December 31, 2008

Ripley, rescued from children's cruelty


This is Ripley.

Look closely at his eyes, and hope that your kids are not as cruel as the ones Ripley was rescued from -- a group of children who poked his eye with a stick.

His eye was ruptured and he is blind on the left side. The woman who rescued Ripley from those kids kept him for a while, but eventually had to turn him over to the Countryside Humane Society.

Ripley is a three-year-old male Chihuahua/Pug mix. He is energetic and social, and gets along with other dogs and cats.

He is available for adoption now at the Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

Journal Times' parent reports huge loss for 2008

I'm no accountant, but the news today from Lee Enterprises -- parent of the Journal Times -- is dire.

The company sent out its Annual Report -- delayed more than two weeks -- as well as a notice from the New York Stock Exchange saying it is in non-compliance with NYSE listing standards, and de-listing from the exchange is a distinct possibility, unless it gets its stock price up over $1 and its total capitalization up over $25 million. Lee has 10 business days to respond to the NYSE with its plans for compliance.

But it is in the 190-page Annual Report where the real disaster is enumerated: Lee reported a loss to stockholders for the year of $888 million, and an operating loss of $1,049,000,000. Lee's accounting firm raised "substantial doubt" about the company's ability to continue as a going concern.

Wrote KPMG LLC of Chicago: "Our report dated Dec. 31, 2008, contains an explanatory paragraph that states that the company has short-term obligations that cannot be satisfied by available funds and has incurred violations of debt covenants that subject the related principal amounts to acceleration, all of which raise substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern."

Lee reports that required debt payments of $142 million in 2009 "are expected to exceed the Company's cash flows available for such payments." (Another $166 million is due in 2010.) The company says it will have to tap its revolving credit to fund some of the 2009 and 2010 debt payments. Lee's total debt is $1.3 billion.

Lee also reported that "certain covenant violations" relating to its debt from the 2005 Pulitzer acquisition were waived in December 2008 -- at a cost of $1,874,000. Another credit agreement was amended -- at an additional cost of $6,277,000.

Overall, "Loss to common stockholders totaled $888,747,000 in 2008, compared to income available to common stockholders of $80,999,000 in 2007." Per share, that works out to a loss of $19.83 in 2008 for each share of Lee stock, compared to earnings of $1.77 per share in 2007. Pity, too, the poor Lee employees who bought a total of 73,000 shares of Lee stock in 2008, at an average price of $5.20. At the close of business today, each of those shares was worth 41 cents, which actually is up from where it's been lately. Nor did the company fare well with its own stock repurchasing efforts: it bought 1,722,280 shares at an average price of $10.98 apiece during 2008, spending almost $19 million on what today would cost $706,000.

Lee reported reducing operating expenses by 3.2% in 2008 "and expects to reduce such operating expenses by an additional 7-8% in 2009. Such expense reductions are not expected to significantly impact the Company's ability to deliver advertising and content to its customers," the report states.

Lee was not alone in 2008. The 14 major newspaper publishers in the U.S. lost a total of $64 billion in market value this year, according to an industry blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur.

December 30, 2008

Another historic Main Street home in foreclosure

The Henry and Cosie Miller House, at 1110 South Main St.

Racine's historic preservationists are scowling.

Downtown Racine's Historic District is taking a second blow from this year's mortgage crisis. Yesterday, we told you of the Christmas House's upcoming foreclosure sale. Today we learn of yet another Main Street mansion fallen on hard times, just a block away. They are just two of the 94 foreclosure auction sales scheduled by Racine County Sheriff Bob Carlson in the next few weeks.

This time it's the Miller House, a striking 1899 neo-classic home that helps recall the city's robust manufacturing past. Owned by Rickey and Shea Leech for the past six years, it will be auctioned on Feb. 3, at 1:30 p..m. at the Racine Law Enforcement Center, victim of a $672,948 loan default. The judgment of foreclosure was finalized in June. Asked if there is any chance he can avoid loss of his home, which is assessed at $415,000, Rickey Leech said, "Probably not."

There actually are two Miller Houses -- one at 1100 South Main Street and the other next door at 1110 South Main. 1100 on the corner, with its round turrets, was built in 1893 by Joseph Miller, once the mayor of Racine, but better known as the founder in 1857 of J. Miller and Company, a shoe manufacturer here that made boots for Wisconsin soldiers during the Civil War.

The house next door, at 1110 South Main, was built in 1899 by Joseph Miller's son, Henry, the superintendent of his father's shoe factory, for his bride, Cosie, as a wedding gift. The house was completed in time for their marriage in 1900, and they lived there the rest of their lives. Henry died in 1929 and Cosie in 1946. The house was later owned by George and Mayme Wheary of the Wheary Trunk Company.

It is described by Preservation Racine like this: "It is undoubtedly the most sophisticated example of the Classical Revival Style in the city. Two columned porticos are deftly interwoven at the entryway: the lower one bows out from the middle of a pillared porch across the front to support a semicircular balcony above it, while the taller one forms a two-story columned canopy with a classical pediment that hovers over the balcony below it.

"Among the house's many striking features are the floors and the fleurs de lis. Many of the floors are original and have been beautifully restored. As you enter the house, note the original mosaic tile floor in the entryway. Then, just ahead, note the recently refinished quarter-sawn oak stairway sweeping elegantly upward to the second-floor hallway. Finally, in the dining room, note another floor of quarter-sawn oak -- but this one an original S.C. Johnson parquet floor..."

Rickey and Shea Leech, who were renovating the Miller House, at one point owned two historic homes in Racine. They bought the Lochnair Inn on Lake Avenue in 2004, and Shea ran the Bed and Breakfast. But in 2006 Rickey was injured when a tree he was cutting down fell on him, breaking his back and leg. The couple put the Lochnair up for sale in July of 2007, using an innovative five-day auction method, but were apparently unsuccessful. A story in the Journal Times said bidding had reached $900,000... but the Lochnair ended up being sold at a Sheriff's sale on Nov. 5, 2007, for $725,000 to Sandra Young; it is no longer a B&B.

Vivian Merlo, immediate past president of Preservation Racine, says the Miller House "is an important house. It's one of a kind -- but it's going to take a lot of money." A close look at the front shows deteriorating woodwork; Merlo says the house also was struck by lightning.

"There are a few things in this city, a few buildings that the community has to decide are important enough for us to come together and preserve. This is one of those," Merlo said. She would like the city to enact an ordinance giving tax credits to people who buy and renovate historic buildings, "but the mayor has told me personally it's too expensive."

Cory Mason's wife gives birth to a daughter


State Rep. Cory Mason, D-62nd District, has a new assignment -- much more important than any of those committees he serves on in Madison.

Mason and his wife, Rebecca, are the parents of a daughter born on Dec. 26 at 3:16 p.m.

Their family's newest Democrat -- how could she be otherwise after being named Eleanor Roosevelt Mason! -- weighed in at 5 pounds, 3 ounces, 19 inches long.

Dad managed to say, "We find ourselves blessed and lucky beyond what we can put into words."

December 29, 2008

Santa brings foreclosure to Christmas House

Santa brought a lump of coal -- the technical term is foreclosure -- to the owner of what long-time Racinians know as the Christmas House.

The former Benstead Hall, once owned by All Saints Healthcare System Inc. and beautifully decorated for many years as a holiday house to raise funds for cancer, was sold in 1997 and converted into a Bed and Breakfast called the Christmas House. In 2007 the name was changed to the East Park Inn.

Now the 19th century mansion is poised for another ownership change. Circuit Court Judge Richard J. Kreul entered a default judgment against innkeeper/owner Laurie Novak-Simmons on Oct. 15. Racine County Sheriff Bob Carlson is scheduled to hold a foreclosure sale of the property on Jan. 27 at 1:30 p.m. at the Law Enforcement Center. (The B&B's garden nymph, right, doesn't seem too happy at the prospect.)

Plaintiff in the suit against Novak-Simmons was the Central States Mortgage Company, which is owed $939,707.21: principal of $888,999, interest of $46,845, late charges of $1,814, attorney fees of $1,100 and disbursement of $947. Judge Kreul's order did not specify -- as many default judgments do -- any time period during which Novak-Simmons could satisfy the default and retain the property. Efforts to reach her, and plaintiff's attorney Steven Zablocki, were unsuccessful.

The beautiful, three-story Victorian mansion -- located at 116 10th St., a block from Lake Michigan, across the street from Gateway Technical College and catty-corner across Main Street from the Masonic Temple -- was sold to Novak-Simmons by the trustees of St. Luke's Hospital, which used the house for visitors, for $425,000 in 1997. She did extensive renovations, creating five guest rooms, each with their own bath. The building has eight fireplaces, many stained glass and beveled windows, magnificent woodwork and hardwood floors.

The Racine County Registrar of Deeds shows the property -- which includes a carriage house and garden -- was assessed for $705,000 in 2007, with fair-market value listed as $720,196. Property taxes are $16,221. The computer records in Registrar Jim Ladwig's office appear to show that last year's taxes haven't been paid.

In 2000, Novak-Simmons put the building up for sale, saying, ""I have another project that I'd like to commit to and I can't do them both." The asking price was $895,000 -- but it didn't sell.

Interior views from Sotheby's online listing

It is still listed for sale online by Sotheby's International Realty, where the price has grown to $1,650,000. The listing says it is a 10,000 sq. ft. single-family home built in 1883: "There are 5 guest rooms, all with en suite baths, plus 3 other bedrooms. Both the library and office have paneled cherry wood ceilings and built in bookcases. The living room, library and dining room all have wood burning fireplaces. There are 5 additional fireplaces in this charming three-story home, with leaded glass and hardwood floors throughout. The separate carriage house has 3 bedrooms, kitchen, living room and 2 full baths. Heated garage space for 5 cars with pad parking for an additional 5 cars."

Novak-Simmons has had some financial difficulties, according to court records and other evidence. Earlier this month she was cited by the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau as the city's "biggest transgressor," owing some $5,000 in room taxes, according to RCCVB executive director Dave Blank. Novak-Simmons disputed his amount. Wisconsin's Circuit Court Access System shows almost two dozen cases in which Novak-Simmons was a defendant (and five in which she was the plaintiff). They range from small claims cases -- Sander Paint and Wallpaper sued for $921 in November -- to larger amounts: the State Department of Revenue sued for and received $13,805 in September 2005, and $49,797 in August 2006 to a $220,332.37 judgment in June 1998 against Kenosha Manor House, another B&B, in which Novak-Simmons was one of three defendants. All of the above-mentioned cases were closed, according to the WCCA system.

December 24, 2008

Snowdance finalists announced

Over Our Head Players announced the finalists for its 2009 Snowdance 10-minute comedy festival. Here are the winning titles and authors:

Cracks In the Sand by Corrie Mund of Whitby, Ontario, Canada
A couple gets more (or less) than they bargained for when they check in to an island resort for a weekend alone.

Here to Serve You by Barbara Lindsay of Seattle, Washington
Can a lost shoe in an airport terminal really be a threat to homeland security?

Three Kings by James Venhaus of San Antonio, Texas
The Christmas spirit seems lost when a game of poker gets in the way.

Not Funny by Christopher Lockheardt of Andover, Massachusetts
A Love Story: a man, a woman, and a good steak knife.

Proverbs by Donna Latham of St. Charles, Illinois
Proverbial wisdom rings out over lost love, but it’s in an Irish pub.

Dressed up Like a Douche by Rick Park of Boston, Massachusetts
Friends argue over the real lyrics to a song. Is anyone right? Or are they all blinded by the light?

Love is a Battlefield by W. Patrick Fogarty of Racine, Wisconsin
A couple meets on a blind date, too bad they brought their relationship coaches along.

Santa Clause TASTOPHY by Heather Meyer of Bloomington, Minnesota
From holiday icon to villain to League of Justice Super Hero – in one silent night.

Idiots Abroad by Stephen Gallagher of Youngsville, North Carolina
Lost in Europe with a stressed marriage, a broken GPS and an obnoxious German DJ.

Kung–Foolery by Brett Hursey, Longwood University, Farmville, VA
Karly and Barry are married. Karly’s mother is coming for a visit. Barry has issues.

The winners were selected from 240 plays from 36 states and five countries, according to organizers. The plays will be performed at the Sixth Street Theatre in January and February. Audience members will vote on their favorites, and the top vote-getter will be named, "Best in Snow" and receive $300. The second and third place plays receive $100.

The plays will be performed by an ensemble cast led by Rich Smith. Also featured are actors John Adams, Barbara Akey, Brianna Andrews, Emily Breiwick, Diane Carlson, Sea Daniel, Rick Ditter, Cody A. Ernest, Melissa Hughes Ernest, Brad Kostreva, Jenny Kostreva, Joseph Piirto, Matt Rangel, Ron Schulz, Tom Spraker, Denise Marie Wargowsky, and Teri Rene Wilson.

For a complete list of show times, visit the Over Our Head Players online.

Boucher donates vehicles to Racine Zoo


The Racine Zoo picked up some nice rides for the new year, thanks to Frank Boucher.

The Chevrolet, Cadillac and Saab dealer donated a complimentary lease to the zoo for use of a 2008 Chevy Silverado and a 3500 Extended WB passenber van. Both vehicles, decorated with custom wildlife graphics, will be used for transporting animals and supplies and will show up in local parades.

The graphics were designed by Design Partners and applied by the Sign Shop.

The Racine Zoo is open daily. Hours between Labor Day and Memorial Day are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The admission price is $4.00 for adults, $2.00 for children 3-15, $3.00 for seniors and children under three and Zoo Members are free. The mission of the Racine Zoological Society is to foster an enlightening and affordable wildlife experience that improves the bond between people and nature. The Society will provide for the recreation and education of the people, the conservation of wildlife and wild places, and the advancement of science.

Fair looking to get back on City Council

For the third straight election, Keith Fair will run for the City Council's First District seat, which represents Downtown Racine.

In 2005, Fair was elected to the council by three votes over incumbent Jeff Coe. In 2007, Coe returned the favor by beating Fair 217-168.

Fair also tried to run against Coe in 2003, but was left off the ballot after then City Clerk Karen Norton ruled Fair did not have enough valid signatures.

Here's Fair's statement on running, once again, for elected office:
I will be running in the First District. These are very exciting times for me as well as others with the election of Barack Obama. I would like to see some enthusiasm at the local level and I am looking forward to serving on the city council once again.

Coe wasn't immediately available for comment on whether he's running for re-election. It's a safe bet he is, but we'll update when we hear from him.

December 23, 2008

Hispanic business association offering $2,000 college scholarships

Hispanic students graduating from high school this year can apply for a $2,000 scholarship from the Hispanic Business and Professionals Association.

The scholarships will be awarded Feb. 28 at the HBPA's annual banquet. If you or someone you know qualifies for the scholarship, download the form here. The deadline is Jan. 30.

Questions can be sent to Wally Rendon at: wrendon@hbpaofracine.com

Racine Community Foundation announces board of directors

Jackson Parker III will continues as president of the Racine Community Foundation in 2009, the nonprofit announced Tuesday.

President-elect and board treasurer is James Small; Secretary is Bryan Albrecht; Pamela Johnson is vice-president of donor relations; Michael Staeck is vice-president of marketing; vice-president of the grant committee is Robert Siegert, MD; and David Perkins is the ad hoc chair of the investment committee.

Newly elected members include Sheila Bugalecki; Darice Griffin; James Paulsen; and Steen Sanderhoff. Re-elected to the board is Ernest Styberg, Jr. Continuing board members include Nancy DeKraay; David Easley; Marlene Haigh; Jean Jacobson; Renee Sartin Kirby; Dorothy Metz; Dwayne Olsen; Elizabeth Powell; Gregory Ruidl; and Eugene Szymczak.

The Racine Community Foundation's mission is to encourage and provide opportunities for charitable giving, to manage and distribute the funds in a responsible manner and to enhance the quality of life for the people of Racine County.

Racine Symphony Orchestra exec director leaving

Keith, we hardly knew ya!

Keith Hampton, executive director of the Racine Symphony Orchestra for less than a year, is leaving to become assistant director of the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

RSO Music Director Andrew Massey said, “We are all very proud to be able to claim Keith Hampton as one of our own. He has brought subtle and powerful advances to the smooth running of the RSO. We are very sad to see him go, but it is good to be able to reflect that he has left us in a much stronger position, administratively, to face the future.”

A committee has been created to begin the search for a replacement. Any person interested in applying should send a cover letter and resume to the Racine Symphony Orchestra, PO Box 1874, Racine, WI 53401, or via e-mail.

Hampton is a classically trained musician and songwriter who has performed locally at JavaVino and in Side by Side by Sondheim at the Racine Theatre Guild. He took the part-time RSO executive director's position in February.

Mount Pleasant getting exit signs along new I-94

Update: The initial post here wasn't correct. Mount Pleasant is getting its own signs off I-94, but Caledonia has not requested the same. Here's the email from Dennis Shook, regional communications manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation:
The Mount Pleasant signs are in the works already. But Caledonia has not approached WisDOT on signage. If Caledonia were to ask for such signage, it would be reviewed by WisDOT at that point. Mount Pleasant made that contact already.
I corrected the post below with the correct information.

Original post:

Drivers along I-94 soon will see more than just exits to Racine. The state has agreed to list Mount Pleasant (corrected) on exit signs along the interstate, according to Mount Pleasant Village Board member Harry Manning

The villages will get added to the signs because they're the municipalities drivers exit into when they leave I-94, Manning said. They've only listed Racine for years because Mount Pleasant was a town and not considered destination points (corrected).

The new exit signs are expected to go up sometime next year, Manning said. They will list Mount Pleasant/Racine at the Highway 20 and Highway 11 exits and Mount Pleasant at Highway KR, he said.

This may seem like a small detail, but it's a marketing coup for the villages. Thousands of people through Racine County on I-94 on a daily basis. The exit signs will reinforce Mount Pleasant's identities as communities separate from Racine.

As for the city, the big green signs are just one more thing it has to share with its surrounding communities.

December 22, 2008

RUSD boundary exemption apps period opens

The Racine Unified School District announces middle and high school boundary exemption enrollment for the 2009-2010 school year. Boundary Exemptions allow students to attend a middle or high school that is outside of their attendance area.

Those applying for boundary exemption must do so each school year and provide their own transportation. Decisions are based on need, reason and space availability in the school. Middle and high school boundary exemptions will be accepted between Jan. 5 and Feb. 13. Applications should be sent to the principal at the requested school. Parents and guardians will be notified by April 18 of approval or denial of the boundary exemption.

For questions regarding school choice, contact RUSD support services at 631-7181.

Obama's Billions: City requests $6.5 million in federal stimulus dollars

So you're a mid-sized industrial city in southeastern Wisconsin and the federal government offers to buy you anything you like. But there's a catch: You have to spend all of the money next year.

City of Racine officials were confronted with this real-life version of Brewster's Millions last month as the US Conference of Mayors began preparing urban requests for a piece of the multi-multi-billion dollar economic stimulus package the federal government is putting together.

The idea is to create jobs building infrastructure as soon as possible, said City Administrator Ben Hughes. The trick is coming up with a list of projects that don't require planning or a long approval process; government official want the stimulus spent as soon as possible. (For example, they couldn't push for expanding the police department, because it would take too long to draw up plans and get the project finalized.)

With all of these limitations, the city turned to its capital projects budget. So what did they choose to ask Santa Federal Government for this year?

1. $5.6 million in new water and wastewater projects.
2. $900,000 for repaving streets.

Wow.

"The dilemma we faced was the more high-profile projects require extensive planning," Hughes said. "They wouldn't have been able to meet the needs for the federal government. ... We didn't want to bypass the money, because it may free up money for some of those more glamorous projects."

The one major project tossed around City Hall was a rooftop garden for the public library, Hughes said. While they may have gotten it built next year, it wasn't a good fit because the library is thinking about moving, he said. (The stimulus is also a one-time source of money, so projects with ongoing operating costs were also ruled out.)

So sewer and wastewater projects it is.

A few of the requests include:
  • Sanitary/sewer collection systems along Ohio Street and Michigan Boulevard.
  • A new water main on State Street from La Salle Street to Memorial Drive
  • And a water main on the northwestern edge of the city along Airline Road.
  • Resurfacing (but not rebuilding) select neighborhood streets; the new surface will last about 15 years.
While the projects lack glamour, they're effective in creating jobs, Hughes said. The general rule is city projects create one job for $100,000 in spending. If Racine gets all of its requests, it'd create about 65 construction jobs next year.

But the requests are just, well, requests. The government is expected to act on the stimulus package shortly after Barack Obama is sworn into office on Jan. 20. Racine should know if it's projects get funded by February, Hughes. That will give the city time to bid out the project in time for the start of construction season in April.

No matter what gets funded, Hughes said, taxpayers will benefit.

"It wouldn't just be make-believe work," he said. "We as a city would benefit by this. If we as a city don't do these in 2009, we still are going to need to do them 2-3 years down the road. Without federal stimulus money, we'll borrow the money and ask taxpayers to pay it off over time."

December 20, 2008

Snow-carving highlights afternoon at the Square

There was a lot going on Saturday at Monument Square, but the biggest event was a snow-carving demonstration by Jeff Shawhan and Jim Malkowski, two champion snow sculptors.

They started at noon with a 4' x 4' x 8' tall block of snow ... and by 4 p.m. it was an honest-to-goodness replica of Santa Claus coming down a chimney, dragging a big bag of toys. Except for a small "diet" that Santa suffered when some snow broke off his ample stomach, they made it look far too easy, as they took turns with various parts of the sculpture.

Photo above shows Santa nearing completion. Below is the rough drawing they started with; and below that Malkowski works on Santa's face early in the day. Today's demonstration was just a light workout for the two carvers, who will participate in a championship event in the Dells in January.


Snow-carving wasn't all that was going on. Below are two photos showing the Christmas caroling skills of the Racine Montessori School Choir, performing first, Do you hear what I hear, and then Jingle Bells. They were too adorable for words -- and they sang well, too.


And, of course, it wouldn't be Santa Saturday -- as the Downtown Racine Corporation dubbed the event they orchestrated -- without Santa himself making an appearance, along with Mrs. Claus, an elf and some reindeer. And Christmas trees and wreaths for sale.



I'm still not sure who these guys, below, represent, but they had enough holiday spirit to go around.

And, finally, there was a big pile of snow on Monument Square -- it has to be put somewhere -- and the kids made good use of it (amid cries of "Be careful," from their parents.)

Journal-Sentinel abandons Racine with snow alerts

If you needed another sign that the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has abandoned Racine ... the area's largest newspaper did not include snow-related closings in Racine County during yesterday's snow storm. They had Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties.

This is a change from past years when they would list Racine's closings. Now, we're left with the Milwaukee TV stations to compile the lists. I used WTMJ's site for area closings.

Lumpkin elected president of Racine Interfaith Coalition


Former County Board Supervisor Ken Lumpkin was elected president of the Racine Interfaith Coalition on Dec. 11.

Lumpkin and RIC are working on an aggressive program called "Violence No More," which they'll roll out this summer. The faith-based action is meant to answer Racine Police Chief Kurt Wahlen's call for churches to take a leadership role in curbing violence in Racine.

"Early this year the Racine community was asked by the police chief, 'Where is the faith based community?'" Lumpkin said. "RIC is stepping up to plate with it's diverse church membership in an attempt to make a different."

The city granted RIC $12,600 to start the "Violence No More" project.

Here's a link to RIC's board members.

December 19, 2008

Arrest made in Horlick HS bomb threat

A 17-year-old Racine youth was arrested today for calling in a bomb threat to Horlick High School yesterday morning.

Police say the caller was Bradley R. Sorenson of 1319 Geneva St., who is being held on $5,000 bond, charged with Causing a Bomb Scare, a Class 1 Felony.

He is accused of calling an operator at Horlick at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday claiming there were bombs in the school. Investigators say the call was made from a pay telephone on Douglas Avenue. Police say Sorenson admitted he did it because "he wanted the school to close like Park High School did."

Park High School had been dismissed early on Tuesday after a note scrawled on a bathroom wall implied a bomb would be detonated on Tuesday. That initial note was followed up by additional claims of bombs, so Park was also dismissed early Wednesday and the building swept again for devices. None were located in either incident.

This week, there also were two instances of scrawlings on bathroom walls at McKinley Middle School that are being investigated.

December 17, 2008

Light of Peace joins Nativity onMonument Square


The Nativity scene that went up in Monument Square on Dec. 8 has been joined by another symbol of the season. But unlike last year's Atheists' Pyramid, this year it's an obelisk called the Light of Peace that agreeably shares the north end of the square with the Nativity, rather than arguing with it.

The eight-ft. tall, white obelisk -- an octagonal structure about two-ft. in diameter at its base, culminating in a plexiglass lighted top -- is decorated with the word "peace" in many languages, along with the symbols of many different religions like a Christian cross, Jewish Star of David, an Islamic Crescent and Star, and Taoism's yin yang. The obelisk stands about 10-ft. from the Nativity, which was erected by the Racine Christmas Coalition of Churches.

The obelisk was erected Wednesday by members of Racine’s Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church. "We wanted to honor all traditions," said the Rev. Tony Larsen.

At its top, under the plexiglass pyramid, is a solar-powered light that will change colors.

'Twas the week before Christmas... bah, humbug!

Holiday traditions come in all shapes and sizes. One tradition of Racine's Downtown Rotary Club is hearing the following poem shortly before Christmas each year. The poem was written in 1990 by John Crimmings, who notes that, unfortunately, it is as applicable and timely today as when written almost 20 years ago.

By John P. Crimmings
’Twas the week before Christmas
And all that I’ve seen
Are decorations all up
Since before Halloween

The lights are all bright
And the trees are in place
And there seems to be glitter
In every conceivable space

But the economy’s bad
And sales are way down
St. Nick, himself
Seems to be wearing a frown

People are trying
To spread the good cheer
But it seems to be harder;
More difficult each year.

The same kind of problems
Keep rearing their head:
Trouble here and abroad
People need to be fed.

The Spirit keeps slipping
Year after year.
There’s So much uncertainty,
Commercialism and fear.

Remember the Holidays
Of years long since past
And how you would yearn
For that Spirit to last?

It went so much deeper
Than “Good girls and boys.”
It had much more meaning
Than glitter and toys.

Adeste Fideles,
Oh! Holy Night,
Away in the Manger
And Silent Night.

The music is special.
The message is clear.
The problem is living it
Year after year.

It’s the feeling within us
That keeps it alive;
The Spirit of sharing
To which we must strive.

So this is the challenge
To each of us here.
To foster good wishes;
To broaden the cheer.

To carry the message
Of Christmases past.
To continue the Spirit.
To make the love last.

’Twas the week before Christmas
And all that I’ve seen
Are decorations all up
Since before Halloween.

But, if it’s the hoopla
That brings Christmas cheer
Let the trees, wreaths and lights
Stay up the whole year.
John P. Crimmings is General Sales Manager & Vice President, First Weber Group, Southern Wisconsin LLC.

Mary reassures Lee's troops

Mary Junck, Lee Enterprises' $3,791,280 per year CEO, is trying to reassure the company's employees, including those at Racine's Journal Times. "We fully expect to overcome the challenges," she wrote them on Monday, after the company announced it is trying -- once again -- to renegotiate debt covenants to avoid default.

She writes:
"Although the credit markets remain extremely volatile, our lenders stand to benefit by sticking with us through this tough time. Lee continues to generate significant cash flow and continues to pay down debt. We have good relationships with our lenders, and they have shown a willingness to seek mutually beneficial arrangements."
Translation: Any number of newspapers are up for sale these days -- the Miami News, Denver's Rocky Mountain News among them -- and there are no buyers, so what's a lender to do ... aside from renegotiate at a higher interest rate, and pray?
"Other media companies with much more serious difficulties than ours have worked out such agreements with lenders, and we will continue to work toward a solution here."
Translation: Tribune just filed for bankruptcy...
"These issues should have no meaningful effect on the way we operate our enterprises. In the meantime, unfortunately, you can expect to see negative speculation about Lee’s financial situation, much as we’ve been seeing about our industry for some time now."
Translation: By "no meaningful effect" we don't mean your job is secure. U.S. newspapers have eliminated more than 15,471 jobs in 2008. Gannett cut 3,000 employees last week; the Journal Sentinel cut another 39 today (while announcing a $400-an-hour! consulting gig for its ex-CFO). The two Detroit newspapers announced yesterday that they are eliminating home delivery on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. By "speculation about Lee's financial situation," we mean 4th quarter earnings were down more than 70%, and fiscal year operating cash flow dropped 22.6%.

Meanwhile, Junck, who became CEO of Lee in June 1999 when Lee stock was selling for upwards of $29 a share, and who engineered the $1.4 billion Pulitzer purchase that has put the company into this mess, was smart enough to redeem 48,000 shares of Lee stock when it was selling for $28.71 a long time ago, netting $1,378,080. She still has options on 199,375 shares (according to Reuters), which at today's price of 35 cents per share are worth just $69,781.

You can read her entire letter HERE.

December 16, 2008

Mayor Becker denies liquor license for convenience store

Mayor Becker cast the deciding vote Tuesday night to screw over the owner of a new convenience store on Douglas Avenue. OK, that's a little strong. But it's accurate.

Steve Grebe jumped through several hoops to get his Rapids Drive Convenience store up to City Council standard. He expanded the business, installed technology to prevent underage alcohol sales and enhanced security at the site. But it wasn't enough to convince a majority of the council to take his side. His liquor license failed on a 7-7 vote with Becker casting the deciding vote against the license. Grebe can't come back to the council for a new permit for 11 months.

Let me jump in with some commentary here. I realize the city's desire to cut down on places that sell alcohol. It's a noble gesture, and probably for the better. But Alderman Sandy Weidner, who led opposition to the proposal, herself pointed out that nine other businesses near Grebe's convenience store sell alcohol. So what's one more? Is this really going to deter anyone in the surrounding area from drinking? Hardly. If Grebe's technology is as good as it claims - cash registers won't work until a legal ID is scanned - it could even make places that sell to under-agers stand out.

The council's decision puts Grebe at a competitive disadvantage. After the meeting, Grebe said he was "severely disappointed" in the decision. When asked if he still planned to open, Grebe declined comment.

There's a cautionary tale here. Aldermen said in discussions that Grebe was warned he may not get the permit. He took a chance and lost - by a single vote.

Cory Mason leads in 'best Christmas card' contest


No Santa, no snow, no Christmas tree.

Still, we're nominating this as the season's best Christmas card, sent by State Rep. Cory Mason and his wife, Rebecca. If you have to ask who the other guy is, trust us, you're just getting coal in your stocking this year.

(Got a Racine card you'd like to nominate? Send it to me.)

Racine Pride: City Council approves gay community center

Sister Truly Fierce of the Abbey of the Brew City Sisters, an offshoot of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, speaks in favor of an LGBT Center in Racine on Tuesday night at the City Council meeting. Alderman Jim Kaplan, who tried to delay the proposal, sits in the background. Sister Fierce said after the meeting her job was to "comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable."

Bruce Joffe sat in the audience of Tuesday night's City Hall meeting with a transexual nun watching his back and hostile opponents outside the door.

The Carthage College professor was there to gain the city's blessing to open a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual Community Center on Junction Street in Racine's Uptown. Surrounded by supporters and opponents, the night unfolded into a surreal combination of theatrics, Bible-thumping indignation, open-hearted appeals, questionable political manuevering and, for Joffe, a happy ending.

But it was still a brutal night for the audience. First, three inches of snow made it tough just to get to City Hall. Then, the council decided to jabber for two hours on allowing a Douglas Avenue gas station to sell alcohol (they voted no) and then on extending a checkout program for buying kegs (they voted to extend the program six months). A bad sign came early in the night when the council debated for five minutes on whether to extend the public comment period 15 minutes. They defeated the proposal for a longer session, which didn't matter because all of the comments were read on time.

Joffe spoke during the public comment period on his proposal for the LGBT Center. The idea came to him shortly after moving with his partner from Virginia to Racine. They were interested in meeting other gay couples and posted an ad on Craig's List.

"We weren't interested in sex," Joffe said in an interview outside of the meeting. "We specifically said, 'This is not a sex ad.'"

Thirty-eight people responded to their friend request, and the idea for a community center was born. Joffe found the building in Racine's proposed Uptown Artist Relocation District and just needed City Council approval to move forward.

An opponent to the LGBT Center "loves the person, but hates the sin."

The proposal met resistance. The JT blogs lit up against the center and a local radio host tried to rally city clergy against the proposal. On Tuesday night, a handful of people spoke against the proposal on religious grounds that crossed into flat out intolerance.

"Now I know I'm Alice in wonderland," said one woman who spoke after supporters of the center. "Is this a good thing for our community? In San Francisco it's been a nightmare."

She went on to compare the proposed center to mass-murderer Jeffrey Dahmer and America-bashing, and said the center made her "sick."

"We need to show love for these people through Christ, through Jesus," she said.

Another woman threatened the council with God's wrath. "The way you vote you'll have to answer to the Lord," she said.

Joffe's comments tried to focus the issue on the government business at hand, namely approving the conditional-use permit for the center. The building was already zoned for use as a community center, and the permit basically required the owners to follow ordinances, put up a nice sign and clean the building's facade. Joffe noted after the meeting that gay people would, of course, clean up the building. "Our population expects better than that," he said.

But in his words to the council, Joffe noted that four high school girls had called him after learning about the center to tell him they needed a safe place to go. He also had the support of two local churches, the library and UW-Parkside, which may make grant money available to the center.

"This is not mythology," he said. "This is not Alice in Wonderland."

Bruce Joffe is in the lower right corner.

As the council droned on about other issues, Joffe stepped into the hall for a brief interview. A woman overheard the conversation and yelled at him for five minutes about "lifestyle choices" and how race was a different issue than sexuality. The verbal attacks only ended after Joffe returned to the council chambers.

The council took up the item as one of the last on its agenda. Alderman Jim Kaplan lead a subtle, if obvious, attack on the proposal. The strategy: delay.

Kaplan argued that the LGBT Center didn't fit with the city's plans to relocate artists into Uptown. Apparently, gay people and the arts are a bad match.

When that argument didn't work, Kaplan and few others went to the old fallback of parking. (Note to readers: If you're ever trying to kill a building project, bring up the parking issue. When it suits their interests, elected officials love to worry about where people put their cars.)

Kaplan's strategy almost worked. The council voted 8-5 against referring the item back to committee - a time-killing death trap that would have turned a simple issue into a community free-for-all. Credit to Alderman Greg Helding on this point. When discussion started to stray into issues of morality, he brought the debate back to the simple decision of a permit. Mayor Gary Becker, who runs the meeting, also did little to hide his distaste for the discussion. While professional, he also abruptly pushed the issue through.

The council voted 9-4 in favor of granting the conditional-use permit. Kaplan, along with Aldermen Q.A. Shakoor, Ron Hart and Michael Shields, voted against the proposal. Shakoor said during the debate that the issue needed more public discussion. Hart and Shields didn't add much more than their vote to the discussion.

Work begins on the 1,750-square-foot center in January or February, said Joffe, who already has contractors lined up for the project. Rattled by his encounters at the meeting, he said he's now worried someone will burn down the building.

"I'll be overinsuring the building," Joffe said. "I just hope nobody gets hurt."

Remember Eddie on TV's Frasier? Well, here's Petey

Here's your chance to right a grave wrong.

Remember the TV show, Frasier, starring Kelsey Grammer? It was on the tube for 11 seasons, won a record 37 Emmy awards. And yet -- year after year, award show after award show -- a key actor went unrewarded.

Yes, we're talking about Moose, the Jack Russell terrier who played Eddie for the first eight seasons. (He was replaced by his son, Enzo.) Eddie could steal a scene from Grammer merely by cocking his head. But did an Emmy ever come his way? Nooooo!

Well, you can make it all up by adopting Petey, a 3-year-old, neutered male Jack Russell terrier. He's a small, lively dog and would prefer to live with an experienced terrier owner, or as an only dog, according to the Countryside Humane Society.

Actually, Petey would prefer to live in England chase foxes down their dens, as Jack Russells were bred to do starting in 1795, but that's not gonna happen. But it helps explain why terriers are tenacious about sharing their territory. Still, if you want a dog full of energy, affectionate; one that will make you laugh -- then Petey may be the dog for you.

Visit him at the Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

21st Century Prep School names volunteer of the month

Christine Hauck was selected as November's Volunteer of the Month by the 21st Century Preparatory School.

Ms. Hauck, who has two daughters at the school, serves as the editor of the monthly parent newsletter. She also contributes many volunteer hours to work on school projects and other student-centered activities. She received a certificate and gift card for her hard work and effort.

City laying off health department employee after losing United Way grant

City Hall is laying off a health department employee at the end of the month after the department had repeated problems running a United Way program, according to an email sent out Tuesday by City Administrator Ben Hughes.

A tipster inside of City Hall forwarded us this email from Hughes to the Racine Board of Health laying out the situation. Here's the letter sent out this morning:

Dear Racine Board of Health Members,

As you are aware, Health Director Janelle Grammer has been out of the office on medical leave and she has informed us that she is due to return to work on Monday, December 22. I have been working closely with Marcia Fernholz and Teri Hicks and I am confident that the daily operations and duties of the Health Department are being delivered and that the staff has been doing a very good job. I do, however, want to keep you informed on an issue with the Home Visitor Grant program.

Many of you will recall that the United Way of Racine County has annually awarded us just over $60,000 to staff and manage the Home Visitor Program. This program is intended to provide additional social and health support for at risk families with children under the age of 5 by providing a public health nurse to visit homes. Nearly 3 months ago, we were made aware of significant concerns with the Health Department employee who was hired to provide these services. A discipline action occurred and we asked the United Way for a "second chance" to improve our delivery of these services and to meet the expectations of the grant. The United Way granted our request.

On December 2, 2008, the United Way informed us that due to "continuing and significant problems in delivering the agreed upon outcomes for the program, it is necessary to end the contract with the City of Racine on December 31, 2008." This contract was normally scheduled to end on June 30, 2009, with a standard renewal option at the end of the term. It is my understanding that the United Way will be contracting with a nonprofit organization to fulfill the remaining 6 – 7 months of our contract.

Due to the unanticipated loss of grant income, it will be necessary for us to eliminate a position within the Health Department and the employee who was funded by the grant has been notified of these events. We apologize for this occurrence. We will keep you informed.

Ben Hughes


Update: Hughes said in an interview Tuesday the Health Department employee simply wasn't visiting enough homes to make the United Way happy. He said the city maintains a good relationship with United Way, despite the withdrawn grant.

The program in question has a public health nurse visit the homes of at-risk families with young children. The belief is many families are unable, or unwilling, to visit City Hall, so the nurse will go out to meet them.

The program will continue, but it will be run by a nonprofit organization.

Specifically on why Hughes wrote the letter, Hughes said Public Health Officer Janelle Grammer has been out sick and is expected back Dec. 22. He wanted to notify the Public Health Board of the United Way's decision as soon as possible.

Hughes added it was the first time he's ever written to the health board; normally, Grammer would handle such correspondance.

Update: Park High will reopen Wednesday; No bomb found

Update: Park will reopen on Wednesday. No bomb was found during a sweep of the school Tuesday. Here's the announcement from Unified:
Park High School Resumes Classes on Wednesday

Park High School will be in session on Wednesday, December 17. The school closed early today after additional information was received by school staff regarding a written bomb threat that was discovered at the school on Monday. In cooperation with the Racine Police Department and the Racine Fire Department, additional security sweeps of the school and investigation were conducted after students were dismissed. The security sweeps of the school and investigation found no indication of explosive devices or any suspicious items. The school will have additional security measures in place for the remainder of the week and all events and activities will continue as scheduled.

Principal Dan Thielen stated on Tuesday afternoon, “After the comprehensive search and thorough investigation, I am confident that our school is safe for students and staff to return tomorrow. The decision to close school today was made in the best interest of our students and staff.” Thielen continued, “Parents should feel confident that we take threats to security seriously and would not resume school if we were not confident that the school was safe.”

Any information regarding the bomb threats should be directed to the Racine Crime Stoppers 636-9330.
Park High School was dismissed early today, as the investigation into yesterday's bomb threat continued.

Police said the investigation included the Racine Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team, which is checking storage areas in the school to ensure that no chemicals or other materials are "missing or altered and posing a threat."

No further information is being released. School officials sent a letter home with students Monday after the bomb threat was discovered in the second-floor boys' restroom by a teacher.

Cremer named community health hero by BizTimes

Darryl Cremer, founder and chairman of the board of the Racine-based Jane Cremer Foundation, Inc., was named a 2008 Community Health Care Hero by the BizTimes Milwaukee. He was one of 16 Health Care Heroes honored during recent ceremonies hosted by the publication at its fifth annual competition saluting people who have made a major difference in health care.

Nominations from across southeastern Wisconsin were judged by a panel of four health care professionals in the following categories: advancements in health care, community service, corporate achievement in health care, health care staff, nurse, physician, volunteer, and lifetime achievement.

When accepting his award, Cremer explained that the mission of the Foundation, founded after his wife Jane lost her battle with ovarian cancer, is to “educate and empower women to be proactive in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. We are now in our eleventh year of conducting free cancer awareness and education programs for the women of Southeastern Wisconsin.

“Since our first community program in 1998,” Cremer continued, “we have conducted more than 65 programs which have reached more than 7,500 women and 1,200 health care professionals. Each year as we continue our work and the demand for our programs grows, we are able to reach and help more women.”

Cremer said, “While I have the privilege of accepting this award, the truth of the matter is that I do so on behalf of our 200-plus volunteers and the vision of a very special lady who wanted to make a difference,” referring to his late wife.

“On behalf of Jane’s vision and all the people who make our programs happen, we thank BizTimes Milwaukee for recognizing our work and our efforts to make a difference in the lives of the women in our small corner of the world.”

December 15, 2008

Unified notifies parents of bomb threat at Park High

Park High School sent a letter to parents Monday about a threat that the school would "blow up on Tuesday." The district says it takes all bomb threats seriously and felt it was important to notify families. Below is the letter.

One question: Has there ever, in U.S. history, been a bomb when someone calls in a bomb threat?

Here's the letter:

Dear Park Families:

This letter is to inform you of a threat to the security of Park High School. Park, like other high schools in the country, has experienced the frustration of anonymous written threats made against our school’s safety. Our most recent threat was discovered on today and indicated that the school would blow up on Tuesday, December 16.

We take each threat seriously, and additional security measures and procedures will be implemented to keep Park High School safe. We are working with the Racine Police Department to identify the person responsible for the threat and increase security in and around the building. The school and district have decided to err on the side of caution, and we have taken extra precautions to ensure all students and staff will be safe. Some of these precautions may be an inconvenience to students and/or parents, and we ask that you be patient and understanding.

The only doors that students will be allowed to enter or exit will be the main doors on 12th Street. Students will also not be allowed to leave for lunch on Tuesday, therefore, please send your student prepared to eat lunch on campus.

If you decide to keep your student home for the day, they will be excused, as long as you call in your student to the attendance line. The phone numbers for each sub-school’s attendance line are:
Blue 619-4407
Orange 619-4413
White 619-4420

All after school activities will proceed as scheduled. Please note that according to WIAA rules, if a student is not in attendance during the school day, the student cannot participate in WIAA athletic events.

We will continue our investigation; however, if the situation changes, we will inform you. Our number one priority is providing a safe learning environment for our students. I greatly appreciate your cooperation and understanding to this safety concern. Please feel free to call me or any of the sub-school principals if you have any questions or concerns.


Sincerely,


Daniel J. Thielen
Principal

Super School Star: Ian Morey

Case High School's Ian Morey is the latest Super School Star. He was nominated by Case Social Studies teacher Tammy Hayward. Here's what she wrote in Ian's nomination:
I would like to nominate Ian Morey who is in both my Theory of Knowledge and I.B. History classes. He is number 2 in the graduating class I believe, but is number one as far as participation in many events such Model O.A.S. and Model U. N. where he is a team leader and a big winner last year at the competition. Ian is also interned with much praise at the Obama headquarters here in town. He is involved with many other things such at N.H.S. and Key Club. Ian is wonderful!
Congratulations to Ian, and many thanks to Ms. Hayward.

Have someone you would like to nominate? Send us an email at: dustin.block@gmail.com. All you need is a paragraph introducing the person you feel is a Super School Star and a contact number so we can follow up with you. We'll write up a story about award winners, take their picture and give them a certificate. The more the better ... we hope to run them throughout the school year.

Lee needs debt waiver to forestall default

Lee Enterprises, parent of the Journal Times, is between a rock and a hard place.

On Monday Lee announced it will delay filing its annual report until Dec. 29, while it seeks waivers from lenders. The newspaper chain owes approximately $1.3 billion from its 2005 purchase of Pulitzer newspapers, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Lee said it expects to make another $180 million write-down to equity, which would trigger the minimum net worth covenant in an agreement related to $306 million of its debt. Without a waiver, Lee would be in default on the debt -- and that would create a default condition in other debt.

Lee said that its accounting firm, KPMG, said that without the waiver it would have to include a paragraph in the annual report about the company's ability "to continue as a going concern." That, too, would trigger yet another default under Lee's bank credit agreement.

Lee's stock closed today at 39 cents per share, down from $49 per share at its high at the time of the Pulitzer purchase. The company's market cap, once over $2 billion, is down to $17.5 million.

Lee's statement is HERE.

Besides the Journal Times, Lee owns 48 other daily newspapers and 300 weeklies and specialty publications.

Bomb threat found at Park High School

A bomb threat written in the second floor boys' bathroom was discovered by a teacher this morning at Park High School, indicating that the school "would be blown up on Tuesday," according to Park Principal Daniel J. Thielen.

The district sent a letter home with students this afternoon describing extra security procedures that will be in place tomorrow: greater police presence, limited access into and out of the building, closing the school for lunch and a sweep of the entire campus before the school day. Parents are given permission to keep their kids home from school -- if they call in to the attendance line.

Here's the letter sent home:
Dear Park Families:

This letter is to inform you of a threat to the security of Park High School. Park, like other high schools in the country, has experienced the frustration of anonymous written threats made against our school’s safety. Our most recent threat was discovered on today and indicated that the school would blow up on Tuesday, December 16.

We take each threat seriously, and additional security measures and procedures will be implemented to keep Park High School safe. We are working with the Racine Police Department to identify the person responsible for the threat and increase security in and around the building. The school and district have decided to err on the side of caution, and we have taken extra precautions to ensure all students and staff will be safe. Some of these precautions may be an inconvenience to students and/or parents, and we ask that you be patient and understanding.

The only doors that students will be allowed to enter or exit will be the main doors on 12th Street. Students will also not be allowed to leave for lunch on Tuesday, therefore, please send your student prepared to eat lunch on campus.

If you decide to keep your student home for the day, they will be excused, as long as you call in your student to the attendance line. The phone numbers for each sub-school’s attendance line are:
  • Blue 619-4407
  • Orange 619-4413
  • White 619-4420
All after school activities will proceed as scheduled. Please note that according to WIAA rules, if a student is not in attendance during the school day, the student cannot participate in WIAA athletic events.

We will continue our investigation; however, if the situation changes, we will inform you. Our number one priority is providing a safe learning environment for our students. I greatly appreciate your cooperation and understanding to this safety concern. Please feel free to call me or any of the sub-school principals if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Daniel J. Thielen
Principal

Library closed around the holidays

The Racine Public Library and Mobile Library will be closed the following days:
Sunday, December 21
Wednesday, December 24
Thursday, December 25
Sunday, December 28
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Thursday, January 1, 2009
No materials will be due on these days.

Visit the library online anytime to renew materials, reserve titles, suggest new items the library should purchase, download free audio books, videos, or electronic books, use BadgerLink to conduct research in thousands of full-text newspapers and magazines (print out the results at home).

School crossing guard hit by car Monday morning

Racine police report a scary incident this morning at West Street and MLK Drive:
At 8:31 a.m. this morning, a crossing guard standing in the crosswalk at West St on ML King Dr was struck by a small SUV, causing minor injuries.

Diana Hines, 59, had just stationed herself in the crosswalk facing northbound traffic and raised her portable stop sign, when the operator of the SUV, Juan Mendiola, 31, left eastbound from the stop sign at ML King Dr and initiated a right turn to travel south.

Due to the sun in his eyes while facing east, he initially did not see the crossing guard to his right. As he initiated the turn, she became visible to him and he entered the crosswalk area too late to stop, striking her with his passenger side door mirror, causing her to fall to the ground.

Ms. Hines was transported to Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Hospital at 3801 Spring St. by rescue and treated for bumps and bruises.

Mr. Mendiola was issued a citation for Failure to Yield to an Adult Crossing Guard as well as Operation of a Non-Registered Vehicle. He was released at the scene upon issuance of the citations. There was minor damage to the vehicle.

According to the investigator, Ms. Hines had not yet waved any children into the crosswalk from the curb line, so no children were injured during the crash.

No paper today? You're not alone...

No Journal Times in your driveway this morning?

Some kinda trouble at the Journal Times, not any (announced) experiment with cost-cutting. Whatever the cause -- cold, ice, poor driving conditions? -- there were a lot of missed papers today.

Here's what we were told when we spoke to a harried customer service rep shortly after 9 a.m.:

"We've had over 400 calls this morning. He's not going to be able to deliver you a paper."

Oh, sure; we'll get a credit on our bill. But what about today's Sudoku and Horoscope? And what do I tell the puppy?

December 14, 2008

Ryan's auto bailout vote: Did campaign $$$ play a role?

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-1st District, said last Wednesday that he voted for the $14 billion auto industry bailout because the funds would come from "a previously approved U.S. Department of Energy loan package. Because no additional taxpayer dollars were appropriated, I was able to support this legislation."

Maybe. But here's possibly another reason for the former fiscal conservative's support: His campaign contributions from auto industry sources supporting the bailout are more than double those received by congressmen opposing it.

Maplight.org, a website that "illuminates the connection between money and politics," reported this week that over the past five years (January 2003 - October 2008), auto manufacturers, auto dealers and labor unions gave an average of $74,100 in campaign contributions to each Representative who ultimately voted in favor of the auto bailout, compared with an average of $45,015 to each Representative who voted against the bailout -- "65% more money, on average, given to those who voted Yes."

Paul Ryan did better than that $74,100 average. Quite a bit better. He received $93,200 (with $13,500 of that in 2008).

Those auto industry campaign contributions came from:
Auto dealers, new & used: $45,950
Auto manufacturers: $38,000
Truck/Automotive parts & accessories: $7,750
Manufacturing unions: $1,000
Manufacturing: $500

TOTAL $93,200
To be fair, let's be quick to stipulate two things:

First, that Janesville, Ryan's home town, boasts an 80-year-old GM assembly plant, where 1,200 workers make Chevy Tahoes. (And 3,000 other auto-related workers in the area have lost their jobs since June.) Without a bailout -- and maybe even with one -- that plant is scheduled for closure two days before Christmas.

And, second, that $93,200 is chump change to Ryan, who has raised millions in campaign contributions. Federal Elections Commission reports show his receipts as:
2007-2008 $1,641,943
2005-2006 $1,462,674
2003-2004 $1,374,025
2001-2002 $1,244,748
1999-2000 $1,343,419
A tip of the hat to Jim Zellmer's blog for pointing to the Maplight.org research on auto industry contributions and the potential connection between them and this bailout.

December 13, 2008

Muralist Zagar says Racine got a bargain

Philadelphia muralist Isaiah Zagar laughed heartily Saturday morning when told that Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn included Racine's Uptown murals among the worst federal waste of the year.

"That's just wonderful," Zagar guffawed into his cellphone, "because the amount of money I received was $5,000 to do two murals that would have cost $250,000!" The picture at left shows him working here on Uptown's mosaic murals, on June 13, 2008.

In fact, Zagar recently received $100,000 for a single mural -- much smaller than Racine's -- "that was received to great acclaim" with the opening of a new convention center in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a project that took three years from commission to completion -- unlike Racine's that was done in a weekend. The piece is called "The Earth Dreaming," and is described on the convention center's website as "a colorful mosaic of tile murals which creates Phoenix and Arizona-specific imagery."

"I have no idea what set the man off," Zagar said, adding, "politicians don't have a very good reputation these days. They're not doing very well; they all seem to be on the take. Whereas my 'take' was just $5,000 for two murals ... and the money came, some of it, from the business people in the area who paid $250 so high school students could benefit from the teaching."

Referring to this week's events in Chicago, with the arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Zagar said, "They did a report on NPR this week that was so beautiful. Quotes from all sorts of politicians, 'I deny it,' 'I am above suspicion,' 'Not me' ... and they're all in jail. Whereas your mayor, Gary Becker, he drives an old car, he came to the airport himself to pick me up, he was down at the mural site every day."

Zagar also pointed to Richard Florida's book, "Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life," and noted that "the young, the bohemian, the artists -- these are the people who recreate a city, get it going agian, the engine."

Not -- he left the thought unsaid -- politicians like a certain Oklahoma senator.

Racine's mosaic mural named 'worst waste' of federal spending


Racine's mermaid mosaic in Uptown is getting national attention - but that's not a good thing.

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn included the $6,000 project in a report of what he considers the worst use of federal dollars in the past year. The mural was paid for with federal Community Development Block Grant dollars, which are distributed to local governments for use on community projects.


Coburn didn't comment on the Racine project in the report titled, "2008: Worst Waste of the Year." The 49-page report simply recounted the story of the mural using a photo and story from RacinePost (left: Pete's photo in Coburn's report), and stories from The Journal Times.

Coburn documented $1.3 billion in wasteful government spending this year. Noticeably absent was any mention of the $700 billion bailout for banks (Coburn supported it) or the billions spent this year on the Iraq War Coburn supported, but later described as "probably a mistake."

Coburn did find some odd uses of government money in the past year. Some include:
  • $188,000 for the Lobster Institute of Maine to promote the lobster industry
  • $367,000 spent by a school board in Texas on such things as an inflatable alligator and an under-the-sea waterslide.
  • $300,000 disbursed by the Agriculture Department to a potato farm in Idaho to help the farm advertise specialty potatoes it sells to restaurants such as Russian banana fingerlings, red thumbs and ruby crescents.
  • $9.4 million spent by federal agencies to search for aliens from outer space
  • $784,000 doled out for training classes for casino workers
  • $32 million in small business loans to liquor stores.
  • $1 million for bike paths on Louisiana levees that are still awaiting basic repairs
  • $2.4 million for a retractable shade canopy at a park in West Virginia
  • $3.2 million on a blimp that the Pentagon does not want
  • $5 million for a bridge to a zoo parking lot in St. Louis.
  • $24.6 million to celebrate the National Park Service's 100th birthday in 2016.
At least one project on the list is fighting back. Bicyclists in Minneapolis are upset a federally funded bike center made the list.

"It's a good thing we don't have Oklahoma senators figure out what projects Minnesota needs to do," John Schadl, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, told the Star-Tribune.

Coburn seems to have a thing against bikes. A "bike library" in Fort Collins, Colo. made the list even though the program was popular in the city. Coburn's own report noted the $66,000 program was so successful there often weren't enough bikes to lend.

December 12, 2008

Kohl, Feingold disappointed with auto bailout failure

Wisconsin Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, both Democrats, expressed disappointment today with the Senate's rejection Thursday of the auto bailout, a rejection engineered by Senate Republicans despite the fact that the White House had structured the program. Both issued statements:

Feingold said he was "greatly disappointed" by the action:
“I supported this plan to help the U.S. auto industry because without this assistance, millions of American jobs, including tens of thousands in Wisconsin, will be jeopardized. In these tough economic times, allowing our auto manufacturers to fail could be catastrophic for our economy and could send already increasing unemployment levels skyrocketing. I am greatly disappointed that some Senators didn’t hesitate to bail out Wall Street, but decided not to help millions of working class Americans.”
Kohl said he hoped Congress would reconsider the package:
"We regret that the rescue package didn’t pass. Especially because the auto industry is so important to our economy. We hope Congress will have another opportunity to provide a bridge loan in January or that the Treasury will act."
When the bill was considered by the House, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan voted yes.

Racine's Girls Inc. offers leadership camp, volunteer mentor program

UPDATE: Registration extended; see first comment below.

Girls Inc. is a program run by the YWCA to inspire elementary and middle school girls to be strong, smart and bold. The nonprofit is offering two exciting opportunities for girls this month.

The first is a leadership camp on Dec. 22-23 for girls who attend Gilmore, Jerstad, Mitchell and McKinely middle schools.

The second is a volunteer mentor program for high school students who would like to help elementary and middle school girls. Details for both programs are below.

BOLD University
Girls Inc. at the YWCA of Racine in partnership with Lighted Schoolhouse offer middle school girls attending Gilmore, Jerstad, Mitchell, and McKinley Middle Schools in Racine the opportunity to discover a new camp. Middle school girls will participate in Girls Inc. leadership development, group games and activities that encourage them to be their strong, smart and bold selves. A field trip is included. Lighted Schoolhouse has contributed a $45 scholarship for every registrant. The remaining cost is only $10 per participant. BOLD University will be held on Monday, December 22nd and Tuesday, December 23rd 2008 from 9am to 4pm at Assembly Hall at The DeKoven Center, 600 21st Street. Please contact your school’s Lighted Schoolhouse coordinator or Marie Block at girlsincracine@yahoo.com or (262) 989.2272 for a registration form or more information. Deadline to register is Friday, December 19. Download the registration form here!

She Volunteers
Attention all high school girls! Would you like to be a mentor for young girls? Do you need volunteer hours? Want to increase your leadership skills and opportunities to earn college scholarships? Girls Inc. at the YWCA of Racine invites you to apply to be a She Volunteer. If you can commit to 2 hours, once a week, after school next semester to help facilitate groups at elementary and middle schools, join us for the She Volunteers Winter Training. The mandatory training will be on Monday, December 29 and Tuesday, December 30 from 9am to 3pm at The DeKoven Center, 600 21st Street. Please contact your school counselor or Marie Block at girlsincracine@yahoo.com or (262) 989-2272 for an application or more information. Deadline to register is Friday, December 19th, 2008.