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Citizen FIRST

ACSS BOARD MEMBER JOHN FIXLER IS ONE OF THE ARTISTS BEHIND HEARST CASTLE’S RENEWAL, BUT HE ISN’T LOOKING FOR SPECIAL RECOGNITION.

ACSS Board Member John Fixler is an integral part of Hearst Castle management, but much like the anonymous master artists who created the pre-Renaissance painting he is describing to me in intricate detail, you’d never know it.

“For hundreds of years, paintings were not considered fine art,” John explains. “A lot of the early paintings were done collaboratively by crafthouses and were not signed by the master artists. They never received credit for their masterpieces.”

Just like thousands of his fellow state supervisors and managers, John doesn’t simply clock in and clock out when he comes to work. He goes above and beyond the call of duty, striving to enhance and improve his workplace. And just like the vast majority of his fellow state supervisors and managers, John Fixler is a man who already takes tremendous pride in his work, and it shows.

That’s why suggestions like those made by CalHR Director Julie Chapman—who said at her confirmation hearing that the solution to supervisors earning less than those they supervise is to “tell supervisors to be proud of their jobs”—are so patently ridiculous.

John’s drive to improve the beauty, majesty, and efficiency of what has been called the Crown Jewel of California’s State Park System is based not on a desire for recognition, but rather on a deep-rooted sense of civic duty and boundless personal appreciation of historical significance. John’s pride in his work at Hearst Castle is a large part of what led him to rise through the ranks from a Historical Monument Guide to a Guide Supervisor, and eventually to his current position as an Administrative Officer I.

John now runs the day-to-day operations of the Castle Visitor Center. He has modernized the antiquated ticketing process to reflect the increased demands of our new technological age. John also redesigned the Castle’s 50-year-old tours, and created popular new evening tours which give visitors  a chance to see the Monument in a brand new light.

Over the course of his fifteen years working at the Castle John has had a hand in designing not only the tours that give a million visitors per year a glimpse into the mind of “Citizen Hearst,” but also in faithfully recreating the historically accurate tableaus throughout the Castle.

“You’ll never guess where I found the historically accurate blue and white vases for the floral arrangements.”

John points to the mock place setting in the middle of the giant banquet table. Napkins are folded in intricate patterns in crystal goblets. Vintage Heinz ketchup and French’s mustard bottles accent the settings.

“I got them at the Pic ‘n Save in San Jose.”

I’m incredulous. “At the Pic ‘n Save?”

John nods, a smile spreading across his face.

“I told the cashier they were going on the Hearst Castle banquet table. She thought I was crazy.”

After a 25-year career in the retail floral industry, John started working at Hearst Castle part time as a Historical Monument Guide.

“I visited here with my mother when I was a child. She was a diehard Hearstphile and told me I’d make an excellent guide. I never would have dreamed I would end up doing exactly that.”

During the course of his employment, John has absorbed an enormous amount of information about William Randolph Hearst and the castle that bears his name. John has an anecdote or fact to complement every photo I snap of the numerous architectural and artistic details of the Castle—no matter how small.

John’s impressive knowledge is greatly complemented by his easygoing nature. Aja Milne, now managing employees herself, worked under John during his tenure as a Guide Supervisor. When I asked what was the best part of working with John, she responded with a beaming grin:

“The show tunes.”

During days when guides were on their feet for hours in sweltering heat, corralling dozens of tour groups, and deftly diffusing the occasional cranky tourist, John took time in the guide trailer to lighten the mood and lift spirits by belting out old Broadway standards with his guide team.

Years later his former team members still carry these memories and apply the lessons they learned under John’s supervision to their daily work.

John is by all accounts an exemplary supervisor, and like so many of his peers he worries that salary compaction and attacks on excluded employee benefits may be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back in keeping California’s managerial positions competitive.

“I’ve learned a lot about managing people; what you can and can’t get away with. I commit myself to a mortgage or paying for my kid’s college education and then all of the sudden you’re telling me that I have to stop working so many days a month? That’s bad business.”

With a two decade history of compensation neglect by State decision makers and supervisors now often making less than those they supervise, California’s most experienced and dedicated employees are becoming less willing to take on leadership roles.

“The State can ask nearly anything of its supervisors and managers, but when they start messing with our pay it does irreparable damage.”

Salary compaction is just one of the issues that drives John to remain so active with ACSS.

“ACSS showed me that supervisors can get involved and actually make a difference by talking with our legislators.”

John is also concerned about the damage the State does to its hardest working employees by latching on to media hype.

“It really hurts when the Administration and Legislature buy in to trashing state employees.

“The media find one example of some specialized doctor who makes a large salary after twenty years with the State and the Legislature joins in with partisan bashing. [The State] doesn’t work to inform the public of just how much their employees actually do for California.”

I ask John how long he intends to keep working at the Castle.

“I’ll probably stay with the State for another ten years. At that point I’ll be seventy and should probably pass the mantle to someone else.”

“You never know,” I joke, “they may raise that retirement age to seventy-five on you.”

John laughs for a moment, and then looks pensively out of his office window. As the sun hangs low in the sky, a group of tourists boards a bus, tickets in hand, awaiting the start of the last tour of the day.