Mayor Barrett appoints Karen Dettmer as interim DPW Commissioner

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Mayor Barrett's office announced Monday, Dec. 20 that Barrett has appointed Karen Dettmer as the interim commissioner for Milwaukee's Department of Public Works. 

The appointment was made in consultation with incoming Mayor Cavalier Johnson, according to the mayor's office. 

Dettmer will succeed current Commissioner Jeff Polenske effective immediately. Polenske announced his retirement earlier this month after 31 years of service. 

Dettmer brings nearly 15 years of collective experience at the city in increasing roles of responsibility at the Department of Public Works, Department of City Development and Milwaukee Water Works.

“In every job she has held in city government, Karen has exceeded expectations by demonstrating leadership and accomplishments,” Mayor Tom Barrett said. “This is a well-earned appointment. Karen is ideally positioned to direct the Department of Public Works into the future.”

Under Dettmer’s leadership, Milwaukee Water Works earned the first ever award from the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s 2021 "Salute to Local Government Awards" in the category of Effort to Advance Racial Equity for the department’s partnership with the US Water Alliance to create a more equitable, inclusive and diverse water workforce.

In 2019, Dettmer was also honored with Milwaukee Pride’s Ally Award for her advocacy of the installment of the Rainbow Crosswalks Initiative, the city’s first permanent, visible monument for LGBTQ+ people.

She previously served as Public Works Coordination Manager where Dettmer oversaw public works permitting and managed public works aspects of special projects such as the Lakefront Gateway, Fiserv Forum, Deer District, Beerline Trail and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Bradley Symphony Center.

Prior to her public service, Dettmer worked in the private sector as an engineering consultant.

Interim Commissioner Dettmer released the following statement regarding her appointment:

“I’m honored that Mayor Barrett and incoming Mayor Cavalier Johnson have entrusted me with the great responsibility of serving as Interim Commissioner of the Department of Public Works. Former Commissioner Jeff Polenske assembled an exceptional leadership team that ensured efficient operations across the department and inspired our employees to do their best work. Jeff’s leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic was truly remarkable as he guided the Department of Public Works through one of the most challenging times in our history. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors. Serving as the Superintendent of the Milwaukee Water Works is extremely rewarding. Water Works employees take tremendous pride in providing our nearly 900,000 customers with safe, reliable drinking water every day. I’m excited by the opportunity to continue overseeing the division and to further the work we started in building a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse workforce.”
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