Governor Doug Ducey on Thursday placed Arizona Parks Director Sue Black on administrative leave following reports in Phoenix New Times that the agency destroyed native antiquities sites. The suspension was announced in an email sent to department employees.
Black’s suspension, first reported by Arizona Capitol Times, comes amid a drumbeat of calls for her to resign. Four native lawmakers this week called for Black to resign, as well as a criminal investigation into the archaeological destruction allegations.
A Parks employee told New Times that staffers are reacting with a mix of excitement and frustration.
"It's a suspension and not a termination," the employee said. "We don't know how to feel because we're not sure if she's coming back or not."
Black’s deputy director, James Keegan, was also suspended.
“As the Department of Administration continues its review into the allegations against Director black, we made the determination that in this case it is most appropriate to place the director on administrative leave to preserve the integrity of the process,” wrote Parks Chief of Operations Gilbert Davidson in a department-wide email.
Dr. Will Russell — a cultural compliance officer with a PhD in archaeology — came forward to New Times in October with allegations that the department leveled a native antiquities site at Lake Havasu State Park despite multiple warnings from him to avoid the area.
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"I’m really optimistic for the state and the agency right now," Russell said after the announcement. "So many people who work there are amazing people who are dedicated. They finally will get the chance to accomplish what they’re capable of."
The Arizona Department of Administration has been investigating numerous allegations against Black, including claims that she mistreated employees, gave special treatment to a ranger with whom she had a close relationship, and forced employees to volunteer. The alleged cultural destruction is also part of the investigation.
Former State of Arizona Chief of Operations Ted Vogt will serve as interim director. Vogt will be holding an all-hands-on-deck meeting on Friday at 10 a.m. with employees.
The Arizona Republic followed a week later with additional allegations from Russell that Parks skirted cultural preservation regulations in pursuit of rapidly expanding cabins and trails.