Sue Black deserved better

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However the saga of Sue Black ends, the former Milwaukee County Parks director can certainly be gratified by the outpouring of public support after her sudden firing by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

Known for her strong work ethic, her cooperation with community groups and her skillful management of reduced budgets to maintain our extensive parks, Black was widely respected. Her firing was a surprise to everyone, including county supervisors who approved her reappointment this spring.

The clumsy handling of her firing – locking her out of her office and announcing it at a press conference – struck a universal chord among Milwaukeeans, many of whom have been pink-slipped, “voluntarily” retired and otherwise terminated in recent years.

Regarding her lock-out, a standard protocol of big, paranoid bureaucracies: Did they think the long-term, well-paid and much honored Black was going to steal paper clips or sabotage the databases of county golf courses or toilets?

Abele called a press conference to announce Black’s firing, only to express frustration with reporters who asked him the obvious question: “Why?” Wearing a smarmy grin, Abele said sarcastically, “I don’t owe you gossip,” which of course only fueled more gossip.

Personally, I hope that Black was insubordinate. When working in any hierarchy run by tyrants or nincompoops, it’s the most honorable reason to be fired. And, hey, Black’s a lesbian. We tend not to suffer fools gladly. How could you not tell Abele he’s on the wrong path regarding the future of the parks if parks have been your whole life and what you strongly believe in? How could you not tell him that he’s a condescending creep when he orders you to “get with the program” with that Cheshire cat grin of his?

Sue Black rejected a lucrative offer to head the Chicago parks system a while back to stay in Milwaukee. I’m confident she’ll land on her feet and end her career in a better position than she’s had so far.

Here’s a few words about another fine public servant, also a lesbian, Sally Ride. I got two questions about Ride from many people: Did you know she was gay?

My simple reply to most was that I didn’t know, but was happy to learn it. I had always assumed so. I’m kind of a lesbian chauvinist and assume that most women who are extremely talented and brave and accomplished probably are lesbians!

The second question was: Should the media have outed Ride after she died?

Ride was in a 27-year relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy that she did not publicize but also did not hide from family, friends or colleagues. She may have felt that coming out publicly would harm her work. She may not have wanted to become a symbol for any cause beyond her passion, which was science. Or she may have felt it was just nobody’s business. Obituaries made clear she led a life of diligent study, hard work and sterling integrity.

Ride could have used her considerable celebrity after her journeys to space in many financially profitable ways. Instead, she stayed close to NASA, serving on panels investigating the Challenger and Columbia disasters. She taught physics at University of California-San Diego and traveled widely promoting science education to girls. It’s good to know that Ride was a lesbian, but her heroism and her legacy is so much bigger than that.