Governor Doug Ducey ousted Arizona Parks director Sue Black, effective immediately on Friday, following allegations that the agency damaged protected archaeological sites.
The claims, first reported by Phoenix New Times, are currently under investigation by the state attorney general.
Also on Friday, James Keegan, Parks deputy director, who was closely tied with the alleged cultural destruction, left the department. Black and Keegan had been placed on administrative leave, with former Arizona Chief Operating Officer Ted Vogt filling the director position in the interim.
The Ducey administration announce Black's departure in a press release. The press release does not specify whether she was fired or if she resigned.
New Times first reported claims by former Parks compliance officer Will Russell that the agency destroyed an archaeological site at Lake Havasu State Park, prompting an investigation by the Ducey administration. Russell alleged that department ignored state laws intended to protect cultural resources, including requirements that the agency communicate with tribal nations prior to developing on archaeological sites.
After New Times' report, the Arizona Republic reported additional allegations of cultural violations by Parks. Four indigenous lawmakers wrote a letter to Ducey demanding Black's firing, as well as a criminal probe of potential violations of the Arizona Antiquities Act. Attorney General Mark Brnovich launched a criminal investigation of Parks personnel late last month.
In a text message, Russell said he feels "very relieved that our natural and cultural resources are far better protected now."
A current Parks employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation said, "This was a long time coming." The employee expressed disappointment in Ducey, saying the governor "should have done this over a year ago."
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Black and Keegan were already magnets for scandal. The reports of cultural violations followed allegations of mistreatment, violations of the Family Medical Leave Act, forced volunteer work, and special treatment for staffers close to Black. The Ducey administration has opened multiple investigations into the agency, including a three-month probe over the summer that included interviews with dozens of employees. A report on that probe is pending.
Allegations of wrongdoing at Parks continue to surface. After Ducey placed Black and Keegan on administrative leave, New Times reported that the agency allegedly considered a gift of land from Resolution Copper while the mining company was proposing to dump hundreds of millions of tons of mining waste near Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park.
Ducey's press release also announced the retirements of Department of Revenue Director David Briant, Department of Gaming Director Dan Bergin, as well as the departure of Department of Forestry and Fire Management Director Jeff Whitney.
Black was one of several agency directors Ducey fired or forced to resign following newspaper articles. Tim Jeffries, former director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security, was forced to resign following articles in the New Times and Arizona Republic, and Ducey also fired Lottery Director Tony Bouie and Arizona-Mexico Commission President David Farca following articles in New Times.