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“I’m fully prepared.” Wes Sparkman hopes to lean on civil service experience as next Dane County Exec

Wes Sparkman announces candidacy for Dane County Executive on February 2. (Photo by Omar Waheed)

Wes Sparkman will focus on leveraging his experience in county government to spur economic development across Dane County if elected County Executive, he said in a podcast interview.

In the interview, recorded Thursday and released in the 365 Amplified Podcast feed Friday, Sparkman noted that he’s worked in Dane County government in a variety of capacities for 25 years, spent 10 years on the Police and Fire Commission, and currently leads the county’s Office of Equity and Inclusion – all experiences he’d bring to the County Executive’s office, even though he’s never held elected office before.

“I do believe I’m fully prepared to step into the elected role because I think what it requires more than anything is a good listener,” he said.

Listen to the interview here, or your favorite podcast app:

He said a sound countywide economic development strategy would have to grapple with the county’s mix of urban and rural communities.

“I had the chance to serve as a Community Development Block Grant commissioner, and there got a chance to understand not just urban Dane County, but … rural Dane County and the needs of the towns in Dane County,” he said. “And that gave me a great perspective and background to do what I’m doing now as the Director of the Office for Equity and Inclusion, understanding some of the cultural values and some of the differences in the people who live here. And it just helped me to see that I’d be a great county executive for all of Dane County. And that’s what I’m shooting for.”

He touted some specific efforts to boost marginalized communities in Madison, but said similar efforts are needed countywide.

“We want to sustain the growth of Dane County. Dane County is the fastest-growing county in the state of Wisconsin. There’s a reason for that,” he said. “We have to use the labor force that is available to make the economy grow. I think the efforts that the (Black Business) Hub is making there on Park Street, we have to support the Hub and in many ways, the effort that the Center (for Black Excellence and Culture) also in that South Madison area, we have to support that, and then think of (ideas that) could serve in similar capacities throughout the county.”

He also said as county executive, he’d lean on the expertise of county staff to address issues.

“I get the chance to work with all the other department heads in Dane County. We work, we collaborate. They know me, I know them,” he said. “That helps build trust. And for me, trust to the point of knowing that they are excellent at what they do. When I think about the people who are working to figure out avenues for affordable housing. We all know affordable housing is a challenge. But there are experts who are trying to figure out what to do. There are developers and future developers that want to figure out ways to invite other groups of people and other communities into the development stream, even though it’s a very competitive area. It’s going to take continued collaboration, and listening to the experts who are working in that area right now.”

Sparkman also acknowledged the hot-button issue of the Dane County Jail expansion project. A long-delayed new jail will replace the current facility in the City-County building, which is overcrowded and has been called inhumane in its current condition by multiple sheriffs. He didn’t take a position on the construction project itself, but did say he had visited the jail and encouraged others to do so, to see it firsthand.

“One of my takeaways (after visiting the jail) was … there’s so much talent in here,” he said.” I know there are a lot of thinkers, hard workers, there’s just some misplacement. We need to figure out how best to use those resources that we have, and each individual figuring out how to best use their own resources, then build hope that is sustainable so that they can move on with their lives. I know there’s some potential there. And I do think about that a lot.”

Sparkman joins County Board Supervisor Dana Pellebon, Madison Alder Regina Vidaver and State Senator Melissa Agard in running to replace incumbent Joe Parisi, who announced late last year that he’d retire from public service in May 2024, one year before his term expires. County Board Chair Patrick Miles will appoint an interim executive until a special election can be held. The primary will take place August 13, with the top two candidates facing off in the general election on November 5. The winner of the general election will only serve the remainder of Parisi’s term, and another election will be held in April 2025.