Mayor Dan Bukiewicz from the City of Oak Creek has led the city since 2017, but for many years, he has also represented labor unions throughout Southeastern Wisconsin.
WTMJ’s Libby Collins had the chance to talk with the Mayor about how negotiations work and the future of OAK CREEK on this week’s episode of WTMJ Conversations.
Listen in the player above.
A portion of the conversation was transcribed below, courtesy of eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: Obviously, you spent a lot of your life in the union —
DANIEL BUKIEWICZ: Yeah.
LIBBY COLLINS: — but the last five years, you’ve been the mayor, how does that compare with being a president of the union?
DANIEL BUKIEWICZ: The jobs really mirror themselves very well. In so many words, my role as the union leader is servant leadership and my role as mayor is servant leadership. I’m a big believer in servant leadership. I wouldn’t ask somebody to do what I haven’t done myself or I ain’t willing to do.
I’m that conduit for the residents to speak directly to the city. You know, we’re a part-time mayor, part-time council with a full-time city manager. The city manager isn’t going to take every single phone call, “My taxes are too high,” or, “My garbage didn’t get picked up. My street didn’t get plowed.” They actively come through me. More importantly, we also get to set the city and its direction, our policies and where we want to be.
And Oak Creek is really blessed. First of all, we’re just in a tremendous location. We have I-94 cutting right through the heart of us. We have a lakefront, we have our own water department, our own utility, and we’re 10 minutes from the airport. We’re one of the fastest growing cities in Southeastern Wisconsin, and that doesn’t happen by accident.
We have a strategic plan we set out. We don’t look where we want to be in six months, we look out six years, 16 years. We set that course and we remain flexible enough to change when an opportunity happens, and I think we’ve proven that. You know, Amazon came in recently. We’ve had some great opportunities on the lakefront to redevelop some property that for a hundred years was basically industrial and kind of a vast — I don’t want to call it a wasteland on the lake, but it wasn’t being utilized to its full potential. And as those manufacturers left, it was time to turn it back to the public, which is what we’re in the process of doing.
LIBBY COLLINS: What’s the greatest asset that Oak Creek has?
DANIEL BUKIEWICZ: It’s really the people in Oak Creek themselves. Communities are all over the state. In Oak Creek, people are very passionate about what they do. In particular, our staff at Oak Creek, right down from our janitorial staff right on up to our department managers, our city planners, they are just really dedicated to the city of Oak Creek. And it’s been tough, we can’t always put out the raises and, I can go on and on about the challenges we have and everybody in the state has with what’s been enacted with levy limits and shared revenue and all that stuff. But we ask a lot of them, and they come through. And they really, really love their career at Oak Creek, and a lot of our success is due to that behind the scenes. You know, we get to go in parades and wave and throw the candy, but a lot of hard work is going on at city planning, engineering, IT, police, fire. I am just really blessed to lead a city of that caliber of people.
LIBBY COLLINS: Oak Creek has grown — and correct me if I’m wrong — something like 20 percent in less than 20 years.
DANIEL BUKIEWICZ: Yeah, it’s definitely changed.
LIBBY COLLINS: As you prognosticate, looking forward, what do you think the growth potential for the city is based on the geographic area that you have?
DANIEL BUKIEWICZ: You know, we won’t be in growth mode forever. We probably have a few more years left of it, a few things will hamper that. I mean, our strategic plan, for one, there’s areas that we — we’re going to keep 30 percent of the city green and we’re not going to develop every stitch of it. What’s driving a lot of this is we were an active farm community all the way through the ’60s and ’70s, and the farmers are aging out, and the families are starting to sell off the land. And, again, you’re sitting right on the corridor, Amazon is probably a great example of it, it was a farm field for the better part of 150 years. And there were multiple property owners there and a developer came in and said when you’re ready to sell it, we’ll assemble them, and finally the last farmer did. And, lo and behold, you know, he’s sitting right off the interstate and Amazon just happened to pop in and, you know, now it’s a business park.
So, we won’t be in growth mode forever, but we’re already preparing for that financially. It’s going to be different, because right now the growth is what’s sustaining our services. Long term, we have to look for other ways to sustain our services.
LIBBY COLLINS: How do you balance green space, homes, businesses, and still have a thriving community where people want to live?
DANIEL BUKIEWICZ: You know, that’s a really good question, and our city planner, I’m going to kind of rip him off a little bit, he kind of describes it like a pizza when you set it up. If everybody was to order their own pizza by the slice, everybody would have a different take on it, some would want onions, some pepperoni. So, you lay out the city in a shape that makes sense. So, if all your industrial is going to be here, you don’t want to put homes next to it or avoid that at best cost. Maybe you want to buffer that with multifamily or commercial. And we we lay out the city, we have a strategic plan and a comprehensive plan, and we map out the whole city. We look at areas that make sense. Our main thoroughfare is bus routes, we want to do more multifamily and commercial stuff. We try to cluster our commercial stuff together so it ain’t just, you know, kind of willy-nilly all over the place. So, there is actually a rhyme and reason to it, it’s just everything kind of comes in waves. Our business parks filled up very quickly, multifamily has been really hot. It’s a little more expensive to do the single-family homes. We’re still getting the subdivisions, but I’d like that to pick up, if possible, it would be great to see that. But young families and young folks and empty nesters are choosing to live in apartments. You see what’s going on downtown, and it’s no different down in Oak Creek.