Blazing a new trail

Jodelle Greiner/Register: DJ Buthe is blazing a trail as the new Public Works director. He started March 1. Public Works is a new department for the city of Brookings, created after some restructuring of three other divisions.

Buthe is new Public Works director

BROOKINGS – DJ Buthe came back to Brookings to fulfill a goal and take a brand-new job as the Public Works director for the City of Brookings. His first day was March 1.

“I always wanted to move back to Brookings after going to school here and thought that it was a great fit with where I was at in my career and with my experience and being able to come on board with the city of Brookings,” Buthe said.

The job itself is new because the city has just reorganized three departments, creating a Public Works department.

Buthe may be learning as he goes, but he’s not new to Brookings.

Fulfilling a goal

Born in Sioux Falls, he grew up between Sioux Falls and Mississippi. After graduating high school, he came to Brookings to study at South Dakota State University, where he earned a degree in civil engineering.

“I chose civil engineering because I was interested in infrastructure and building and originally interested in architecture,” he said, adding that architecture and civil engineering have a lot of similarities. 

Because there was no architecture school in the state at that time, he chose civil engineering at SDSU after doing some civil engineering job shadowing during high school “and I enjoyed those, so I decided to go to school for civil engineering,” Buthe said.

Along the way, he developed an affinity for the town and made a prediction in one of his classes.

“They asked us to write down some goals that we had for our career,” Buthe recalled. “I wrote down as one of my goals that I wanted to be the city engineer in Brookings.”

The job wasn’t available when he graduated from SDSU, so he started filling up his resume with other positions.

After college, he moved back to Sioux Falls and worked his way up in the city engineering department; he was a project manager and learned about streets, roads, utilities and the landfill. He worked for Minnehaha County as the county highway superintendent.

“After that, I was in charge of their engineering division, their street maintenance division and their fleet division,” Buthe said.

He got a chance to fulfill his college dream.

“Then this new position was created and fit really well with the opportunity to move back to Brookings to be in municipal government work, and really, move back to a town that I absolutely love,” Buthe said. “So in one form or fashion, I’m able to fulfill that goal and still be able to serve citizens of Brookings.”

Buthe has an adult son and a daughter in high school. He also has a mini goldendoodle, Sierra.

“She’s mine and my kids’ hiking dog. We like to go hiking,” Buthe said.

“My kids and my family are just excited to be part of the community. I’m excited to be part of the community,” Buthe said.

“I have a lot of friends here still. Every year I travel here quite a bit just for different sporting events with the school and visiting friends that live here,” Buthe said.

Working hard

It’s a good thing he likes being active, because his job keeps him on the move.

“I don’t spend a ton of time in the office. Lot of meetings, but when I’m not in meetings, I’m usually out and about somewhere,” Buthe said.

He plans to rely on the experience he’s accumulated on past jobs, like being the county highway superintendent.

“I was in charge of a rural transportation system and the fleet that supported that work, and here there’s a lot of urban nuances with utilities and homes right up along the right of way,” Buthe said. “So it’s just a different type of transportation system that we’re dealing with.”

There’s a lot to keep track of, especially since Public Works director is a brand-new position and he’s learning from the ground up.

Prior to his arrival, the Engineering Department, Street Department and Solid Waste Department had their own department heads, who prepared their own budgets, administered their departments and reported to the city manager. While separate, many duties were interconnected and they all worked together, including the airport, Buthe said.

“I was lucky enough to have a lot of landfill experience from when I worked for the city of Sioux Falls, and so (I’m) definitely not stepping in blind at the landfill,” Buthe said.

One of the first things to do is find a Solid Waste manager after Solid Waste director Todd Langland’s retirement. Buthe is hopeful to have the new manager hired by the end of April.

“That’s, of course, a key role as one of the division managers. That’ll be somebody that will play a large part in Public Works and, of course, in the Solid Waste division,” Buthe said.

“As Brookings has grown – and there’s a lot of progressive things happening with development and things happening in the city – it’s important for the departments to work together as much as possible and really have that team environment to be able to serve the citizens,” Buthe said.

An example is the recent spring clean-up, where different divisions worked together, he said.

“It provides for better communication, better budget administration and a better opportunity to kind of share some of the services that we all use, like clerical staff or office staff, so it just makes for a more efficient government,” Buthe said.

His job is to provide “broad oversight of all the different divisions” and “working with the division directors to see those goals come to fruition and really focusing on how the city government can best serve our citizens and looking at our long-term development needs,” Buthe said.

“Brookings is a unique city because we’re basically surrounded by flood plain, and so that really limits our future development opportunities unless we’re able to cross those boundaries. And so right now, we’re looking at probably 15 or 20 years’ worth of development left until we’ve got to … face that challenge,” Buthe said.

“I’m trying to make the best decisions and use best practices to develop the city into the best that it can be,” Buthe said.

The future

He knows he’s got a lot of work ahead of him.

“With this being a new position … I’m working a lot of hours just trying to catch up to speed where the organization is,” Buthe said, but said he’s having fun, too.

“It’s awesome,” he said.

He enjoys meeting people and developing relationships with people.

“I find that the most interesting and so getting to work with a new team, the leadership team that (City Manager) Paul Briseno has assembled is amazing … They’re all just really great,” Buthe said.

He has a “treat people like you want to be treated” philosophy and sees that reflected in Brookings.

“The culture of the city staff has just been amazing, and everybody is very positive and want the best for the community,” Buthe said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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