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Abele’s Missed Opportunity on Parks

Issue of the Week

Sep. 6, 2016
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This summer, the Sue Black-led Arizona State Parks won two awards, the most recent additions to Black’s many accomplishments, including the launch of the wildly successful beer gardens in Milwaukee County Parks. 

Black, as you may remember, was unceremoniously fired as the county’s parks director by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele in 2012 with no warning and no public or private explanation or cause. Unfortunately this appears to be another example of Abele’s serious insecurity, which often prevents him from surrounding himself with the best talent. Some people who know him well say it probably all goes back to the fact that he always has to confront the fact that almost everything that he ever accomplished in life was only made possible because of the help of his daddy’s money.  

Since Black’s departure, the county’s parks have shown uneven growth. Yes, the beer gardens are thriving and attracting county residents to the parks. But there are still hundreds of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance that Sue Black wanted to address in a long-term capital plan. Plus, we are dealing with the fate of the Mitchell Park Domes, which were forced to close for a few months earlier this year and might be torn down, as Abele seems to signal. 

The county is currently surveying residents about their desires for the parks, as well as their thoughts on funding them, as part of the county’s long-range planning process for the parks. The survey questions, of course, don’t ask if Abele was wise to veto in 2012 Black’s carefully crafted five-year, $75 million capital plan to address the county’s backlog of repairs. (Abele fired Black shortly thereafter.) Nor do they ask if Abele was wise to veto even more recent appropriations for parks repairs, including the Domes, which supervisors overrode. If Abele had released these funds without a fight and repaired the parks’ infrastructure, our parks wouldn’t be in such dire straits right now. 

The county will be hosting nine public workshops to engage the community on the parks’ long-range future throughout September and into October. But we have to wonder if Abele will listen to the results or if he will reject sound advice from the public, just as he rejected Sue Black’s smart plan four years ago.


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