October 20, 2007

Picture-perfect Saturday

A Nice Day for Snowblowers

Well, if you really want to hear about it, to this day I have no idea what the title of J.D. Salinger's short story, "A Nice Day for Bananafish," means. But it makes me smile, and it occurred to me this morning out of the recesses of memory as I drove along Michigan Boulevard, near North Beach, and came across a guy running a snowblower down the sidewalk.

Yup, the sun is shining, it's almost 70 degrees, there hasn't been any snow here for seven months, and Ziko Milicevic, who has lived here 35 years and should know the seasons better, is walking behind his steadily chugging snowblower, its auger chewing mightily against the clear air and an occasional leaf.

Of course I stopped to chat. Turns out that Ziko is what he calls an "enthusiast," a collector of motorized tools: lawn mowers, chainsaws, what have you. He estimates that he has 170 of them.

He found this one, a "Garden Mark" of uncertain vintage -- Ziko guesses maybe 1950's or so, but nobody could decode the serial number -- discarded in the street a couple of years ago. He opened it up, cleaned the carburetor, put it back together with no new parts and it started right up. Which is a good thing, because parts are unavailable.

It's a far cry from new snowblowers, he says; it has just one speed ("It's kinda fast.") and new ones are easier to use and maintain. When I remind him that new ones are unlikely to last 10 years, much less 60, he says, "Bad gas is part of the problem. People leave gas in the carburetor and it plugs up the little orifices."

He pulls the starter cord and the "Garden Mark" roars to life again. "Now I'm stuck with it," he says. "It's unique, and I have to keep it." (But if someone wants to part with $150, Ziko might be persuaded to pass it on. Feel free to call him at 488-0707.)

As for the rest of you: Soon it will be time to start thinking about your own snowblower's carburetor ...

October 19, 2007

Got talent? Like Christmas? Sign up here ...

The Downtown Racine Corporation is seeking groups or ensembles to perform at various times throughout the 2007 Festival of Trees.

The 2007 Festival of Trees will be held Nov. 11 – 18 at the Masonic Center at 1012 Main Street in Downtown Racine. This is the 19th year Downtown Racine has held this spectacular event. In addition to viewing over 60 decorated trees, wreaths and garlands, visitors will be able to tour the Masonic Mansion.

Visitors will also enjoy live entertainment, holiday shopping, and “Just For Kids” fun area.

Anyone interested in showcasing their talent during this “tree-mendous” celebration should fill out an Entertainment Registration form online at www.racinedowntown.com/festival.html or at the Downtown Racine Corporation office, 425 Main Street. For further details, call the Downtown Racine Corporation at 262-634-6002.

Becker: Outsource and privatize MIS department

Racine Mayor Gary Becker's budget contains another surprise: he proposes to outsource the city's Management Information Systems department to Velocity Partners Inc. of Brookfield.

The department normally includes five employees and a director, but the top spot has been vacant since July when Dennis John left to join Milwaukee County's MIS department. His position paid about $100,000 a year in salary and benefits, and the entire department is budgeted to spend $1.1 to $1.2 million this year.

Privatizing would save the city at least $100,000 annually, the mayor believes.

The deal with Velocity Partners, if approved by the City Council, would include jobs for all of the affected employees at equivalent pay and benefits.

The department's staff heard the news from new City Administrator Ben Hughes, who said the mayor spoke highly of their efforts, especially since John left. "He values what the MIS deparment has been doing, but there are projects we haven't been able to get to."

Hughes likened the role of the MIS department to "the spine amongst the body" of the other 12 city departments; it's the only one that doesn't deal with constituencies outside city governement, but the whole of city government relies upon it.

Besides the five employees in the MIS department, the city has used outside contractors, paid $18 to $35 an hour, to provide "as-needed services," which Velocity can do more efficiently.

"MIS changes so rapidly, that government doesn't have the flexibility to keep up with it," Hughes said.

The mayor's proposal would keep two positions on the city payroll, a director and a clerical/administrative person. Salary and benefits for the director would be about $100,000; for the second person, $59,000.

The affected MIS employees would benefit from joining a company where they could receive advanced training.

Outsourcing is the trend in MIS, Hughes said, noting that Racine County privatized its MIS department to Velocity Partners a few years ago. Other Velocity clients include M&I Bank and Harley-Davidson.

The budget was finalized Thursday night and sent to the printer, for delivery to the City Council on Monday.

October 18, 2007

Mount Pleasant building sells for $3.95 million

A commercial office building at 5439 Durand Ave. in Mount Pleasant sold on Oct. 11 for $3.95 million (click here for this week's property transfers).

The building sits on 2.83 acres of land at the corner of Durand and Wood Road across from Regency Mall. Current business there include Associated Bank, Habush, Habush & Rottier law firm, Tiferet Family Chiropractic, Investment Securities, and Enhanced Radiology.

The building was assessed at $2.9 million last year and the previous owner, Daniel Genzel of Pewaukee, paid $45,780.67 in property taxes.

For the week, there were 72 property transfers in Racine County with a median sale price of $165,000. Here are the weekly averages broken down by community and the number of transaction for each community:

Weekly Averages (# of property transfers)

Burlington - $183,892.31 (13)
Caledonia - $277,950.00 (6)
Dover - $164,950.00 (2)
Elmwood Park - $0 (0)
Mount Pleasant - $505,156.93 (14)
Norway - $247,000.00 (2)
Racine - $85,275.00 (25)
Rochester - $221,450.00 (2)
Sturtevant - $239,186.33 (3)
Union Grove - $278,327.00 (1)
Waterford - $230,500.00 (2)
Yorkville - $352,500.00 (1)

An $18 million hotel you don't want to visit.

Sheriff Robert Carlson, middle photo, in one of the jail's new 32-bed dormitory-style rooms. Lower photo shows deputies undergoing training.

The new Racine County Jail is not the jail you've seen in countless movies and TV shows: you know, the one with rows of cramped cells with barred metal doors that clang shut, leaving the inmates standing sullenly inside, hands gripping the bars.

There are no barred metal doors at all; only big, brightly lighted dormitory-style rooms. The two inmate-housing floors of the new jail are strictly for Level 1 inmates -- those on their best behavior -- and most will live 32 in a room, sharing 16 metal bunk beds, metal tables and stools bolted to the concrete floor, and a television set mounted near the ceiling.

The spacious rooms include two perks: a Coke machine and a snacks machine, operated by inmate debit cards. There's also a touchscreen computer terminal through which inmates can order basic supplies, and refresh those debit cards if money has been deposited in their accounts.

The four big cells and one smaller one, will hold 145 prisoners per floor; 270 total new beds. There are doors of course, but the first impression a visitor gets is of windows: big, wide windows looking into every cell and classroom from centrally located control "islands" for correctional officers. Officers can look in, but inmates see only reflections of themselves in the glass.

Tour the new jail with Sheriff Robert Carlson and jail administrator Capt. Jim Scherff and you come away with mixed feelings. It's easy to appreciate their enthusiasm for the new facility. "Our goal was to improve the workflow," Carlson said, and the new jail clearly achieves that, while also improving the living conditions of the inmates.

But don't make the mistake of thinking this is a place you could quietly do time, maybe catch up on your reading. You'll be spending all your time with your 31 new best friends: no privacy, no recreation time, few opportunities for self-improvement (volunteers bring a cart of library books around every two weeks). There are a few small classrooms, but no gym, no "yard" for walking, playing basketball or whatever. Inmates are allowed one visit per week, lasting 15 minutes.

On the other hand, the new section of the jail is a big improvement over the old jail, which has much smaller cells that for the most part are overcrowded. The day rooms where inmates sit or stand all day, listening to the one TV mounted to the wall are far smaller. (They have six channels to choose from; Jerry Springer always wins out against "The View.")

It is in efficiency and workflow where the new jail really shines. The control island in the inmate intake area provides a clear view through big windows into each of the cells in which inmates may be held for up to 72 hours during processing. In the old jail, the holding cells -- situated down a narrow corridor and faced with barred steel doors -- require a correctional officer to walk past each cell to check on them. Each of the new inmate cell areas is painted a different color, so monitoring officers know instantly where trouble may be occurring.

Safety is also enhanced by the new sally port, through which inmates will be driven into the jail; it's big enough to handle a city bus, and more. The old sally port, which also handled intake of supplies, had room for just a single car; if it was occupied -- say, by the bread truck -- deputies had to park outside with their incoming detainees.

Metal detectors will abound. And the new jail has separate entrances for inmates, the public, lawyers and court personnel, whereas the old jail funneled them all, at the same time, through one cramped entryway.

The first inmates will be moved into the new jail area in November.

In December, Carlson and Scherff hope to embark on a new venture: Hoteliers. They have had what they call "productive discussions" with state and federal correctional agencies, and expect to lease up to 128 beds in the new jail, earning -- after expenses -- $1.8 million per year. (They have only projected for one year, because they don't know how quickly the county's own jail population might fill up all their new space.)

I asked Carlson whether he's nervous about being able to reel in this highly-anticipated bonanza. He smiled, and helds his hands out -- steady as a rock. It all comes down to the same attribute touted by the Chamber of Commerce, and Realtors: location. "We're perfectly placed between Chicago and Milwaukee," he said. "Location is everything."

The new jail, by the numbers:

$18 million: Cost of the addition, and the coming renovation of the old jail's kitchen, office and medical areas.

3: Racine County's jail is Wisconsin's third largest.

742: Current inmate population.

655: The maximum number of inmates the current jail is supposed to hold.

128: Inmate beds the county hopes to fill with state and federal detainees.

$51.46: What the state will pay to house an inmate here, per day.

$71: What the feds will pay to house an inmate here, per day. Federal inmates also will have to be transported to court hearings, in Milwaukee and Chicago, and the feds will pay personnel costs involved in that.

$1.8 million: What the county expects to net from housing state and federal detainees, after expenses of staffing and supplies.

$10 million: Racine County Sheriff's budget next year (estimated). Up about $1 million from this year, due to costs of new jail. "More money is spent on patrol, but the jail is the biggest liability," Carlson says.

104: Deputies and correctional officers who staff the jail. (Includes 9 added in anticipation of caring for state and federal inmates.)

241: Total sheriff department staffing.

10,000: Inmate bookings per year.

7,000: Inmates actually admitted into the jail per year.

2,900: meals prepared by the jail kitchen, per day. Two hot, one cold.

1 year: The longest sentence most inmates have to spend at the jail, although persons sentenced consecutively for multiple misdemeanors could be there longer.

"This won't hurt at all" ... and it didn't

A steady stream of unsuspecting cats and dogs filed in to the Countryside Humane Society Thursday for that annual rite of fall: vaccinations. Here, Junior (or is it Bubba? They all look the same to me.) gets his shot from the able hands of Curtis Perry, an otherwise retired vet. Jessica Lange, 11, of Mount Pleasant, calms her cat, while her sister, Natalie, 9, seems more interested in yours truly. No accounting for taste.

It was a busy day for the shelter: 33 dogs and 19 cats received a variety of shots. Mostly rabies and distemper, but also flea treatments, heartworm and leukemia tests and several microchips. After all vaccinations were done, many owners signed up to get their animals spayed or neutered at the shelter's low-cost clinic.

Boston Store discovers the internet!

File this in the better-late-than-never department: Boston Store has just opened on the web!

Bon-Ton Stores Inc., of Pennsylvania, parent of Boston Store and a host of other mostly indistinguishable mall-based department stores (that we love, of course), has put them all online, selling a variety of familiar merchandise.

We can just guess how this happened: They probably hired some high school kid to work the loading dock, and a VP out for a smoke break caught him ordering music or books over that internet thingie, and that gave the executive an idea. "Hey, we could sell stuff over that thingie, too!" Hopefully, he got a big bonus. The kid, not the VP.

So when winter comes, and the car won't start, or hubby hasn't shoveled the driveway anyway, and you happen to be Jonesing for a fix of Boston Store -- or Younkers, Herbergers, Carson Pirie Scott or Bergners, or whatever they're all called today -- why, just go to that computer in your kids' room and it's almost like you're there! And they'll probably be having a sale.

October 17, 2007

Committee votes to return cannons to Monument Square

WRJN-AM 1400 is reporting that the city's ad hoc cannon committee voted tonight to return two Civil War cannons to Monument Square.

How the cannons will be placed on the square is unknown, reported Janet Hoff of WRJN. The committee is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 25 to further discuss the issue.

Committee members include: Richard Christensen, Wade Helding, Devin Sutherland, Ken Carrier-Duncan, Jeff Coe, John M. Engel and Sharon Baldukas.

Sutherland, head of the Downtown Racine Corp., was the only committee member to vote against the plan, according to WRJN.

If approved by the City Council, the cannons could be dedicated on Flag Day, along with a new flag pole on Monument Square.

Click here to listen to WRJN's radio report.

Racine's new CEO settles in

Up on the second floor of Racine City Hall is a big office that used to house the Finance Department. Its cubicles are empty; the front counter is piled with furniture, boxes and trash. The lights are mostly out; Finance Department workers are now located elsewhere.

But if you were to open the big doors and peer inside, you'd see a light coming from an office in the back, to the left. And if you were to wend your way there, past the debris, you would meet Racine's newest executive, arguably the second-most important person in City Hall (behind the mayor and, collectively, the City Council.)

That man is Benjamin S. Hughes, 35, the two-and-a-half-weeks-new city administrator, Racine's second ever. In effect, he is the city's chief operating officer, the person who oversees and manages city operations day-to-day. Department heads report to him, and he reports to the mayor.

Hughes sports a crisp blue shirt, blue checked tie and a big smile. And why not? Few people even know he's here yet; these are what he'll remember as the good old days, before daily crises search him out.

He says he knew in high school that he wanted a career in local government, "the side of governent that makes things work efficiently," he says, "not politics."

And so he got B.A. and Master's degrees in public administration and spent eight years working for the mayor of Albany, NY -- Jerry Jennings was first elected in 1993 and still holds the job, and there's no city manager or administrator. Then, in 2004, Hughes wanted to move closer to his family in Michigan, so he took a job as village administrator in Wrightstown, WI, (between Green Bay and Appleton) population 2,400.

In May 2006 he visited Racine for the first time, with a friend who has family here, and fell in love with the city. "I made a mental note then that if the job every became available, I'd want it."

This summer, when the city's first administrator, Steven Nenonen, retired, that option became a possibility. (Nenonen, you'll recall, retired on somewhat a sour note, when it became known that he claimed $29,000 for months of unused sick leave.)

Hughes was recommended for the job by Mayor Gary Becker, and approved by the City Council 12-2. (Voting nay were Ald. Robert Mozol, who felt the $110,000 salary was too high; and Ald. Michael Shields, who feels the position itself is unnecessary.)

"I love city government," Hughes says. "Bedroom communities don't excite me; helping people who are disadvantaged, working with a challenged manufacturing base and fixing unemployment, those are what I like."

Hughes said he told the mayor during the interview process, "I don't care whether you have a residency requirement (Racine does), I want to live here anyway. I plan to be here for a long time; I don't want to be viewed as someone who'll be a change agent and then be gone."

Hughes has spent his first weeks here meeting with department heads, and front-line staff, and wandering the city talking to people. The impression he's gotten is that the city is "an undiscovered gem; almost everyone I've talked to said they feel the city is coming back, and they want to be here. It made me want to be here even more."

Until he sells his house in Wrightstown, Hughes is renting a duplex on the north side of town. But he says he wants to buy a home.


He's the oldest of four kids; has two sisters and one brother. His siblings and family still live in Michigan, near Lansing. His father was a school superintendent; his mother a social worker.

He likes to stay active and plays third base in softball leagues. The scouting report would say, "Good defensively, not so good with a bat."

He's a runner; does a 10k in 44 minutes, a half-marathon in 1 hr. 40 minutes.

His dog, Cooper, 7, an abused black Lab and coon dog mix, was rescued from the Green Bay animal shelter just before he was to be euthanized.

Finally: yes, girls, he's single.

Shhh, here's a budget preview!

Mayor Gary Becker sends his proposed 2008 budget to the City Council on Oct. 22, but here's a not-so-small bit of inside information.

The Capital Improvement Plan -- the amount of money budgeted for bricks and mortar infrastructure projects -- in the mayor's budget is $7.6 million.

Where'd we get that number? From His Honor himself. While we were interviewing new city administrator Ben Hughes, Becker came in and announced it to Hughes (and to our listening ears). Becker seemed pretty pleased with the number, too. It's flat to this year's $7.56 million, (setting a good example for department heads).

We tried a follow-up question or two -- for instance, will the budget be so tight that we'll have to lose a dozen police officers, as has been bandied about -- but Becker only smiled, shook his head "no," and said, "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." We think he was kidding.

Forbes magazine gives Racine props

Judy Hearst, vice president and regional manager of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, in Milwaukee gave Racine a big endorsement in Forbes magazine this week. In a story about vacation homes, Hearst said Racine was the next big market for vacation homes. Here's her quote:

"There are hundreds of new waterfront villas and attached townhouses being built where you can step out your door and be right on a boat on Lake Michigan. There's a great beach, one of the cleanest on the lake, and the setting is really awesome. Historic Italianate buildings with painted cornices line Main Street, and South Main has Greek Revival homes with huge columns. Art galleries, caf├ęs, and bars with jazz are clustered in storefronts on Sixth Street, with apartments upstairs. There are so many fun art festivals, plus the Racine Art Museum. And Racine is just one hour north of Chicago." Prices from $200,000 to $1 million plus.

She added that she doesn't own a second home, but Racine would be her "dream second-home spot.
Here's the full story.

Horlick students receive AP Scholar Awards

Several Horlick High School students received AP Scholar awards for passing tests in advanced classes.

The AP Scholar award is granted to students who receive grades of 3 or higher on three or more AP exams: The Horlick students receiving this award are Timothy Hanrahan, Kevin Larsen, David Medved, Kaitlyn Stainbrook, and Rachel Steidl.

The following students earned AP Scholar with Honor: Abigal Husch, Lawrence Neuman, and Eric Post. The Scholar with Honor Award is given to students who receive an average grade of at least 3.25 on all AP exams taken and grades of 3 or higher on four or more of these exams.

The AP Scholar with Distinction Award is granted to students who receive an average of at least 3.5 on all AP Exams taken and then the highest average grade(at least 3.5) on all AP Exams taken. Students receiving the AP Scholar with Distinction Award were: Dana Christensen, Amelia Fawcett, Andrew Sandgren, Douglas Schadewald, Dan Sparbel, and Justin Vrana.

Police, schools work together on students' criminal records

The Burlington Standard-Press continues to report on an interesting standoff between the Burlington School District and the Town of Burlington police department.

The fight revolves around an underage drinking party in the town. Twenty juveniles were ticketed at the party, including some who go to Burlington schools.

After learning about the party, the school district asked the town police for the names of the kids at the party. Police officials refused, saying they could not legally turn over the names of underage students.

Burlington school officials responded that the Burlington city police have no problem turning over the names. Town police refused and the issue is at a standstill.

We checked with Racine Unified to find out if the district works with city police to get the names of kids ticketed or arrested outside of school hours. The answer: Yes they do.

Here's a response from Al Days, Unified's security officer:

Given the fact that we have over 40 officers working in the school system, important information is shared. We do have an informal information exchange about students involved in criminal activity especially if the student could be violent of a possible danger to other students.

It's unclear if that applies to underage drinking, and it is different given the number of city police in Racine's schools. But it seems Racine police and Unified do work together to talk about students' arrests - in or out of school.

Mayor's appointments to city committees

The City Council approved the following appointments to city committees and commissions, made by Mayor Gary Becker, on Tuesday:

Waterworks Commission:

Reappoint Alderman Ron Hart for a one-year term ending in October 2008.
Reappoint Alderman Tom Friedel for a one-year term ending in October 2008.
Appoint Jeff Pellogrom, 555 Main Street, for a four-year term ending in October 2011.

Wastewater Commission:
Reappoint Alderman Ron Hart for a one-year term ending in October 2008.
Reappoint Alderman Tom Friedel for a one-year term ending in October 2008.
Reappoint Jeff Pellogrom, 555 Main Street, for a four-year term ending in October 2011.
Reappoint Roberto Garza, 1909 N. Wisconsin Street, as an alternate for a one-year term ending in October 2008.

Business Improvement District - West Racine:

Reappoint Alderman Aron Wisneski for a one-year term ending in December 2008.
Reappoint Jim Spangenberg, 3219 Washington Avenue for a three-year term (property owner representative) ending in December 2010.

Business Improvement District - Uptown:

Appoint Guy Singer, 1514 Junction Avenue.
Appoint Marie Oliver, 1330 Washington Avenue.
Appoint Andy Hay, 1642 Washington Avenue.
Appoint Dr. Richard Kemper, 1509 Washington Avenue.
Appoint Peter Walquist, 1413 Thirteenth Street.
Appoint Aldrenna Smith, 1407 Memorial Drive.
Appoint Lou Larsen, 1426 Washington Avenue.
Appoint Christopher Eperjesy, 1328 Racine Street.
Appoint Alderman Michael Shields for a one-year term.

Mayor to introduce 2008 city budget on Oct. 22

Mayor Gary Becker will send his proposed 2008 budget to the City Council on Oct. 22. Likely issues in next year's spending plan include cuts to the police and fire departments, funding for the city's community centers and plans to hire a city grant writer at $90,000 per year.

Becker referenced the police and fire cuts during a recent meeting on programming at the city's Bryant and Tyler-Domer community centers.

The grant writer may be a budget-neutral position, because a grant writer can usually bring in more money than their salary to benefit the city.

A wild card in the budget is whether the state Legislature passes its budget. Without a finalized state spending plan, local governments like Racine don't know how much state aid to expect - a major source of revenue in the city budget.

School Board to meet with mayor, City Council

The Racine Unified School Board will meet with Mayor Gary Becker and the entire City Council for a "Listening and Linking Session" on Nov. 6.

The School Board wants to meet with city officials to gather feedback on the district as it regroups after a tumultuous year. It's also meant for the School Board to explain the direction of the district.

The listening session will be held as part of the council's "Committee of the Whole" meeting, which is open to the public. The meeting is scheduled for City Council chambers at 6 p.m. It's not expected to last more than 2 hours.

Click here for a PDF of the district's letter to the mayor and City Council, including a brochure on "Listening and Linking Sessions."

October 16, 2007

Lawmakers, listening

State Rep. Bob Turner, D-Racine, didn't get home from the legislative budget fiasco in Madison until 3 a.m. this morning. But he and State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, were on hand at the Cesar Chavez Community Center, as promised, at 10 a.m. for a listening session with northside constituents.

After a few minutes to bring the dozen participants up to speed on where the budget is -- short answer: it ain't -- they fielded questions, and strong opinions, from those present.

Questions about voter ID, drunk driving, cigarette taxes, tax breaks for seniors, legislative in-fighting.

CIGARETTE TAX: Partisan wrangling over an increase in the cigarette tax -- Republicans want an additional 75 cents per pack, Democrats want $1.25 -- was particularly galling to one woman. "People are getting sick and tired of government telling them what they can and cannot do. People know smoking is bad for you." A man added, In California you can't even smoke in your own apartment or condo!"

Both Lehman and Turner responded, almost in unison: "I'm never going to vote for that!"

Turner noted, "If my mother was alive, she'd hate my guts for supporting the $1.25 tax. She smoked all her life." Lehman said this is a bigger political issue in northern Wisconsin than here, and predicted there'd be a compromise. The tax increase, on top of already existing state cigarette taxes, is expected to reduce smoking by teenagers. (Neither could remember how much excise tax Wisconsin currently adds to a pack of cigarettes. We, with the benefit of Google, learn in a fraction of a second that it's now 77 cents; Wisconsin tax on smokes ranks 29th.)

SENIORS: "Will our legislature allow retirees to stay in the state," one man asked, adding, "If I lived in Georgia, I wouldn't have to pay any school tax." Others chimed in, "When is the state not going to tax Social Security?" "Why not freeze property taxes at 65?"

Lehman said proposals to exempt the first $10,000, $20,000 or more of property tax were an effort to help all low and middle-income taxpayers, not just the elderly. And next year, exemption of Social Security benefits from state income tax takes effect.

VIDEO GAMING: A question about lax enforcement of video gaming in taverns caused Lehman to note "the struggle between Indian gaming and small taverns. Small taverns are on the decline; they're not the gathering places they used to be." Laws against such gaming devices, he and Turner agreed, are not well-enforced.

DRIVING WITH CELLPHONES was something one respondent wanted the legislature to do something about. "A lot of people have contacted me about this," Lehman said, but he cited studies showing that other distractions -- talking, drinking coffee -- are just as hazardous. "Cellphone haven't changed accident rates," he said. And then he turned the question around, noting that in the cigarette tax discussion his questioners had opposed the government regulating what they do in their homes: "Do you want government going into your car?" Turner added, "There are adequate laws regulating inattentive driving now."

VOTER ID: "Why are you people in Madison opposed to it? Today it's helter-skelter; why not just require everyone to show an ID when they go to vote?" Lehman replied that this is not really a problem in Racine, and Turner recalled that there were fewer than half a dozen vote fraud cases statewide in the last election. Both pointed out that people have to show ID when registering to vote, and said that implementing a specific voter ID card would discriminate against the poor and disabled, who would have to make a special trip to get one. "We try to balance access to the polls and showing who the person is."

THE MESS IN MADISON: Lehman waxed philosophical when asked, "Why is there so little cooperation in government?"

"Redistricting! The creation of safe seats; there are very few competitive seats in Wisconsin. Robin Vos (R-Racine) said to me, 'I'm going to be the Representative (53rd District) as long as I live.' "

Referring to his own State Senate race last fall against Racine County Executive William McReynolds, Lehman said "Mac spent $400,000, and I spent $220,000. Including all that was spent, the race cost more than $1 million.

"There were only four competitive races like that in the state, out of 17 or 18 Senate races this year. Only 8 or 10 Assembly races are competitive.

"Could I even run against (U.S. Rep.) Paul Ryan? I don't think so; that sucker has been redistricted into a safe Republican seat."

Racine County, he said, is lucky in that the 21st Senate district is roughly 50/50, which is why Republicans and Democrats have traded control of it over the past decade: George Petak (R), Kim Plache (D), Cathy Stepp (R), and now Lehman (D). Pointing to his plastic chair in the gym, Lehman said, "You're looking at a guy sitting in a million-dollar seat."

Greenfield named head of Root-Pike WIN

Susan Greenfield, former chairwoman of Caledonia, is the new head of a local environmental group committed to protecting and storing the Root and Pike rivers in southeastern Wisconsin.

Greenfield is an award-winning environmentalist who served on the Caledonia Town Board for eight years. As chairwoman, she lead Caledonia's adoption of one of the state's first conservation subdivision ordinances.

Greenfield is a Horlick High School graduate with a master's degree from Marquette University.She is married to Jerry Greenfield, Interim Provost at UW-Parkside, and they have three grown children and two grandchildren.

The Root-Pike watershed encompasses parts of Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, where the organization and volunteers work to protect, restore, and sustain the ecosystem through grant funding of locally initiated projects. Since 2001 the organization has awarded $297,560 in 68 watershed projects. The Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network grew out of a group convened in 1998 by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to identify critical natural resource issues in the Root River and Pike River watersheds.

October 15, 2007

Study suggests removing Sixth Street stop signs

A study presented to the city's Traffic Commission Monday night suggested that removing stop signs and traffic signals from Sixth Street will speed up traffic without endangering pedestrians.

The study, conducted by HNTB, found that four-way stops at Sixth and College and Sixth and Park are unnecessary. Instead, two-way stops at the intersections are enough to control traffic now and in 20 years, according to a report given to the commission. The report concluded, however, that further study on the issue was needed.

About a quarter-mile of Sixth Street between Grand Avenue and Main Street is scheduled to be rebuilt. The city studied the traffic flow on Sixth Street by shutting down traffic lights at the intersections along the Downtown Street in hopes of making it easier for people to drive through the area. Cross streets on the stretch of 6th Street include Villa, Park, College and Wisconsin.

Removing the traffic signals saved drivers as much as 20 seconds per trip along Sixth Street without impacting pedestrian traffic along the street, according to the study. But the study also noted this is not the public perception. People surveyed about stops signs on Sixth Street strongly favored four-way stops at Sixth and Park and Sixth and College. That could setup a political fight on the City Council over the need for stop signs along Sixth Street.

The study found that there 92 12-second gaps without traffic at Park and Sixth on a typical day - 12 seconds being the acceptable amount of time it takes someone to cross the street. There were 76 12-second gaps at College and Sixth.

According to state standards, a traffic signal should be considered at an intersection when there are fewer than 60 gaps per hour. Based on that standard, the study concluded that there was not enough traffic on Sixth Street to warrant traffic signals.

The study did find that two-way stops on Sixth at Park and College did speed up traffic along the road. When there were four-way stop signs at the corners the average traffic speed was between 17.9 and 23.5 mph. When there were two-way stops at the intersections the average speed was between 23.2 and 29.0 mph.

The accelerated traffic did not seem to sway the engineers in charge of the study. The report said:

There is strong public support for installation of all way stop control at both intersections however, surrounding property owners and the public perceive existing speed and safety concerns that are not supported by data.

Click here for a PDF of the full report.

Senate passes KRM funding; Assembly doesn't act

The Senate passed a $13 rental car fee increase to pay for the KRM commuter rail extension from Kenosha to Milwaukee.

The fee increase was included in a $5.5 billion two-year transportation budget, which included a new tax on oil companies. Because of a political fight over the oil tax, the transportation bill was broken out of the state budget.

The Assembly now needs to pass the transportation budget with the KRM funding intact, and the governor needs to sign the bill, for it to become law.

Along with the rental car fee increase, the bill allocated $1 million for the KRM extension, allowed the Regional Transit Authority in charge of KRM to borrow $50 million to build the system, and required the RTA to study extending KRM to the north side of Milwaukee.

The transportation budget passed the Senate 18-14. Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, voted in favor.

The Assembly did not vote on the transportation budget Monday night. It's unclear when they will vote on the bill.

Assembly rejects state budget

The Assembly rejected a compromise state budget Monday night, sending legislators back to the negotiating and further delaying the latest budget in the nation.

The nearly $60 billion budget was rejected 53-44 in the Assembly. Reps. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, and Steve Gunderson, R-Waterford, voted no. Reps. Bob Turner and Cory Mason, both D-Racine, voted for the plan.

Here's the full roll call vote.

The Senate passed the budget, with Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, voting yes.

Wisconsin is the last state in the nation with a budget for next year. Local governments and school districts across the state are in limbo waiting for legislators to finalize the amount of state aid that will be distributed next year.

If no budget is passed, the previous year's spending levels are put into place - an act that would amount to a more than $2 billion budget cut.

Racine's Top 25 Movies ...

Racine's 25 favorite movies this week, according to Netflix. Two of our top three choices star John Travolta and animated cows. Maybe it's time to crack a book instead. And, seriously, Cinderella Man is No. 1? That movie was released in 2005...

1 Cinderella Man
2 Wild Hogs
3 Barnyard
4 Disturbia
5 Man of the Year
6 The Notebook
7 The Pursuit of Happyness
8 Premonition
9 Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
10 The Messengers
11 Blades of Glory
12 Perfect Stranger
13 Bug
14 The Queen
15 Stranger than Fiction
16 The Number 23
17 The Holiday
18 Are We Done Yet?
19 Lonely Hearts
20 Shooter
21 Rome: Season 2 (5-Disc Series)
22 I Think I Love My Wife
23 Grey's Anatomy: Season 3 (7-Disc Series)
24 Heroes: Season 1 (7-Disc Series)
25 Lucky You

Cannon debate continues... Karas backs Gateway for historic guns

Racine Alderman Pete Karas wrote Monday that he supports putting two Civil War cannons by the Lincoln statue on the campus of Gateway Technical College. He also suggested a temporary display so the cannons can be moved if a more suitable location appears.

Karas also included a summary of constituent contacts he received on the cannons. He said most people he's heard from are opposed to putting the cannons on Monument Square, where they once resided.

Among the opinion Karas reported included leaving them behind the Public Works barn, sending them to Kenosha for the planned Civil War museum and position them on Highway 32 facing Kenosha.

Here's Karas' comments for the official city record:

October 15, 2007

Members of the Ad-hoc Cannon Committee:

In addition to the emails below, I also have had six constituent contacts on this issue. Of those, five did not want them to be placed at Monument Square and one wished that they were placed there.

All five that did not support the Monument Square location offered alternative sites (two at Gateway, two at a cemetery, and one on Highway 32 facing Kenosha.)

The individual who supported placing them at Monument Square mentioned that they would enhance the existing monument, incorporating the cannon into the name of the square, (which is of course, Monument Square,) and pay tribute to Racine veterans.

Personally, I believe that they should stay in Racine as they fit very well into the Joshua Glover story. I recently finished reading the book, The Rescue of Joshua Glover, Runaway Slave, by Ruby West Jackson and Walter McDonald which does an excellent job of chronicling Mr. Glover’s life, his quest for freedom from oppression, and the support the Racine people gave him.

The book also touches on the larger abolitionist movement in Racine and Wisconsin in the Mid-1800s, which includes a succession movement by Wisconsin over Federal slavery laws. The succession movement essentially ended when Abraham Lincoln was elected President as a third party candidate.

Local Racine people and organizations, with financial support of the City of Racine, have begun the process of showcasing the story of Joshua Glover, the local Underground Railroad, and the abolitionist movement in Racine. All indications that this, when completed, will not only honor our proud past, but also will attract a large number of history-minded tourists to the City – a demographic group that spends more dollars and stays a longer time than the average visitor, yielding an economic benefit to the City.

I believe that the cannon would best be placed at a temporary location, Gateway, next to the President and Mrs. Lincoln seems most historically fitting to me. As the aforementioned historical project continues, I feel we should be flexible in the future placing of the cannon for display – giving the option of either staying at the Gateway location or moving them to a place that is a better fit as time passes and incorporating them into the Joshua Glover project as it proceeds.

Thank you to the Committee for their work on this issue and for considering my comments.

Ald. Pete Karas

Here are the emails I have received on the issue:


I support keeping Monument Square AS IT IS.

I strongly request to the study committee that it considers lending the historic Civil War cannons to the soon-to-open Kenosha museum. Why has there been such resistance to joining what appears to be an exceptional historical project? This resistance needs to be investigated and talked through by the committee, the city leaders and others who are interested in this project.

The museum appears to promise to fully tell the story of the Civil War in the context of the Midwest involvement in the war, the people and issues, etc., and I presume will allow professional and amateur historians to contribute in a number of ways. I hope such a venture will REALLY educate people about this part of our nation’s history, rather than simply placing the cannons in the square or other location with no real explanation or context.

Having traveled in the cities and villages of Italy, there is something quite special about the openness of the city and village squares there. The wide open expanse – sometimes marked by a statue or fountain and sometimes not – offers the chance to gather and mingle and be part of a COMMUNITY – an important experience in this day and age, one that benefits people and cities as well as businesses that surround the area. We have enjoyed recent concerts on the square, as well as the opportunity to stroll the streets, visit a nearby book store and enjoy the ice cream shop nearby.

And please remember that the request is a LOAN only, so that if we believe that the cannons are not properly being cared for in the Kenosha museum, Racine city can ask for their return.



Hi Pete,

I think Karen has the right idea. My residence is not in the City, but my business is. Hope that counts for something.

Hope you're doing really well.



Subject: Cannons

Pete, You are not my alderman, but I agree 100% with Karen about the cannons. I've been very puzzled as to what the problem is with loaning them to the museum in Kenosha, which I think is the perfect place for them. They will get the care and respect there that they should, as historical objects--much more so there than in the square.




I don't think that this is an especially popular opinion, but one that I think you may appreciate. I think it is high time that we stop glorifying the symbols (and actual instruments) of killing people!! There is no other appropriate use for such a gun (cannon). So..."the cannons freed the slaves," then it took 100 years for them or their ancestors to actually begin to become equal citizens!

The spot behind the DPW barn was a great spot for them, in my opinion, but the museum may be a good option.

A museum that can preserve the history of such instruments would be most appropriate, especially if accompanied by descriptions and photos of the carnage so that we can learn (some day!) that we should not do this again.


I gather the issue is one of public display of the cannons downtown or such.

I like the idea of loaning, even giving, them to a museum dedicated to that war.

Thank you.


October 14, 2007

Property Transfers: Grand Appliance building sold for $810,000

The building that houses Grand Appliance TV at 7227 Durand Ave. was sold on Sept. 28 for $810,000. The 4,900 square-foot building was owned by NAI MSG Commercial. It sits at the corner of Durand Avenue and Oakes Road near the entrances to Menard's and Wal-Mart.

Click here for the full list of Racine County property transfers from October 3-10.

VIDEO: Ryan on C-Span

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, on C-Span Sunday:

"Our deficit is the lowest as as a percentage of GDP in about 20 years; the deficit just went down 35% this year from the last estimate, so we're making progress on the deficit. We are still spending too much money."

"When we tax our businesses, our capital, our corporations at the second highest tax rate in the industrialized world, it is inhibiting our competitiveness. So I'm very much worried that we are pushing jobs and businesses overseas and we have to be more competitive on our tax system so we can attract jobs and growth and business here at home. To the extent that we keep raising taxes to pay for ever-higher spending, that hurts our ability to be internationally competitive. It hurts our ability to win in this era of globalization."

"The problem I see with politics today at the national level, both on the Democrat and Republican sides, is that no one has proposed solutions that rise to the level of the challenges that are confronting us today. We have three enormous challenges. Islamic totalitarianism, globalization, and this pending entitlement bankruptcy with the baby boomers beginning to retire this year, and not one of these candidates is getting beyond a two-sentence answer to one of these problems."

"I haven't selected a person to support myself, not that that matters to many people."

Watch the full interview here. (If it doesn't load, upgrade your RealPlayer here.)

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Duct tape, who knew?

Sure, it holds your car and garbage can together. In a pinch, it'll patch almost anything. But who knew it was artistic?

The folks at Redline Tavern, 1200 N. Wisconsin, knew.

Click here for print version of this photo.

This weekend they're holding their Second Annual Duct-to-Do, an event fueled by duct tape (and beer, duh!), a contest in which artists of every stripe make whatever they can dream up out of (you can see this coming, right?) duct tape.

Boring grey duct tape. And blue, red, yellow, green, purple, black ... the whole rainbow, in fact.

To get the mood started, the Redline is decorated with duct tape bats hung from the ceiling, and owner Connie Nau has created a large and scary spider.

While we watched on Saturday, regular Tracey Larrin was putting the finishing touches on a life-size witch: black outfit and pointed hat, green face, red lips, complete down to a wart on her nose. The broom will be a finishing touch.

All made of duct tape. "I wanted to make a pumpkin," she said, "but there was no orange tape."

Last year, Tracey made a dress from duct tape. Very slinky, and she wore it to a party. "But I couldn't sit, and I couldn't pee..." she said, her voice drifting off. (Yeah, we've been there, done that, although not so much in a duct tape dress.)

Click here for print version of this photo.

3M donated the raw stock. There are rules, of course, and two categories: objects made with tape stuck on a base of cardboard or wire or whatever, and objects made just of tape itself.

Lots of prizes too ... all made of duct tape.

So far, entries include a purse, earings, a couple of ties, a dress, a wallet, flowers.

Hey, you can't watch football all the time!