Leaders of the pack – Waukesha County leaders

New corps guiding Waukesha into new millennium
A lifelong Waukesha resident. A La Crosse native and a Milwaukee native. A transplanted Californian.
They’re the new kids on the block, relatively speaking, in Waukesha government: the mayor, the superintendent of schools, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and the chief of police, respectively – and they’ve got big plans for the city.
But more than that, these new heads of their various departments within the city of Waukesha are working together to realize their goals for the city, which center around community-building and cultivating a sense of city pride.
Although Mayor Carol Lombardi took office just this past April, she’s been involved in some aspect of Waukesha government since 1954, when as a senior in high school at what was then Waukesha High School, she took a job as a secretary for then-Mayor C.C. Smith. Her post-high school hope was to become an elementary school teacher, but instead she stayed on as the mayor’s secretary for six years. Later on, she was able to get into the education field by working first as a reading aide at Whittier School and then as a counselor aide at Waukesha South High School. Lombardi held additional employment within the Waukesha School District as an administrative secretary to the superintendent of schools.
Five years ago, after retiring from the school system, Lombardi returned to City Hall, this time a member of the Waukesha Common Council. Today, she is Waukesha’s mayor.
“I love this city and I love the people who live here,” Lombardi says. “I want to be as involved as I can in making this city as great as it can be.”
Having lived her whole life in Waukesha, Lombardi knows quite well the history of Waukesha, going all the way back to the city’s founding in 1896, through the time when Waukesha was known as “Cow County, USA,” because its farms raised some of the world’s most prized cows, up to present times. She wants other Waukesha residents to be well-versed in the city’s history, too, and City Hall is the best place, in Lombardi’s opinion, to teach that history. She’s started a City Hall beautification project through which she hopes to turn Waukesha City Hall into a public museum of sorts – a welcoming place through which visitors can walk, taking in bits and pieces of Waukesha history, as well as the works of local artists and students.
In addition to the City Hall project, Lombardi and the Waukesha Common Council have created a city administrator position, with the goal of improving efficiency within the city government, Lombardi says. A city the size of Waukesha – 62,800 souls and growing – cannot be without a city administrator, Lombardi believes.
For Lombardi, team work is the only way she sees her goals being attained, and the most successful team, she says, is the one which operates according to a philosophy of mutual respect.
“We can do a lot in this city, but we have to do it as a team,” Lombardi says. “There’s a real sense of respect among the leaders in this city. I feel a very positive vibe here.”
Dave Schmidt understands the value of involving the community, parents and business in the education of a city’s children. Having spent nine years as the assistant superintendent of the Appleton school district, a district known for its decentralized structure and its commitment to the “Village Partnership” – a program in which schools connect with businesses and parents – Schmidt, a La Crosse native, came to Waukesha in July to begin his duties as the new superintendent of the Waukesha school system, with a plan that can be summarized in two words – decentralization and collaboration.
Schmidt and the school board are in the process of writing the parameters by which next year’s budget will be decentralized for participating schools. In Schmidt’s philosophy, individual schools can best educate their students if given more control to deal with the issues faced by that particular school.
From the collaboration end, in February the Waukesha Area Chamber of Commerce will facilitate tours and dialogue between Waukesha teachers and business people, and Schmidt says plans for mentoring and job shadowing programs are in the works. Additionally, Schmidt is working with the Waukesha Police Department to start a police-school liaison program.
“Public education and business need to learn more about each other,” says Schmidt. “The students are future employees for these businesses, and the businesses have the jobs that the students will need. Business people here are very open to working with the schools because they know that what and how the students learn will affect them.”
The community involvement ethics carries over to the Waukesha Police Department, where Chief Leslie Sharrock, the oldest of the new kids in terms of time in office – he’s been Waukesha’s police chief since March of 1997 – is working to install in Waukesha what he terms the “community policing concept.” It’s an idea Sharrock brings from Moorhead, Minn., where he was police chief before coming to Waukesha, and the basic premise centers around the idea that police must partner with the community in order to address issues and solve problems effectively.
To that end, in the summer of 1997 a police substation was opened in downtown Waukesha and a bike patrol was implemented to have police more visible and accessible in the downtown area and throughout the community, Sharrock says. In February of 1998, Waukesha received a $450,000 federal Community Policing Grant to be used over a three-year period. Starting in January, Sharrock will visit all the neighborhood block clubs in an attempt to raise their level of involvement in community policing.
“I surveyed our department and the community, and one of the main things I found was that both the police and the residents wanted more interaction between the community and police,” says Sharrock, whose career in law enforcement began 33 years ago in the San Francisco Bay area, where Sharrock was a police officer.
In March of 1998, the Waukesha Police Department started a 10-week Citizen Police Academy program, in which citizens come to the police department one night a week for three hours to learn about what police do.
“It’s good for people to get a realistic view of what police work involves,” says Sharrock. “It’s not like ‘NYPD Blue’ and we don’t solve homicides in 30 minutes.”
Like Schmidt and Lombardi, Sharrock believes in the need to collaborate with city leader in order to achieve his goals. He mentions the development of a police-school liaison program as one of his main goals for 1999, and Lombardi spent a day with Waukesha police officers learning what a day in their lives is like.
Ann Nischke has been active in the Waukesha Area Chamber of Commerce since 1990, when she came to Waukesha to be the CEO of the Waukesha YMCA. In 1994 she was elected president of the Chamber, and today she is the Chamber’s executive director.
“I’ve always known how dynamic this organization is,” says Nischke, who worked for 15 years with the Milwaukee and Waukesha YMCAs before becoming CEO of the Waukesha branch. “The genius is in the many councils and committees it has. It serves the smallest businesses up to large corporations such as G.E.”
Strategic planning focus groups have come together at the Chamber to determine what is needed in Waukesha to help businesses, says Nischke, and workforce development and employee retention are two issues she’s found to be very important to the community. As part of a plan to address these issues, Nischke is working with Waukesha’s Workforce Development Center and the Waukesha school board.
“Many other leaders in this city are very progressive and want to see change happen,” Nischke says. “They understand that good change will only happen by working together.”

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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