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Milwaukee County voters: Is your County Executive candidate a Public Parks Champion?

March 12, 2020  |  Topics: Issues

By Pat Jursik

Residents of Milwaukee County will vote on April 7, 2020 for a new Milwaukee County Executive (because the incumbent, Chris Abele, is not running again.) Preserve Our Parks has created a parks advocacy test for the candidates.

Preserve Our Parks (POP) is the primary advocacy group for public parks in Milwaukee County.  As Milwaukee County grapples with severe funding shortfalls against a backdrop of State interference in the governance of county park land (Act 55), POP has created a Public Parks Champion statement for candidates running for the office of County Executive.  While POP is a non-profit agency and does not endorse candidates for office, its primary mission is protection of parks.  By creating an advocacy test, voters will have the means to determine whether candidates for office will be a strong guardian of our park legacy.

The idea of selling park assets was suggested by a premier think tank in Milwaukee County, one largely funded by corporate donations and known for its work reviewing government budgets and researching funding options.  When it learned of this idea POP sounded the alarm.  Engaged in what some called civil disobedience, POP posted “For Sale” signs in our county parks.  Although the signs were immediately removed and County Executive Abele assured citizens that parks were not for sale, POP succeeded in sounding the alarm:  We do not sell public park land in Milwaukee County.  This land is a legacy from our grandparents who dealt with their own Great Depression yet set aside public land for parks.  Corporate donors have no business floating this idea or eyeing park land for private development and private profits.

Understanding that we cannot be complacent, POP provided a Public Parks Champion Statement to all of the County Executive candidates for their consideration.  Candidates running for Milwaukee County Executive were asked to sign on as a Public Parks Champion if the Candidate:

  • Supports and protects the legacy of public parks and would not sell, gift, transfer or support other divestment of a public park, park land or fraction thereof.
  • Understands that parks contribute to the ecological health of our air, water and overall economic health of the community, and that such ecologic health has intrinsic value overall and cannot be valued in dollar terms.
  • Understands that quiet green space is as important as facilities supporting physical activity.
  • Understands that public financing of parks is crucial and supports sustainable and dedicated financing of parks, and would only support public/private partnership agreements that enhance the public mission of parks and do not restrict or constrict public access to parks.
  • Understands the historical significance and character of land and structures including architectural preservation and works to preserve this legacy, and specifically including Mitchell Park Domes.

Of the candidates running for County Executive who agreed to be a Public Parks Champion, only Chris Larson survived the primary in February.

Preserve Our Parks is a non-profit organization that advocates for and promotes Milwaukee area parks and open spaces and strives to protect the tenets of Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine. A Wealth of Nature is a project of Preserve Our Parks.

Pat Jursik is a board member of Preserve Our Parks. The featured composite image at the top represents the POP action in August 2019. Photos courtesy Preserve Our Parks.