Wesley Sparkman Is Running for Dane County Executive: Community Connections

Wesley Sparkman

Wesley Sparkman came to Madison to attend UW-Madison as a 17-year-old and has been a fixture in the community ever since

Part 1 of 2

by Jonathan Gramling

Ever since Wesley Sparkman, who is running for Dane County executive, came to Madison as a 17-year-old undergraduate at UW-Madison, he has had a connection with the Black community and the community as a whole. He has been a relatively quiet force in making change in the greater Madison area, letting his actions speak for him.

And Sparkman has watched and observed and learned from the experience of those around him as he worked his way up in Dane County government where he is now the director of the Tamara Grigsby Office for Equity & Inclusion. He understands that he stands on some very broad shoulders.

“When I think about the people who worked for the county, it was Brenda Brown, an African American woman, who hired me,” Sparkman said. “Edjuana Ogden was there. Her husband Harry was always supportive. Later as I moved on to the county executive’s office, we had great guys in there like Alphonso Cooper who gave great advice and information. His union experience was impeccable. He had great philosophical thoughts and ideas. It was the same with Ken Haynes. He was also in the county exec’s office when I first started there. Later, I actually joined a union and became one of the negotiators on the bargaining team. I think about people like Bill Franks. It seems like every time I’ve gone to the Labor Temple that Bill lives there. He’s always over there passing out flyers. I think about Bob Cocroft who went to the same grad school I went to. I think about his military ways and his advice. Amos Anderson, Frank Humphrey, and John Odom, I think about all of those guys. I’m representing a lot here and I want to do it the best way I can.”

Sparkman has done a lot of service work in the community. He’s been a sports coach at Bayview and was a football coach with Isadore Knox and the Southside Raiders. Sparkman was also a high school wrestler and so he has volunteered with a Monona wrestling team. And he has volunteered on a lot of board of directors in the Madison area.

“I’ve learned to bring together my private business, non-profit and government experience together,” Sparkman said. “It really comes together, the time I spent as president of the Downtown Madison Rotary Club and president of the Rotary Foundation was really a great experience. I also saw the importance of bringing together and collaborating with public and private groups. I also have my experience on the board of directors for the YMCA, Access to Independence, and the Madison Children’s Museum. I spent 10 years on the Police & Fire Commission. All of those things come together and the opportunity to serve the public has been a mainstay for me ever since I started as an undergrad. It is a part of who I am and part of my character.”

Sparkman is willing to listen to the viewpoints of others, to sift and winnow so to speak, before making a recommendation of a decision. He moves the organization forward through being inclusive.

“I’m always reminded that given the chance to help others, fortunately, I had the chance throughout those years to sit on a lot of panels to help with hiring,” Sparkman said. “I am the current chair of the board of SSM Wisconsin Hospital, I see how all of those pieces come together and how you need the right person to lead when there is a lot of transition. The position of CEO for SSM Wisconsin transitioned through Damond Boatwright all during the time when I was on the board. And now even, another great leader in Sue Anderson was also someone whom I had the chance with the selection. A common theme on all of the boards I served on was the discussion of inclusion and opportunity to get some qualified candidates who represent a diverse background and a diverse lens. And fortunately, I’ve been honored with the opportunity to lead leaders. Even right now as chair of the board of SSM Wisconsin, chair of the Board of Visitors for the UW-Madison Sociology Department, they selected me for a reason. I brought some stability to these groups.”

Sparkman is a graduate of UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs.

“I remember when I was transitioning from undergrad to grad school and working full time at the same time, I remember mentioning to Ms. Theola Carter, ‘I’m thinking on going to the La Follette,’” Sparkman said. “She said, ‘I went to La Follette.’ She was helpful in giving me thoughts about it. Amos also went through the La Follette School of Public Affairs. They gave me a good perspective on it and I decided to go. Last year, I was awarded the UW Alumni of Distinction for Public Affairs.”

It isn’t enough to be elected county executive. It’s also about change and making a difference. Sparkman feels that he has been making a difference throughout his professional career.

“During my time on the Police & Fire Commission, we saw the first Black division chief who later became the first Black assistant chief,” Sparkman said. During my time and my interactions on panels, we saw the first African American human resources director. We saw during my time of course the UW-Madison police department is known for its gender equality and leading the nation in the number of women on the police department. That’s not by accident. That’s intentional by the people who train that police department, who recruit and the Police & Fire Department. I’ve had the chance to witness that success and get the chance to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

And it is because of his vast experience that Sparkman feels that he is the right person at the right time to lead county government.

“Right now, I think we need sound judgment and we need someone who is collaborative, a bridge builder and someone who can exercise some good judgment,” Sparkman said. “I really want to emphasize the fact that I believe now is the time. It’s out of necessity as well for what I see as far as the instability and the transition here in county government. As I sit back and reflect and think about the need for sound judgment and the need for someone who has developed a real vision for how the county can grow and thrive from my perspective and watching the county grow to be the fastest growing county in the state of Wisconsin. I said to myself, ‘Now this is the right time.’ I do believe that I do have the right qualifications for this job.”