In his first interview since Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker was elected governor, County Board Chairman Lee Holloway didn’t mince many words.
With Walker soon to depart, giving Holloway a chance to serve as interim county executive, the chairman held forth on a variety of topics -- describing the ideal person as having the qualities of, well, Lee Holloway.
Here’s a sample of an exchange between Holloway and the weekly Shepherd Express newspaper, which published the account in its Nov. 17, 2010 edition.
Shepherd: Regarding the candidates for county executive, what sort of person would be the best for the job? What type of person does the county need?
Holloway: I think it needs a person like Lee Holloway, to be honest with you. I’m sincere about that. I think I’ve got all of the skills and the ability. And the big initiatives all came from me, for a long time: the health (insurance) initiatives, which saved $100 million for the county; the pension obligation bonds — he (Scott Walker) couldn’t get the votes; the sales tax. I tried to save Midwest Express, and did everything I could. He couldn’t get the votes for that. I created the GAMP program, which lasted for 16 to 18 years, and it became a national model. The UWM (expansion), that’s my deal. He was talking about $6 million; I came up with $13 million. Those are a lot of big projects. He’ll come up and try to get publicity and say, ‘Me and Chairman Holloway…’ And he doesn’t veto my stuff. "
That’s a lot of boasting from the effusive chairman, who has not ruled out appointing himself interim executive.
We decided to take a closer look at the comment about the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee project, which relates to land the UWM Foundation purchased to construct its Innovation Park campus on the County Grounds in Wauwatosa. The foundation’s first payment of $5 million is due Dec. 15, 2010.
So, did Holloway really drive a harder bargain than Walker, getting $7 million more for the county and its taxpayers?
The project has been under discussion for several years, and has also included land division, a development plan, rezoning and creation of a tax incremental financing district from the city of Wauwatosa.
In the case of the land deal, the county and UWM Foundation have an agreement for purchase of the 88-acre tract, located east of U.S. Highway 45 and north of W. Watertown Plank Road for $13.55 million.
When talks began, each side came to the table with its own outside appraisal of the land’s value. UWM’s was for about $8 million; the county’s came in at $13 million
Holloway was involved in crafting the county’s response for the next level of negotiations, moving UWM closer to -- and possibly above -- the county figure, according county and UWM Foundation staff involved in the talks.
Holloway pushed for the county to use a formula that took into account the future value of the parcel, once it was fully developed, said Craig Dillman, the county’s manager of real estate services.
The formula, called a floor to area ratio, is commonly used in real estate development. Holloway argued the development could be more dense than the UWM projections.
"That’s how the higher value came to be achieved," Dillman said.
The two sides eventually agreed not only on a price of $13.55 million -- but also on a formula that calls for future payments to the county if UWM’s development exceeds projections.
What did others say about Holloway’s role?
UWM Foundation President David Gilbert said he didn’t know the extent of Holloway’s involvement in the county side of the talks. He said Holloway was one of several players.
"The main person we negotiated with was Craig Dillman," Gilbert said.
Walker Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli said Holloway was trying to take credit for something that was a group effort on the county’s part.
"Holloway always believed he could get more" for the land, Nardelli said. "If Scott said five, he’d say go to six."
In his claim, Holloway argues the county -- as in Walker -- was ready to settle for $6 million.
But no one we talked with recalls that figure ever coming up -- after all, UWM’s appraisal was for $8.5 million. And no one associated that figure with Walker, who Holloway claims was ready to accept it. Indeed, Walker was not at the table himself -- Dillman was there.
We asked Holloway for an interview several times. He didn’t respond.
County Board spokesman Harold Mester said Holloway recalls that the $6 million figure was "discussed behind the scenes" by UWM and county negotiators, before the first offer was presented by UWM.
"The County Executive was ready to sell that land at a lower price," Mester said. "The chairman said ‘Wait a minute. This is one of the most valuable land parcels we have, at the crossroads of the state of Wisconsin.’ The chairman thought there was a lot more value there."
Said Mester: "The chairman takes credit for getting more money for the taxpayers and that’s what’s important."
Nardelli responded: "That was all being negotiated. Scott never wanted less. It’s assinine to suggest that."
Let’s score this one out.
Holloway bragged he got $7 million more for taxpayers than Walker was willing to accept from the UWM Foundation. From all accounts, Holloway was involved in the talks, and pushed for the formula that was ultimately used and the final price tag was about $5 million more than UWM’s initial appraisal. So some him credit for the higher price.
But there’s no concrete evidence that Walker was willing to simply accept the UWM appraisal -- and certainly none that he wanted to go $2.5 million lower. That wouldn’t be much negotiating at all. We rate Holloway’s statement Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.