One of the Helena area's strongest links to the Asarco legacy -- and a longtime municipal employee as well -- will soon ride off into the sunset. Harry "Salty" Payne, human resource chief for the City of Helena, will retire at the end of August and return to his boyhood home of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Prior to joining the city in 1992, Payne spent 23 years with Asarco at plants all over the country, including a decade at the East Helena smelter.
Payne jokes that the company's initials once stood for "American Sons and Relatives, since that's where they got all their people." Indeed, Payne's father joined the company in 1920, and at least one family member worked for Asarco continuously until Payne's wife, Kari, retired in 2000.
Before coming to Helena, Payne worked for the industrial conglomerate in Texas, Ohio, Tennessee and Illinois. He left in 1992 after a shift in personnel policy at the corporate level, he said.
His 15 years with the city have included working with 22 city commissioners, three city managers and four mayors.
"There are a lot more rules and regulations in the public sector than there are in the private sector," he said. "You have a lot more flexibility in the private sector in terms of dealing with employees and salaries. We can't do bonuses here because you're dealing with tax money and we can't just give it out like that."
Payne points to several successes in his time with the city as particularly gratifying, including development of the process by which a replacement city commissioner is appointed if a sitting member of the panel resigns mid-term.
"We set up an interview process and kept it open to the public," he said. "It takes a lot of time, but that initial process we set up has been used repeatedly."
On a broader scale, Payne was involved in bringing fire departments from 10 of the state's major cities to cooperate on a test and process for hiring new firefighters.
Previously, candidates would have to interview and take a separate physical test for every department in the state. But for the past decade, candidates take the test a single time, in Bozeman, and can interview with any city departments they're interested in at that time.
"You get a better pool of candidates," Payne said. "We'll get 200 to 250 qualified candidates for these positions, and all 10 cities can hire out of that pool for the year."
The number of contracts involved with the city was a switch from Asarco as well. The smelter's workers were all covered by a single negotiated deal, whereas the city has separate arrangements with six different unions.
"Over the years we've been able to negotiate those contracts so they are very similar, which makes them easier to administer," Payne said.
Payne, who will turn 60 just before retiring, said he hopes to get a part-time teaching job at a local college, teaching business management or labor law.
"It's just a way to keep my hands in the pie, to force me to keep up with everything," he said.