The Return of Sue Black
How she got the new job. And will she run against Chris Abele?
Sue Black’s latest job, to say the least, is quite a surprise. When last heard from, the fired Milwaukee County Parks director was a finalist for a similar post in Dallas. She didn’t get that job and then last week was named the new president and CEO of the Milwaukee Wave indoor soccer team. For someone who has spent her life working with parks and long professed her love of the outdoors, it’s quite a change.
Black is a skilled promoter, who likes the limelight, and the Milwaukee Wave badly need a higher profile. Few people in town seem to know the team has won numerous national championships (they clinched the playoffs this year; the first game is on March 10), or that its longtime coach Keith Tozer is internationally known as one of the sport’s best coaches. The team has long had a problem selling enough tickets.
As recently as 2009, then owner Charles Krause said he’d suffered years of financial losses and threatened to fold the team if he couldn’t find a buyer. It was Tozer who went to media to implore someone with deep pockets to step forward and save the team.
The man who did so, businessman Jim Lindenburg, made his fortune building the World Class Wire and Cable company. In 2008, he sold the company and started JML Holdings, a commercial and real estate company, and Lindy Enterprises, a business consulting firm. Krause reportedly sold the Wave franchise to Lindenburg for almost nothing, and Lindenburg told Milwaukee Magazine he lost $1.4 million in 2010.
So it is something of a surprise the team could afford to create a new position. Lindenburg had been operating as president and CEO of the team, and essentially moved aside to create the job for Black.
Black says the team has a wonderful story to tell. “These players are from all over the world. I can’t wait for people in the community to get to know them.”
Black will also run the team’s non-profit arm, Wave of Hope, which she says made $750,000 in donations to the community in the last few years. She hopes to expand the Wave’s summer soccer camps.
Meantime, it appears she will abandon any effort to sue Milwaukee County for wrongful firing. The case has been dropped, Black’s attorney Frank Gimbel says, “pretty much at her request. She wants to be viewed favorably by Milwaukee County, which she considers her home base.”
Of course, what everyone wants to know is, will she run for Milwaukee County Executive against Chris Abele, the man who fired her, in 2016?
“Everybody keeps asking that. I’ve told people, ‘stop asking me that.’”
So does that mean Black won’t run? After a pause she answers, “I’m focused on the Wave right now.”
The County Board’s Curious “Audit”
Last week, the Milwaukee County Board voted unanimously to order an “outside” audit of itself. But is this really an independent audit? Not according to Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander, who issued a press release blasting the audit for its “major flaws.”
It was Alexander who first proposed doing an outside audit. She says she released the plan and explained it days before the board meeting, only to be faced with “critics (who) bashed and abandoned it before debate even began” at the board meeting. She says Supervisors Theo Lipscomb and David Cullen “quickly distributed their own plan, with no prior notice” to other supervisors, which then was passed.
“I worked hand-in-hand with corporate counsel to ensure that the audit would provide a detailed look at performance efficiency and effectiveness without any embedded conflicts of interest,” Alexander says. “My plan called for a functional performance review of our department; it had a concisely defined objective and scope, was affordable, and was based on recommendations from past audit reports.”
By contrast, she says, “the Lipscomb-Cullen plan ignores financial constraints, duplicates audit reports we already receive, and is so vague that no one really knows what will be audited.”
The plan’s major flaw, according to Alexander: “it puts power directly in the hands of the head of the department being audited. Now the County Board Chairwoman gets to pick the auditor and what the audit will cover.”
Board chair Marina Dimtrijevic and others used words like “independent” and “objective” to describe the proposed audit. But the company chosen will be hired by Dimitrijevic, who resisted proposals by county supervisors last year to trim the board’s size, has bitterly opposed Rep. Joe Sanfelippo’s proposed bill to downsize the board and its staff, and who directed the county’s lobbyists to try to kill a bill calling for a county referendum allowing local voters to choose whether to reduce supervisors to part-time status.
Supervisor Mark Borkowski, who joined with Supervisor Steve Taylor to call for cutting the board to 13 members and slash the board’s budget by 50 percent, says Sanfelippo “forced” board members to confront the issue of reform. “Two months ago we weren’t talking about any of this. Sanfelippo lit a fire under some of us.”
-The latest beneficiary of the notoriously lavish pension backdrop passed by the Milwaukee County Board in 2000 is policy research analyst Glenn Bultman, who retired in November and will collect more than $922,000 in a lump sum payment, in addition to an annual pension for life.
-Borkowski says there is a night-and-day difference between Dimitrijevic and her predecessor Lee Holloway. “She is extremely accessible and communicative. I have been in her office more in a month than I was in ten years under Holloway. She has open office hours every week. People are in her office all the time. She calls me on nights and weekends. I appreciate getting a heads-up ahead of time on everything.”
Even as Dimitrijevic has methodically united the board, Abele has lost supporters, Borkowski says. That includes Supervisors like John Weishan and Gerry Broderick, who campaigned for Abele — “he has really alienated them,” Borkowski says. They’ll probably be the first ones Sue Black calls, should she decide to run for county exec.
Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted Borkowski saying Theo Lipscomb supported Abele in the race for county exec, but as Lipscomb notes in the comments below, he did not.