December 1, 2007

Racine artists have plenty to celebrate

Tom White and DK's Mona Lisa
(DK's identity revealed below!)

If there's one thing an artist loves, it's an audience.

Oh, and a party.

More than two dozen Racine artists had both Saturday, as they opened their studios in the old Wheary Wagon Wheel factory building on 16th Street to the public, and to old and new friends.

They had plenty to celebrate, starting with yesterday's love note to the city's art community in The New York Times, which called Racine "a port of call for art," and "a gritty art town, not a cute, generic, you-could-be-anywhere stage set."

While the big city reporter focused on the city's architecture and dozen galleries on Main and 6th Streets, the work of making local art goes on in basements, and in small studios carved out of former factories. The professionals get most of the media ink, but the housewives, retirees and escapees from the corporate world do the bulk of creation. Some full-time, some in their spare time; all with passion.

Saturday was their day to celebrate and show off. With a backdrop of live music, tables of cookies, cheeses and bottles of wine, the artists located in the Racine Business Center -- as the former factory is now known -- held their annual Studio Open House. Before the snow came in mid-afternoon, hundreds of people wandered the old wood factory floors into the well-lit studios, to see painting, sculpture, photography ... and art that defies easy labels: a charming series of mixed-media crows, for example, wall hangings made from recycled cardboard, a large "painting" made from 500,000 tiny beads ...

Some of the artists and their stories included:

Jim Chaplin, left; Del Parsons, seated

Jim Chaplin retired from Racine Federated, where he was a VP, on Dec. 31, 2000 ("You tend to remember those dates," he said.) He recalls doing a couple of paintings when he was 15, and a couple more when he was 30, and 45. But it wasn't until he retired, and started taking classes at Wustum Museum, that his inner artist came out. His teacher at Wustum was John Parsons, who died in 2004; Del is John's widow. Jim, now president of the Racine Art Guild -- which puts on the Starving Artists' Fair each year -- caught up with Del and her family.

David Gaura and silver spoon dinosaur

"This is the fun part of blacksmithing," says David Gaura of Franksville, who takes time from making large garden sculptures, blacksmithing and custom auto-body work to make delightful creatures from old silverware. Candace Hoffman, his Significant Other, said "We saw someone in California working with silverware ... and David's taken it so much farther. People see his work and say, 'Oh, my God, this is silverware! My grandmother had silverware like this.' We find it everywhere."

Many more artists and their stories after the break.

Jana McLaughlin is a photographer who specializes in platinum prints, and darkroom miracles that combine the best of film and digital magic. Like so many artists, she says art merely pays the rent, but gives her an excuse to get "some really good toys" for the darkroom. The picture she's showing is a photograph of boats in Maine, not a painting, printed on canvas.

Linda Somlai was one of the pioneers at the Wagon Wheel factory; she and Sally Miller were among the first to move in, 13 years ago. "The floor was all open space," she remembers, "and the developer said, 'where do you want the walls?' " She and Miller moved in during October and November, and one of them said, "Let's have a party." And they did, after hanging their own and their friends' art. "And the next year," said Miller, "we said, 'And let's put For Sale signs on the art.' Not that this is a great money-maker." The picture Somlai is showing here, 360 Degrees Unknown, is made of tiny beads -- 500,000 of them. It won an International Jurors' Award.

Sally Miller and Becky Wrucke

Sally Miller, Linda Somlai's original studio mate, later shared space with Becky Wrucke for a year or so, until Becky decided she preferred to have her studio in her home, ready instantly when inspiration struck. Sally's large studio space now is hung with material and art quilts.

Like so many Racine artists, Greg Helding started painting on his kitchen table. An electrician, he began taking classes "when the kids got a little older and I had some free time." In his early years as an artist, he did just pastels, but after coming to one of the open house events he rented his own studio four years ago. "Now I can do oils too, without smelling up the house."

Brad and Marie Lee have been married just one year, but already have 20 offspring ... a charming series of crows they can't bear to part with. Brad's day job is with WE Energies, and his usual art endeavors involve heavy sculpting. But when he needed a break from that physicality, he started making masks, which devolved into crows that he and Marie create costumes and identities for. And though they've had offers to sell some, for now they prefer to keep their company in their basement studio.

Jerry Cross spent five years working for Case, and then 30 years on his own as a commercial photographer. Now that he's retired, he still carries his camera around looking for images. (The one time he didn't, he came across a beautiful beach scene -- and had to run back to the hotel to retrieve his camera. Lesson learned.) Now his studio work -- a series of chairs, for instance -- is just for his own enjoyment. The photo he's holding is entitled, It's not easy being green.

Maggie Venn has been making art since the 1st grade, and remembers her first piece: colored chalk. "I was in the back of the room. I was the only kid standing. Everybody else quit and I was still working." Chalk has given way to mixed media and found objects, packing material and webbed cardboard. The hanging is called Turbulence, from her Environmental Series.

"I love collage," says Susan Sorenson, who taught drawing for 16 years at Wustum and Parkside. "I like experimenting on layers of canvas, working in acrylic, ink, collages of metal and papers." She finds inspiration in the shape and textures of found objects, and loves having a studio in the old factory: "Before moving here, I always worked out of my basement, which was cold, damp and dark."

Sisters Marie Skowronski and Celia Schmidt

Growing up with artistic parents, in a large family -- six siblings -- Marie Skowronski and Celia Schmidt say, "All our lives we've painted. It started at the porcelain kitchen table. And every night, our mother would wash it off. I wish we had all of them." Three brothers, three sisters; all self-taught artists.

Tom White and self-portrait

OK, we come full circle. Here's Tom White with a self-portrait ... one in which he's taken artistic liberties: "I lengthened my legs, and took off 30 pounds." He's going to need the extra speed such physical changes imply: Our first picture at the top of this post is of Tom holding up a painting by his studio-mate, Dennis Kontra. ("He's gonna kill me," Tom says.) Dennis is an eye surgeon (and a damn good one, as my right eye attests!), so one can only assume Dennis was kidding when he named the picture Tom is holding, Mona Lisa.

November 30, 2007

UPDATED: Karas resigns from Racine City Council

UPDATE: Karas offered these comments in response to his resignation:

** I have a rare opportunity to step back and reflect on the direction I wish to take in the future. I have not decided what I am going to do next. It may be a few days or few weeks before I decide if I will run for my old seat, do something else, or if “I’m gonna cut the soles off my shoes, sit in a tree and learn to play the flute.” (Anyone who knows where that reference came from is as strange as I am – no google searches allowed!)

** Generally, I would be at the Council meeting on Tuesday night to say a few words, but since my son Brad also has a jazz band concert at UW-Parkside that night, I will not be attending the council meeting.

** Please do not take my non-attendance as anything except my having a schedule conflict. I appreciate all who I have worked with and will at some point convey those thoughts in person.

** In my resignation letter, I asked that the City Council pass a resolution supporting AB-500. I would very much appreciate it if this could be brought forth as soon as possible and passed under a suspension of the rules, and sent to the leadership in both the Senate and Assembly.

** This weekend, I have heard of several rumors flying around that are so ludicrous that I will not repeat them. I resigned for two reasons: I discovered that serving was in violation of State law and I had to protect my insurance license and thus my livelihood. If you should happen to hear of any “ulterior motives,” or future “devious plans,” please take them for what they are – laughable rumors without any merit. If anyone has questions about the truth of what they may hear, they are free to give me a call at any time.

A sincere thank you to everyone who has expressed their kind words via email and phone calls the last few days. Your concern and personal support has been both comforting and heartwarming.


Alderman Pete Karas abruptly resigned from the Racine City Council Friday after learning about an archaic state law that prohibits municipal officials from selling anything to businesses with liquor licenses.

Karas, who represents the city's 9th District, sells commercial insurance and is a certified risk manager. His clients include restaurants and stores that sell alcohol.

The law came to light on Friday after the Wausau Daily Herald wrote a story about a Stevens Point vacuum cleaner salesman who had to resign his elected position because he made sales to taverns.

State legislators, including State Rep. Bob Turner and State Sen. John Lehman, both D-Racine, are working to change the law.

In the meantime, Karas said he had to resign to avoid losing his insurance license with the state.

"It would financially ruin me," Karas said about losing his license.

Karas and his supporters spent Thursday and Friday making calls through the state trying to learn more about the law. No one could promise Karas that he was safe from criminal prosecution.

State statute 125.51 (1b) reads: "No member of the municipal governing body may sell or offer to sell to any person holding or applying for a license any bond, material, product or thing that may be used by the licensee in carrying on the business subject to licensure."

The law was passed in the 1930s to prevent elected officials from selling liquor licenses at the end of Prohibition.

A public hearing was held Thursday on changing the state law to allow officials like Karas to stay in office.

Karas resigned Friday because, under city ordinance, if a City Council seat is vacated before Dec. 1 a special election has to be held the following April to fill the seat. If the seat is resigned after Dec. 1, the mayor can appoint a replacement to fill the seat through 2009.

In theory, Karas could run for his seat in April if the state changes the law before the election.

Karas, a member of the Green Party, was elected to the City Council in 2003 and is serving his third term in office.

Shania is looking for a home

And now for something different: This week's pet up for adoption at Countryside Humane Society is a cat.

Let's be purrfectly clear: We have nothing against cats, although sometimes they make our allergies act up. But otherwise, we appreciate their independence, and revel in the ones that like to cuddle.

Shania is a year-old domestic shorthair. Grey to the uninitiated; "Pastel Tortie" to true cat color aficionados. She's a stray who was found pregnant. Her 10-week-old litter of kittens all will be adopted.

Shania loves other cats, hisses at dogs (but is willing to co-exist with them). She's great with kids; sweet and friendly and loves to purr.

P.S. Last week's dog -- Rufus -- was adopted!

NY Times *hearts* Racine: Newspaper loves city's turn to the arts

The New York Times loves Racine. Reporters have made an annual check to our beloved city once a year over the past three years to write glowing accounts of a renaissance taking place under our very feet.

All three articles have focused on Racine's transition from a manufacturing town into a colony for artists. Given the NY Times' national perspective, perhaps there is something to Mayor Gary Becker's continual efforts to push for an expansion of the arts in the city.

Next year, the NY Times will be able to visit and chronicle efforts to convert Uptown into an artist colony. The City Council is poised to pass sweeping changes for the neighborhood to convert at least four buildings and condominiums and studios for artists over the next five years. The so-called "Uptown Artist Relocation Program" (click here to read the full plan) will both market Racine to artists and rehab buildings to bring them here.

If successful, that certain seems like a national story of interest... maybe the NY Times will be back. Here's a list of the stories the Gray Lady has published about Racine in recent years:

November 29, 2007

The Artful Shopper: A Gift for the Teacher

Every day, here in Racine, we collectively send our 26,000 children off to school -- 21,000 of them to Unified, 5,000 more to private, parochial or charter schools. The big yellow bus picks them up, in most cases, and Mom breathes a sigh of relief because the kids may (will!) learn something and, let's be honest, because they're someone else's responsibility for seven hours. That same sigh of relief can be heard throughout the county, indeed throughout the country.

Now it's time to say thanks to the teachers responsible for your kids' education. No disrespect, but an apple doesn't cut it any more. We looked downtown for a few gifts.

The gift that made us well up was a print at Northern Lights Gallery. by artist Brian Andreas, with the message: "I hope it will be said we taught them to stand tall & proud ... the future was made new & whole for us all, one child at a time." Matted print is $30. There's also a Story People book by Andreas, with stories and drawings about making sense of this wild place we live.

Our second suggestion is a Tiny Treasure or other photograph of a Racine scene, from Brad Jaeck and Carol Hansen, whose Photographic Design Ltd. studio is on Sixth Street. Tiny Treasures are under $20.

Wandering into the Racine Art Museum Gift Shop, our eye was caught by pencils. Not your everyday pencils, of course, but these Jumbo Pencils in a tube, with brightly-colored lead and a nice solid heft. 36 pencils in a tube, $25; 12 in a tube, $9. Also, a Break-Off Pencil Block, graphite black or colored lead, just $4.25 each for five pencils.

Finally, let's be honest: teachers are just like the rest of us. Take them out of the classroom during a Wisconsin winter, and their ears get cold. So how about this innovative, yet practical, set of Ear Mitts, bandless ear muffs? This revolutionary design fits securely on the ears. Specially engineered so teacher can wear them on her ears just like a pair of gloves. One size, many colors, $17, at Copacetic.

Artful Shopper earlier went downtown seeking a hostess gift. That story is HERE.

WE Energies "loss" in court actually a win?

Here's an interesting take on today's court ruling involving WE Energies. To summarize, a judge ruled that WE Energies' $100 million cooling system, which sucks water from Lake Michigan, may violate the law. He's ordered the DNR to review the system and possibly order changes to the system (possibly installing cooling towers, instead of using a pipe that runs under the lake and pulls in water).

The bad news for consumers is a new system means tens of millions of more dollars in construction costs - costs that could actually benefit WE Energies. Here's the take:
Either way, WE wins. They have a bigger win if the system is ordered to be updated (I heard they actually want to lose this case.) If they have to change the water intake system, then it means more capital costs, which means more dollar investment in their lease-back financial set-up 'scheme,' which means, in turn, means a higher capital cost times the 12.5% guaranteed return on investment, which means more profit, which means higher stock price, higher dividends, and, yes, you guessed it, higher rates.

The more they spend, the more they make, the more we pay.


Unique hand-made jewelry ... and the gift of charity, too

Football blah blah blah, NASCAR, shotguns, baseball .... ah, the girls have left the room.

OK, guys, listen up! You know how hard it is to buy a Christmas gift for your wife or girlfriend? There's the 'size' thing, the color thing, the 'what if she already has one' thing. Not to mention the rule about never giving a woman anything that plugs in. (Power tools? They hate 'em. Go figger.)

So, anyway, what can you do? Settle down! Just sit here at the feet of Dr. Santa (that's me) for the answer to your toughest holiday question.

Just wander into Art Metals Studio (cool name for a jewelry store, huh?) on Main Street and ask about Chris Sklba's limited edition pendant.

Chris has been working as a jeweler and metalsmith for 25 years, starting out with Lore Sydnor's VSO Ltd. on Main Street in 1982, nine years before he earned his BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. When Lore left in 2004, Chris renamed the space Art Metals Studio and kept crafting original hand-made jewelry pieces, one or two a week. Do the math: that's close to 2,000 pieces of jewelry he's made over the years (and won a 1st place award from Wisconsin Jeweler's Association, among other prizes.)

Chris comes by the trade honestly: his grandfather, who moved the family to Racine, was a metalworker and shop foreman at Twin Disc. "I'd like to think some of his skills came down to me," Chris says. (The family was originally from Slovakia, which may explain the missing vowel in Sklba's surname.)

Anyway, back to that perfect Christmas gift. This year, for the first time, Chris has designed a limited edition series of pendants: 20 numbered pieces in a variety of metals and gems. So far, he and his staff have completed 10 of them: in varying combinations of silver, 22 karat mokume-gane (more about that later), diamonds or other gems. They're each unique, different from anything she'll find around someone else's neck, but more importantly they're all beautiful. They're not "girly," either.

Chris Sklba with two of the pendant variations

You might be surprised at what's decorating the pendant of your choice. Chris describes himself as an avid gem and mineral collector; hunks of petrified wood and crystals are all over the store (which used to be a butcher's shop in Racine's earlier days; the meat locker now holds the shop's safe.)

His face lights up as he describes the Mother Lode: Tucson's annual gem and mineral show, largest in the world, which takes place the first week in February. "I have a collection of gems," Chris says. "I started going to shows with $100 in my pocket. Now I go there with an open mind." He visits a wide variety of shows there -- from meteorites, gems, mastodon skeletons to diamonds -- spread out across the desert city each year. And he buys whatever takes his fancy, gems costing from $1 to $1,000 ... all of which then wait for the perfect combination of muse and customer to come into alignment.

Some of the pendants have gems, but all of them have a bit of rose gold and copper mokume-gane, an expensive inlay of precious metals. "Crazy-expensive," to be exact: $400 for a piece less than an inch long. Translated from the Japanese, mokume-gane means birdseye or woodgrain metal, incredibly thin layers that take on different designs as they are worked. A tiny piece is fused to each of the pendants, giving it a bit of color and appeal.

"It's fun to do a series," Chris says, enjoying the variations. Prices range from $295 to $625, depending on metal and gem combinations, although with only 10 completed so far, he could still make one from gold, rather than silver, and bigger diamonds if that fits your desire (and wallet). How naughty have you been this year? How good has she been?

There's a further holiday twist to these pendants, too, in keeping with the season. Chris' partner in the shop is his wife, Stephanie, who when she's not doing his books is VP of Community and Government Relations at Gateway Technical College. But she's also on the board of the Racine County Food Bank. And so 10% of the proceeds from Chris' holiday series will be donated to the food bank.

Two gifts in one. It doesn't get much better than this, guys.

LEE stock falls to 52-week low; others downgraded

Stock of Lee Enterprises, owner of the Journal Times, hit a new 52-week low this morning, falling to $13.61 per share, before bouncing back slightly. Back in February, a share of LEE was selling for $35.65. (Three years ago it flirted with $50.)

Of course, the reason has little to do with what's going on at 212 4th St. With circulation stagnating almost everywhere, newspaper stocks have been under attack for a number of years. The internet has siphoned away real estate, employment and automobile classifieds (and lots of news junkies as well, hmmm), and big box discount stores replaced traditional department stores and many hometown merchants.

Banc of America this morning cut its price targets on a number of newspaper stocks: McClatchy (MNI) from $26 to $15; GateHouse Media (GHS) from $13 to $7.50; Gannett (GCI) from $51.50 to $37.50; Lee Enterprises (LEE) to $15. Banc of America also downgraded The New York Times (NYT) from Neutral to Sell and cut its price target from $21 to $14.

LEE is far from the worst performer in its industry. McClatchy, for example, off its high from purchasing Knight-Ridder newspapers for $4.5 billion just 18 months ago, is down more than 2/3 from its 52-week high of $43.70. This morning it was $13.33.

Earlier this month, Journal Communications (JRN), owner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, hit its own 52-week low of $8.07 per share, off a high of $14 in May. JRN stock today is selling for $9.

Best advice: Limit your investment to 50-cents at the box on the corner.

Politician keeps his word, for 15th straight year

OK, this isn't really front page news, but we found it interesting nonetheless.

On Saturday, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, will hold this year's final listening session (as meetings with constituents are called these days) in La Crosse. Where's the news, you ask?

Well, in 1992, when he first ran for the Senate, Feingold promised that, if elected, he would visit each of Wisconsin's 72 counties every year. And he did just that during his first year in the Senate, in 1993, and in 1994, and 1995 ... and every year since for 15 years.

Feingold's staff says the La Crosse session will be his 1,080th since 1993.

November 28, 2007

Quilters put down their needles, pack goodies for GIs

Quilters and gift boxes; Lois Pedersen at far left

Racine's Lighthouse Quilters' Guild met this morning, but there wasn't a single needle, piece of cloth or sewing machine in evidence.

Instead, the ladies were packing boxes for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan -- soldiers who are their grandsons, or the sons of friends and neighbors.

There are 150 members of the Lighthouse Quilters' Guild, and all of them wrote cards and greetings. The Guild held its annual Christmas party Monday, and members brought bags and bags of beef jerky, popcorn, dried soups, tuna pouches, granola bars ... the kind of treats soldiers anywhere would be happy to receive.

Today, more than a dozen of the quilters packed that food, along with toiletries, CDs, DVDs, books, puzzles and Beanie Babies (more about Beanies in a moment) and mailed them off. It took two minivans to haul everything to the Post Office.

The project was organized by Lois Pedersen, whose earlier effort convinced the quilters to make pillowcases for the troops. Thousands of pillowcases.

"I started doing pillowcases in May 2005," Lois said. "I was just going to do 12. But then some friends in the Guild heard about it and we did 30. Then 100." Before they were done, the Lighthouse Quilters Guild had made 2,500 pillowcases for the troops. "It was not as I expected at all!" Lois laughed. "Isn't that cool?"

The Guild received appreciative letters from many GIs. "As soon as the pillowcases arrived, I put them on my bunk," one GI wrote. Another sent photos: a bare mattress pad with the Guild's pillowcases on it.

Today's food and goodies project has as its antecedent a small town in North Platte, Nebraska. Lois was clearly moved by a book, "Once Upon a Town: The miracle of the North Platte Canteen," by Bob Greene. It tells how, during World War II, volunteers met every train hauling troops through North Platte on their way to war. Met the trains and gave the young soldiers on board sandwiches, fruit and good wishes during what usually was a 10-minute stop. Every train, every day, for four years. Some 3,000-5,000 soldiers a day; more than six million in all. (A good-sized excerpt from the book is HERE.)

North Platte's was a complete volunteer effort. As was today's Quilters' Guild project. Lois made dolls this summer, sold them and donated the money for postage, and the Quilters provided the food and other items, and cheerfully packed them up for shipment today.

But what about those Beanie Babies? One has to ask: What would a self-respecting GI in Iraq do with one of those? "Actually, we've done this before, and the GIs gave the Beanie Baby to a little girl. She came back later in the day and told them where the land mines were ... so it saved lives," Lois said.

Today's shipment comprised almost two dozen boxes. Joyce Guillien helped pack a box addressed to her grandson, Kolin, of Franksville, who serves in Iraq in an Army Stryker unit. "What he can't use, he can share," she said, while expressing the hope that none of her other four grandsons finds himself in Iraq.

Abused puppy rescued by humane society

Today the employees of Countryside Humane Society wept again over the cruelty of the human race.

A 6-week-old Shar Pei / Pit Bull mix puppy was picked up by Randy Lansbury, one of Countryside's Humane Officers. The pup had suspicious looking wounds on its body and, to the horror of the employees at Countryside, the pup's vulva appeared to have been cut open.

The pup was taken to a veterinarian who will test the pup for illness, and clean and stitch her wounds. The veterinarian said it looked like someone caused the superficial wounds with a dull knife, then moved to the genitals and cut the pup there. The puppy, now called Star, will stay in foster care until her wounds are healed, and then placed for adoption.

Hopefully, this little pup who started out life in such a horrible way will grow up to be a potentially large sized adult dog, with a brighter future.

Update, 11/30: We stopped in to see how Star was doing today and she was doing fine! The vet's stitched her up and she was in no pain (but on medication). She's quiet, but inquisitive, and was very friendly as we took pictures and got acquainted. She'll be recuperating for about six weeks before Countryside puts her up for adoption.

November 27, 2007

Sci-Fi movie's racism subtext to be explored at Library

Listen up, all you Sci-Fi junkies, we have news!

Remember that 1997 movie Gattaca, about a myopic guy in a genetically-enhanced future whose lifelong dream is to be an astronaut on the first manned mission to Saturn? Being near-sighted, he has no chance of being selected, of course ... until he assumes the identity of someone crippled in an accident. Someone with perfect vision and perfect genes, whose hair and skin and urine he uses to pass a myriad of gene tests, until -- spoiler alert! -- he loses one of his own eyelashes at a murder scene. And then the fun begins.

Well, this is more than a Sci-Fi thriller starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law (although that's enough). It's really a movie about racism. Who knew?

Gattaca will be shown as part of the Racine Public Library's "Coming Together Racine" series of movie screenings and discussions about racism and race relations, on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. The screening at the library is free and no registration is necessary. Questions may be directed to the library at 262-636-9217.

A member of Coming Together Racine will facilitate a discussion after the screening. Participants are encouraged to bring a brown bag supper. The series is cosponsored by Coming Together Racine and the Racine Public Library and is funded by the library's Alma Boernke Endowment Fund.

Coming Together Racine is a non-profit organization working to:
-- Promote racial harmony in the community;
-- Educate community members on racism and its effects on
people and the community; and
-- Bring people together to foster awareness and appreciation
of people of all cultures.

Five African Americans interested in open School Board seat

Five African Americans are among the people who have expressed interested in being appointed to an open seat on the Racine Unified School Board.

Former City Council Member Keith Fair, the Rev. Norris Johnson, the Rev. Melvin Hargrove, of Zoe Outreach Ministry, Karen Norton and Stella Young, a former teacher, administrator and School Board member, have all expressed interest in an open seat on the School Board. Board member Randy Bangs resigned in October.

The School Board will meet on Dec. 3 to consider Bangs' replacement. Joyce Gregg and Jeff Peterson expressed interest in the seat. Others can come apply for the position up to the board's meeting. Whoever is selected will serve out Bangs' term, which ends in April.

Hargrove said he decided to run after hearing a lot of complaining about Unified.

"I'd like to be part of the decision-making body to bring change to the district," he said.

Hargrove said there was no one issue he wanted to focus on. Instead, he wanted to concentrate on cutting through politics and focusing on improving education in the district.

As for diversity on the board, Hargrove said he would like to see more minorities in decision-making positions with the district.

"It's a passing thought," he said about running for a spot on the all-white board. "The more people I talk to, the more who say it's an issue. My thing is this, I want to make sure we have the right people on the board, period."

Young, who left the School Board in 1999 after serving eight years, said she submitted her name to ensure there was a person of color interested in the position.

“I didn't want them to say they couldn't find anybody and give them a reason to keep it an all-white board," Young said.

She added that if appointed she will not run for the board in April, and that she will support other candidates of color if they are selected.

"I don't have any desire to run for the board again," Young said. "I was on there for a number of years. When I retired from it, that's what I did."

Racine officer makes harrowing arrest

A Racine police officer got far more than expected when he responded to a call earlier this month, and that's saying something because the initial call was for shots fired.

Turns out the "shots fired" were from a sawed-off shotgun. It also turns out the suspect was so crazed that Tasers, OC spray and the threat of getting shot had no effect. The officer had to physically fight the suspect several times, at one point nearly losing his gun to the man. It took a second officer - and exhaustion - to subdue 21-year-old Courtney Beamon, of Racine, according to a criminal complaint.

Read the full, harrowing complaint below:

Your complainant states that on November 19, 2007, Officer Dennis Cecchini and Officer Tim Waystedt were working off-duty at the American Legion, located at 1234 Douglas Ave. in the City and County of Racine and State of Wisconsin, when they heard a number of loud gunshots which sounded like a shotgun. Off. Waystedt and Off. Cecchini began going north on Douglas Avenue and Off. Cecchini contacted dispatch to advise that shots had been fired. Off. Cecchini states that he was on the west side of the street and Off. Waystedt crossed the street to walk on the east side. Off. Cecchini states that when he was around the 1200 block of Douglas Avenue, two more shots went off. Off. Cecchini states that he then took cover behind a car and observed a black male crouched down, then stand up and come off a small landing from 1324 Douglas Avenue. Off. Cecchini states that the unknown black male then entered a vehicle, which was backed up against a retaining wall. Off. Cecchini states that he was about 40 yards away when the vehicle pulled away going northbound on Douglas Avenue at a high rate of speed with no headlights on. Off. Cecchini states that he called out a description of the vehicle over his radio, and that when Off. Miller pulled up to Albert and Douglas Avenue, he advised Off. Miller that the vehicle was just passing him.

Off. Miller states that he was operating his patrol vehicle and went to the area of where Off. Cecchini was calling out that the shots were being fired. Off. Miller states that he was monitoring radio traffic, when Off. Cecchini advised him that an Intrepid was driving from the scene north. Off. Miller observed the vehicle pass by his location at a high rate of speed, between 45 and 50 MPH. Off. Miller states that he could see only one occupant in the vehicle. Off. Miller states that he was operating a marked City of Racine Police squad car, and activated the vehicle’s emergency lights and siren. Off. Miller states that the vehicle approached LaSalle Street, that it negotiated a right turn onto northbound LaSalle Street. Off. Miller states that as the vehicle made the turn, he observed what appeared to be something slide away from the car towards the west side of LaSalle Street. Off. Miller states that it appeared to be a part of the car, however, Off. Gary Neubauer subsequently returned to that area and walked along the route that the vehicle had taken from where the shots had been fired. Off. Neubauer then located a sawed off shotgun on the west side of the street in the 1500 block of LaSalle Street, just to the east of 1501 Douglas Avenue. Your complainant states that Off. Smith of the City of Racine Police Department subsequently recovered that weapon, and noted that it was a 12-gauge shotgun having a total length of 26 ½ inches and a barrel length of 12 inches. Your complainant states that in order to be of legal length, a shotgun has to have a barrel length of at least 18 inches. Your complainant states that therefore the gun is considered a sawed off shotgun. Off. Miller subsequently observed the item and states that the sawed off shotgun matched the shape of the item that he saw come from the defendant’s vehicle.

Your complainant states that the vehicle continued northbound on LaSalle Street, failing to stop or slow down for a four-way stop sign at LaSalle Street and St. Patrick Street. Your complainant states that once through the intersection of LaSalle and St. Patrick, the driver’s door opened and that the defendant rolled out of the vehicle while the vehicle was still operating northbound at approximately 25 MPH. Your complainant states that the vehicle ran into an unoccupied vehicle, while the driver of the vehicle ran northbound on LaSalle Street towards the area of Red Apple School. Your complainant states that when Officer Miller returned to the vehicle after the events noted below, he noted that the window on the vehicle was down and believes that the defendant disposed of the gun by dropping it out the window as he went around the corner. Your complainant states that Officer Miller followed the defendant towards Red Apple School. Your complainant states that Off. Miller was aware that the courtyard area that the defendant was running into was L-shaped and that there was no way for the defendant to exit from that area. Off. Miller states that he approached the corner and observed the defendant running towards the south end of the courtyard. Off. Miller states that the defendant attempted to jump onto the roof but failed and fell to the ground. Off. Miller states that he yelled for the defendant to stay on the ground, but the defendant returned to his feet and started running towards the officer. Off. Miller stated that he ordered the defendant to stop; the defendant disregarded his order. Off. Miller stated that as the defendant ran up to him, he attempted to decentralize the defendant with no success. Off. Miller states the defendant pushed him and then continued to run towards the exit to the courtyard area. The defendant managed to get out of the courtyard area and continued to run west towards LaSalle Street. Off. Miller states that at that point, he drew his taser and deployed a cartridge at the suspect. Off. Miller states the taser had minimal effect on the defendant; however, the defendant did stop and turn towards him. The defendant then ran towards him. Off. Miller states that he attempted to keep distance between the subject and himself by backing away. Off. Miller states that the defendant did close up on him, and upon reaching his location, the defendant grabbed at the officer’s right hand that had the taser in it. Off. Miller states that the defendant simultaneously grabbed the officers’ taser and attempted to continue running. Off. Miller states that at that time, he performed a hand-strike to the defendant’s face. Off. Miller also pulled the taser from the grip of the defendant. Off. Miller states that as he did this, his taser was thrown approximately 20 feet behind him.

Your complainant states the defendant then turned and ran across LaSalle Street into the yard of 1608 LaSalle Street. Off. Miller again followed the defendant and as they entered the back yard of 1608 LaSalle Street, that the defendant again turned towards him. Off. Miller yelled at the defendant to stop and the defendant again charged towards him. Off. Miller states he was able to take the defendant to the ground at that point; however, due to his resistive and unpredictable behavior backed away from the defendant and attempted to control him at gunpoint from several feet away. Off. Miller states that the defendant ignored his orders to stay on the ground, got to his feet and again ran southbound through the yards towards the back yard of 1604 LaSalle Street. Off. Miller states that there was a 4-foot cyclone fence that the defendant jumped over into the backyard of 1604 LaSalle Street. Off. Miller followed behind the defendant. Your complainant states that once in the back yard of 1604 LaSalle Street, the defendant appeared confused and didn’t know where to run as the entire yard was fenced. Off. Miller states that the defendant ran to the southwest corner of the yard where he stood facing the fenced corner with his back to the officer. Off. Miller states that he could not see the defendant’s hands and ordered him to put his hands up. Off. Miller states that defendant did not put up his hands, rather he attempted to jump the fence into the side yard of 1010 St. Patrick Street. Off. Miller states that as the defendant attempted to jump that fence, that he pulled the defendant off the fence and onto the ground. Off. Miller states at that time, he made an active attempt to control the defendant and that the defendant was swinging his arms and kicking his legs. Off. Miller states that he was struck several times by the defendant’s arms and legs. Off. Miller states that at that time, he gave several short blasts of OC spray to the defendant’s face, however, the OC spray did not appear to have any effect on the defendant, and the defendant returned to his feet and charged towards the officer with open arms as if he was going to tackle the officer. Off. Miller pushed the defendant back and then turned towards the southwest corner of the yard. Off. Miller states that the defendant again tried to jump the fence into the yard of 1010 St. Patrick Street and the defendant was successful in making it over the fence into the next yard.

Off. Miller states that the followed into the yard of 1010 St. Patrick Street. Off. Miller states that the defendant was becoming noticeably exhausted, as was he, however, the defendant continued running south through the yard towards St. Patrick Street. Off. Miller states that before the defendant could exit the yard, he had to jump another fence. Off. Miller states that both he and the defendant crossed over the fence onto the north sidewalk of St. Patrick Street. Off. Miller states that after jumping over the fence, the defendant removed a black zip-up hooded sweatshirt that he was wearing. Off. Miller states that the defendant dropped the sweatshirt onto the ground and then ran southbound across St. Patrick Street entering more yards. Off. Miller states that at that time, the defendant and he were both exhausted and were now walking through the yard. Off. Miller told the defendant to just give up. Off. Miller states that he also took that opportunity to advise dispatch of their location. Off. Miller states that he and the defendant were in the rear yard of the 1500 block of LaSalle Street, when the defendant turned towards him and ran at the officer grabbing the officers left hand. Off. Miller states that he attempted to push him away. Off. Miller states that the defendant had a strong hold on his left arm and during that time, Off. Miller was walking backward trying to disengage from the defendant or create distance. Off. Miller states the defendant did not let go of his arm and he was not able to pull away from the defendant. Off. Miller states that he still had his handgun in his right hand during the struggle. Off. Miller states that he was exhausted from the chase and the fight and that all his attempts to control the defendant failed. Off. Miller decided to strike the defendant on the top of his head with the bottom of his handgun and struck him at least two times. Off. Miller states that he did that because he was afraid the defendant was going to take his gun and shoot him. Off. Miller states that the effort was successful in causing the defendant to release his arm. Off. Miller states that he immediately created distance between him and the defendant and ordered the defendant to stay on the ground; however, the defendant disobeyed that order and got to his feet. The defendant appeared to be disoriented but started walking away from the officer. Off. Miller followed the defendant as he walked into a vacant lot just south of 1526 LaSalle Street. Off. Miller states that in the vacant lot, the defendant again stopped and turned towards him. Off. Miller states at that time, Off. Matson was exiting his squad that was on LaSalle Street and Off. Miller could see Off. Matson approaching the defendant from behind. Off. Miller states that the defendant took up a fighting stance with him, and at that point he was able to decentralize the defendant to the ground. Off. Miller states that the defendant was laying on the ground, face down, and that Off. Matson was on the defendant’s left side, he was on his right. Off. Miller states the defendant was still holding his right hand underneath and was attempting to keep Off. Miller from pulling his hands from out underneath him. Off. Miller states that as he struggled with the defendant’s right arm and hand, that Off. Leslie arrived and used his taser on the suspect. Officers stated that the taser had little or no effect on the defendant. Eventually the officers were able to take control of the defendant and place him into custody.

Your complainant states that at the hospital, Off. Miller was advised by Off. Matson that the person in custody maybe Bryan Ratliff. Off. Miller states that at the hospital, he attempted to get information from the suspect as to his social security number, however, the defendant indicated that he didn’t know it. Off. Miller states that he then asked the defendant if he was Bryan Ratliff, and the defendant stated yes. In response to numerous questions, the defendant indicated that he was “Ratliff”. In searching through the defendant’s clothing, Off. Miller located a part of an Illinois identification card. Although the identification card had a picture, DOB, and physical descriptions it was clear that the picture on the I.D. did not match the defendant. Off. Miller states that when he arrived at the Racine County Sheriff’s Department, he had a deputy print off a picture of Bryan Ratliff and at that time, confirmed that the person in custody was not Bryan Ratliff. Your complainant states that the defendant still insisted that he was Ratliff. Your complainant states that the defendant’s fingerprints were not located on the AFIS system and that Off. Miller also used the Racine County Sheriff’s Department FAST ID system, again, with negative results.

Your complainant states that a copy of the defendant’s fingerprints were subsequently conveyed to the State Crime Lab. Your complainant states that Tony Spadifora, entered the defendant’s fingerprints into a databank and that the search results came back on a person with the name of Courtney C. Beamon. Your complainant states that in running the FBI number associated with that person, that there are 6 separate names associated with the fingerprints for that person and three separate dates of births.

Your complainant states that Officer Miller subsequently located the real Bryan Ratliff who assisted officers by supplying them the name of Courtney Beamon. Bryan Ratliff stated that Courtney Beamon was his cousin and that Beamon had used his name as well as the name of another relative in the past. Bryan Ratliff stated that Courtney Beamon did not have consent to use his name.

Your complainant states that the defendant has criminal contacts in the State of Illinois under the name of Donnie Carl Burton, and appears to have a felony conviction for controlled substance delivery out of the State of Michigan from May 16, 2003. Your complainant states that the defendant is Courtney C. Beamon and that the defendant would have a prior felony conviction, therefore would not be allowed to legally possess a firearm.

Journal Times publisher leaving

Journal Times Publisher Dick Johnston is leaving the newspaper to take a new job in Bloomington-Normal, Ill.

Johnston came to Racine in December 1998 from Carbondale, Ill., where he was publisher.

He is the brother of Bill Johnston, publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, also owned by Lee Enterprises.

His background, which included an earlier stint at The Journal Times, was in advertising sales.

Johnston will take over The Pantagraph, which Lee acquired in 2005 when it bought Pulitzer Newspapers for $1.4 billion.

In a story on the Pantagraph's website, Johnston said he was "excited" by the move.

“Racine has been such a large part of my life that I’ll find it very hard to say goodbye,” Johnston told the Pantagraph, “but at the same time I’m tremendously excited about the opportunity to move to Bloomington and join the staff at the Pantagraph.”

The Pantagraph's daily circulation is 46,639 with a Sunday circulation of 50,486. The Journal Times' daily circulation is 28,287 and Sunday is 30,471.

Rick Parrish, The Journal Times' advertising director, is the interim publisher of the JT.

Johnston's departure comes less than a year after Journal Times Editor Randolph Brandt left the paper and was replaced by Steve Lovejoy.

November 26, 2007

No Packers game? Ryan wants FCC to arbitrate

Paul Ryan, a Populist? Who knew?

Give Rep. Ryan, R-WI 1st District, credit. He's got his ear to what the voters really care about: Not the war going badly, the stock market in free-fall again, jobs and home buyers scarce as hens' teeth -- no, it's the damn cable blocking of Packers' and Badgers' games.

Ryan today sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin on behalf of constituents unable to watch Thursday’s Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys game or the UW-M Badgers due to disputes between cable providers and the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network. "I urge you to ensure that free market competition can thrive – not anti-competitive monopolistic practices," Ryan wrote.

It's all just about the money.

In both cases, carefully considered financial decisions were made at the expense of poor Joe Sixpack. The NFL, for example, didn't accidentally end up with a Dallas-Green Bay matchup. And that game didn't accidentally get left off Fox, NBC or ESPN, which spent $2.4 billion on rights fees this season. (The matching 10-1 records, those were an accident.)

"Instead, the NFL delivered the game to its own fledgling NFL Network, which will deliver the game to only one-third of the country. It's part of the league's plan to help transform an ugly duckling into a cash cow. "It's no accident we have Green Bay-Dallas," Jerry Jones, the recently appointed chairman of NFL Network, told Barry Horn of the Dallas Morning News this week.

And so, 74.1 million of the country's 112.8 million homes with televisions will be denied the game -- all part of the NFL's battle to force cable companies to charge us an additional 70 cents per month. And by "us," I mean every single cable subscriber in the country, whether he or she cares about football or not.

The Badgers situation is much of the same; the University sold off rights for some $7 million, and if only bars and restaurants in Madison carry the Big Ten network, why just take coach Bret Bielema's advice before the Wisconsin-Ohio State game: "Go to a restaurant ... grab some cheese curds, maybe a refreshment." Amazing how a two-thirds share of $7 million allows you to forget the fans.

John Helyar of ESPN quoted a fan's comment about the BTN-cable standoff on the Capital Times' website: "(They are) asking us to choose between Satan and Satan's evil twin. Both sides are greedy and manipulative."

Paul Ryan to the rescue! In his letter, Ryan urged the FCC "to consider changing its rules to facilitate appointment of an arbitrator in disputes like the ones involving the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network, so they can be resolved more quickly (preferably through negotiation between the parties) and with consumers’ interests foremost in mind."

“When so many Wisconsin Packers and Badgers fans can’t watch their teams play, it’s a sign that something’s very wrong with the cable market,” Ryan said. “People all across Wisconsin want to be able to stay home and watch Thursday’s game against the Cowboys and future Badgers games too, so the demand is there. It’s frustrating that fans are losing out because of disagreements between cable carriers and the NFL and Big Ten networks. The FCC should ensure future rules changes boost free market competition and consumer choice – and promote speedy resolution of such disputes.”

Well, something definitely is wrong, but forgive my cynicism. Isn't this exactly the free market at work? And although I may sit home with the TV off (or peering in the window of my neighbor with a DirecTV dish), isn't that better than asking the government to step in? Be careful what you wish for. Remember the nine words that should strike fear into any American's heart: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

STD cases in Racine County nearly double since 1997

Young adults between 15 and 19 years old remain the most likely age group in Racine County to contract a sexually transmitted disease, according to state data.

Last year, 541 young adults between 15 and 19 reported getting chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis or genital herpes.

The second most common age group to contract an STD was 20 to 24 year olds with 482 reported cases, followed by 25-29 year olds with 218 cases. The numbers continue to fall as ages increase, though adults 50 and older reported 20 cases of STDs last year.

Women were more than twice as likely as men to get an STD, according to the data. In 2006, women reported 1,007 cases of STDs, compared to 474 cases for men. The disparity is partly due to women going to the doctor more often for prenatal exams and annual checkups.

The 1,481 reported cases of STDs last year was 16 more than 2005, but nearly double the total from 10 years ago. The increase, however, could be because more people are being tested and treated for STDs than in the past.

Blacks had the highest rates of infection among racial groups, accounting for nearly half of all cases of STD in the county. If Hispanics are added in, minorities accounted for 55 percent of all reported cases in the county.

Chlamydia was the most common STD with 991 cases, followed by gonorrhea with 334 cases, genital herpes with 149 cases and syphilis with 7 cases.

Here's a look at the reported number of STD cases since 1997

Walden III HS accepting applications for 2008-'09

Walden III High School is accepting applications for 9th grade students for the 2008-2009 school year.

The small school, with just 287 students -- compared to about 2,000 for each of Racine Unified's three other high schools -- annually stands out from the rest of the district with far higher graduation rates and test scores. Check our comparison stats HERE.

Applications may be picked up at Walden III, 1012 Center Street, or downloaded from Walden's website. A "shadow day" will be set up for any student whose application is received prior to Jan. 4, 2008. Applications received after that date will still be considered for the 2008-2009 school year; however, there will be no opportunity to shadow a student at Walden. For more information, call Walden III at (262) 664-6250.

Downtown Dreaming: A list of properties available on Main and Sixth streets

Looking to buy or lease some space in Downtown Racine? You have plenty of options. There are at least 14 properties we found listed on Main and Sixth streets, plus the former YWCA building on College Ave.

Here's each of the buildings, a quick recap and my dream use for each ... add your own dream uses in the comments, if you'd like.

740 College Ave.
- The soon-to-be former YWCA building at $650,000, which seems like a bargain ... and a white elephant. Dream use: Center for alternatives to incarceration programs to balance out the jail a few blocks away.

237 Main St. - Used to be the home of Inside Out, until they moved up the street. Dream use: Mainstream comes back and reopens a great little music store.

240 Main St. - This block is in for changes. Inside Out across the street is gone, the Flowers & Company building is for sale and Red Onion is leaving to move into the Johnson Bank building. Dream use: Flowers & Company stays and expands next door.

302 Main St. - The Main Street General Store's building is for sale with a list price of $249,900. It's a handsome building and the price seems good. Dream use: RacinePost's Main St. office.

410 Main St. - Gigantic building (17,000 square-feet) next to Dimples. Used to be filled with junk until the city took it and made it look nice. But who wants something so big? Dream use: Cool apartments on the top floors, Gap-like clothes store on the first floor.

422 Main St. - Nearly 5,000 square feet located next door to JavaVino (which is a selling point in our book). Dream use: Fully stocked magazine and newspaper stand (we're dreaming, right?)

223 Sixth St. - This corner building at Sixth and Wisconsin seems to have potential. Who's going to make something work here? Dream use: A salon seemed like a good idea here.

300 Sixth St. - The cheese cake store just moved in here, which should be reason enough to buy! Dream use: Keep the cheese cakes flowing...

310 Sixth St. - Another cozy building just waiting for a cozy business. Dream use: RacinePost's Sixth Street office.

500 Sixth St. - You'll need almost a $1 million to buy this 19,100 square-foot beauty. Let's hope the Salsa Club takes off on the first level. Dream use: Dancing with the Stars...

507 Sixth St. - Lovely building tucked into Sixth Street. The rebuilt road will help, but in the short term it seems it'll be tough to get anyone to move into the Sixth Street spaces. Dream use: Painting studio.

515 Sixth St. - Wilbur's BBQ. Hopefully a sale won't affect this fine restaurant. Dream use: Mmmm... BBQ...

522 6th St. - Former Historic Century Market. Another beautiful white elephant. The heating bills alone would be out of most people's price range. Dream use: Gigantic pinball arcade and other fun games... and/or a smoke-free microbrew and live-music venue

613 6th St. - Remington May Workshop Gallery. A beautiful building, but the owner decided it was time to follow her muse to Michigan. Dream use: Racine gift shop... we could use one of those.

618 Sixth St. - Apologies for saying so, but this is a strange building. Hopefully the new owners will think about some windows. Dream use: Let's get a music store back Downtown...

November 25, 2007

Poetic Justice: Library offers workshops for teens

Poetry and social justice will be combined in a series of workshops for teens at the Racine Public Library.

Designed for middle and high school students, Poetic Justice is a series of workshops in which participants will analyze social justice issues through poetry, examining varied genres of poetry and discussing what they say about American culture. Targeting issues like race, politics, religion and history, each three-hour session will focus on writing, reading and critiquing poetry.

The first Poetic Justice workshop takes place Saturday, Dec. 1, from 1:30-4:30 p.m., in the meeting room of the Racine Public Library. This month's theme is "Diversity and Discrimination in Poetry," examining how the difficulties of a multicultural nation are reflected in the nation's poetry (sometimes even unintentionally).

The Poetic Justice workshops will encounter poetry exploring genocide, oppression and other mature content.

The workshops are free, but limited to 10 participants To register, call the library at (262) 636-9217 or visit the Adult Services Reference Desk. Participants are asked to bring a pen, notebook and folder.

PROPERTY TRANSFERS: Downtown Racine building sold for $1.4 million

The big seller of the week was a commercial building (or is it buildings?) at 2005 Lathrop Ave. for $1.46 million. Best we can tell, this is the home to Racine Motor Sports, but property tax listings show the property worth a quarter of the sale price, so we suspect more was included in the deal. (Click here for an Excel spreadsheet of the transfers.)

We were equally uncertain about a $1.425 million deal at 141 Main St., the new State and Main condo/commercial development. We're guessing a condo sold for that price, because the entire building is worth far more and the commercial space is for lease. We'll let you know if it's something different on either of these million-dollar deals.

The most expensive noncommercial sale of the week was out in Waterford at 34001 Hill Valley Drive for $475,000. This 20-acre property was assessed at $241,200 in 2007 with an estimated fair market value of $362,270.95. The property was owned by Earl Paynter.

The low-seller of the week was a $40,000 home at 1315 Douglas Ave. Owned by Donald Boutell, It was assessed in 2006 at $68,000.

Here is the full list of property transfers: