November 24, 2007

'Income out-migration' cost county $76 million in year

Southeastern Wisconsin is losing income: The people moving out of seven counties, including Racine, are taking with them $400 million more personal income than newcomers to the counties are bringing in.

$400 million in one year alone.

"This net loss," writes the Public Policy Forum in a report analyzing 2005-2006 figures, "represents the largest such out-migration of income from southeastern Wisconsin in the last 10 years."

Of the seven counties -- Kenosha, Walworth, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Milwaukee, Washington and Racine -- "Racine County lost the greatest percentage of total income -- 1.9% in just one year. Kenosha County, on the other hand, was able to add a full 1% to their county's total personal income through the attraction of those from outside southeastern Wisconsin -- primarily Chicagoans. Walworth County, also close to Chicago, was the only other county in southeastern Wisconsin to bring in more income than it lost last year," the report states.

(The report doesn't mention KRM even once. Nor, having eviscerated RUSD earlier this month with its 10th annual report on the district's dropout rates and student test scores, does this Public Policy Forum report mention local schools.)

Income migration data are "the result of a joint effort between the IRS and the U.S. Census Bureau, matching records of individual income tax returns filed in a base year with tax returns filed in the subsequent year." Taxpayers who move are considered emigrants from their original county and immigrants to the one they settle into. The Public Policy Forum calculated "net migration" by summing the inflow and outflow of income for each year. Got that?

Some of the report's key findings include:
-- While aggregate personal income in southeastern Wisconsin grew last year by a healthy 3.7%, record net out-migration of $400.2 million in personal income reduced overall growth by one percentage point.

-- Chicago continues to send southeastern Wisconsin households with high personal income. We added $392 million from the six-county Chicago region in the past five years.

-- Chicago emigrants to southeastern Wisconsin brought an average of $47,880 in personal income per tax return, significantly higher than Wisconsin emigrants coming here with average incomes of $34,124.

-- Despite the influx from Chicago, southeastern Wisconsin bled income to the rest of the state, and to the Sunbelt. Popular destination for our region's income are Florida, Arizona, northern Wisconsin and Jefferson and Dodge counties.

-- This region is not alone in losing income. Chicago lost $2 billion from 2005-2006, and the Twin Cities lost $518 million.

Although Madison is considered a boom town thanks to the presence of the University of Wisconsin, it was a net loser in the income migration sweepstakes -- but just by 1/10th of a percent. Still, Dane County netted $63.4 million in income migration from southeastern Wisconsin since 2001. Other areas benefiting from the outward migration of our region's wealth, the report states,,is northern Wisconsin, including such 'second-home' destinations as Lake Tomahawk and Lake Minocqua.

The report concludes: "Incomes are growing in southeastern Wisconsin, but they could grow faster if we found a way to plug the relentless leakage of personal income to areas outside the region. From 2001 to 2006, households moving out of the seven-county southeastern Wisconsin region took with them $1.3 billion more in personal income than those moving into the region brought in. This is a challenge for the entire region. With five of seven counties having net income losses, every county could do more to plug the income drain.

"Stopping southeastern Wisconsin's income drain would have meant expanding the region's economic pie by $400 million in the last year alone. A larger income base would circulate more money to fund government services like schools and police; more money to support the arts and bolster retail trade; and more investment to assist the housing market."

The full report is HERE.

November 23, 2007

Wearable Art Accessories show at Artists Gallery

Jewelry by Kelly Gallaher, above;
purse by Georganne DeRose, below

Nine Racine fiber and jewelry artists will be featured in a "Wearable Art Accessories Show" at the Artists Gallery in December and January.

The show features work by these artists:
Mary Anne Bunkers: scarves
Georganne DeRose: felt purses, scarves
Carole Floate: jewelry, hats
Kelly Gallaher: jewelry
Paula Kalke: jewelry
Georgia Kroll: boas, scarves, hats
Toby Iwon-Prioletta: jewelry
Rita Tisser: silk scarves
Phyllis Wilson: handmade paper pins

The opening reception will be Saturday, Dec. 1, from 5 to 8 p.m. The show runs through Jan. 27.

The Artists Gallery is a cooperative of 30 local and regional artists, located at 312 Sixth St. For more information call (262) 635-9332 or check their website.

Snowdance finalists announced

Over Our Head Players announced the finalists Friday for its fourth annual Snowdance 10 Minute Comedy Festival, including one play written by authors from Racine.

This year's finalists were selected from 182 scripts sent in from 29 states, the District of Columbia, three foreign countries and one U.S. Embassy.

The finalists include:

Enigmatic Lucidity by Len Cuthbert, London, Ontario
A man keeps waking up from a horrible dream only to discover that he’s still dreaming. Or is he?

The Saga of Ginny by Ian August, Highland Park, New Jersey
The story of Ginny’s tragic fall from grace. A hilarious examination of profanity, morality and censorship in today’s society.

Shopko by Joe Thompson, Madison, Wisconsin
Perry goes shopping for Zingers, and that’s exactly what he ends up with.

Shtick Therapy by Lori & Marc Barbeau and Jean & John Lowry, Racine, Wisconsin
With their marriage on the rocks, Mr. and Mrs. Stick Figure agree to a therapy session with Dr. Shtick, world-renowned stick-figure couples’ therapist.

The Crucifixion of Moe and Ira by Lynn-Steven Johanson, Macomb, Illinois
A Judean clown and a Samaritan altar-builder make the best out of an otherwise dire day in Golgotha.

Rats by Shaun Raviv, Washington, D.C.
Rat and Tar debate the morality of grabbing a bite to eat. Behold, the power of Cheese!

Yuppies by Sean Kenealy, Brooklyn, New York
As George and Aaron wait for the train, a woman enters their world and starts a conversation that they won’t soon forget.

Hostage Negotiator by Matt Solomon, Madison, Wisconsin
Meg brings Andy home to meet her dad. Dad is protective of his daughter in his own unique way.

Second to Last by Ignacio Zulueta, Oakland, California
Two ambitious astronauts hatch a plot to move up through the ranks of NASA, despite their richly deserved position at the bottom of the talent pool.

Toys in the Attic by Michael Burgan, Chicago, Illinois
As Anna and David visit his parents, they discover some “toys” that David never played with as a child.

The Snowdance 10 Minute Comedy Festival is a competition of original 10 minute comedies. In the ultimate interactive experience, the audience can vote for the production they enjoyed the most. The votes will be tallied throughout the four weekend festival run, and the Snowdance “Best in Snow” will be awarded after the final performance on February 24th. A cash award of $300 goes to “Best in Snow”, with a $100 award going to both second and third place. OOHP presents Snowdance February 1 - 24, 2008; they run four shows each weekend in addition to Wednesday evening bonus shows. Reservations are available at (262) 632-6802.

City Council passes budget... Journal Times snoozes

Mayor Gary Becker must be feeling pretty good these days. Serving his second term - a four-year term he won uncontested - he just ran a budget through the City Council where he got everything he wanted (and then some) with little or no accountability.

Consider some of the issues raised in the city's 2008 budget:

* The city outsourced its information systems department for little savings (and plans to contract the work without taking bids). Wonder how that makes other city employees feel ... your job could be eliminated any year.

* Or your job could be cut, like what the mayor did to the head of the city's human resources department. Perhaps it's an afterthought, but Sylvia Coronado-Romero was the only woman and only Hispanic in a department head role with the city. Some are questioning if the move was even legal, but again, little oversight on this issue.

* Starting next year, every property owner in the city will be charged $50 to fix sewer laterals. Because it's a fee, the money doesn't count against the state-imposed levy limits, which makes it a sneaky way to increase city spending without calling it a tax increase. There's an argument out there that efforts to hold the line on property taxes are forcing municipalities to use end-around tactics to raise money - tactics like hidden fee increases. You'd like to think someone would want to write about an additional $1.1 million in city revenue next year (including a new $90,000 per year position), but apparently not anyone at Racine County's daily newspaper.

* Other cuts that received little to no attention: the loss of a parks position means longer waits for snowplows to clear sidewalks and alleys; a $2 increase in parking tickets; the loss of a city firefighter (remember when the firefighters worked against Becker for shutting down a fire station? The mayor does...)

There are people to blame here, starting with RacinePost. We're here to fill the gaps of our daily newspaper and we got to a few of these stories, but clearly we weren't on top of the major issues coming out of the budget. Heck, we were even surprised the budget got passed so quickly. But we're two people working part time for peanuts, and a website to boot. It's clear a greater focus is needed on city government - the bedrock of journalism for most daily newspapers.

The Journal Times has fewer excuses. There are basic, obvious questions about the budget that were never asked. As far as we can tell, the paper wrote a non-critical story when Becker released the budget (including his entire budget address), a non-critical story about him eliminating the HR director, a brief about two alderman holding budget listening sessions (but no coverage of the sessions), a short story on aldermen wanting to restore a police officer and, to top things off, a 204-word story a day late on the council passing the budget. The story had such little significance to the JT that it didn't even make the front page.

The folks at 212 Fourth Street gave similar, though less comprehensive coverage, to budgets passed by the County Board, Mount Pleasant, Caledonia and Burlington. Someone over there has to get reporters asking critical questions on critical stories - and not just budgets. We need a serious daily news source to get a better understanding of what's happening in the community.

We'll help out as much as possible - and sure hope we have something of value to offer. But we can't do it on the level of a multi-million dollar operation that's been working on the community for decades. We need the JT to shape up as much as anyone - and hope the reporters and editors come around soon. (Hint: It's not too late! There are several story ideas above.)

November 21, 2007

City Council decides: Cannons back at Monument Square

The cannons are moving back to Monument Square.

That, at least, was the will of the City Council Tuesday night, as it accepted the recommendation of the ad hoc committee studying the matter.

The council approved a motion by Alderman Jeff Coe, District 1: "Resolved, that the two Civil War era Cannons be returned to Monument Square; placed with due honor and respect for their historic significance as part of Racine's monument to those who served and those who died in the American Civil War.

"Further resolved, that the Cannons be positioned in visual proximity appropriate to the relationship of the Cannons to the Monument. The exact location(s) on the Square, and type of base support into which they will be placed should be determined through consultation with the City's Monument Square Design Consultant, Landscape Architect Ken Saiki Design, Inc.

"Fiscal note: To be determined."

The vote was 14 - 0. Alderman Michael Shields, District 3, wasn't present.

You have to love that last "Fiscal note." Dave Brown, city finance director, says, "They haven't discussed funding. No one's come up with plans, specifications or cost."

Over at Parks and Recreation, word is that Ken Saiki Design is already on the case: working on design and placement of a flagpole and art pieces for Monument Square, and now -- thanks to last night's vote -- for the cannons as well. (Or must they be capitalized "Cannons" as the City Council refers to them?)

The city's "honor and respect" for the cannons' "historic significance" couldn't have been contrasted more starkly than at the Downtown Rotary Club's meeting at noon. Rotary's speaker today was Paula Touhey, director of Kenosha's Public Museums, who will be opening a grand Civil War Museum on June 14, 2008. A place some had suggested that Racine display the two cannons removed when Monument Square was redesigned more than a year ago.

Kenosha's new Civil War Museum

"I won't mention the cannons," Touhey began ... then she described the spectacular museum complex nearing completion on a former brownfield site in Downtown Kenosha, on Lake Michigan. Already open is the beautiful Kenosha Public Museum, and the Dinosaur Discovery Museum located in a former Post Office, which together draw about 125,000 visitors a year.

Kenosha's Civil War Museum will be different from others. "They're usually connected to a battlefield, and tell you about war. This museum is not about war; it's about people. Five hundred thousand soldiers from the Midwest fought in the Civil War; before the war they'd never traveled and they came back with stories -- and these are what we'll be telling."

The exhibition will tell the story in human terms, Touhey said, allowing visitors "to walk among" the soldiers, and follow five real people from that era. Many of the artifacts to be displayed come from two collections, from Carthage College and Carroll College.

Kenosha's museums are run by the city, and have an annual budget of $3 million. The Civil War Museum is hoping to procure a $10 million endowment to fund its operations; Touhey said $6 million already has been collected.

She expects 300,000 visitors its first year. (Racine's biggest attraction -- not counting the mall -- is believed to be the Racine Zoo, which draws about 75,000 visitors annually.

Gas prices: Up, and up, and ...

Chart courtesy

Ah, the good old days, when gasoline sold for less than $3 a gallon!

Was it really just two weeks ago we posted about gasoline prices approaching that level? Yup.

So much for the suspense. Worldwide, a barrel of crude oil is flirting with $100 a barrel (it hit $99.29, a record, yesterday), a number unthinkable as recently as this summer. Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, looking ahead, threatened $200 a barrel just a few days ago, although this morning, former Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani said it could tumble as low as $75 a barrel if OPEC decides to raise output next month and if the winter season is mild. Two big "ifs." But he echoed Chavez warning that prices could surge as high as $200 if the United States attacked Iran.

That SUV doesn't seem such a good idea these days, eh?

As the chart above shows, average prices in Wisconsin, Milwaukee and the U.S. are solidly above the $3 figure; cheapest price for regular in Milwaukee today was $3.09.

Enjoy your holiday travel. Try not to think about it.

November 20, 2007

Festival of Trees winners listed

The People's Choice and raffle winners of the beautifully decorated trees, wreaths and garland from the 2007 Festival of Trees have been announced by the Downtown Racine Corporation.

“A Classic Christmas,” decorated by Gwen Nelson and Shirley Gayhart and sponsored by Modine Manufacturing, received the most votes in the People’s Choice voting. Nelson and Gayhart were each awarded a Downtown gift certificate. They decorated their 6 ½ ft. tree in traditional style with large, old-fashioned multi-colored bulbs. This festival favorite was won by Jill LeRoy of Racine.

Sixty-eight other items were part of the raffle. Winners listed after the break.

“Christmas Romance” – Dolores Olmstead
“All American Tree” – Kaitlyn Neubecker
“Land of Enchantment” – Roxanne Paque
“Whimsical Winter Wonderland” – Theresa Barry
“Crystal Fantasy” – Mary Ann Kreul
“A Sportastic Winter” – John Foreman
“Children’s Enchanted Christmas” – John Kishing
“Enchanted Rhythm” – William Schuessler
“A Manhattan Christmas” – S. P. Balsano
“Enchanted Knights” – Roger Dower
“Walking in a Winter Wonderland” – Lora Christensen
“A Christmas to Remember” – Liz Slamka
“4H Boys and Girls Getting Down on the Farm” – Rim Abramson
“Enchanted Talents” – A. Walek
“We Dig Christmas” – Rob Madson
“Magic Wonder” – Linda Chambliss
“The Three Kings” – Robin Callis
“Christmas in the Forest” – Diana Bohm
“Gifts Galore” – Moira Darling
“A Mid-Winter’s Night Dream” – Stef Andersen
“Pretty as a Princess” – Kathy Madson
“Jean’s An(TEA)que Party – Daniel Rodriguez
“A Fairy Merry Christmas” – Kathy Janiak
Holiday Goodies” – Barb Ruetz
“Light Up Your Life” – Liz Skantz
“Dog Days of Christmas” – The Foster Family
“Friends – One is Silver & the Other’s Gold” – Su Pheifer
“The Enchanted Forest” – Danielle Piru
“Princess Potpourri” – Jan Rogers
“Fascination” – Ca’Tommia Canady
“Shimmery, Glittery Holiday” – Connie Beschta
“Starry, Starry Night” – J. Martinez
“Starbucks Coffee Company” – Jack Kelly
“Traditional Christmas” – Kathy Christensen
“Autism Speaks” – Jeanette Julga
“Fruitcake Angel” – Charli Sutherland
“Santa Tree” – Paige Penner
“Festival of Trees Melodies” – G. Dederich
“A Crystal Christmas” – Jackie Skow
“From Your Enchanted Florist” – John Christensen
“Black and White and Red All Over” – Mason Haller
“Wadewitz Sparkles!” – Erin Walker
“The Enchantment of Gold & Silver” – T. Kraus
“Bejeweled” – Marcia Russell
“Seasonal Changes” – Nancy Nielsen
“A Night on the Town” – Lois Schultz
“With Visions of Christmas…” – Michelle Waller
“Enchanted Fairy” – Rita Kolberg
“Sparkle and Shine” – Lora Christensen
“Art Deco” – The Malec Family
“Very Victorian Christmas” – The Androff Family
“Butterfly Kisses” – Bonnie Rossman
“Yikes! It’s Raining Cats and Dogs” – Helen Liepold
“Girliest Girly Christmas Ever” – Abby Graf
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” – Gene Johnson
“On the Road Again” – Rebecca Bixler
“An Icy Winter” – Scott Russell
“Spell It Out!” – Lauren DeMorrow
“Garden Fantasy” – Chris Larsen
“Sugar and Spice” – Carrie Raboine
Downtown Merchants Tree – Nicki Macemon
“Frosty Irishmen” – Cailey Scott
“Nature’s Own” – J. Graceffa
“Angels Over High” – Nancy Kindl
“Frosty Tree” – Dee Kindl
“Gifts Galore” – Nancy Reeser
“Seasonal Changes” – Marilyn Mattias

Rufus: A puppy who senses your mood?

Rufus is a 5-month-old mixed breed puppy. Could be Wire Terrier, Schnauzer ... what? He is small and blond with a rough coat.

He was picked up by the Milwaukee Animal Control Commission, but when no one reclaimed him, Countryside Humane Society took him in to place for adoption.

He appears housetrained, is good with all ages and seems able to sense when people need comfort. He recently met with some mentally challenged adults and just laid his head gently on them and did not act wiggly while they stroked him.

Update, 11/20: Larry, last week's dog, has been adopted!

Update, 11/28: Rufus was adopted today. She went to an older retired couple with lots of love to give.

City budget: Back where we started; 4 positions restored

After four hours of deliberation last night, the Racine City Council, acting as a committee of the whole, approved amendments to the 2008 operating budget that will increase spending by $723,341. That pretty much restores all the funds cut when it appeared that tardy legislative shenanigans in Madison had capped the city's spending at a level lower than planned.

The budget that goes before the council tonight for approval will carry a total tax levey of $42,816,942, just $7,500 below the state-mandated limit.

The tax rate will be $10.76.

The budget restores four positions that had tentatively been cut: one police officer, two firefighters and a community center director.

Amendments to the capital improvement budget and five-year plan reduced 2008 borrowing by $240,000, to $7,660,000, almost exactly what Mayor Gary Becker originally submitted.

UPDATE, 11/20: The budget was approved Tuesday night, 10 - 4. Voting in favor: Anderson, Kaplan, Maack, Weidner, Shakoor II, Friedel, Helding, Wisneski,
Spangenberg and Hart. Voting against: Coe, DeHahn, Karas and Mozol.

Angel Tree brings Christmas to convicts' kids

"The sins of the fathers _______ (shall) (shall not) be visited upon the children."

Easy question, right? Of course not!

Well not everyone agrees, putting this story into the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Department.

Women volunteers working on a southeastern Wisconsin project to provide Christmas gifts for the children of incarcerated parents have been threatened by an anonymous caller. The Angel Tree Christmas program, organized by the Prison Fellowship of Milwaukee, purchases gifts for the children of Wisconsin prisoners.

In this corner of Wisconsin -- south of Milwaukee to the Illinois border, and west to Elkhorn -- there are 823 children with a parent in prison; long term incarceration, not jail.

Not everyone thinks this is a worthwhile project. A male caller -- his phone number is blocked from Caller ID -- has contacted a number of the women involved in the program to say that prisoners are hard criminals who don't deserve this kind of program. "Let them go to the Salvation Army, or Toys for Tots," he says.

Chris Lukasavige, chair of St. Lucy's Angel Tree program, said the caller told her, "If we don't stop this program, he will go to Fox News and newspapers to have them investigate."

Tina Stefaniak, SE Wisconsin coordinator of the program, has also received the calls. "It's like he's threatening me," she said, "but it didn't scare me. Bring it on! I need more churches involved!"

Angel Tree is just a small part of what the Prison Fellowship does, but this time of year it's the most visible. "We purchase gifts on the prisoners' behalf so their children remember them. We're trying to let the child know that mom or dad screwed up, but they still love you, just like God loves your parents even though they screwed up," said Stefaniak.

Convicts tell prison chaplains their children's names and ages, and what kind of gift they would like. That information ("Diego, 6, animal toy") goes on a tag hung on a tree at a participating church, and volunteers choose a tag and shop for the child, providing a toy gift or a clothing gift. Kids get one of each. Churches handle the distribution either by delivering the gifts to the homes or by holding a party to which the children and their caregivers are invited. There's a spending limit of $15-$20 per gift.

St. Lucy's Angel Tree has 150 angels -- gifts for 75 children. Lukasavige is optimistic that all the requests will be filled. "At St. Paul the Apostle they can't fill all the requests for angels," she says.

But it's not that easy everywhere. Luckily, the kids also have Tina Stefaniak on their side. Says Lukasavige, "Tina's incredible; any kids that are left over, she buys all the presents herself."

Stefaniak, a nurse at Aurora who also runs Dependable House Cleaning service from her home, is in her second year as the area's Angel Tree coordinator. "I enjoy kids," she says. "I started by delivering a couple of gifts at my church," and later directed her church's program.

The program's greatest need is Racine churches. "Out of my 823 children, about 650 live in Racine," she said. "I don't have many churches in Racine participating, and we have the greatest need here.

"I try to group the children to the churches, by zip code, so the people who collect the gifts can deliver them, and minister to these broken families one-on-one." Some churches deliver the gifts, while others have a big Christmas party and everybody comes to them.

Racine churches participating in this year's Angel Tree program -- so far! -- are: Faith Community Church, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, Racine Christian Reform Church, Taylor Avenue Church of the Nazarene, St. Lucy's Catholic Church, Northport Baptist Church and Evangelical United Methodist Church.

Other participating churches in SE Wisconsin are Southport Baptist Church, Kenosha (Northport's sister church); St. Mary's Lutheran Church, Kenosha; First Assembly of God, Kenosha; First Christian Church, Kenosha; Kenosha Bible Church; Prayer House Assembly of God, Kenosha; Raymond Community church, Franksville; Millard Community Church, Elkhorn; East Troy Bible Church; and Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lake Geneva.

If you or your church would like to participate in the program, Tina Stefaniak can be reached at 497-6813.

November 19, 2007

Library, JavaVino join for poetry, film, storytelling

The Racine Public Library is collaborating with JavaVino, 424 Main St., to offer storytelling, poetry and film programs at the coffeehouse in Downtown Racine.

Storytellling: Families of children 8 and younger are invited to spend Saturday mornings with storytellers from the library at JavaVino on Dec. 1 and 15, and Jan. 5 and 19 from 9:30-10:30 a.m. This is a free event and no registration is necessary.

Poetry: Teen and adult Poetry Roundtables will be held monthly on the 3rd Thursday from 7-9 p.m. These free events will focus on contemporary American poetry, highlighting a different poet at each meeting. Participants will read poetry excerpts, analyze them and discuss their significance. Individuals with varying levels of poetry experience are welcome. Roundtables will be Dec. 20, Jan. 17 and Feb. 21.

The library's Poetry Roundtable webpage has information about each month's poet. Photocopies of the poetry will be provided, but it is recommended participants review the work in advance. Space is limited to 10 participants; call the library at 636-9217 to register. The Roundtable will be facilitated by Nick Demske, a local poet and library employee.

Winter Foreign Film Series: Join film enthusiasts to preview some of the library's film collection as JavaVino hosts free screenings on the 2nd Saturday of each month from 5-7 p.m. Enjoy appetizers, wine, coffee and a film and then visit Downtown Racine's restaurants for dinner. Upcoming films and dates after the break:

Aaltra, on Dec. 8: Two rural neighbors come to blows on a farm and get tangled up in a tractor. The tragedy leaves them both paralyzed, wheelchair bound, and simmering with spite. The embittered paraplegics decide to roll across Europe to seek revenge against the tractor's manufacturer. One of the funniest black comedies in some time.French with English subtitles.

The Man of the Year, on Jan. 12: Maiquel has lost a bet and dyed his hair blond. This event triggers a collision with destiny in which he goes from nobody to hero to outlaw in 24 hours. A vibrant, brazen crime saga based on the award-winning novel O Matador by Patricia Melo. Portugese with English subtitles.

Fraulein, on Feb. 9: Having left Belgrade for Zurich 25 years ago, 50-something Reza has become a cafeteria owner and completely detached herself from the past. When Ana, a young woman fleeing Sarajevo with a tragic secret, is hired to work in Reza's cafeteria, her passionate spirit and impulsiveness both irritates and warms Reza's chill demeanor. Their relationship will change both women in ways they never anticipate. A poignant drama with English subtitles.

For more information about the library's programs, contact the reference desks at 636-9217 or 636.9245, or look on the library's website.

Crime and the city:
Is 167th most dangerous good enough?

When it comes to crime, Racine's cup is either half-full or half-empty.

The 14th annual "City Crime Rankings: Crime in Metropolitan America," based on FBI statistics, was released Sunday; a look at the underside of 378 cities with at least 75,000 people.

Based on per-capita rates for homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft, Racine ranked 167th. In other words, 166 U.S. cities are more dangerous -- or, if you want to look at it the other way, 212 U.S. cities are safer than Racine.

Each crime category was considered separately, and weighted based on its seriousness. In the chart above, a "score" of 0.0 would reflect an average crime rate at the national rate in the six crimes reviewed. A positive score reflects an average rate above the national rate. A negative score reflects an average rate below the national rate. (The study has its critics. Stories HERE) and HERE.

The bad news is that, outside of Milwaukee, we are the most dangerous city in Wisconsin. Detroit is the most dangerous city in the U.S.; Mission Viejo, CA, the safest.

The good news is that Racine's ranking improved in 2006 over 2005, when Racine was the 116th most dangerous city in America.

"But how can you feel good about it?" asked Kurt Wahlen, Racine's police chief since September 2006. "Do we have a ways to go? Yes."

Wahlen, pistol under his arm and handcuffs on his belt, said crime runs in cycles. As bad as 2006 was, crime then was lower than in 2001. So far, 2007 is better than 2006: homicides, aggravated assaults, thefts, motor vehicle thefts and arson are down from last year (sex assaults and robberies are up, however). "Overall, we're down 16.5% this year," Wahlen said.

But aggravated assaults are "huge" he says, 102 in 2005; 206 in 2006. This year, so far, they're down 10%, "but there's a spike nationwide." Why? "There are a myriad of factors involved," he says, pointing to Racine's high unemployment and low median income. "But mostly it's a change in culture. If someone is dissed, insulted, they respond with violence. Movies, games, our whole culture is violent. We act out the way we learn ... and then we're surprised by what happens."

The Police Department budget is due to be approved this week. Wahlen expects to end up with $27 million and 199 officers; that's down from 211 officers in 2002-03. "It's enough," he says. "The Police Department is only one part of the puzzle."

"The average citizen," he says, "doesn't have to feel unsafe, but he should be aware and prepared. Don't fumble with your car keys when loaded down with packages, for example. Don't make yourself a target.

"This isn't Mayberry," Wahlen concludes.

Holiday movie? Popular choices don't cut it

A long holiday weekend, family from out of town here for the duration. Can't watch football the whole time. What to do?

Rent a movie! Well, maybe. But which? Here are the current most-rented from Netflix, showing once again, that Racinians have, eclectic tastes.

The first three are ... well, nothing our family would want to watch together: Epic Movie is a spoof of blockbusters (a magic chocolate factory, a wadrobe, and the ...sounds like witch... of Gnarnia); Weeds is the Showtime TV series about a surburban matron pot dealer; Hostel II is yet more blood and gore (if you like this genre, the video store is full of it). Weeds is wonderful, actually, but not for Thanksgiving!

The first film on our list with a straight-forward plot and a recognizable star is No. 4, Deja Vu with Denzel Washington. It's earnest but muddled. Given our 'druthers, choose the fluff represented by 6-9 (Man of the Year with Robin Williams, Blades of Glory, Dreamgirls or Wild Hogs), or maybe The Last King of Scotland with Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin (for the acting; it's not a holiday plot.)

Or take out a stack of books from the library!

Netflix' top 25 after the break.

1. Epic Movie
2. Weeds: Season 2
3. Hostel: Part II
4. Deja Vu
5. The Boondock Saints
6. Man of the Year
7. Blades of Glory
8. Dreamgirls
9. Wild Hogs
10. Ghost Rider
11. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
12. The Guardian
13. The Last King of Scotland
14. The Departed
15. Hot Fuzz
16. Transformers
17. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie
18. Zodiac
19. The Hoax
20. Happily N'Ever After
21. Premonition
22. Shooter
23. The Holiday
24. The Lives of Others
25. Disturbia

WRJN: Chief wants community policing in Rubberville

The Racine Police Department wants to build a COP House in the Rubberville neighborhood, according to Police Chief Kurt Wahlen.

In a story first reported by WRJN radio, Wahlen told a city committee last week that the city needed to help the neighborhood. He told a personal story about his wife and son driving through Rubberville and getting threatened by a large group of kids.

Wahlen would relocate an officer from the chief calls RPD's "CSI" division to Rubberville to work with the neighborhood.

Rubberville is an old working class neighborhood on Racine's west side. It's bordered by Lathrop to the west, West Blvd. to the east, 16th St. to the north and Republic Ave. to the south.

Silent Circus sets up tent here for last time

Lance Raichert and Clown II, pencil.

Racine's Gallery Night was dark, rainy and cold, but there was a lively party Saturday night in many of the city's art galleries nevertheless.

None held a candle to the one at Monfort's Fine Art Gallery, where Lance Raichert and his wife Patricia Lee Raichert were exhibiting together for the first time. The gallery was absolutely packed with friends happy to talk to Pat and Lance, and art lovers eager to see 18 drawings from Lance's Silent Circus series lining the gallery's long wall.

Silent Circus is more than two-dozen pen and ink drawings done since 1982. But "pen and ink" doesn't begin to explain Lance Raichert's technique, which has been described as "putting lines between lines, and dots between dots." Extraordinary detail, in other words.

"What began as a fictitious circus that would travel from town to town ... has developed into a study of the evolution of generations of circus performers performing the same job year after year," says the catalog. "From this grew the very real observations of human nature, while being certain to incorporate a humorous view of life's little idiosyncrasies along the way."

The drawings are large and fanciful, but Raichert is rarely satisfied, even though he might spend a year completing a single image. Holding two fingers about an inch apart on Saturday night, he said, "When I'm done I feel I've created this much perfection." But then the fingers move much closer to each other. The catalog quotes him saying, "At this point, I feel I have created one-quarter-inch of perfection in every painting and drawing I have completed. I will continue working to bring all of those together in one painting."

There are some images he wants to do, Raichert says, but he lacks the skill to complete them to his satisfaction. But he keeps at it. At least one work in progress was on display.

The drawing above is described this way in the catalog: "The last of three images done in pencil for the sake of achieving greater detail, the second clown is exquisite. Mimicking aspects of the costuming of the first Clown, this clown is more inviting than he is scary. Also, the costume seems to hint at a time and place that has long faded into history. Note Raichert's fascinating use of negative space by implying that the subject is reclining on a wall, and yet the wall remains unseen."

For those who haven't seen Silent Circus, this probably is the last time so many pieces from the series will be exhibited here together. The 16 black and white drawings, along with one sketch and one colored piece, will be exhibited in Atlanta when the current show at Monfort's ends on Dec. 31.

Both Lance and Pat will continue to exhibit at Monfort's.

November 18, 2007

County continues to erode Office of Child Support Enforcement

The steady erosion of Racine County's Office of Child Support Enforcement will continue in 2008, according to the budget written by County Executive Bill McReynolds and passed by the County Board.

The Child Support Enforcement office is in charge of locating parents who are required to pay child support and making sure they pay their court-ordered amounts. It seems Racine County is good at locating parents who owe child support, but not so good at making sure they pay.

According to the 2008 budget, county residents pay their child support 65 percent of the time, below the state average of 71 percent and the state goal of 80 percent. Racine County also struggles with past-due amounts, collecting on 56 percent of late child support payments; the state goal is 80 percent.

The county is above the state average in getting court orders for child support and establishing who the parents are - it's just below average in actually having parents pay.

Part of the problem may come from the department's steady decline. In 2003, 47 employees worked for the Office of Child Support Enforcement. In 2008, the number will drop to 29.3 full-time equivalents, including the elimination of the office's director and two child support attorneys.

The budget creates a legal director and shifts around some other jobs, but results in a net loss of three positions over this year.

The number of attorneys in the office has dropped from five in 2006 to two next year.

Polling place may move from Janes School to Emmanuel Lutheran

Mayor Gary Becker is asking the city to move the polling place at Janes School, 1425 N. Wisconsin St., to Emmanuel Lutheran School, 725 High St., starting with the 2008 elections. The proposal will come before the Executive Committee on Tuesday, Nov. 20.

Committee holds line on funding for Racine Zoological Society

The city will extend its contract with the Racine Zoological Society through 2012, agreeing to pay the nonprofit organization $550,000 per year to run the Racine Zoo.

The nonprofit had sought a $100,000 year bump in 2011 and 2012 from the city. The request passed the License and Welfare Committee, but was tabled by the full City Council and sent to the Finance Committee for review.

The Finance Committee rejected the $100,000 increase over the last two years of the contract and voted to keep the payments at $550,000.

The Racine Zoological Society is a 501(c)3 organization that operates, but does not own, the zoo. At the end of 2005 the nonprofit reported net assets of $4.447 million.

Bryant Center director may be cut in city's 2008 budget

Lesia Hill-Driver has been the director of the Dr. John Bryant Community Center for 10 years. She has a master's degree in adult education with an emphasis on psychotherapy. She was a County Board supervisor and ran a program that helped men coming out of prison.

And in a few weeks, Hill-Driver may be unemployed.

Mayor Gary Becker's proposed 2008 budget recommends eliminating the director of the Humboldt Park Community Center. Due to seniority among the city's community center directors, the mayor's cuts would force Hill-Driver out at the Bryant Center.

It's a tough situation for Hill-Driver, who's spent a lot of time cultivating relationships in the surrounding neighborhood and developing the Bryant Center's programming to include more than just sports. She's brought in a full computer lab, dance classes, tae kwon do instruction, senior classes and other programs designed to appeal to a wide variety of interests.

"My vision for the Bryant Center is we become a center for the arts," Hill-Driver said. "That's why we have tap dancing, drill team, girl power and other things I'm trying to put into position. We're trying to bring culture to our children. It's a long way from just basketball and football."

Defending the city's community centers is personal for Hill-Driver. Her father, Augusta Hill, marched to create the Lafayette Community Center, which is now Tyler-Domer. Hill-Driver can remember being a little girl and coloring signs for the rally. Once the center opened, she remembers going there to participate in talent and fashion shows and to take crocheting classes. "I was into the girl stuff," said Hill-Driver, though the important of the community centers ran deeper than any one activity.

"To me, it was inclusion. It was having some place where the neighborhood children could go. Even then, it was a vision for the community to have fun, safe programming."

Heated opposition to the mayor's plans to rework the community center – no matter how minor Becker says it will be – lies in people like Hill-Driver's life-long trust and faith in Racine's community centers. It's this same trust and faith that Becker seemed to underestimate when he started talking about bringing in the YWCA and YMCA to partner with the community centers, and when he proposed eliminating one of the director positions.

Those actions have led to raucous community meetings with people openly attacking the mayor for his plans. Hill-Driver is among the critics.

"He should have allowed the changes to come from the people," Hill-Driver said. "It should come from the grassroots. You cannot take 30 years of heritage and history on a whim, and adjust it to one person's vision."

At least one alderman will try to save Hill-Driver's job. City Council Member Michael Shields is planning to introduce a budget amendment that would restore funding for the Humboldt Park community center director.

"I think the community centers are important," Shields said. "The directors in each center are important in building relationships in the community."

He added that Becker made a mistake in bringing up the community centers as an issue. "I think the mayor stuck his foot in his mouth," Shields said.

One reason funding for the community centers came under review is the perception that they're only used to play basketball, and a place like Humble Park doesn't offer much more than a gym and a game room.

But Hill-Driver said that is a narrow view of what the community centers do. The directors organize community events, like Juneteenth Day, work with nonprofit organizations, build relationships with children and oversee programs like Optimist basketball.

She also bristled when it was suggested that African Americans are the only group to use the community centers. People of all races attend the Bryant Center, Hill-Driver said, for programs ranging from ceramics to computer classes.

"There's passion from the African American community for the centers because of the roots, but the community centers are used by all," Hill-Driver said.

As for Becker's plans to partner with outside organizations to bring in more programming, she said the Bryant Center is already working with other nonprofits and all of the centers look for ways to collaborate with the community. Hill-Driver said she's skeptical of the mayor's plans because she sees what happened to the Lakeview Community Center after it was turned over to the Friends of Seniors.

"The public cannot even go in there and use the restrooms," she said. "The public can't park in the lot. Once you take a public entity and turn it over to a private entity, the public loses access to that facility."

Article by Dustin Block. It first appeared in the Nov. 15 edition of the Insider News.

Security cameras at community centers?

The City Council will consider installing security cameras at its community centers at the request of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Donnie Snow.

Snow entered a request to waive formal bidding on security cameras and to work with ClearCom to install security cameras at the centers.

The council will take up the request at its meeting Tuesday. It likely will be referred to committee for discussion.

The request comes in the middle of a budget process that could see one community center director laid off, but some extra money for programming at the centers. The public has rallied to support the community centers, and Alderman Michael Shields will ask that money for the cut director's position be reinstated.

Snow's request may be another way the city can invest in its community centers to create a safe environment for everyone to use.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster inspired this doctrine

A story so important, they had to print it twice?

In case you missed it ... or is there a more nefarious reason?

Saturday's Journal Times ("Education" page) had a long story, with a six-column headline, about the Flying Spahetti Monster. Written by Justin Pope, the AP's education writer, the story examines the tale spread across the internet of an alternative "theory" to intelligent design ... a satire mocking the idea of Creationism.

The news peg is that proponents (perpetrators?) of the Flying Spaghetti Monster parody have gotten themselves on a panel of the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting this weekend where, Pope writes, perhaps one of the thorniest questions in religious studies will be asked: "What is a religion? Does it require a genuine theological belief? Or simply a set of rituals and a community joining together as a way of signalling their cultural alliances? In short, is an anti-religion like the Flying Spaghetti Monster actually a religion?"

Heady stuff for a made-up religion originated in 2005 just to harass the state of Kansas as it debated whether intelligent design should be taught in school science classes.

But is it so important that the JT had to run the story twice? Yes, here it is again, in Sunday's paper, this time on the "Religion / Horoscopes" page (no joke; c'mon, people!), taking up another precious 60 inches of newshole.

Coincidence? Copy editors napping (or not reading their own paper)? Or a sign from the Flying Spaghetti Monster Himself (Herself)? Something for next-year's annual meeting to discuss.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster website is HERE.

Property Transfers:
Two Racine County buildings sell for over $2.2 million

Two big sales jump out of last week's property transfers (click here to download an Excel spreadsheet of the Racine County transfers). A property at 2300 South Street in Racine sold for $2.2 million and a property at 4221 Courtney Road in the Town of Raymond sold for $2.438 million. Here's what we found on each:

2300 South St., $2.2 million

This is the home of Domanik Sales, the local beer distributor recently sold to CJW Distributors out of Kenosha. The building is located near Batten International Airport and was assessed at $2.06 million in 2006 with paid property taxes of $49,681.98.

4221 Courtney Road, $2.438 million

This is the home of Speciality Tapes, a division of RSW, Inc. We couldn't find any news on the company, so it's unclear why the building sold. The 6 acre property was assessed at $1,690,800 in 2006 with paid property taxes of $28,013.99. The building, located just west of I-94 south of 3 Mile Road, was owned by Richard S. Werner.

According to its website, Specialty Tapes is a worldwide manufacturer and converter of high performance pressure sensitive tape products.

Other notable properties:

1937 Case Ave. - Sold for $5,000. It's a vacant lot located near the former Case plant. It was previously owned by David Beierle, of Waterford.

1221 15th Ave., Union Grove - Sold for $400,000. Property was owned by Sisters Car Wash, based in Franklin.

355 Maurice Drive, Union Grove - This was the most expensive home in Racine County reported sold last week. It sold for $290,000 with an assessed value of $266,000 this year.

Click here for a complete list of Property Transfers from Nov. 8-14