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Parks Nominee Wants to Further Current Success

Marti Mikkelson

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has decided whom he wants to head the parks system: John Dargle.

Dargle hails from Fairfax County, Virginia where he headed its parks system. He introduced himself at Koscuiszko Park on Milwaukee’s south side Thursday.

Workers moved a podium outside for Dargle’s remarks. A few neighbors wandered over to listen.

Dargle says he always dreamed of being part of a community like Milwaukee, and particularly after the county executive budgeted more money for parks. The system had absorbed cuts for years.

“Nationally that’s the stress we are all involved with. Parks and Recreation has been hit over the last several years with the economy and that’s a great opportunity here with Mr. Abele’s contribution to the parks and dedication. That’s something I was very attracted to when I saw this opening two or three months ago,” Dargle says.

Dargle would oversee a budget containing $65 million for operating expenses and $50 million for improvements. Pending County Board confirmation, Dargle would begin his job next month.

He says he’ll spend his first few weeks meeting people. Then long term, he says he wants to continue the parks system’s vibrant momentum and propel it into a great system.

County Executive Abele says Milwaukee’s national search yielded nearly 80 candidates for the job, and Dargle’s accomplishments in Virginia stood out.

“One of the reasons we’re excited in particular about John is his record of excellence, his enthusiasm for the power of what a parks system can do in an urban environment and his history of collaborative work with constituents, partners, stakeholders and government leaders,” Abele says.

Under Dargle’s leadership, the parks system in Fairfax County won a national award. He was at the helm there for five years.

In Milwaukee, he would succeed Sue Black, who also won national acclaim for her direction of the parks system. Abele dismissed her last year for unstated reasons and declined comment on the matter again Thursday.

County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic issued a statement saying Dargle would have big shoes to fill. The chair also praised the timing of the appointment, as the parks gear up for a busy summer.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.