Brunner's skills transfer over to new Walworth County job
ELKHORN Walworth County's new director of central services came from a municipal manager background, but skills he developed allowed him to hit the ground running as a county department head.
Kevin Brunner, Whitewater city manager for 12 years, was able to assume his duties with the county, including running the highway department, with no hiccups.
"I've worked in these same areas for years as a city manager," Brunner said. "The difference I'm seeing is in the scale of the work, not in the type of work."
For example, maintaining city streets is a lot like what he now does for the county.
"The main goal is to maintain the infrastructure," he said. "With the county, it's on a much larger scale. There are not only the county highways we are responsible for, but state and federal highways as well."
Walworth County Administrator Dave Bretl has no buyer's remorse over recommending to the Walworth County Board that Brunner be hired.
"I was very familiar with Kevin having worked with him over the years," Bretl said. "He has great management skills and is not a newcomer to the county or the work here that needs to be done."
During his first week on the job with the county, one of Brunner's highway workers was killed on the job. Jerry Himebauch, a 19-year veteran in the department, was struck by a county dump truck and killed while working on a chip sealing project on County J in the town of Troy.
"I don't really know how to put this, but through that terrible tragedy, I felt I had been called to be here," Brunner said. "I am a person of faith, but I don't mean that in a religious sense. It was just something that made me feel I was here for a purpose."
That purpose may be Brunner's work on an expanded safety program to prevent future tragedies.
Himebauch was killed when the dump truck was backing.
"These backing accidents, for some reason, are a growing problem," Brunner said. "We have to find out why and take steps to correct the problem."
Brunner said he's working with safety experts to determine if workers are becoming immune to the beeping sound a truck makes when backing.
"This is a priority for me," Brunner said. "This awful tragedy stays with all of us not only in the highway department but all employees and county board members. It is something we must address."
Walworth County's gain in hiring Brunner may have been Fond du Lac's loss. He was being considered for the city manager's position in Fond du Lac at the same time Bretl was considering him for the county position.
"I was, obviously, interested in the Fond du Lac job, but when I saw that Dave and I were working things out, I withdrew from consideration for the city manager position," he said. "I enjoyed my time at Whitewater, but it was time for me to look at other opportunities."
A major consideration for Brunner was being able to continue to live in Whitewater.
"We are very happy in Whitewater, and I'm glad to be able to continue to live there while working for Walworth County."