Saturday, November 1st, 2014
Half-True
Sullivan
"We currently have one guy who is in charge of painting the entire Milwaukee County parks system."

Jim Sullivan on Monday, January 31st, 2011 in a meeting with Journal Sentinel reporters and editors

Milwaukee County executive candidate Jim Sullivan says only one person is in charge of painting for the entire county parks system

Jim Sullivan, one of five candidates running for Milwaukee County executive, said in an interview that in privatizing county services "we’ve gone about far enough."

The former Democratic state senator from Wauwatosa noted that an arbitrator had recently ordered the county to rehire courthouse security guards. Under then-County Executive Scott Walker, the guards had been laid off and replaced with private guards in an effort to save money.

Sullivan also cited what he described as another example of bad privatization.

"It’s been brought to my attention we currently have one guy who is in charge of painting the entire Milwaukee County parks system," he told the Journal Sentinel on Jan. 31, 2011. "You hear the expression ‘busier than a one-armed paper hanger’ and this guy’s got to be a really busy guy."

Sullivan went on to say that if the county hired more employees to paint, they would be less expensive and more responsive than painters hired on contract.

The question of public vs private painters is its own issue. Privatization of various county services was a priority for Walker, who clashed with the County Board over his efforts but did privatize janitorial services, projecting it would save $2.6 million.

What stopped us about Sullivan’s comment was this: Is there really just one guy in charge of all the painting for the more than 140 county parks?  

Gillian Morris, Sullivan’s campaign aide, said Sullivan was told about the lone county parks painter by John Jorgensen, business manager of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades AFL-CIO. So we turned to him.

Jorgensen said that for years, the county has been eliminating trade positions such as painters and carpenters. He said the only county painter left in the parks system is one of his union members, Tim Hanson.

So we found Hanson.

It turns out Hanson, 50, also happens to hold the part-time position of Wauwatosa alderman. A county employee since 1988, he said he’s been the parks’ only painter for two years, ever since the county stopped using apprentice painters.

As a result, Hanson said, most of his time is spent on a priority job: graffiti patrol.

"I’m removing more paint than I’m applying," he said.

Hanson may be the only county staffer assigned to do painting in the parks. But he is not the only person with a brush and a roller there.

Some paint jobs are contracted out to painters from private companies, some painting is done privately as part of larger renovation projects and painting is also done by partners such as the Bartolotta Restaurants, which operates Lake Park Bistro, according to Parks Director Sue Black.

In addition, when Hanson is off, some of the county’s seven public works painters pitch in, said Public Works Director Jack Takerian.

But overall, the majority of painting work in the parks is done by Hanson, according to Jim Keegan, the parks system’s chief of administration.

OK, we’ve painted you a picture.

Let’s assess Sullivan’s statement.

The would-be county executive claimed there’s only "one guy who is in charge of painting the entire Milwaukee County parks system." He’s the one as busy as that one-armed paper hanger. That comment was a pretty broad brush, since there may only be one full-time painter, but the parks use many private ones.

Sullivan’s claim was accurate, but leaves out important details. That’s the PolitiFact definition for Half True.

And that’s our rating.