Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Committee Endorses New Public Works Leaders

Council likes mayor's picks for DPW commissioner and city engineer.

By - Sep 28th, 2022 04:14 pm
Jerrel Kruschke and Kevin Muhs. Photo by Jeramey Jannene (left) and provided (right).

Jerrel Kruschke and Kevin Muhs. Photo by Jeramey Jannene (left) and provided (right).

There appear to be no speed humps nor potholes on the road to the top of the Department of Public Works (DPW).

The Common Council’s Public Works Committee Wednesday morning unanimously recommended confirmation of Mayor Cavalier Johnson‘s appointments of Jerrel Kruschke to serve as Commissioner and Kevin Muhs to serve as City Engineer.

The tandem, following their now-expected confirmation by the full council on Oct. 11, would lead the city’s public works department. The commissioner oversees all of DPW’s $247 million budget, four divisions and 1,674 authorized positions. The City Engineer is responsible for leading the Infrastructure Services Division, which employs more than 800 people. The division is responsible for everything from planning new bridges to filling potholes.

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. He became interim commissioner in April when interim commissioner and Milwaukee Water Works superintendent Karen Dettmer resigned to take a job in the Biden administration.

“My goal is to continue to promote, train and respect that work for DPW,” said Kruschke. He said he has unique background, having worked full-time as a laborer and carpenter while attending college part-time over a period of 10 years, that allows him to connect with all of the department’s employees. “Our department needs to market ourselves better. We need to tell our story, we need to recruit better, we need to get into our college and our school districts. I just don’t think our citizens know what we do on a daily basis.”

DPW services include water, snow plowing, garbage pickup, tree trimming and street lighting. But in recent years the department has struggled with high vacancy, which has impacted everything from snow plowing to street-lighting repairs. An earlier report in the meeting revealed that the department has an approximately 20% vacancy rate for its various positions that are assigned to plowing duty.

“As we sit right now, I have learned a lot in the last six months,” said Kruschke. “But I will reiterate I am only one person and it takes a whole team to run the department.”

Muhs, 35, earned a civil engineering degree from Marquette University in 2010 and a master’s of science in transportation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012. Since then he has steadily climbed the ranks at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission starting as a planner, becoming deputy director in 2017 and executive director in 2019.

“My interest in the position of City Engineer is primarily to use the skills I have as a transportation engineer and planner and my expertise in directing the commission’s work to move forward in an aggressive manner on safe streets and modifying infrastructure to do as much as we can from a design perspective on the issue of reckless driving and the feeling of public safety that we have in the public right of way,” said Muhs.

His focus mirrors the 2021 statement of Kruschke, who said “public safety” was his number one priority when taking the City Engineer job.

Muhs earned strong praise from committee chair Alderman Robert Bauman.

“I have to say that you have been a true breath of fresh air,” said Bauman of Muhs’ work at SEWRPC. “It truly is to the city’s benefit that you are willing to take on the position.”

Kruschke, when asked by Bauman, said he does not support the idea of splitting up the department. It was an idea floated by Johnson on the campaign trail.

“I think it creates more silos,” said Kruschke. He said it was important that water utility employees worked with those rebuilding streets and vice versa. “Really it’s just trying to break down those silos internally.”

Council members Khalif Rainey and Russell W. Stamper, II both asked about efforts to keep the city clean and report on the department’s efforts using a dashboard.

“We didn’t get that accomplished under Commissioner Polenske‘s tenure,” said Rainey.

Kruschke said the 2023 budget, debate about which will begin next month, includes funding for new IT infrastructure in garbage trucks that would expedite the reporting of everything from potholes to illegal dumping. The current system relies on a clipboard that the worker must turn in at the end of a run, while Kruschke said the new system would use GPS data and immediately generate the work order.

Rainey said the police and fire departments provide regular reports to the council members, and he would like to see DPW do similar.

“I think our first step here is to get our sanitation department to utilize the technology that exists,” said Kruschke. “I think that’s what we’re creating now.” He said a request for proposals could be issued in 2023.

DPW was authorized to test at least one potential in-truck technology vendor in 2021.

In addition to the commissioner and city engineer, DPW is led by Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent Patrick Pauly and operations director Danielle Rodriguez. The former is also an appointed position. A number of employees from the administrative services division also regularly appear before the council, including public works coordination manager James Washington.

Categories: City Hall, Weekly

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us