When news of Keith Sbiral’s departure as Brookfield’s village manager started spreading over the weekend, the social media chorus was pretty uniform in its joy that he was no longer around.
Sbiral had his shortcomings, no doubt. He could be prickly when criticized, and impatient with residents, who weren’t shy about calling Sbiral out for his perceived haughtiness or dismissiveness.
He made attempts to engage in the last year or so, creating a Facebook presence as village manager to respond to complaints online. Sbiral also ran afoul of some village employees and other officials.
The most visible and public display of the animosity toward him came last summer through, of all places, the Brookfield Fire and Police Commission, whose members walked out all at once to protest poor communication and poor treatment, especially by Sbiral.
While it’s safe to say there was blame to go around, Sbiral’s response was the kind of thing that grated on people. He demanded a public, written apology from the commission’s former chairwoman (which he didn’t get) and blamed the commission for the communication problems and its lack of proper procedures.
To say Sbiral wasn’t universally loved or appreciated in Brookfield would be putting it mildly.
But lest the gleeful chorus get too loud, it’s also safe to say that Sbiral leaves Brookfield in a place that in 2006, when he was hired as assistant village manager, residents would not have recognized. In a decidedly good way.
People tend to forget that when Sbiral arrived, village officials did official business with personal email addresses, an antique phone system and information technology that was 20 years old, and failing.
He was the person tasked with transforming village hall’s technology improvements, and he succeeded. Under his direction, the building department has gone from one that would have been comfortable in Mayberry to one that can appropriately respond to developers and those seeking to make home and commercial improvements.
Economic development, long something Brookfield residents have clamored for, is a real effort. The policy came from the village board, but its implementation and the creation of a department that combined building and economic development, with staff knowledgeable in planning and things like TIF financing, was Sbiral’s doing.
There wasn’t one aspect of Brookfield operations – from finance to public works to recreation – that Sbiral didn’t touch in the past decade. Was he successful in everything? No. The recreation department remained a low priority and public works experienced its share of upheaval and periods of poor employee morale.
Sometimes it’s time for a change. Sbiral has laid the groundwork for what elected officials hope is an ever-growing interest in Brookfield as a destination for commercial and residential development, a rebirth of its downtown and Eight Corners, exploitation of the Ogden Avenue corridor and as a place that attracts families looking to plant roots.
It’s possible to be glad of the change. It’s also possible to acknowledge the progress.