Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Dahlberg Leaves City for Cincinnati Job

Did city's longtime building inspector lack the legal qualifications for the job here?

By - Sep 30th, 2015 05:00 pm
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Art Dahlberg

Art Dahlberg

Arthur D. “Art” Dahlberg, Milwaukee’s Commissioner of the Department of Neighborhood Services and Building Inspector since March 2nd, 2009, will be leaving his position on October 16 for a similar job in Cincinnati, he told Urban Milwaukee today. Dahlberg said he loved Milwaukee and loved his job here, yet was leaving just the same. He declined to discuss whether the Cincinnati job would give him a raise in salary, but the city of Cincinnati has noted that he was hired after a “multi-month” national search.

Dahlberg’s current salary is $141,140.05 per year, according to city records, ranking him among the top 20 highest-paid city employees.

But questions linger whether Dahlberg was ever qualified to hold the job here.

It was back in June that I made inquiries to city officials as to whether Dahlberg met the legal qualifications for the job, according to Chapter 8 of the City Charter.

According to the text of the charter,  “The Commissioner of  Building Inspection shall have had at least 5 years’ experience as an architect, builder or in connection with supervision of building construction.”

However, Dahlberg’s resume is seen by some as failing to meet the requirements. It reads:

“Mr. Dahlberg has a degree in engineering from Kansas State University as well as 24 years of experience in the interpretation and enforcement of building, housing and fire codes. In his career he has been a building inspector, fire protection inspector, fire prevention inspector, a plan reviewer, a fire investigator, a member of a collapse response team as well as a building official/fire official for three communities in Virginia. He has been involved in the development of codes at the national level as well as the development and management of programs at a local level.”

That’s certainly impressive. But Dahlberg is not an architect, nor was he a builder, and his experience in building codes as a government administrator does not seem to match the requirement that he be involved in the supervision of building construction. His degree, from Kansas State University, is in Structural Engineering.

On June 22nd, I e-mailed Dahlberg via Thomas G. Mishefske, the Neighborhood Services Operations Director; the latter automatically gets any emails to Dahlberg. I wrote, “I am trying to reconcile the City Charter requirements for Commissioner of Building Inspection with the resume of Mr. Dahlberg.” I did not receive a response to that inquiry.

I made the same request to Jodie Tabak, communications person for Mayor Tom Barrett. Tabak responded by sharing Dahlberg’s CV. But that still left the question of whether his resume met the letter of the law.

I made the same request to Ald. Bob Bauman, who responded, “I am not sure his published resume covers everything. Anyway I would assume the accumulated experience as plan reviewer, building inspector, building official etc. qualifies.”

Tabak says “I was totally assured that we were fine,” as to Dahlberg’s qualifications.

But no one ever explained to me how his resume can be made to fit the very specific language of the city code’s requirements for this job.

And now Dahlberg is leaving. Dahlberg told Urban Milwaukee he loved his job, called Milwaukee “a wonderful city” with so many “wonderful neighborhoods,” and in particular praised — repeatedly — Mayor Barrett, calling him “a visionary… I love the person I work for.” He also praised the solution oriented style of Milwaukee, a “willingness to roll up their sleeves and get things done” which he attributed to a “midwestern mentality.”

And yet he will be leaving all this behind for a job in a city that is really as much southern as midwestern. Perhaps he is getting a hefty raise after all. Or perhaps Cincinnati’s city charter features less Germanic specificity as to job qualifications.

A Kansas native, Dahlberg came here after serving nine years as head of the City of Richmond’s Bureau of Permits and Inspections heading a staff of 85 employees with a budget of $5.5 million. The Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services has a staff of 272 employees and a $20 million annual budget.

If will be interesting to see if Dahlberg’s replacement meets those stringent qualifications in the city charter.

Other Interesting News

Vacant lot at 1348 E. Brady Street. Photo by Michael Horne.

Vacant lot at 1348 E. Brady Street. Photo by Michael Horne.

Jeno Cataldo said last week that he would be purchasing the vacant 2,430 square foot lot at 1348 E. Brady Street and plans to develop the property as what he called “a classy restaurant, like the old Cataldo’s,” formerly operated on Brady Street by his family. The recently purchased lot, at the northwest corner of Brady and N. Warren Ave., has been vacant for decades, but has served as a pathway for Jimmy John’s drivers to get to their cars in the parking lot to the north. It is assessed at $60,800, or $25 per square foot.

Cataldo and his partner Michael Klein also own the former Boys Club building at 1632-48 N. Franklin Place, a vacant, deteriorating 1950 structure that most recently housed Jesus’ Soul-Saving Travelling Mission of the Apostolic Faith. They paid $600,000 for the building on August 8th. Cataldo says he plans to demolish the structure within the month, although no permit has yet been taken out. The 43,560 square foot property, just south of Brady Street, is assessed at $707,900, or $16.25 per square foot, while the 42,459 square foot building is assessed at a mere $5,000. Cataldo said he plans to find out what is inside the building’s cornerstone when it is razed…

The City Plan Commission granted its approval for the construction of a 23-unit apartment building at the northwest corner of E. Brady St. and N. Humboldt Ave. Monday, while the Historic Preservation Commission deferred its judgment until later in October. The building has been criticized for its fragmented facade amid continuing debate as to the best style for new construction to be compatible with a historic district. It has seen three iterations thus far, with more perhaps to come. Whatever the design, the consensus is that the site could handle the new development.

6 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Dahlberg Leaves City for Cincinnati Job”

  1. Michael says:

    Pluto, Ohio is not a real place so not sure where he was born but if it is indeed Ohio, he could simply be looking to get closer to family.

    Regarding qualifications… “or in connection with supervision of building construction.” When you are reviewing and inspecting building construction, wouldn’t you say you were working “in connection with the supervision of building construction”? It looks like his qualifications are just fine and everybody at city hall was pretty satisfied with it. I highly doubt he was forced out.

  2. City Resident says:

    As a taxpayer, I don’t necessarily care about holding someone’s credentials to the letter of what is clearly an outdated law. What I care about is that my public servants are qualified to do the job and that they do it to the best of their ability. Clearly Dahlburg had more than enough qualifications and has done an excellent job running that department and cultivating good talent within it.

    Do we (taxpayers) want to be sticklers about the city charter – or do we want the best possible public servants working for us? Our loss is Cinncinnati’s gain on this one.

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    Michael, you’re right about the Pluto, Ohio error, which came from a story that made this mistake. We fixed, thanks.

  4. Mike Ruzicka says:

    I sat on the selection committee the mayor put together when Marty Collins retired (I believe) in 2008. I don’t recall any discussion about the city’s charter, but it was clear that Mr. Dahlberg had plenty of applicable experience and that he would be a good addition to the City of Milwaukee’s staff. I do recall that he was a fan of Mr. Collins, who was somewhat of a rock star in the building inspection world, and we felt he would carry Mr. Collins’ mantle. Additionally, I was happy the mayor ultimately settled on hiring Mr. Dahlberg, because he brought a perspective from outside Milwaukee into the department.

    My organization has worked with Mr. Dahlberg since he took over and we’ve had a good, professional relationship. He will be missed. I only hope that we can find an equally qualified replacement.

  5. Frank Galvan says:

    I’m not sure why you’re so determined to kick this guy in the nuts but you missed badly and ripped a giant beer fart in the process. He worked his ass off despite limited resources and made a positive impact upon the city. Fare thee well Art.

  6. To whom it may concern – I have personally worked for Mr. Dahlberg and would again in a heartbeat. He is a man of pure integrity and always does the right thing. I was his Engineer II and Chief Electrical expert at the City of Richmond and I can tell you this, there was no better building official to work for or with.

    To question the man (Dalhberg) is baseless. He was a leader in the Virginia community and is still fondly remembered by many of us who worked for him and miss his leadership and positive direction. The article I am commenting on is bias and disgusting at best. The great thing about Art was that he listened to his staff and allowed us to do our job, that was what we all were paid to do and he would step back and let us do what we are experts in doing….Inspections and Plan Reviews.

    I wish Art the best in his new position and as he is missed still in Virginia I am sure they will miss his leadership and direction in Milwaukee as well.

    Best Regards,

    Paul W Abernathy, CMI
    Manager of Codes and Standards
    Encore Wire Corporation

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