City connections

Former Whitewater city manager Kevin Brunner pitches in during the city’s annual “Make a Difference” day during which hundreds of university students work on clean-up, renewal and development project across the city. (Photo by Tom Ganser)

Former manager reflects on life in college town

By Tom Ganser


Kevin Brunner learned a great deal about collaborating with UW-Whitewater during his eight years as Whitewater’s city manager.

Brunner began his new job as Walworth County’s director of central services and the highway commission on June 22. Cameron Clapper, former assistant to the city manager, serves as interim city manager.

During prior positions in DePere and Appleton, Brunner developed good connections with St. Norbert College and Lawrence University, respectively, but during a recent interview at the SweetSpot he described his relationship with UW-W as even more important.

Brunner said that in Whitewater “the connections [between city and university] are much more deep and much more critical to the success of the community because of how large the university is in comparison.”

Brunner said he believes that in Whitewater “the need to develop those relationships with the university is paramount because so much of what happens in the community is predicated upon the university, and vice versa.”

From the start, Brunner said involvement with the university was a big part of his job.

With a chuckle, he added that he occasionally kidded Chancellor Richard Telfer that he felt like part of the university staff.  For example, Brunner was the only non-university person to serve on UW-W’s critical “Strategic Planning and Budget Committee” for eight years.

To promote open communication between the city, the university and the local school system, Brunner initiated monthly meetings with the chancellor and the district administrator based on an agenda of topics for discussion soon after becoming city manager.

Over his years as city manager, Brunner was actively involved in developing many Memorandums of Understanding between Whitewater and UW-W to address needs, often where objectives of both organizations readily converged.

In the area of public safety, for example, the Whitewater provides dispatch services to UW-W, along with police, fire, and EMS services, for payment based on the market values of university buildings and the shared acknowledgement that UWW has an impact on the community that extends beyond the campus boundaries.

In supporting the improvement to Prince Street between Main Street and Starin Road, UW-W covered the cost of installing underground utility lines, along with some of street construction costs.  As a result, the city avoided passing on the costs to property owners through a special assessment.

The city’s decision to lease street space to UW-W for parking is a “win-win” example of the kind of partnering that Brunner encouraged.

Over the 10 year agreement, the city will receive a $40,000 payment annually that will go directly into the city’s street improvement fund.

Brunner said he is pleased that the ongoing efforts to enhance the “community fiber network” are working due to collaboration among the city, university and school district.  This is a project that Brunner said is “so critical to the future economic growth of any community.”

Brunner also applauded UW-W’s support of downtown re-development since “the downtown is kind of the front door to the university.”

For Brunner, the finest example of city and university partnering is the Whitewater University Technology Park and the Innovation Center located in it – a model that has gained the attention of several other communities in Wisconsin.  By way of analogy, Brunner said the city provides the “hardware” for the physical infrastructure (streets, utilities, storm sewers), while UW-W provides the “software” such as “the programs and the activities to connect entrepreneurs with the resources they need to develop businesses.”

Brunner admitted that housing in the community is a subject that continually puts city and university collaboration to the test.

In Whitewater, where only about one-third of the housing is single family, Brunner acknowledged, “The aims of a single family neighborhood are much different than [the aims of a] multi-family neighborhood.”

The resulting tension, Brunner observed, is something the community is always going to struggle with.

“I don’t think that’s every going to totally go away,” he said.

Brunner noted that over his tenure as city manager the need for collaboration and cooperation between Whitewater and UW-W gained momentum in an effort to find ways to stretch city and university dollars farther.

“Our citizens expect people to be working together,” Brunner said.

As examples of productive teamwork, Brunner cited the service of university faculty, staff, and students on city committees and task forces, and the annual “Make a Difference” day during which hundreds of university students work on clean up, renewal, and development project across the city.

Looking to the future, Brunner said he hopes for the further development of the Whitewater University Technology Park and continuing discussion about housing in the community, especially important as UW-W enrollment increases.

He also looks to growing synergy between UW-W’s great intercollegiate athletic programs and community recreation programs, and the strengthening of alcohol awareness programs for UW-W students.

What has Brunner learned as city manager that he will carry into his new Walworth County position?

“The importance of collaboration, number one, and partnerships,” Brunner said.  “It comes down to how do you develop those relationships with people and organizations to get things done.”

Regarding UW-W, Brunner said, “I’ve really come to appreciate the creativity and innovation that you see coming out of the university, and I want to take that and apply that to the work that I’ll be doing in the county.”

Brunner will continue to reside in Whitewater in the future, so he will have opportunities to contribute to the City of Whitewater- UW-W partnership.  As a result, the Warhawk purple tint to his blood is likely to deepen over time.

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