Sue Black, Arizona's New Parks Director, Puts Wisconsin Friends in Top Spots

Sue Black, the new Arizona State Parks director with connections to GOP presidential candidate and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, has hired a second Milwaukee buddy to a top slot in her agency.

The former head of the Milwaukee parks system vows to build a dream team that will lead the parks department to a coveted gold medal from the National Recreation and Park Association. So far, she's moved toward that task by installing three old friends.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports today that Jim Keegan, chief of planning and development for Milwaukee County Parks, says he will reunite with Black later this summer when he joins the Arizona agency as one of two deputy directors, a fact confirmed by an Arizona State Parks spokeswoman.

"This will be Keegan's second move in following Black to a new job," reporter Don Behm writes. "Black was Wisconsin State Parks director before being hired by Milwaukee County in 2003. Keegan worked as Black's budget director in Madison, and he took a job with Milwaukee County parks in 2004."

Black's other deputy director, as of April, is Kelly Moffit, who worked for her while she was operations chief of the Arizona agency in the mid-1990s.

As New Times reported in June, Black brought out one of her former top aides from Wisconsin, Shawn Schmidt, soon after she was hired by Governor Doug Ducey earlier this year. Schmidt, who has experience in parks management from Chicago and Wisconsin., worked for a short time as Black's personal assistant before getting promoted to operations chief. 

After leaving Arizona in 1997, Black became director of Wisconsin State Parks, then served for eight years as head of the Milwaukee County Parks Department under Scott Walker, then Milwaukee County Executive. Walker once congratulated his "friend Sue Black" on Twitter for her short-lived role as owner of the Milwaukee Wave soccer team.

In an interview with New Times, Black admitted that Walker's influence had helped her obtain her new Arizona job, saying Walker's "people" might have called Ducey's representatives. After taking office in January, Ducey selected his own choices for several top agencies, and this included replacing Bryan Martyn as parks director.

Black's considered a hard-charger who ticked off  bosses in the past because of her passion for parks. She likes politics and reportedly pondered running for Milwaukee County Executive herself.

After her appointment was confirmed by the Arizona Senate in February, Ducey praised Black as a "well-regarded visionary in her field [who possesses] entrepreneurial, creative, and collaborative spirit."  Black said in June she wants to "propel Arizona State Parks into the national spotlight as a leader among the country’s elite state parks systems."

Keegan's a "longtime Milwaukee parks employee," according to a 2012 news article. He served as interim parks director in Milwaukee after Black was fired as director in an apparent political move, but he lost a try in 2013 for the agency's top spot. Through his assistant, Keegan declined to comment for this article, referring New Times to the Arizona State Parks. 

Department spokeswoman Monica Enriquez confirmed the report and says Keegan starts work on August 24. New Times asked whether he'd ever been to Arizona.

"He did meet with Sue a couple of weeks ago," she said.

Black didn't return a message. Enriquez says she's traveling in the Tucson area today.

UPDATE: Black did get back to us, saying she'd been tied up at the League of Arizona Cities and Towns meetings. Here's what she says about Keegan:

“As we work toward achieving the national recognition Arizona’s parks deserve, we are elated to add Jim Keegan to the extraordinary team being assembled at Arizona State Parks. Jim is a talented administrator and a true parks professional. Jim and I have a proven track record of success, and I am excited to achieve that same success for Arizona.”

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern