Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

New City Engineer Must Tackle Reckless Driving

Committee approves Kruschke to job. And alders want him to focus on safety.

By - Jan 6th, 2021 11:18 am
Jerrel Kruschke appears before the Public Works Committee in March 2019. Image from City Channel - City Clerk's Office.

Jerrel Kruschke appears before the Public Works Committee in March 2019. Image from City Channel – City Clerk’s Office.

Mayor Tom Barrett‘s nomination of Jerrel Kruschke to serve as City Engineer, effectively the number two post at the Department of Public Works, encountered no resistance from the Common Council’s Public Works Committee. But the committee did make a strong push for Kruschke to focus on improving traffic safety for all road users.

The city has increasingly moved to a three-pronged approach to tackling an epidemic of reckless driving: education, enforcement and engineering.

Kruschke made his focus clear in his opening remarks Wednesday morning. “It’s public safety. That’s priority number one,” he said.

The City Engineer is the head of DPW’s Infrastructure Services Division, which employs over 1,000 people at its summer peak. The division handles everything from filling potholes to planning new bridges.

“I wish you luck and recognize it’s going to be a huge challenge,” said Alderman Mark Borkowski. The southwest-side alderman said he was proud Kruschke, 41, is a constituent. Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske also lives in Borkowski’s district.

Kruschke, a licensed engineer, has been with the city since 2007, most recently serving as the public works coordination manager. He told the committee he took an unusual 10-year period to earn his bachelor’s degree from UW-Milwaukee, a move he says allowed him to work full-time as a carpenter. He said it still gives him valuable insight when working with contractors and trades workers today.

He also previously served as the street service manager for DPW, a position responsible for the city’s pothole filling. “[It] was a real eye opener working with people who have their boots on the ground,” said Kruschke. Borkowski noted it also placed the engineer before the council for meetings that “weren’t a lot of fun.”

Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II asked Kruschke what his plans were to address reckless driving.

The nominee said his focus would be on advancing and improving existing programs while integrating the recommendations of the Reckless Driving Task Force. He ticked off a list of efforts including speed hump installation and the complete streets policy that requires the department to advance the safety of all road users, including non-motorists, in any design project.

Stamper asked for more communication with the Milwaukee Police Department to identify areas for improvement.

Ald. Jose G. Perez pushed Kruschke to work with other groups, like the Wisconsin Bike Fed and elementary schools, to identify safety improvements that can be made as part of bigger projects. “There are too many opportunities we are not taking advantage of to make our streets safer,” said the south-side alderman.

Perez also asked for Kruschke’s current role, public works coordination manager, to be promptly filled with a qualified individual. “That’s a problem-solving position,” he said.

He asked Kruschke to be an open communicator, particularly as it relates to work contractors are completing for the city. Kruschke pledged to do so, noting that one of DPW’s goals is to find ways to minimize resident complaints.

The committee unanimously endorsed his appointment. It will next go before the Common Council.

Kruschke would replace Samir Amin, who is retiring after 32 years with the city. Amin, who was present at the meeting virtually, drew praise from a number of council members. He’s held the post since December 2018.

“I have enjoyed my career with the city, I have enjoyed my life with the city,” said Amin in a brief farewell speech. “I am looking forward to my next phase of life and starting my retirement.”

Public Works Commissioner Polenske served as City Engineer from 2000 through 2018 before being promoted to his current position.

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