By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
If you want to start the gossip machine, do something really dramatic — leave your spouse, burn your own home to the ground or unexpectedly fire an admired employee — and then say you can’t comment, because you don’t “owe the public gossip.”
That’s what Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele did Thursday — not the divorce or arson, but the termination of Milwaukee County Parks Director Sue Black followed by the coy no-comment comment.
Note to Abele: You’re not Kim Kardashian. You’re just acting like her.
Nearly universally respected along the entire political spectrum, Black ran the Wisconsin Parks System under former Gov. Tommy Thompson, Dane County Parks System and Arizona Parks System. In 2003, then-Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker named her to oversee the county park system. She stayed on after Walker was elected governor, and Abele reappointed her in 2011 to serve another four years on the job.
So far as the public knows, her performance was stellar. She is credited with turning around a county parks system — something that had been a postscript before her arrival — into something of which both the county and state can take pride. In 2009, Milwaukee’s parks were awarded the Gold Medal by the National Recreation and Park Association.
Black got a raise last year when Abele discovered Chicago wanted to steal her to run its parks system.
Her accomplishments give the public reason to wonder why Abele canned her. His non-explanation at the Thursday news conference announcing her termination — he doesn’t “owe the public gossip” — merely cranked up the public gossip-mill. Declaring the firing a personnel matter? That makes it more or less certain we won’t know what really happened.
Black has indeed done battle with her bosses; ironically, that boss was Walker, with whom she fought over budgets. None of that ever occurred under Abele — so far as we know, of course.
Without any solid explanation of Black’s termination, Abele is about to discover there’s nothing people like more than a good mystery.
Someday we’ll learn why he let Black go. Until then, Abele’s ham-fisted handling of Black’s termination tells us more about his leadership than it does hers.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at email@example.com.