Since Sue Black became director of Arizona Parks in 2015, the agency has often touted multiple awards won under her leadership.
Now it appears Black’s penchant for scandal has tanked her nomination for one of the nation’s most prestigious awards in the parks and recreation field.
The American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA) recently put Black’s nomination for a lifetime achievement prize "on hold" pending an investigation into unspecified allegations.
Every year AAPRA grants Pugsley medals to individuals with "outstanding contributions to the promotion and development of public parks, recreation and conservation in the United States.” Named after former New York U.S. Representative Cornelius Pugsley, the award has been given to two or three individuals most years since 1965.
Black was nominated for a Pugsley medal in 2018. But a selection committee voted to remove her from consideration after allegations were brought forward that could "tarnish the awarding of the medal,” according to committee chair Ronald Dodd. He would not elaborate on the nature of the allegations, except that they are under investigation.
"We have to verify or find out if it’s unverified,” said Dodd, a former parks director for Joliet, Illinois, who was awarded a Pugsley medal in 1990.
During a September conference in Indianapolis, the committee awarded Pugsley medals to former Maricopa County Parks Director William Scalzo and Robert Doyle, general manager for the East Bay Regional Park District.
The Pugsley selection committee includes six members, and all of them have received the medal at some point. The five other committee members did not return calls from Phoenix New Times.
Black has come under increased scrutiny this year over allegations that she mistreats employees, the Arizona Republic has reported. The governor's office launched its third investigation into Black’s treatment of employees this summer, during which state officials interviewed dozens of Parks staffers over three months.
New Times subsequently reported allegations that the Parks department, according to a whistle-blowing archaeologist, destroyed native antiquities sites, as well as allegations that Black gave favorable treatment to a park ranger with whom she had a close relationship.
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Parks employees have questioned why Black continues to lead the agency despite the numerous scandals that have developed under her leadership.
Governor Doug Ducey has praised Black for winning multiple awards under her directorship. The agency lists many of its accolades online, from Kartchner Caverns' pick by USA Today readers for "Best Cave" to the recent selection of Arizona to host the National State Parks Directors Conference in Sedona.
The biggest prize nabbed by Arizona Parks was a Gold Medal for the best-managed park system in the nation. Awarded by the National Recreation and Park Association, Black made it a goal to win the accolade when she was appointed as Parks director in 2015. She had previously won the award in 2009 when she served as director of Milwaukee County Parks, a job from which she was terminated.
When Arizona Parks won the Gold Medal two years later, Ducey celebrated the occasion by posing for a photograph with the large medallion that comes with the award. The medallion then departed for a tour of every state park in Arizona.