A funny thing happened to Charles Tate on the way to retirement.
Tate has been working in the Information Technology department at the city of Columbus since July 31, 1972. He turned 20 the day before he started his new job.
When he began work, the East and West wings of the Government Center did not exist and they were digging the hole for the underground parking garage. It was a tower in the middle of a construction zone.
Tate was scheduled to retire as IT director on July 31 of this year. But last week, he went to finalize his paperwork and he was told his retirement was effective June 30 — yesterday.
He wrote July 1, not July 31, when he signed up for the city’s drop program, which essentially allows a city employee to “retire on the job” for up to three years. The employee sets a date-certain retirement, then goes back to work. When that date comes, the employee gets a nice check for the retirement money they have received from the time they entered the drop program. Then they ride into the sunset.
Charles Tate’s ride starts today.
“It was my mistake,” Tate said of the paperwork error.
We should all screw up like that.
Here’s one way to look at it: “I am going on a long Fourth of July weekend,” Tate said.
And he has earned it.
Since 1995, he has managed a department that has undergone drastic and constant change.
And he managed a department where his wife of 29 years, Cheryl, was his second in command. He walked the finest of conflict-of-interest lines. And the Tates did it well.
Charles and Cheryl were co-workers when they married. When he promoted her because of the untimely death of the person in that position, he did so at the suggestion and with the full support of then City Manager Carmen Cavezza. Now that her husband is gone, Cheryl has the most seniority in the department.
“Carmen told me to put her in there and if anybody said anything, he would take the heat,” Charles said.
That the Tates have walked the line without scandal is a credit to them.
And he has managed a department that has grown in responsibility, but lost employees along the way. There were more than 30 employees in IT in the 1970s — many of them in data entry jobs. Today, there are 23 in a department in control of a complex computer information system. Tate was old school in a new-school business that has changed as rapidly as some folks change socks.
He has an associate degree from Chattahoochee Valley Community College — no four-year degree. He has a doctorate in OTJT — on the job training.
IT back in the early 1970s was a working person’s job.
“Back then it was a vocation,” Tate said. “And that is how I got into it. It is a totally different world today. I guess now it is more of a profession.” And despite his lack of a formal education, Charles Tate has been the consummate professional. One of the duties of the city’s IT department is to collect and store the city’s information.
You know, everything emails to payroll to reports.
And all of that is public information, almost all of it available to us — the public. Many requests for public information made through the city attorney and various department heads end up falling in Tate’s lap because he is the custodian of the records.
Some public officials are stingy with those records and look for ways to block access. They treat the records like personal property, not public business.
If the law says you can have it, Tate was always the first to cough it up.
“Those records belong to the tax payers; they belong to the government; they don’t belong to me,” Tate said Monday on his last day of work.
He should have sent that statement in an email to every city employee as his last official act. It is simple, true and the backbone of our government.
Charles Tate, like few I have encountered, understands that.
Today marks the start of a new journey for a guy who is a young 61 years old.
“I have been on call since 1979,” Tate said. “That’s a long time to carry a pager or a cellphone.”
That’s a lot of years of problem solving on the fly.
Thanks for your service to this city and its taxpayers — your bosses. Here’s hoping you have a great Fourth of July weekend — one that lasts for many, many years.
You earned it.