The village of Brookfield is on the hunt for a new director of public works for the first time in more than four years. Carl Muell, who was hired as public works director in February 2019, will retire June 1 after a 32-year career in the field.
“Working here was a pleasure,” Muell told the Landmark in an interview last week. “Working with [Village Manager] Tim [Wiberg] and the board was great. They are the best people I’ve worked for in my career.”
Muell, 56, started his career as a laborer, working his way up through the ranks of the public works department in his boyhood home of Broadview for more than 16 years before moving on to the village of Lisle where he was streets superintendent.
Prior to his move to Brookfield, Muell served as public works superintendent in Westchester for six years.
“I started working in the ditches, snow plowing, tree trimming – I did it all,” said Muell.
He came to Brookfield after a period of relative turmoil in public works. When he was hired, Muell was the fourth director the department had seen in 22 months, and no department chief had lasted more than three years since 2006.
“When I got to Brookfield in October of 2018, there was no director,” said Wiberg. “And I would say that the place needed a director. And when we hired Carl, he definitely calmed the place down. … Carl really did a nice job of smoothing processes and provided some stable leadership.”
Muell was not an engineer, in contrast to his two immediate full-time predecessors, but his experience in operations was viewed as crucial to bringing some stability to the department and in getting buy-in from rank-and-file employees.
“These guys know who I was and what I’d done,” Muell said. “They respected that and believed in what I was teaching them.”
One of the first things Muell changed was the way the department handled snow plowing, which had been handled by two large dump trucks that often had trouble getting down Brookfield’s narrow side streets when cars were parked on both sides of the street overnight.
Muell kept using the dump trucks for snow removal, but he also added two smaller one-ton trucks, with different plows, to the operation. That gave crews two trucks to use in each zone and guaranteed they could get down the streets.
“We were going to be able to get bare pavement one way or another,” Muell said.
Once streets were cleared, crews then concentrated efforts in the downtown and Eight Corners business districts.
While residents likely will never be happy with the state of Brookfield’s gravel alleys, Muell updated equipment and instituted an alley-grading schedule that ensured alleys were graded up to seven times a year.
“We began grading alleys like street sweeping,” Muell said. “That really cut down on the service requests.”
Muell got other programs established for the forestry, streets and water divisions, updated work schedules and made sure the department had updated equipment.
“I was told the department needed to provide great service, not just good service, and I took that to heart and that’s what we provided,” Muell said. “Hopefully it will get even better after I leave.”
Muell said he’s planning to take a couple of months off and then probably seek opportunities in the private sector, perhaps in sales or as a consultant.
“I’m ready to start a new chapter,” Muell said.
Wiberg said Public Works Superintendent Rocco Barbanente, the department’s No. 2, will serve as acting public works director while the village conducts a search for a new director, which will be handled through the village manager’s office.
“I’m hoping to have somebody identified in the next couple months,” Wiberg said. “Hopefully, by July or August we’ll have a new director named and beginning.”