the Central Ohio Transit Authority bus drivers. “This was the first strike case to be decided by the board since its inception. The question was whether the union representing the bus drivers had followed all the statutory requirements to participate in a strike legally,” he said.
“My work at SERB was very interesting, but also very behind the scenes. In the COTA case we got far more media exposure than we were accustomed to. The issue became very public very quickly,” he said.
In 1992 he took on the job of human resource director for the State of Ohio Department of Youth Service until 2000, at which point he went through an extensive screening process as an applicant for the position as Mayor Coleman’s human resources director.
He says he believes that his experience representing labor and management as well as his experience as a neutral placed him in good standing to be considered for the appointment to the Mayor’s Cabinet. The fact that he taught “The legal aspects of Human Resources Management” as an adjunct professor at Franklin University may have also been a factor.
Although the position of human resource director does not require a law degree, it nonetheless draws on Christie’s legal skills. “While I’m not in the courtroom on a day-to-day basis,” he said, “many issues we deal with are of a legal nature. Much of what we do requires an interpretation of Federal regulations, Ohio Revised Code provisions or City ordinances.”
While reviewing and analyzing different parts of the law and establishing policy guidelines, Christie must be certain that the way in which he interprets the law does not expose the City to liability. “That’s where the legal training truly pays off.”
Although the human resource department does not always grab the headlines, Christie says he would like to think that they make a difference. “An employee may only come to the human resources department once in 25 years of employment, but that one time is important,” he said. “It can be life altering, because the issue to be resolved may impact the employee’s opportunity for continued employment.”