Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Mayor Taps Jerrel Kruschke To Lead Department of Public Works

Kruschke, current interim commissioner and city engineer, has risen quickly through the ranks.

By - Sep 1st, 2022 01:07 pm
Jerrel Kruschke speaks at a May 2022 press conference on street lighting. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Jerrel Kruschke speaks at a May 2022 press conference on street lighting. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson could have saved a lot of time in his pursuit to find a new Public Works Commissioner.

The city initiated a national search in May after the council dropped the requirement that the individual must be a licensed engineer and publicly debated if the position, and others, should be paid more than the mayor.

Johnson named interim commissioner Jerrel Kruschke to the permanent job Thursday. The cabinet-level post leads a department with a $247 million budget, four divisions and 1,674 authorized positions.

In appointing Kruschke, Johnson kept with a now longstanding practice of finding talent from within. The four commissioners before Kruschke were all employees that rose through the ranks of the Department of Public Works.

Kruschke, 43, has been with the city since 2007. He started with the city as a civil engineer after graduating from UW-Milwaukee and in recent years has quickly climbed through a series of public-facing roles, including public works coordination manager and, since December 2020, the cabinet-level role of City Engineer. Kruschke became interim commissioner in April when interim commissioner and Milwaukee Water Works superintendent Karen Dettmer resigned to take a job in the Biden administration.

“I know and trust Jerrel, and I believe he will lead the Department of Public Works with distinction,” said Johnson in a statement. “The work of people in this department is vital to the city’s success, and with Jerrel’s leadership, I know the entire department will step up to meet and exceed the expectations of our residents.”

In his now-permanent role, Kruschke continues to follow in the footsteps of Jeff Polenske, who stepped down as commissioner in December for a private sector job. Polenske served as City Engineer from 2000 to 2018 before being given the top DPW job by then-Mayor Tom Barrett.

DPW oversees the literal plumbing that keeps the city functioning as well as a number of other functions including filling potholes, rebuilding streets, plowing snow and picking up garbage.

But Kruschke has been front-and-center in the department’s now increasingly prominent role in combating reckless driving through engineering. Johnson named reckless driving a public crisis with his first act as mayor and unveiled a plan focused on education, enforcement and engineering in December. Kruschke was in attendance at Johnson’s press conference unveiling the plan.

When Kruschke was confirmed as City Engineer in January 2021, he also declared his own focus on the issue. “It’s public safety. That’s priority number one,” he said. Council members pushed him to do all he could.

This year, Kruschke has appeared before Common Council committees to provide an update on the installation of hundreds of new speed humps, advance a proposal to adopt a zero-death design strategy, discuss a plan to lower speed limits citywide, secure initial approval to reconfigure two key downtown streets and explain how the city is using federal funds to advance rapid implementation traffic calming measures.

His next presentation may be about himself. His appointment is subject to council confirmation.

The position pays a maximum salary of $147,335.

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