February 23, 2008

Parking loophole

Does alternate street parking apply if you're not on the street? (Taken on Wisconsin Avenue earlier this week.)

If you have to go outside, try not to breathe

See that orange blob on the map above, the one covering our portion of Wisconsin? Well, here's what it means, according to AirNow, a government website that monitors air quality:

Air Quality Index at Unhealthy Levels
for Sensitive Groups in Wisconsin and Minnesota

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an Air Quality Advisory for Particle Pollution (Orange) effective Saturday, Feb. 23, 1:01:51 PM through Sunday, Feb. 24, 11:59:59 AM for all Wisconsin Counties.

UPDATE, 2/24/08: The DNR has extended the advisory, from Sunday, Feb. 24, 12:16:07 p.m. through Monday, Feb. 25, at 10 a.m., again for all of the state.

UPDATE, 2/25/08: AND AGAIN: DNR extended the advisory at 10 a.m. this morning through 8 p.m. tonight, forecasting elevated levels of fine particles in the air. Fine particle pollution is composed of microscopic dust, soot, liquid droplets and smoke particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller.

UPDATE, 2/25/08, 8 p.m.: DNR lifted the advisory for Racine County, while extending it through Tuesday noon for Barron, Brown, Calumet, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Outagamie, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Rusk, St. Croix and Taylor Counties.

The advisory is being issued because of persistent elevated levels of fine particles in the air. These fine particles come primarily from combustion sources, such as power plants, factories and other industrial sources, vehicle exhaust, and wood fires.

The Air Quality Index is currently in the orange level, which is considered unhealthy for people in sensitive groups.

People in those sensitive groups include those with heart or lung disease, asthma, older adults and children. When an orange advisory for particle pollution is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous activities.

People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, and heart disease should pay attention to cardiac symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns or are experiencing symptoms.

Fine particle pollution deposits itself deep into the lungs and cannot easily be exhaled. People who are at risk are particularly vulnerable after several days of high particle pollution exposure.

Hat tip to The Political Environment.

PROPERTY TRANSFERS: Dynasty restaurant sold for $800,000

Dynasty Restaurant at 2427 Lathrop Ave. sold this month for $800,000, according to the county's property transfers from Feb. 11-15 (see below).

John Bouikidis and Parthena are the registered owners of the restaurant building, which had an assessed value of $545,000 last year. Taxes on the building last year were $12,410.93.

Here's the restaurant:

View Larger Map

Also in this week's property transfers, the former Burlington RV Superstore at 980 Milwaukee Ave. was sold for $3.5 million. The site will be the future home of a Kohl's Department store and pedestrian mall.

And, a home on Water's Edge Road in Caledonia sold for $1.075 million dollars, and a condo in the new building at 4 Gaslight Drive in Racine sold, this one for $415,600.

Here are the listings (click here if you can't see the list below):

(Note: If you can't read the property transfers above, please leave a note in the comments or send me an e-mail at: dustin.block@gmail.com)

February 22, 2008

No robin, no crocus, but a sure sign of Spring!

I don't want to rush the season, but a clear sign of Spring was evident today, even with the Vernal Equinox a full month away (March 20).

No, there are no daffodils peeking through the snow; no earthworms sunning; no singing frogs. Lots of birds (and two blankety-blank squirrels!) at the feeder -- my wife saw a hawk resting briefly outside our kitchen window this morning -- but no robins.

March Madness is a pretty good indicator, but selection Sunday isn't until March 16, three weeks off, with the opening round on March 18.

The 84th Realtors' Home and Garden Show in Milwaukee is further away (March 28 to April 6). Local Realtors haven't started Spring's optimistic round of open houses yet, despite many anxious sellers. Dairy Queen is still shuttered.

Then what makes me certain Spring is on the way? The Pothole Patrol was making its way down Ohio this morning, stopping to shovel warm asphalt into some of the more threatening holes. The headline on Mike Moore's column in the Journal Times called Ohio a street "only a moon rover could love," and apparently that got to the powers-that-be at the city's Public Works Department.

Or maybe they had planned to do the work long in advance, as soon as the ice and snow were removed. Regardless, a couple of trucks were spotted going north and south on Ohio, stopping every few feet so a worker could shovel asphalt into a crack here, a pothole there, a crevasse over there, a canyon ...

The effect is more cosmetic than effective, a short-term fix rather than a permanent solution, but hey, at this point we'll take anything! Surely, it's a sign.

Vice President Ryan? Funny, he doesn't say 'no'

The first mention of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, as a possible vice presidential nominee came out of the blue ... just good ol' Bob Novak, the CIA spy snitch, ruminating about potential John McCain running mates last Sunday on Capital Gang.

But now there's a groundswell ... or at least a second pundit weighing in on Ryan's behalf. Quin Hillyer, writing in The American Spectator, a conservative monthly famous for Clinton-bashing, notes that Ryan is only 38, "but what a resume already! A brainy, attractive, principled conservative, he worked for Sens. Bob Kasten and Sam Brownback, and also for conservative idea leaders Jack Kemp and William Bennett. He's already been in Congress for 10 years, but he has yet to be subsumed in the bad old ways and the conventional wisdom; instead, he has been a font of ideas, and a devotee of conservative ideals."

So, of course, we had to ask Ryan whether all this attention is going to his head; whether, in fact, he agrees with the suggestion and might do something to advance his cause. Here's the response we got:
"It is nice to have my name mentioned, but my sole focus is doing the best job I can working for my employers – the residents of the First Congressional District of Wisconsin. There is so much work to do in Congress right now – saving Social Security and Medicare, restoring fiscal responsibility and revamping our health care system. Finding solutions to these problems is my priority."
Careful parsers -- even superficial ones! -- will note that Ryan did not use the words "no" or "not interested" or anything like the Shermanesque clarity we have come to demand from politicians saying "No, no, a thousand times no."

Like William Tecumseh Sherman himself, when he forcefully rejected any attempt to nominate him as the Republican candidate for president in 1884: "If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve."

Or Lyndon Johnson's rejection of a second full-term nomination in 1968: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."

Or even Rep. Mo Udall's 1984 classic: "If nominated, I shall run to Mexico. If elected, I shall fight extradition."

Contrast those firm statements with Ryan's pusillanimous: "There is so much work to do ..."

Oh, yeah; he's interested!

State changes law that forced alderman to resign

The state law that forced former Racine Alderman Pete Karas to resign is close to being changed. The Senate passed Assembly Bill 500 this week that would allow local elected officials to recuse themselves from a vote involving liquor licenses, if they do business with clients who have liquor licenses. Under the old law, city alderman could not serve in local government if they had clients with liquor licenses.

Karas, an insurance broker and risk manager, abruptly resigned from the council last year after learning about the Prohibition-era law. He has clients with liquor licenses.

The bill is awaiting Gov. Jim Doyle's signature, which should come without question.

Here's a press release from Rep. Louis Molepske, Jr. on the bill:

Assembly Bill 500 passes Senate

On Tuesday, the Wisconsin State Senate voted to pass Assembly Bill 500, a bill which provides some much needed balance between the high ethical standards that local elected officials considering alcohol licensing requests must abide by and the reality that some of these very officials may have long-standing businesses that sell products to the license applicants or license holders.

The bill now awaits Governor Doyle’s signature before becoming law. Under a little-known state law, no member of a municipal governing body is permitted to sell to anyperson holding or applying for a retail liquor license “any bond, material, product, or thing that may be used by the licensee in carrying on the retail business.”

This extremely broad Prohibition-era regulation was originally enacted due to the fact that municipal governing bodies are responsible for granting retail liquor and wine licenses. The law’s authors were concerned that this process could create the potential for private business to unduly influence governmental operations, or vice versa.

As the issue has gained publicity in recent months (the bill was recently featured in USA TODAY ), a number of alderpersons in municipalities across the state have struggled with the decision of whether or not they need to resign their seats. Assembly Bill 500 addresses these concerns by replacing current law with a revised version of the well-established Code of Ethics for local public officials.

More specifically, under Assembly Bill 500, rather than being forced to resign his or her seat, if a local government official is presented with a situation in issuing or denying a retail liquor license that the official thinks or knows will violate the Code of Ethics, the official should recuse himself or herself from the vote on the license.

“Assembly Bill 500 will ensure that municipal officials are subject to the same ‘pay to play’ regulations as other public officials, but at the same time, they will not be prohibited from simply making a living or partaking in public service,” said Molepske. “Being an alderperson is generally not a full-time job, meaning that alderpersons often have other forms of employment to supplement their income. Assembly Bill 500 helps to ensure that our elected officials will come from diverse backgrounds, both personally and professionally.”

February 21, 2008

Are we getting sloppy with candidate security?

A newspaper story out of Dallas, Texas, caught my eye today. (Click to enlarge.)

It reminded me of the differing levels of security here for the visits of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Granted, much of the security is beneath the surface -- unseen by the casual attendee at these rallies, and that's how it should be. Still, the discrepancy was startling to me. And from the story above, from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I can see that I'm not alone.

At the Obama rally in Racine, security was tight. Everyone in Memorial Hall was told to leave at 2 p.m. Reporters and photographers had to leave all equipment -- cameras, laptops, what-have-you; we were told nothing else could be brought in. The Secret Service wanted to have the hall to themselves from 2 p.m. to 2:45 for a security sweep, including bomb-sniffer dogs. As we were leaving, I counted about 20 uniformed police, TSA and Secret Service agents. There probably were more. As it turned out, press was kept out until shortly after 4 p.m... and when we were permitted to return, each of us was wanded and expertly patted down.

The public had to go through metal detectors -- which malfunctioned at first and kept the crowd waiting outside in the cold for more than an hour until they were fully functional again. (And let's be clear here: it was colder in Racine than in Dallas).

Furthermore, the area where Obama spoke was roped off, and those attending the rally were tightly controlled. Individual photographers who wanted to get close while he was speaking were escorted individually into the central area. Obama was 10-20 ft. from the closest spectator. And at the end, when he "pressed the flesh," he had agents closely by his side, and again the crowd was carefully controlled and kept back. Obama dealt strictly with a rope line, walking down it but never surrounded by civilians. He did not stop to sign autographs.

At the Hillary Clinton rally in Kenosha ... well, forget all that, except for a few visible (and invisible) Secret Service agents near her, and however many local police and Sheriff's Deputies on the perimeter. There was no empty-building sweep, no checkpoint at all for press -- neither wanding, nor pat-down nor equipment inspection -- and no metal detectors for the audience to go through. While she spoke, she stood within five feet of spectators on three sides.

It was most startling as the rally concluded. Hillary was surrounded by fans on all sides, as the crowd strained to reach her for autographs, and she attempted to satisfy that desire. She signed posters, books, shirts -- whatever was handed to her. Yes, there were a couple of Secret Service agents at her side, but the crowd really surrounded her; I have one series of pictures of a man who put his arm around Mrs. Clinton's shoulder, as he posed her for a picture with him.

To someone who's lived through JFK's and Robert Kennedy's assassination, the shootings of George Wallace and Ronald Reagan, and two attempts on Gerald Ford, I was neither surprised nor offended by all the security around Obama. But I was shocked by the lack of (apparent) security around Hillary. (And, yes, I am aware that only RFK's shooting took place in what could and should have been a secured location.)

Furthermore, those were simpler times. The papers weren't full of mass murders every other week, at colleges, workplaces, schools, malls. The times definitely have changed, and not for the better. I hope we haven't forgotten history.

Feingold still trying to get the President to listen...

As we reported Sunday, (If Feingold were Commander-in-Chief), Sen. Russ Feingold is pressing the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq and instead spend our military and intelligence resources on stopping al Qeada.

Today he made the point again, in the widely-read Huffington Post, in a piece entitled, The Warnings Are There, Will the President Listen?

Mason pleased about Compact, but has concerns

State Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, and State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, 62nd District, responded positively today to the long-awaited introduction of the bill to implement the Great Lakes Compact. Cowles and Mason said they’re pleased that the implementing legislation is finally being introduced, but they still have concerns that will need to be addressed to ensure that the Great lakes are protected to the greatest extent possible.

"As we all know, the devil is in the details," Cowles said, "and this bill is going to require more work to make it as strong as it needs to be to protect our water from the folks in the Western part of the country who would like nothing more than to get their hands on this valuable resource."

The Compact was originally signed by all of the Great Lakes governors in Milwaukee back in 2005. For the Compact to go into effect, all the legislatures in the Great Lakes states must pass it, and the United States Congress must ratify it. Three other Great Lakes states have already passed laws adopting the compact, and the remaining states have introduced bills that are at various stages of the legislative process.

“I still have concerns about how this bill addresses return flow of treated sewage through rivers like the Root. I am concerned about some of the effective dates, and will looking closely to see how strong the conservation measures really are,” said Mason.

Mason and Cowles said their initial reading of the complicated 153-page bill is generally positive, but more work will need to be done to strengthen the Compact. Among their concerns are that standards for in-basin withdrawals must be tightened during the interim period between the passage of the bill in Wisconsin and the federal ratification of the Compact. Cowles and Mason said the bill must set standards to ensure that return flow of water to the lakes is of a temperature and quality that will be safe for the habitat and for drinking water.

“There are bipartisan concerns about the ability of this Compact bill to adequately protect all of Wisconsin’s communities. We should not let this historic opportunity go by without doing it right,” said Mason.

February 20, 2008

Google Maps' Streetview now in Racine

Our world is now a little creepier. Racine is now included in Google Maps' Streetview feature. Basically, you can punch in any address and get street-level photos of the area. Here's an example:

View Larger Map

We've tried it with our homes, and actually saw someone we knew in one of the photos. Big Brother is watching (and we kind of like it).

For everyone complaining about winter ...

I spotted this message from a group on emergencies throughout the state:
I just shoveled my way out of 53 feet of snow and made my way back from Marinette County. There are a LOT of emergency calls for homes and buildings collapsing from snow weight on the roofs in far NE WI and Upper Michigan. This afternoon, some milk processing factory in Stephenson, MI had the entire building collapse and burst into flames. Fortunately nobody was inside. Heard at least 3 calls of garages and homes also caving in. I have personally not seen this much snow up there in better than 10 years!


Tuesday's election by the numbers

* 51,861 - Number of people voted in the county. Turnout was 41.75 percent.

* 37,321 - Number of people who voted for Democrats

* 14,446 - Number of people who voted for Republicans

* Democratic totals:
Kucinich - 75
Clinton - 16,294
Biden - 13
Gravel - 16
Dodd - 17
Obama - 20,620
Edwards - 227
Richardson - 20

* Republican totals:
Hunter - 27
Thompson - 103
Tancredo - 9
Romney - 269
Paul - 618
Huckabee - 4,986
McCain - 8,337
Giuliani - 49

* 12,283 - Difference between Obama's and McCain's totals in Racine County

* 9,067-5,364 - Obama's margin of victory over Clinton in the City of Racine. Obama took about 62 percent of the city's vote.

February 19, 2008

Racine County vote totals

Here are the final unofficial returns, as reported by Racine County about 11:30 p.m. last night:

In the Democratic Primary:
Hillary Clinton: 16,294 votes, 43.65%
Barack Obama: 20,620 votes, 55.24%

In the Republican Primary:
Mike Huckabee 4,986 votes, 34.52%
John McCain: 8,337 votes, 57.72%

The county has 124,190 registered voters
51,861 votes were cast Tuesday
37,321 votes in the Democratic primary
14,446 votes in the Republican primary

Racine Unified School Board (top six advance to April election)
Carly-Anne Ravnikar 7,100
Dennis Wiser 11,906
David Thurwanger 5,090
Pamela Handrow 9,943
Melvin Hargrove 12,790
John Leiber 7,040
Karen Norton 11,776

The county's vote totals are being put online, as they are counted, HERE.

McCain, Huckabee take Coffee Bean Convention

The results are in ... from the Coffee Bean Convention at the Groundskeeper Cafe in Downtown Racine. John McCain was the overall winner with 257 beans dropped in his can, followed by Mike Huckabee with 236 beans. Obama was the top Democrat with 221 beans. Hillary Clinton received 200. Here's the rundown of the rest:
Ron Paul - 184 beans
Duncan Hunter - 7 beans
Cynthina McKinney (Green Party) - 3 beans
Mike Gravel - 2 beans
Groundskeeper owner Cindy Gross said she was surprised to see the Republicans come out on top. "It seemed like everyone who came was either Obama or Clinton," she said.

In all, 1,110 beans were cast into cans for the various candidates. Customers each got one vote per visit to support the candidate of their choice.

The Coffee Bean Convention, which Gross borrowed from a cafe in Iowa, garnered attention from the local media ... and beyond. A freelance writer for the New York Times interviewed her for an hour last week on the idea, but an article has yet to appear in the paper. (Searching today's paper, we did find this letter from Joan Evangelisti in the Science Times.)

Gross also said the Obama campaign seemed interested in bringing the Illinois senator by for a latte (or whatever he drinks). But, alas, Gross was too busy slinging drinks to talk with the campaign representative and the idea dissolved like Splenda in a decaf.

Gross is hopeful she'll get another shot. She's going to keep her convention going past Wisconsin's primary, and possibly to the general election. Maybe Obama will stop by the next time around, she said.

BRIAN DEY: Why I voted no to the settlement:
Key flaws, unreal savings, conflicts of interest...

Brian Dey is one of two members of the Racine Unified Board of Education to vote against the termination of the district's controversial management contract with the Public Business Consulting Group (PBCG). The contract, negotiated by former Supt. Tom Hicks, led to Hicks' resignation in August, as details of its bonus provisions came to light.

It's not that Dey and Julie McKenna, who were on the short end of the 7-2 vote Monday night to end the contract wanted it to continue; rather they objected to the financial settlement approved by the board to end its five-year contract with PBCG 2 1/2 years early. Details of the board's settlement amount haven't been officially released; press reports range from $750,000 (Journal Times) to $1,650,000 (Journal Sentinel), but what they comprise is not apples-to-apples so it's still uncertain. Our earlier story is HERE.

Today we asked Brian Dey to explain why he voted no. Dey has been on the school board since April 2005 and is finishing his first term. Rather than run for re-election this year, he is running against Ken Hall for the Racine County Board's 15th District seat.

Why I Voted No to the Settlement

For the past six months, the Racine Unified School District and Public Business Consulting Group have been in negotiations which ended in a settlement last evening. I, along with Julie McKenna, were the only dissenting votes in a 7-2 decision.

In my opinion, several key flaws contributed to what I call bad negotiating by the District, which eventually led to the approved settlement. I believe there was a conflict of interest with the relationship between PBCG and our legal counsel, but the Board was willing to accept that counsel would not jeopardize a 30+ year relationship with the District.

What I believe was the biggest mistake was entering into negotiations without all the facts. Board members have stated that the savings were real based on the report from the Special Investigation and the Deloitte Audit, as well as affirmation from David Hazen, the current Chief Financial Officer of the District. However, no one validated what constituted a savings or revenue enhancement. This is how it was laid out by the business manager of another Wisconsin school district, Todd Gray, assistant superintendent, business services, of the Appleton Area School District.

Health Insurance
Savings: Minimum of $6.9 million, implemented on May 1st

Gray: Not real savings. Under QEO bargaining laws, a major portion of the savings must go right back into teacher salaries.
Dey: Similar ideas were brought to Administration by Board Member Armin Clobes in 2004, Racine Taxpayers Association 2005 and Citizens for a Sound Economy in 2004.

Energy Education Program
Savings: Estimated at $364,500

Gray: We have tried this and the savings are not real dollars, rather, they are based on ‘what if’ scenarios.

4- and 5-year-old Kindergarten Expansion
Savings: $5,469,404 in annualized surplus

Gray: Not a savings…. may generate new revenues but not until the third or fourth year of operations. Again, this is an old program implemented in AASD years ago.
Dey: 4k and all day 5k were presented to Dr. Hicks by Assistant Superintendent Ann Laing in August 2005, four months prior to PBCG being hired.

Creation of Community Service Fund
Savings: $185,318 transferred from Fund 10 to Fund 80 this year

Gray: This can in no way be classified as savings…it is a 100% increase in property tax dollars. [For PBCG] [t]o get a commission on these so-called revenues would definitely be unlikely. If Racine taxpayers knew they were paying a 25 percent commission to be taxed more, it would not be pretty.
Dey: It is unconscionable that PBCG received a commission for taxing constituents more.

Transfer of Services Revenues
Savings: $1,868,450

Gray: Again 100 percent of these new so-called revenues come from new property taxes; same thing as the community service fund.

I believe that this could have been challenged in court with success had the Board decided to go that route.

Another challenge could have been material breach of contract. PBCG took over the duties of Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer in June of 2006. The investigation clearly found that the General Ledger was a mess, so much that numbers used for the 2007 Budget were unreliable. The Chief Financial Officer of any public or private entity’s key function is to balance the General Ledger and produce reliable budget assumptions. By failing to do so, they breached their responsibilities under the terms of the contract.

Further, there was a legal opinion regarding a possible violation of Wisconsin Statute 946.13, which reads:
Any public officer who does any of the following is guilty of a class I felony:
(a)In the officer's or employee's private capacity, negotiates or bids for or enters into a contract in which the officer or employee has a private pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, if at the same time the officer or employee is authorized or required by law to participate in the officer's or employee's capacity as such officer or employee in the making of that contract or to perform in regard to that contract some official function requiring the exercise of discretion on the officer's or employee's part...

PBCG, and no one in Central Office will disagree with this statement, had direct command and control of all personnel in the financial and operations areas, up to and including recommendations to terminate staff and replace them with their own employees. So much control, that a culture of fear permeated Central Office. Because of this command and control, with little or no oversight by the Superintendent (as pointed out in the investigation), by definition, PBCG was no longer acting as a consultant, but as officers of the District. This opinion was presented to the Racine District Attorney Mike Nieskes, who said that he would not pursue this. I believe this should have gone to the appropriate jurisdiction, the State Attorney General’s office.

Kennedy is a rare breed, with an absent owner

Here's a breed you haven't heard of before! (OK, we've never heard of it before. To you, of course, readers with vast knowledge and experience, this dog is as common as a cocker.)

Kennedy is a Phalène.

Were we right? A Phalène is related to a Papillon. Papillon means butterfly and Phalène means moth. The Phalène is a small-sized, light-weight dog with long sleek hair and some feathering on its large, stand-up ears. You can learn more HERE.

Kennedy was picked up in Racine and taken to the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) by a concerned citizen -- where he sat unclaimed for eight days. Countryside Humane Shelter picked him up and brought him back to Racine, where he waits for adoption, as no owner has come forward looking for him. Of course, if you're Kennedy's rightful owner, where the heck are you?

UPDATE: Our last dog, Bryan, a four-month-old Lab mix, was just adopted yesterday!

And so it begins, the Sixth Street renovation

Racine's historic Sixth Street has a big wound in the pavement today, stretching from Wisconsin Avenue to College Avenue. Parking meters are bagged, there's a big pile of rocks, construction equipment lines one side of the street. And there's a gouge wide enough and deep enough to bury ... well, to bury a new gas line.

Which is just what's going on. KS Energy Services, a subcontractor of We Energies, got the order on Friday to start work Monday. Sixth Street merchants were notified yesterday, as the trucks and diggers showed up.

Today, there's one lane of traffic between College and Wisconsin, and half a dozen machine operators working, despite the bitter cold, on the North side of the street. Sixth Street businesses are still open -- the sidewalk is mostly passable, but care is advisable.

The new trench, a few feet into the roadway from the sidewalk -- it's hard to judge distances under the snow and ice -- will be the location of a new gas line. Once that's installed, We Energies will move farther out into the roadway to install a new water line.

Have faith; by fall of 2009 it will all be wonderful: new sidewalks, streetlights and beautification touches. We've been through this before -- remember Main Street before its renovation? It's definitely worth the pain.

February 18, 2008

RUSD ends contract with PBCG

The Racine Unified School District (RUSD) Board of Education settled its negotiations with Public Business Consulting Group (PBCG) Monday, terminating the contract signed by former Supt. Tom Hicks, who resigned in August when details of PBCG's bonus payments were revealed.

The board's vote Monday to terminate was 7-2, with Brian Dey and Julie McKenna voting no, apparently opposed to paying PBCG any more money. No details of any financial settlement were revealed. PBCG will help the district transition from outsourced services to district employees by June 30.

The Journal Times reports that the district will pay PBCG "more than $750,000," but avoids paying up to $4 million in incentive pay, for backing out of the five-year contract after 2 1/2 years. Their story is HERE.

The Journal Sentinel looks at it another way, and says the district is paying PBCG $1.3 million previously owed in salaries and commissions, plus $350,000 more to keep them working until June 30. Their story is HERE.

The board issued the following statement:
"We believe that it is in the best interest of the community and its taxpayers to finalize and announce the settlement of these negotiations. The people of Racine deserve to know the resolution. This relationship has yielded many positive achievements that have and will continue to allow the District to better manage its resources", said Tony Baumgardt, RUSD Board President.

"The relationship saved or created new revenues for RUSD and these amounts have been verified by the recent investigation conducted by Reinhart Boerner Van Duren and Deloitte Touche.

"Based on this conclusion, RUSD and PBCG have worked together to develop an amicable end to the current outsourcing agreement. Both parties have agreed to a transition agreement that will facilitate the smoothest possible transition to district-employed staff, which will occur by June 30, 2008. The efforts of PBCG between now and June 30 will be focused on a number of key projects, the largest of which are the ERP implementation , system knowledge transference to RUSD staff, and the placing of the Food Service contract out for competitive bidding under the direction of CFO David Hazen.

"On behalf of the RUSD BOE," said Tony Baumgardt, "I would like to thank the community for their counsel, support, and patience as we worked our way through the investigation and the negotiations."

Sphere Madness rolls into Downtown in June

Sphere Madness has been chosen as the name for this year's Racine Public Art Event.

The winning name was submitted by Lauren DeMorrow of Racine who will receive a $50 Downtown gift certificate from the Downtown Racine Corporation. There were more than 300 entries in the Name the Event contest.

"Downtown is on a roll," said Terry Leopold, DRC director of special events. "We are excited for everyone to visit Downtown this summer and take a look around. Sphere’s where it’s happening!" (Ouch!)

This is the seventh year of public art in Downtown Racine. Seventy-five spheres, decorated by local and regional artists, will be on display Downtown from early June through Labor Day. In September, they will be auctioned to the highest bidders.

For anyone who would like to keep the ball rolling, artist and sponsorship packets are still available from DRC, at 262-634-6002 or from their website.

February 17, 2008

Green Party has a primary, too. Sorta. (By mail, in March)

UPDATE, 2/24/08: He-e-e-'s back. Ralph Nader is running for president again.

Was it really eight years ago that the Green Party's Presidential nominee, Ralph Nader, was held responsible for putting George W. Bush into the White House? Ancient history, I know, (and the Supreme Court had something to do with the outcome), but a visit to the Wayback Machine shows that Nader did pull 2.8 million votes from Al Gore (who still won the popular vote, for those of you keeping score and old grudges).

Could history strike again? No predictions; but keep in mind that Wisconsin primary voters will also see the state's hardy Green Party contingent choosing delegates to the party's nominating convention.

Only you won't find Green Party candidates on Tuesday's Racine County -- or any other county's -- primary ballot. To be considered a "major" party, and thus included on statewide ballots, a political party must receive 10 percent of the vote in the previous statewide election. The closest the Greens came was in 2006, when Secretary of State candidate Mike LaForest received 92,587 votes, 4.46%. (The winner, Doug LaFollette, got 1,184,720.) The last "minor" party to be listed on a statewide ballot was the Libertarian Party, which lost that status in 2006.

Nonetheless, Wisconsin will send 24 delegates to the Green Party nominating convention in Chicago, July 10 to 13, joining 812 delegates from around the country to choose the party's nominee.

Wisconsin Greens will choose among the party's four presidential hopefuls (can we even use that word?) in March, not this Tuesday. And they'll do it by mail.

Roughly 400 paid-up members of the Green Party will receive ballots containing the names of the four candidates: Jesse Johnson, Cynthia McKinney, Kent Mesplay and Kat Swift.

Meet the candidates after the break.

Although Nader has formed a Presidential Exploratory Committee, and there is an active Draft Nader Committee, he has not declared in time to be on the Wisconsin ballot. Should he declare that he is seeking the nomination before Wisconsin Greens send in their ballots, they can write in his name.

"We've got some outstanding candidates this year," said Cindy Stimmler, party co-chair. "Mesplay and McKinney have already visited our state, and we warmly welcome all of the candidates."

For more information, visit the party's website.

Green Party Presidential Candidates

Jesse Johnson is co-chair of the Mountain Party of West Virginia, which became affiliated with the Green Party last July. He produced, directed, and acted in many plays and films, and founded Talkback, Children Respond to Violence in the Media, which uses the arts to teach inner-city elementary school students how to combat violence. He was the Mountain Party's candidate for governor in 2004 and U.S. Senate in 2006.

Cynthia McKinney was elected to the Georgia state legislature as a Democrat in 1988 and to Congress in 1992. She was the first African-American woman from Georgia in the House of Representatives, serving from 1993 to 2003 and 2005 to 2007. Last year, she left the Democratic Party and registered as a Green.

Kent Mesplay has been a registered Green since 1995 in California, serving as a delegate to the Green National Committee since 2004. He has worked as a teacher and an air quality inspector. In 2004, he ran in the Green Presidential primaries and caucuses, and in 2006, in the Green primary for U.S. Senate.

Kat Swift is a member of the Green Party of Texas, and served on the State Executive Committee and as co-spokesperson for the national party's Women's Caucus. She works as an accountant. In 2007, she became the first Green to run for the City Council of San Antonio.

Draft candidate Ralph Nader has been a long-time advocate for consumer rights, environmental causes, product safety, and greater government and corporate accountability. He helped to pass numerous reforms, including the National Automobile and Highway Traffic Safety Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Consumer Product Safety Act. In 1996 and 2000, he was nominated as the Green Party's Presidential candidate.

If Feingold were Commander-in-Chief ...

We can imagine President Bush's thoughts when and if the latest legislation introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, ever reaches his desk for signature. (That's us imagining the PC version below.)

Feingold's legislation would redeploy all U.S. troops from Iraq and refocus U.S. military, intelligence and homeland security forces to go after and defeat al Qaeda all over the globe.

Feingold's two bills are co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, not that that would give them any more persuasiveness with the President, the Secretaries of Defense, State and Homeland Security, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence, all of whom would be directed "to provide to Congress a comprehensive strategy so we can refocus on our top national security priority – defeating al Qaeda globally."

"While the administration is discussing a ‘pause’ in its drawdown of troops from Iraq, Americans are continuing their call for an end to this war," Feingold said. "Congress needs to end the president’s failed strategy in Iraq, so that we can focus on improving our homeland security and denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere."

Feingold noted that in recent testimony before Congress, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, warned that an attack on the U.S. will most likely come from al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan. Nonetheless, he has stated that it is our strategy to "do what we must" in Iraq while we only do "what we can" in Afghanistan. Secretary Gates is considering keeping over 130,000 troops in Iraq through the end of 2008 despite the fact that the Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey, has repeatedly stated that current U.S. military deployments are unsustainable.

Details of the two bills are after the break:

Feingold’s first bill – S. 2633:
· Requires the safe redeployment of U.S. combat troops from Iraq.

· Requires that after 120 days, funding in Iraq be limited to conducting targeted military operations against al Qaeda and its affiliates, providing security for U.S. personnel and infrastructure, training Iraqi Security Forces, providing equipment and training to U.S. troops, and continuing to redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq.

Feingold’s second bill – S. 2634:
· Requires the administration to present a report to Congress within 60 days outlining its global strategy for defeating al Qaeda and its affiliates. The report shall include an analysis of the relative threats in particular countries and regions and recommendations to ensure that U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic assets are best deployed to meet those geographic threats.

· Requires the administration to develop a strategy ensuring that deployments do not undermine military readiness or homeland security, and that reserve units are not deployed more than once every four years and regular units are not redeployed more than once every two years.

Today's endorsements range from ....

The Sunday before a big election is often the day newspapers choose to make their preferences known after all those Editorial Board interviews. Today, with the Wisconsin primary coming Tuesday, is no exception.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
, Wisconsin's largest newspaper, endorsed Barack Obama in Tuesday's Democratic primary, stating, "change and experience are crucial to moving this country forward"' and he is the "best-equipped to deliver that change."

Madison's Capital Times endorsed Obama last Tuesday.

The Journal Sentinel Sunday endorsed John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination, praising "his capacity to selectively forsake crowd-pleasing ideology when his principles take him elsewhere." The Houston Chronicle, largest newspaper in Texas, also endorsed Obama and McCain today.

The Racine Journal Times today endorsed the end of the Hollywood writers' strike: "Please toast the Hollywood writers and the rest of us. We win."

(What can I say?)

Harbor Fest cancels this year's festival

Photo by David F. Siegert and Sandy's Photography

After 21 years of Harbor Fest on Racine’s lakefront, the Harbor Fest Inc. board of directors has decided not to organize and produce a large festival in June.

The notice on their website this morning says only, "At this time the economic conditions did not appear favorable enough, based on revenue and expense projections, to allow Harbor Fest to fulfill its mission of investing back into our community through scholarships and donations.

"In light of this decision, the Harbor Fest Board is exploring other alternatives."

Without Harbor Fest, summer will have a big hole in Racine. The festival has brought scores of wonderful musical acts to the lake, performing on multiple stages simultaneously. Acts like The Radioactive Squirrels, the Bradburys, Mean Jake, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (my personal favorite), Spyro Gyra, Trick Pony, Maynard Ferguson, Grand Funk Railroad, Blue Oyster Cult, Brian Daniels, Pat McCurdy, the Andrew Gelles Band, Reason for Leaving, and on and on.

Loss of Harbor Fest will also affect a number of Racine organizations. Profits from the event were distributed to many local non-profits -- schools, the Zoo, Leadership Racine, Kenosha and Union Grove, the Racine Theatre Guild, the Kenosha Boy's Club were all recipients in 2006 -- and students in the form of scholarships.

Harbor Fest, which began in 1984, typically distributed more than $12,000 after each year's festival.

Another big loser will be the Racine Civic Center, which nets $28,000 after expenses for use of the lakefront facility. The Civic Center has not yet heard anything official from Harbor Fest about the cancellation, and is still "holding" this year's dates.

Vice President Paul Ryan?

OK, I wasn't really paying attention this morning, but Meet the Press was on while I read the paper, handled emails and ate breakfast. (Hey, it's called multi-tasking, even if you do it in pj's.)

And then MTP morphed into Capital Gang, bringing back all the old panelists (minus Pat Buchanan, who quit to run for president in 1992): Mark Shields, Al Hunt, Kate O'Beirne, Margaret Carlson and everybody's favorite villain (and CIA spy snitch), Bob Novak.

A discussion about who will win the nomination turned naturally into who will John McCain choose as a running mate? What chance does Mike Huckabee have, in other words?

Novak dismissed Huckabee's chances totally, ("Absolutely not.") and rattled off a couple of people he thinks John McCain, R-AZ, the presumed Republican nominee -- he now has 903 of the necessary 1,191 delegates for the nomination -- might choose.

"They don't have any idea, but I'll make a prediction ... somebody who will really not be on the A-list," Novak said.

"One would be former Congressman, former trade representative, former budget director Rob Portman ... from Ohio."

And suddenly there it was, out of Darth Vader's mouth straight to my unprotected ears:

"Another would be a younger Congressman, ranking Republican on the budget committee and a tax cutter, Paul Ryan. Somebody like that, who would be younger than McCain, which isn't hard to find, and somebody who would be much more regular on taxes than McCain."

That's all I heard. My brain completely shut down, the CHECK ENGINE LIGHT blinked for half an hour and I missed the rest of the program.

But the video is HERE on MSNBC's website (after a 30-second Boeing commercial.)

For the record, McCain is 71; Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, is 38 -- just three years past the minimum age eligible to be elected president.

UPDATE: Newspaper way off on crowd estimate at Obama

UPDATE: Both the J-S and the JT overestimated the crowds at both events. Jim Walczak, executive director of the Racine Civic Centre, wrote to tell us 1,430 people were let into Memorial Hall for Obama's visit. An additional 60 media were let in, for a grand total well below the J-S's reported number of 3,500.

As for the Brat Stop, Pete counted about 750 people. I counted about 300 in the balcony, but couldn't see how many people were on the floor. Pete tells me there were about 150 people sitting and standing on the floor in front of and behind Hillary, and a couple hundred more packed through the place. So there's pretty much no way the crowd got up to 1,500, and even 1,000 seems like a push. Also, the Obama rally was bigger than Hillary's stop, so if there were 1,500 at Obama, I'd say 750 sounds about right for Hillary.

ORIGINAL POST: The J-S is reporting that 3,500 people were let into Obama's event in Racine last week. That's three times the number I originally reported, in part because organizers said the crowd would be limited to 1,200.

The JT estimated 1,500 people attended Hillary's stop in Kenosha, which, again, feels about right compared to Obama (about half the crowd). There's no sourcing on the estimate, and the head of the Kenosha County Democrats estimated the crowd at 1,000.

I'm not sure how much we can read into the numbers. It's probably not fair to say Obama received three times the local support as Hillary. But we can say the crowds were vastly different. Obama's was diverse; Hillary's was 99 percent white. Hillary's was middle-aged on up; Obama's was young. Both were enthusiastic, but Hillary's venue led to a more raucous feeling, while Obama's venue felt more official/presidential.

Then there was the strange lack of security at Hillary's event. Media photographers didn't even have their equipment scanned, a common practice at these types of event. In this way, Obama felt like the establishment candidate, while Hillary felt like the upstart challenger.

This is all building toward Tuesday's primary. Wisconsin is important nationally, because Obama is looking for his ninth straight win, while Hillary is looking for momentum heading into the big states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Whoever wins Wisconsin may well win the nomination.