Sue Black has become the public face of the Milwaukee County Parks System for the last 10 years. She has made amazing accomplishments to the Parks system, like revitalizing the almost defunct Bradford Beach, which is now a a place for family fun, instead of a wasteland of garbage. Sue is not only important to Milwaukee County but also surrounding communities who travel to Milwaukee County to use the Parks System.
She has been a fierce advocate for her department, going head to head at times with important Milwaukee government officials. She was given a fair amount of freedom to find creative ways to refurbish the aging system, and used her immense powers of persuasion to garner private financial support for the parks and put in place a vision for saving them.
Black was hired in 2003 after stints running the state parks systems in Wisconsin and Arizona. Black has gotten high marks from Abele in the past, as well as from county supervisors, parks advocates and community leaders. She's been credited with helping shepherd upgrades of Bradford Beach, Lake Park, the Mitchell Park Domes and other more recent projects such as the opening of a beer garden at Estabrook Park this summer. She also helped establish off-leash dog exercise areas in five parks.
The Parks Department under Black's guidance won the national Gold Medal in 2009, which honors excellence in parks management. She also won the Norman Gill Award for individual excellence by a government leader this year from the nonpartisan Public Policy Forum.
Despite all these accomplishments, Sue was fired by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele on Thursday August 16th, 2012. Black said she was stunned when told by Abele during a regular weekly meeting with him that "we are going in another direction. We are letting you go."
She said Abele wouldn't tell her why he didn't want her at the helm of the Parks Department any longer. Abele said he did tell Black the reason for her termination, but he declined to publicly disclose that. Black's firing came just a few months after Abele nominated her to stay on for another four years.
She said she had no idea what was coming when Abele gave her the bad news.
"I said, 'Are you serious? I deserve better than this after 10 years,' " Black said in a phone interview. She said she was locked out of her office in Wauwatosa while she was at the courthouse meeting with Abele. Her county cellphone was cut off by late afternoon.
Abele has spoken glowingly of Black in the past and bucked critics on the County Board when he gave her two raises in 2011, saying she deserved them. During his 2011 campaign for county executive, Abele frequently singled out Black as a top-notch county department head who deserved more resources as reward for her success on the job.
Chris Abele's email address to send a direct message: [email protected]