Evers appoints Discovery World CEO Joel Brennan, marketing exec Sara Meaney to cabinet

Discovery World CEO Joel Brennan accepts the Nonprofit Organization of the Year (Large) Award for the organization.

Governor-elect Tony Evers has appointed Joel Brennan, Discovery World president and chief executive officer, and Sara Meaney, chief marketing officer of Milwaukee Film, to two posts within his cabinet.

Discovery World CEO Joel Brennan accepts the Nonprofit Organization of the Year (Large) Award for the organization at the 2018 BizTimes Milwaukee Nonprofit Excellence Awards program.

Brennan will serve as the new secretary of the Department of Administration, while Meaney will serve as secretary of the Department of Tourism.

They were among four cabinet appointments Evers announced on Wednesday, along with U.S. Marshal Kevin Carr as Department of Corrections secretary and Preston Cole, commissioner of Milwaukee’s Department of Neighborhood Services, as Department of Natural Resources secretary.

“I’ve said all along that my goal is to build a Wisconsin where people come together to invest in a brighter future for everyone, and I believe that starts with assembling a cabinet that represents Wisconsin values,” Evers said. “The broad depth of experience this team brings to our state will ensure that we bring science back to the Department of Natural Resources; that we can reform our criminal justice system and address racial disparities while improving public safety; that we can highlight for the world all that Wisconsin has to offer; and that we do it all by running an efficient, effective government that is focused on bipartisan solutions, not political fights.”

Meaney (Photo: Jessica Kaminski)

Brennan has led Discovery World since 2007. His planned departure comes as the organization nears completion on an $18 million expansion and renovation project of its Milwaukee lakefront museum. The project has included a 10,000-square-foot pavilion addition and the installation of a new interactive energy exhibit, sponsored by the We Energies Foundation.

“It has been an enormous privilege to have led Discovery World during an important period of transformation and growth,” Brennan said.  “I’m confident that I’m leaving Discovery World in excellent fiscal health and very capable hands.”

Previously, Brennan was executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of Milwaukee and vice president of the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau. He began his career as a legislative assistant to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett when Barrett served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Discovery World announced on Wednesday that John Emmerich, vice president of exhibits and audience engagement, will lead the organization on an interim basis, starting Jan. 7. The Discovery Word board will establish a search committee to find Brennan’s successor.

“The board is thankful for Joel’s years of service and leadership, helping establish Discovery World as a vibrant, sustainable organization, critical to educating Milwaukee’s future leaders,” said Dennis Krakau, board chair. “Joel has done a tremendous job growing Discovery World over the last decade and we are confident that new leadership can continue to build upon the foundation of success that he has helped establish.”

Meaney took over Milwaukee Film’s marketing efforts in March, after serving on its board of directors since 2012. She was formerly managing director at Glendale-based advertising agency BVK. In 2009, Meaney launched the strategic communications firm Comet Branding, which later merged with Hanson Dodge Creative.  

“I look forward to working collaboratively with the leaders of our state Legislature to ensure that all people from all walks of life feel welcomed with warm Wisconsin enthusiasm and inspired to put our great state at the top of their travel lists,” Meaney said.

Evers and Lieutenant Governor-elect Mandela Barnes, who previously represented Milwaukee in the state Assembly, will be sworn into office Jan. 7.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin criticized Evers’ cabinet selections on Wednesday, noting all appointees are from Milwaukee.  

“Today’s appointments are further proof that Wisconsin Democrats are the party of only Milwaukee and Madison,” said Mark Morgan, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “While Republicans in the legislature will continue to work for and represent the interests of the entire state, Democrats have proven yet again they’re beholden to the interests of Madison and Milwaukee.”

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