Interim Commissioner Karen Dettmer, P.E.

Karen Dettmer is the current Interim Commissioner of Public Works following her appointment on December 17, 2021. She brings nearly 15 years of collective experience at the City and is concurrently the Superintendent of Milwaukee Water Works. As Commissioner of Public Works, Karen heads an organization of nearly 2,000 employees within four divisions: Administrative Services, Infrastructure Services, Operations and Water (Milwaukee Water Works).

At Milwaukee Water Works, Superintendent Dettmer oversees all operations of the utility and the work of its Business, Distribution, Engineering, Plants, Technology, and Water Quality sections. Milwaukee Water Works is the largest public utility in Wisconsin and provides drinking water from Lake Michigan to over 860,000 people in 16 communities in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, and Waukesha Counties.

Karen previously served as Public Works Coordination Manager for the City of Milwaukee, where she oversaw public works permitting and managed public works aspects of special projects. Notable projects include the Lakefront Gateway, the Fiserv Forum and Deer District, the Beerline Trail in the Harambee Neighborhood, and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Bradley Symphony Center. In this role she also served as liaison to Business Improvement Districts and city departments.

Karen is a proud graduate of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, where she received her B.S. in Architectural Engineering and M.S in Environmental Engineering. A licensed Professional Engineer in the State of Wisconsin, Karen serves on the American Water Works Association’s Water Utility Council, which oversees the Association's government affairs program. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Discovery World, The Water Council, the Menomonee Valley Partners.

Through a partnership with the US Water Alliance, Karen led Milwaukee Water Works through a collaborative effort to create "An Equitable Water Future: Milwaukee," a roadmap to build an equitable, inclusive, and diverse water workforce. This work and the resulting efforts earned Milwaukee Water Works and their partner in the effort, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the first ever award in the category of Effort to Advance Racial Equity from the Wisconsin Policy Forum in the 2021 Salute to Local Government Awards.

In 2019, Milwaukee Pride honored Karen with their Ally Award for successfully advocating for the installment of the Rainbow Crosswalks Initiative, which became the city’s first permanent, visible monument for LGBTQ+ people.

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