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Breaking the Ice: Securing retirement for public employees

Name: Susan Lenczewski

Title: Executive director, Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement

Education: B.A., English with a minor in journalism, University of Minnesota-Duluth; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Whatever your retirement dreams, if you’re a state or other public employee, Susan Lenczewski is grappling with the complex laws governing the benefits that could make them a reality.

Lenczewski has been executive director of the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement since August 2015. An attorney, she previously focused on employee benefits and retirement plans in private practice.

The commission, composed of seven members each from the House and Senate, considers pension and retirement-related legislation for plans covering state, county and other government employees.

“It’s just so complicated,” she said. “I feel I can help out by making sure people understand what it is that they are eventually going to receive by way of retirement benefit.”

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. I am down in the ground floor of the State Office Building. The best thing to do is to drop in and say hello because it’s pretty cavernous and kind of isolated where we are.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I just finished “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” about a doctor named Paul Farmer working in Haiti, and “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.” Those kinds of books I just love, where you’re living vicariously in parts of the world I probably will never get to. I’m reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” an amazing book about an African-American woman whose cells were used for cancer research without her permission.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. My pet peeve is indecisiveness in other people, like, “Where shall we go to dinner tonight?” While I don’t mind making decisions, it’s really great when somebody else makes decisions. I’m kind of thinking here of my husband and children. That’s probably what drives me crazy. I don’t want to make all the decisions.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. Spending time with my kids and my husband. I want to cook but I want to cook so I can have them all at a big dinner table. My kids are either at college or have moved away and are having lives elsewhere. What I want to do is get them home and spend time with them or go travel with them.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what do you take them to see or do?

A. I would take people on a nice day to Garvin Heights [Park in Winona]. It’s up on the bluffs. You look over at Sugar Loaf (bluff) and then look down at the Mississippi River and the valley. It’s worth the drive.

Q. What event or person has inspired you?

A. My father and I pretty much argued throughout my adolescence and even young adulthood. He inspired me to be financially independent. I did not want to rely on him any longer so that’s what I did. I would have as many as three jobs at a time. So when I got into the land of having a real career it’s always been full time, maximum push, always doing what it took to try to be a success.

Q. What’s one way to end partisan polarization?

A. What I’ve found most difficult is how many people in the Legislature vote the way the leadership tells them to. It would be a little better for compromising or reaching across the aisle if people voted more their conscience or voted more in line with what they’ve heard their constituents want. Maybe people do this and it just happens to coincide with what the leadership tells them to do.

Q. Is there someone at the Capitol who you think does a lot of work without getting a lot of credit?

A. I am so impressed with the legislative auditor, Jim Nobles. I am so thankful that we have that position. I’m pleased to know that he’s there and that he is able to do that role and keep an eye on things and do those very thorough investigations that he does.

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