Updated at 5 p.m. Thursday to include comments from County Executive Chris Abele.
Milwaukee County Parks Director Sue Black was fired by County Executive Chris Able, who declined to say why Black was dismissed after a decade on the job.
At an afternoon press conference, Abele declined to give any specific reason for terminating Black, saying only that his responsibility was to make decisions that were in the best interests of county taxpayers.
Asked repeatedly what had changed in Black's relationship with the administration, Abele replied that he could not comment on personnel matters and would not indulge in "gossip."
"What I owe you as an elected official is the best use of your tax dollars," Abele said. "What I owe you is responsible decision-making even when decisions are tough. I don't owe you gossip."
Pressed for some explanation, Abele for the most part repeated that statement again and again, providing no details on the decision.
Abele would only say further that he himself would have to be judged by the results of his actions, presumably by the performance of Black's successor and the parks system going forward.
"Nobody gets an appointment for life," he said. "The parks are going to be fine. The golf courses are going to be open tomorrow."
In a press release issued earlier Thursday, Abele simply announced that a national search for a new parks director was under way and said that Black was no longer with the county.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel spoke to Black, who told a reporter she had been summarily let go by Abele. She said Abele would not give her a reason other than that the county was going to go "in a new direction."
An attempt to reach Black on her county-issued cell phone resulted in a message that the number had been temporarily disconnected. Black told the Journal Sentinel that she had been locked out of her office at the parks headquarters building during the meeting at which she was dismissed.
Black was appointed director by Scott Walker shortly after he was elected county executive in 2001. She replaced Sue Baldwin, who had become caught up in the uproar over county pension payouts.
Black went on to be an effective leader of the parks, doing her best to streamline operations in the face of yearly budget cuts and even winning the 2009 National Gold Medal for Excellence for her beleaguered parks system.
Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic released a statement Thursday saying, in part, “While I am sorry to see Black go, I recognize that such a personnel decision is solidly in the purview of County Executive Chris Abele.
“I am disappointed in the timing of this situation, as the Milwaukee County Board prepares for delivery of the Milwaukee County Executive 2013 Recommended Budget," she added. "The absence of a parks leader will certainly make it more difficult to respond to constituents who have voiced their support for Parks.
“I commend Black for her achievements in developing private-public partnerships and corporate sponsorships in the face of diminished public support," Dimitrijevic added.