Whitefish Bay has been without a village manager for about five months, so new hire Patrick DeGrave said he is ready to hit the ground running.
DeGrave, whose first day was May 2, said he had a busy first week meeting new people and digesting all of the new information. He said it may be a while before he gets over the learning curve, but the gears are already turning on how to approach some of the issues facing the village.
“I really on day one started hitting the ground as the manager while trying to fill in all of the other things that become the learning curve,” he said.
While it may take a while to get up to speed on local issues, his 16 years as a municipal administrator have given him a familiarity with Wisconsin government, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Milwaukee County government.
Born and raised in Racine, DeGrave began his 32-year public sector career as a Mount Pleasant police officer from 1978 through 1994. He then moved into administration, serving as Mount Pleasant's Town Manager until 2000. DeGrave's other administative stints include two years as Menasha Town Manager, four years as Slinger Village Manager and most recently, four years as Oak Creek City Administrator .
DeGrave’s tenure with Oak Creek ended in 2010 when the City Council voted not to renew his annual contract.
DeGrave said he was as shocked as anyone to hear the board did not renew his contract. He said the board discussed his contract in closed session, and he was not included in the discussion.
“All they gave me was ‘we are going in a new direction’, and that’s all I’ve ever known,” he said. “That happens in this line of work. What’s truly behind it, I have no clue.”
Since his time away from Oak Creek, he has kept himself busy teaching Masters of Business Administration and Masters of Public Administration courses at Concordia University. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses at the college for 15 years as an adjunct professor, and he plans to continue teaching a reduced load of night courses as long as it does not conflict with his Village Manager duties.
DeGrave said he will continue living in Oak Creek, about a 20 minute commute. He said he is grateful the board did not include a residency requirement in his contract, as he did not want to move to a different house or pull his 14-year-old son out of the Oak Creek School District.
“Not having to uproot him again was huge,” he said.
So far, in Whitefish Bay, DeGrave said he has heard a need for increased communication, so he said he plans to put together an electronic newsletter, similar to Shorewood and Bayside.
He said he may not always please everyone in the village, but he said he wants to try to be as transparent and accessible as possible. Given the high level of interest in fixing flooding problems, DeGrave said he wants to keep village residents updated on those issues.
“We’re going to hear complaints, but what I don’t want to hear is ‘You don’t talk to us.’ We’ll talk to you, we’ll tell you where we’re at and we’ll be honest with you,” he said. “It may not be the answer you’re looking for, but we will talk to you and make you aware of what we’re doing.”
Public works is also an area where DeGrave has some experience, as he absorbed public works responsibilities during his time as town manager in Mount Pleasant.
“When I’m sitting at a table with engineers, looking at plans, talking about projects, I at least know what they’re saying and keep up with them and ask educated questions,” he said.
DeGrave replaces longtime Village Manager James Grassman, who retired at the beginning of the year.
The Village Board DeGrave from a list of five finalists in late March. He was not part of the , but when one applicant, Denise Pieroni, withdrew from the selection process, DeGrave was brought in to bring the applicant pool to five. His contract includes a salary of $105,000.
While he only has a week under his belt in Whitefish Bay, DeGrave said he couldn’t be happier with his new job as village manager.
“If I could’ve scripted out where do I want my professional and personal life to take me for the next 10 years, an angel was sitting on my shoulder because this has worked into that script as perfectly as I could ask for,” he said. “I’m thrilled to be here.”