Milton under new leadership at city, police department, schools

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Monday, August 15, 2011
— If you’ve got to be the new guy at work, it’s nice to at least know you’re not the only new guy.

In Milton, there are three of them.

There’s Jerry Schuetz, who just eight months ago went from being the Milton’s top cop to being hired as city administrator.

Then there’s Dan Layber, Schuetz’s successor as police chief. Once a state criminal investigator in charge of cracking murders, drug rings and corruption in the Milwaukee area, Layber’s been head of Milton’s small police force since May.

And there’s the other new guy, Milton School District Superintendent Mike Garrow. Garrow, a former principal at Mount Horeb High School, started work in July. It’s his first gig as a superintendent.

It’s not often a city comes completely under new leadership. So what’s that like? Garrow says it’s an opportunity for the city.

“We’re all coming from slightly different backgrounds. We can meld the history and the culture of Milton with our own outside experiences, both by bringing in new ideas and exploring possibilities for the future,” he said.

Sounds good. But it’ll be a challenge too, right? What’s that cliché about “institutional memory?” Layber explains:

“There’s the challenge that if you’re new, you sometimes may look past historical knowledge and decide to change things too quickly. You may find out, okay, there’s a good reason why we did things a certain way in the past.”

Layber, Garrow and Schuetz recently shared with the Gazette their observations, plans and vision as the city of Milton’s new leaders. They were good sports; one even helped a Gazette photographer set up a news portrait by standing on an old book of state codes.

Talk about institutional memory.

Q: Jerry, your first seven months as city administrator have been during a time of a fiscal and political turbulence in Wisconsin. Municipalities statewide face cuts in state funding and changes on labor policy. It’s changed how cities approach planning and spending. What’s this been like?
Schuetz: It has been an incredible journey. One of the things that’s been good with state-level (funding) changes is the call for us to re-evaluate everything we do as a city—how we do it, why we do it and how much it costs.

We have about 2,400 (municipal) accounts, and there has literally not been one area of one account we haven’t looked at to mitigate the loss of income we’re experiencing from the state.

Q: What will be the biggest challenge as the city moves into budget planning for 2012?
Schuetz: The challenge is going to be greater than ever in respect to balancing the citizens’ desire for services with the affordability of individuals to be able to pay for them. The questions are, is it a situation where you’re willing to pay for them all, or are you willing to see them in a diminished capacity? Those are the conversations that I expect to take place much more intensely the next couple of months.
Q: Chief Layber, you’re at the helm of Milton’s police department after having been in charge of state criminal investigations in the heavily urban Milwaukee area. What’s something that’s surprised you so far about being police chief in a small community?
Layber: Definitely how busy the officers and staff are. I really didn’t expect them to be that busy. Especially when there is just one officer working, that person’s going from call to call and is always busy. With their volume of work, they don’t have a lot of downtime. I’m sure it makes their shifts go quickly, but they are really moving when they’re out there.
Q: Mike, you’ve come on as a new superintendent at a time state lawmakers have ushered in steep cuts to school funding and major changes in school labor policies. Meanwhile, the Milton School District faces a budget gap and significant cuts to state aid. Is ‘trial by fire’ an apt term?
Garrow: This is going to be a new frontier for all of us. That’s where being new to the task actually isn’t such a bad thing. Some of our more veteran superintendents may have had an ingrained way of looking at things in the past. Now they’re learning a changed system. We’ve torn down some things through this last year, and people have felt effects through the budget and through culture and climate. Now it’s time to be able to mend and build some relationships.
Q: What’s one of your short-term goals?
Garrow: The immediate thing for me is building as many positive relationships with staff members as quickly but as thoroughly as I can, so they are true, open and honest relationships. As we navigate these difficult times, people can look at my character as a leader and say, “I trust this individual.” I want to have that relationship-building piece.
Q: Jerry, what should be a few big priorities for Milton School District?
Schuetz: One is the 4-year-old kindergarten program. In particular, I think it puts Milton in an even better position of marketing its schools. I have a child that was going to be in that program and I was excited to see it get started because I think it helps market those great schools and makes Milton all that much more attractive for families.

Another thing that excites me is the school district’s recreation program. They’re now an active part of the city’s parks and recreation committee, coming to monthly meetings. We’re communicating and collaborating on a lot of joint efforts, like a disc golf course going in across from the high school. I hope that those two initiatives continue to be a priority for the school district.

Q: What’s one plan that people in Milton should keep an eye on?
Layber: I like our idea of a splash park. Obviously, we can’t afford to build a huge outdoor pool and staff that with lifeguards and all the up-front costs that go with that. But a splash park idea, I think it’s something that will keep residents here and will attract people from other communities.
Q: What’s one thing Milton doesn’t have that it needs?
Garrow: To take a deeper look at the way that we market ourselves. Not that we are in the marketing industry, but we are representatives of our community.
Schuetz: I would agree with Mike. We’re working on a consistent marketing plan now, but it needs to be better. Milton, in a lot of respects, is one of Rock County’s best-kept secrets.
Layber: It strikes me that there are two downtown areas and not one central area that everybody could say, “That’s downtown Milton. You want to hang out there.” There’s east and there’s west (Merchant’s Row), and there’s everything in between.

I don’t know how you change that or if you even want to change it. There are two distinct downtown areas, which makes Milton a little unique. Maybe there could be a little more collaboration between the two areas.

Last updated: 6:06 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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