Amy Wagner

Brookfield will have its first-ever female public works chief later this month when Amy Wagner takes over as director of the department following a four-month search to fill the vacant post.

Brookfield Village Manager Keith Sbiral announced Wagner’s hiring on Aug. 31. Her first day on the job will be Sept. 18. Starting salary will be $106,500 annually.

“Ever since I started my municipal career, I’ve been part of the public works department,” said Wagner in a phone interview. “I’ve seen what goes on on a day-to-day basis, and I think I’ll be very comfortable with [managing the range of services Brookfield provides].” 

Wagner comes to Brookfield from the city of Lockport, where she’s worked since 2006. A civil engineer with a degree from Southern Illinois University, she started her career as an engineer in the private sector, working for firms in northern Kentucky for eight years.

In 2003, she was hired as assistant village engineer in Burr Ridge, where she got her first taste of municipal capital project planning and worked with the building department to review development proposals.

Three year later she was hired as assistant city engineer in Lockport and in 2011 took on the role of acting city engineer until she was named director of engineering for the city in 2013.

In Lockport, Wagner was responsible for creating the city’s multi-year capital improvement plan, secured more than $16 million in federal and state grants for capital projects, managed projects, and supervised staff, among other duties.

According to Sbiral, Wagner’s background and involvement in so many aspects of municipal government, including planning, budgeting and staff management made her an ideal candidate.

“It’s so hard [to find the right fit] for an organization of this size, a small department that’s called on for a high level of service, from street sweeping to forestry to park maintenance,” Sbiral said.

Because the public works department is involved in so many different tasks, Sbiral said he wanted a “generalist” but also an engineer because the village is in the midst of a major infrastructure improvement campaign.

“I was looking for someone with a progressive eye toward how DPW works, so we can be more effective,” he said.

Sbiral also wanted someone with a track record managing staff. The village’s previous public works director, Kenneth Blaauw, left the job at the end of April after less than two years.

While Blaauw was also an engineer who brought a new perspective to providing public works services, his tenure was marked by tensions between him and the department’s union employees.

During Blaauw’s last year on the job, public works employees filed 16 grievances, three unfair labor practice complaints and an equal employment opportunity complaint. Public works employees have been working without a contract since Jan. 1, and the village and the union employees, represented by Teamsters Local 705, remain in negotiations on a new deal.

Sbiral said it was key for the new director to be “able to manage the team, create positive morale and make everyone more productive.”

Wagner said that in addition to reviewing the past labor issues, she plans on sitting down individually with public works supervisors and rank-and-file employees to talk over what issues exist and ways to go about solving them.

“It’s been my experience that the employees know exactly what the issues are and often have the best ideas for resolving those issues,” Wagner said. “I want to make sure they feel they have a voice.”

In the world of public works, said Sbiral, it’s easy to find candidates who specialize in some aspects of the job, such as operations or engineering.

“I wanted to find someone to span the bridge on that,” he said. 

According to Sbiral, the village received about 60 applications for the job. The initial screening was done by the firm GovHR, the same firm that provided an interim administrator, retired Bartlett Village Manager Valerie Salmons, who served as a liaison between the public works department and village management from May through about mid-July.

Salmons was paid about $17,000 during her time in Brookfield, according to village financial records.

On Aug. 21, Sbiral brought the four finalists for the job in for a tour of the village and interviews with key staff members. On Aug. 22, each finalist interviewed individually with Sbiral, a representative from the search firm, and another staff member. Sbiral offered Wagner the job on Aug. 28.

“She rose above the crowd with her knowledge of public works,” said Sbiral. “Her personality will mesh with the team we have here.”

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