March 8, 2008

Unified's referendum tour: Not a pretty sight...

Windows at Janes School...

The yellow school bus made its way around Racine Saturday morning, ignoring the snow, carrying not a busload of noisy kids but rather 21 adults shoehorned into seats definitely not designed for adult backsides.

From school to school it went -- first to Case High School, then Starbuck Middle School, then Walden III, then Janes Elementary. At each stop, district officials escorted their charges around the buildings, pointing out this and that: doors that let cold air in, and won't lock; outdated ventilation systems; roofs that leak; windows that rattle and look ready to fall apart; a concrete stairway with a big crack in the middle; a swimming pool that barely holds water; security systems about which the less said the better.

David Hazen, Racine Unified's chief financial officer, and a former school board member, led the tour, with Frank Jarosz, Unified's project manager for maintenance doing the heavy lifting when it came to explaining just what is broken, and what it would take to fix it. It was all part of the district's effort to educate the public about what it would spend the $16.5 million it hopes taxpayers will approve on April 1, a referendum for five years' worth of (mostly long overdue) maintenance projects for the districts 33 buildings comprising 3,200,000 sq. ft. of space.

The boiler room at Case HS...

How much it costs to maintain the district's schools is amazing -- although it shouldn't be, given that some buildings date from before the Civil War (Winslow, our oldest school, was built in 1856; Gilmore, our "newest," in 1973), and Unified has shorted maintenance funds for years, to avoid having to cut staff (and because half a dozen referenda providing maintenance funds were rejected by the taxpayers). Unified supplied those taking the tour with a checklist with all the projects it hopes to do: a fire alarm system at Wind Point ($130,099), roofing at Jefferson ($60,691), sidewalks at Schulte ($30,972), replace 40-year-old cracked asphalt at Giese's playground ($206,480), new seats and lighting in Case High School's theater, $318,000) ... and so it goes. Those are just a few of the first-year's expenditures; the list goes on -- and on --through five years' worth of new windows and doors, a replaced pool, paint, electrical upgrades, heating and ventilation repairs, millions for new roofs.

Jarosz, who's been on the job at Unified for 18 years, recalled how years ago -- in the early '90s -- he budgeted for the big stuff, of course, but he also had about $750,000 a year to spend on the myriad little repairs -- items costing less than $25,000, like Walden's cracked-down-the-middle front steps for example. No more; now everything must be budgeted years ahead. If the referendum passes, then Janes -- the district's year-'round school, open in the summer -- will have its air conditioning system rebuilt at a cost of $820,758, in 2012. If not, well ...

Broken concrete steps at Walden...

Hazen pointed out that the referendum will add just $34 a year to the tax bill of a $100,000 house. In year one. In years two through four, the additional cost would drop to $10 a year; in year five to $9. "Over the life of the referendum, the cost is four cents a day," Hazen said.

So was anybody convinced? The school bus carried 21 people on Saturday morning's tour -- but only seven were "civilians" -- neither working for the district, nor on the volunteer referendum advisory committee, nor media. As the bus pulled back into Case's parking lot after two hours of poking through boiler rooms, classrooms and chilly entryways, and peering at peeling paint, cracked concrete and twisted roof shingles, I asked the civilians on the bus how many were convinced of the need, and how many were not.

Six people raised their hands in support of the referendum. Only one man said no: Frank Morrison of the Racine Taxpayers Association insists the district has enough money for maintenance (actually, the amount uncommitted is just $232,813) and, a worse offense in Morrison's canon, is trying to hire another superintendent like the one who left last August. But on that bus, after touring the district's schools, he was the lone negative voice.

"Not bad," said Hazen, ever the accountant, doing the math in his head; "85 percent support."

If only.
-- --
Unified has put much information about the referendum on its website.

For example: here is a spreadsheet with all the maintenance projects the district hopes to fund from the five-year referendum, sorted by year and school.

Here is a list of previous referendum projects, by school, showing what the district spent $21 million repairing in recent years.

Here is a school tax calculator, showing exactly how much the referendum will cost you (after you plug in your home's assessed valuation).

Here is a fact sheet with lots of information about the district and the referendum. A VIDEO is here.

March 7, 2008

Celebrate Habitat ReStore's anniversary March 15

• 85 tons of recycled material kept out of the landfill.

• More than $100,000 raised for Habitat for Humanity housing projects.
Those are the accomplishments of Racine's Habitat for Humanity ReStore facility, which is celebrating completion of its first year of operation.

Not to mention the bargains found by thousands of happy homeowners, who came to ReStore for furniture, appliances, plumbing, building materials, doors, windows, cabinets, lighting and architectural salvage items at low prices.

The Habitat for Humanity ReStore, at 2302 DeKoven Ave., has already doubled its display space in the Kranz Warehouse building, which should help increase its success in year two.

ReStore is open to the public and all profits help fund local Habitat for Humanity housing projects. The store sells donated materials from contractors, housing rehabbers and tear-downs -- material which otherwise probably would have been discarded, but which still has lots of useful life.

Store co-managers Lois Solberg and Jim Kitchak run the facility, along with dozens of volunteers who typically work three-hour shifts during the store hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. ReStore relies on word-of-mouth advertising and has many regular customers who shop every day the store is open.

ReStore will celebrate its anniversary with cake and coffee all day Saturday, March 15. It will also have specially-priced items throughout the day. (As if we didn't already have enough reason to stop in.)

ReStore is located just east of the intersection of Taylor and DeKoven Avenues. Signs are posted, but if you can't find your way (the entrance is at the far end of the parking lot west of the Kranz building), call 898-2929 for assistance.

We did an earlier feature at Habitat ReStore's nine-month anniversary in January, which you can read HERE. (Nobody offered us cake or coffee then, either, but my daughter did score a great cabinet at a fair price.)

Racine making noise in England again ...

Racine is taking Great Britain by storm.

Or so it says in the Littlehampton Gazette:
Wendy James took the media by storm when she fronted the late 1980s pop band Transvision Vamp. Now she's coming back to Brighton from her New York home with her band Racine, who released second album Racine 2 last year.
Ah, the band Racine. Never heard of it, eh? You must be over 30. The band introduced its first CD in September 2006. Their second CD came out this week.

From Racine's website, an explanation of their music:
Danceable art punk rhythm and blues, full of breathless New Wave rush. Razor sharp lyrics. Bare soul with beautiful harmony. An adrenaline fueled sound reminiscent of a young Bobby D or even the Velvets. The perfect cocktail of dirty blues and punk attitude. Sweet soul, arousing the lowdown groove that sparks the impressive and sensual sensation of Racine. Riffing garage pop/rock sliding. Seductive New Wave serenading. Quality boom and bap. Essential underground for your ears. Racine is for dancing like a ...
Yeah, well we had to censor at that point. We're no music critics -- and can barely remember what 30 was like -- so a little Racine goes a long way. But don't take our word for it. Just click below for the full effect. (A word to the wise: Turn down your speakers.)

(NOTE: Sometimes the YouTube connection below is dicey; if that's the case for you, just click HERE to go directly to the band's site and listen to seven of their tunes.) There's more music on their MySpace page as well.

Not bad, actually: It's got a nice beat, and you can dance to it...

Available at both iTunes and Amazon.

P.S. I could find no explanation about the origin of the band's name. Any fans out there who can fill us in?

March 6, 2008

$100,000 for RUSD's homeless kids in Mason's bill

Racine Unified School District would receive $100,000 from the state to help educate homeless kids, if a bill proposed by Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, becomes law.

Mason introduced Assembly Bill 832, and today, the companion Senate Bill, SB 495, had a hearing before the Wisconsin State Education Committee. It would provide an additional $100 for each homeless student in the state public eduction system; RUSD has 1,000 homeless students out of 8,100 statewide.

"It is considerably more expensive and challenging for school districts to educate homeless students. Allocating modest additional resources to address this problem is critical in aiding our districts in meeting the state academic standards and reducing the achievement gap between the rich and the poor," Mason said.

Also testifying today was Liz Erven, the homeless student coordinator for Racine Unified School District, who shared with the committee some of the challenges that homeless students face.

Under Mason's bill, the $100 per student would be categorical state aid -- in other words, supplied totally by the state and not requiring any funds from local property taxes. In addition, it must be spent on the purpose designated, although the bill does not specify how each school district should use the funds.

"It's intended to address an improved academic performance," Mason said. "The premise behind the bill is if you come to school not knowing where you're going to sleep that night, or not having breakfast, or having to stay up all night, all that affects performance. We leave it loose enough: if the student needs tutoring, fine, the school can do that with the funds. If what they really need is something that addresses their home situation, a safer environment, the schools can do that, too."

"Being homeless comes with so many contingencies ... I can't even imagine," Mason said. "It's up to each district. It's all deferred to Liz Erven's program, which requires the schools to keep track of homeless kids (a requirement of No Child Left Behind). If what they need most is shoes, so they don't come to school with frostbite, do that; if what they need is after-school tutoring to get them through fractions, the schools can do that. It's different from situation to situation."

March 5, 2008

Wisconsin: Cheeseheads discovering stuff...

Catchy, isn't it?

Wisconsin introduced its new tourism "brand platform" yesterday ... yawn.

If you were hoping for something akin to "I (heart) New York," you were bound to be disappointed.

Or the equal of "Big Sky Country" (Montana), or "Vacationland" (Maine), "The Spirit of America" (Massachusetts), "SayWA!" (Washington) or even "Stay Just a Little Bit Longer" and "America's Dairyland" (Wait, that's us!). HERE's a list of all the states' tourism slogans.

To be fair, a brand platform is not supposed to be a catchy slogan or an ad headline. According to the release from the Governor's office, "The brand platform is ... a strategic framework from which a new theme line, advertising concepts and marketing materials will be developed."

The platform was released this week, at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism at The Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. The brand promise, revealed to the audience of nearly 1,000 attending the Governor’s speech, reads:
“Because of the passionate nature of the state’s people to create fun, express themselves in original ways and feel more comfortable doing it here than anywhere else, in Wisconsin originality rules.”
(Translation: beer, cheese and Harleys. No, seriously.)

Or, as the governor put it:
"This new brand platform pays tribute to the state as a place where the people are fiercely proud, passionate, hard-working, loyal and where we have fun. Yes, we can be a state where we both wear cheese on our heads and are making the greatest discoveries in medical science. It's all happening here in Wisconsin." The sound bite is HERE.
Got a few words encompassing that? It would help if they'll fit on a bumper sticker... The state's $13 billion-a-year tourism industry (third largest, behind agriculture and manufacturing) awaits your best efforts.

March 4, 2008

Get on the Bus: Unified offering tour of schools Saturday

UPDATE: For anyone wondering about cost, the tour's price tag is $253, according to the district.

ORIGINAL POST: The Racine Unified School Board is hosting a bus tour of district schools on Saturday to point out the need to pass a five-year, $16.5 million referendum on April 1.

The Maintenance Referendum Bus Tour will begin at 8:30 a.m. at Case High School, 7345 Washington Ave. After the Case High School Tours, buses will take participants to Starbuck Middle School, Walden III, and Janes Elementary. The tour will include tours of four Racine Unified Schools and discuss how the maintenance referendum will benefit the students through making much needed repairs and upgrade security in the district's schools.

Anyone wishing to participate in the bus tour is asked to RSVP to the Office of Communications at (262) 631-7173 or by 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 6. Reservations are needed to ensure enough buses for transportation.

St. Patrick's Day Parade lineup and activities set

UPDATE: DRC announced Tuesday that Jeff McKeown, president of Express Personnel, will be Parade Marshal for the 2008 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Joining him as he leads this year’s parade will be his wife, Meredith, and daughters Reagan, 6, and Georgia, 2.

McKeown’s generous “pot of gold” donation to the parade earned him this coveted position. “This is a good event and brings a lot of people out. It’s a fun way to get involved in the community,” McKeown said.

In addition to leading the parade on Saturday, March 15, McKeown will head up the judging committee who will select the 2008 best parade entry. He will also be the Master of Ceremonies for the activities that will be held at Monument Square following the parade.

McKeown is of Irish decent. His great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother were both born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States in the late 1800’s. Congratulations to Jeff McKeown for celebrating St. Paddy’s Day…the Downtown Racine way!


Details of Racine's St. Patrick's Day Parade and post-parade celebration have been finalized, and the more than 50 parade participants have been announced.

The city's St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday, March 15, will start at noon at the corner of State and Main Streets and head south on Main to 8th Street. Parade marshal is Jeff McKeown, president of Express Personnel, joned by his wife, Meredith, and daughters Reagan, 6, and Georgia, 2. McKeown's great-great-grandparents were born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States in the late 1800’s.

Other participants include the Piper of the Glen, the Racine Scouts Drum & Bugle Corp, Irish troubador Bernie Brewer, Irish dancers, men in kilts, a pipe band, Star Wars characters and more.

Guests are invited to arrive in Downtown Racine early for some pre-parade activities at Monument Square, including a live remote broadcast from WRJN, entertainment and refreshments, including green beer!

Following the parade, Monument Square activities will continue with more live entertainment, costumed characters, fun contests and an awards presentation. Contests will be held to determine:
* The child with the reddest hair
* The child with the most freckles
* The best Irish-dressed dog
* The youngest Irish-dressed guest
* The oldest Irish-dressed guest
* The best pair of legs in kilts

Winners in each of these categories will receive a $25 Downtown gift certificate. In addition, the $500 award for the best parade entry will be presented.

After the break, the complete parade line-up.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade Line-Up
SE Wisconsin Racine H.O.G. Chapter #5624
Agerholm-Gross Detachment #346-Marine Corps League Color Guard
Grand Marshal Jeff McKeown and family
Bagpiper Gary Anderson, Piper of the Glen
Mayor Gary Becker
Alderman Jeff Coe
Junior Miss Racine, Wisconsin Dream Girls USA Hi-Point Champion
Academy of Dance
Rita Kelley and her Irish Wolfhounds
Robert W. Baird
Racine Scouts Drum & Bugle Corp. Troop 203
Bruce Boeselager on his unicycle
Rent this Truck / Four Seasons Lawn Care
99.1 WMYX
Wisconsin Solstice Enthusiasts
Bernie Brewer and the Brewers Mascot van
Irish Troubadour, David HB Drake
Shillings Irish Pub
First Friends Animal Rescue
Brownies Girl Scout Troop #5781
Kinsella Irish Dance Academy
Racine Montessori School
Sons of Erin
DeRose Children’s Dental
Captain Racine
Henry & Wanda’s Men in Kilts
Casablanca de Mexico Restaurant and Lounge
Hispanic Business Alliance
Ricky’s Place
WRJN / Lite Rock 92.1
Mr. Racine
Trinity Irish Dancers
Karen Norton, School Board Candidate
Horlick High School Student Government
Milwaukee MINIS
Star Wars characters
Billy Mitchell Pipe Band
Matador Scooter Club
Racine Zoological Society
CNH (Case New Holland)
Racine Studio of Performing Arts
American Professional Driving School
Harbor Lite Yacht Club
McAuliffe’s Pub and McAuliffe’s on the Square
Racine Neighborhood Watch
Timothy York’s Bistro
Mr. Jelly Belly
Designated Drivers LLC
Century 21 Savaglio & Cape
Nutritional Designs & Pharmacy, LLC
The Ivanhoe Pub & Eatery
Downtown Racine Corporation
Leprechaun on Segway
Downtown’s Mr. Bear

Power out at Park, McKinley, Mitchell schools

Power went out at Park High School and McKinley Middle School this morning. The blackout started at about 9:15 a.m. and ended at about 10:05 a.m.

Students stayed in classrooms during the outage, which was caused by a blown transformer. The school day is continuing as normal.

Comments on Favre's retirement

What are memories of Favre? Are we ready for the Aaron Rodgers era?

The accreditation that never was ... (Dirty linen, Pt. 2)

The nasty boil that burst at last Tuesday's County Board meeting -- with Corporation Counsel Jonathan F. Lehman berating Supervisor Diane M. Lange for more than ten minutes -- had its origins on Sept. 1, 2007. (Audiotape HERE; start at the 21-minute mark.)

That's the date the county signed a contract with Superior Health Linens for laundry service at the Ridgewood Care Center. According to Lange, Section 9.2 of this contract states: “Upon request, Superior shall provide to customer copies of its Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) audits and certification as evidence for meeting state and/ or JACHO standards as they pertain to linen service.” (JACHO stands for Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.)

Some time in December, however, Lange says, she began hearing that Superior actually is not accredited, and she began asking questions -- both of county officials and of the accreditation body.

On Jan. 11 she emailed Corporation Counsel Lehman, and Geoffrey Greiveldinger, chief of staff to County Executive William McReynolds, asking them to look into the question -- but got no response.

Then, just five days later on Jan. 16 something did happen: Lehman and McReynolds signed an amendment to the original contract, eliminating any requirement that Superior be accredited.

Lehman writes Joseph F. Bellante Jr., chairman of the County Board's Health and Human Development Committee, "There is not, nor has there ever been, a “requirement” that Superior have HLAC accreditation. Under the contract, Superior is required to comply with all relevant health and environmental regulations, but it need not be accredited by a voluntary, non-governmental entity. Supervisor Lange’s suggestion that there ever was such a requirement in the contract, shows that she also fails to understand contract law."

But his letter also says: "Supervisor Lange complains that, as originally signed, the 2007 contract contained an implicit statement that Superior is accredited by the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC), a non-profit organization that certifies laundry services that voluntarily request it. That much is correct. Although Superior may be seeking such accreditation, it is not currently accredited. The contract has since been amended to eliminate the implication that it has this voluntary accreditation." (Emphasis added by RacinePost.)

Lange responds, "I heard they misrepresented themselves in the contract." On Jan. 23, in fact, Lange received confirmation that Superior Health Linens is not HLAC-accredited and had not been inspected.

Regardless, given Lehman's assertion that no accreditation is required --"Let me state clearly: HLAC accreditation was not mentioned in the RFP, it was not mentioned in Superior’s bid, it was not a condition of eligibility to bid," he writes -- the question has to be asked: Where did Sec. 9.2 of the contract -- the one mentioning audits and certification from the accreditation council -- come from in the first place?

Lehman is upset by statements he says Lange made saying that he wrote the amendment changing the contract, eliminating the apparently unnecessary-from-the-start accreditation certification. He makes clear that he didn't write it: "It was drafted by Superior," he says. Nor was the amendment triggered by any of Lange's communiques, Lehman says. The amendment was sent to County officials by Superior in December. (Which raises another whole set of questions, beginning with "Why did Superior draft the amendment to the contract they and the county had already signed?")

Lange merely wonders: "I don't know where Sec. 9.2 got in, and Lehman says it's immaterial because it's not part of the specifications in the RFP. Maybe it wasn't part of the RFP, but Superior put it in that they were accredited, but then later on acted like, 'we could get caught in this little misrepresentation, so let's amend it.' "

"Part of what I was challenging is: Is this the way the county wants to do business? 'Oh, we want to delete this thing and just amend it.' If I was another company that put a bid in and didn't get the contract, I'd be upset." In fact, Hospital Laundry Services, another company that bid on the Ridgewood contract in August, is HLAC-certified.

There is, as you might have guessed, a bigger issue than just this contract amendment. Underlying Lange's concerns are charges and investigations dealing with how Superior, which has contracted with the county since 2004, treats their employees. Lange, District 3, along with Supervisors Dan Sharkozy, District 8, and Gaynell Dyess, District 2, wrote a letter to Superior in 2006, asking questions about worker treatment after some unfavorable stories emerged elsewhere in the state. "They answered back and said they were treating everyone fairly."

But those questions have persisted, as we reported HERE. Lange said she met with the chairman of the Dane County Board last fall, "and he was relaying some of the process there. The county held hearings on Superior's treatment of its workers, and several workers testified. They did not renew the contract there."

"Just because Racine County has chosen to privatize our laundry services, it doesn't mean we can wash our hands about a company and how they treat their employees," Lange said.

Lange is philosophical about Lehman's response to her questions. "I think the past practices of a company are relevant. But here, part of me thinks there's tension between the Legislative and Executive branches. The Executive Branch doesn't want to be challenged."

Lehman's response to that point, contained in his letter, seems to bear her out. "Supervisor Lange complains that neither the Chief of Staff nor I responded to her emailed concerns. The statement is correct. What is not correct is the implication that her emails merited a response of any kind, much less action in furtherance of her unfounded complaints." Lehman points out that Lange is not a member of either of the two committees with oversight of the matter; nor does she have any affected constituents, he says. Therefore, "while her communication to the Chief of Staff and me might have been of interest, it was not one to which the Executive Branch was bound to reply." Until last Tuesday night, when no Supervisors could get a word in edgewise...

For more information, read the two letters written to Supervisor Bellante Jr., chairman of the County Board's Health and Human Development Committee (he ascended to the chairmanship after David Hazen resigned from the Board last fall). Lange's letter to Bellante was written on Feb.23; Lehman's response was written on Feb. 26. Lange's is HERE; and Lehman's is HERE.

March 3, 2008

Property Transfers, Feb. 18-22

No big sales jumped out at us this week. An office complex off of Washington Avenue in Mount Pleasant at 833 Corporate Drive sold for $590,000, and two more condos sold at the new building at 4 Gaslight Drive across from the Chancery. Here's the full listings (if you can't see them, click here):

Dillinger movie skips the scene of the crime; Racine left out of Depp flick

It was announced last week that Johnny Depp will come to Wisconsin to shoot parts of a movie about the life of infamous bank robber John Dillinger. The Michael Mann film "Public Enemies" was lured to the state by tax incentives that went into effect on Jan. 1.

Shooting locations include Milwaukee, Columbus, Baraboo, Oshkosh and Madison. Local activist Alfonso Gardner is taking exception to one notable omission on the list: Racine.

"Dillinger robbed a bank in Downtown Racine," Gardner reasoned. "Local offifcials should be fighting for a scene in Downtown Racine. It would bring some jobs here."

Let's review the story of Dillinger's bank robbery in Racine. This 1933 article describes the $27,000 heist as the "boldest bank robbery in the history of the state." The robbery occurred at the American Bank & Trust Co. at 5th and Main streets, which is now home to the Racine Art Museum.

Dillinger fled to northern Wisconsin and was later caught in Tucson, Arizona, and Racine police officials fought for custody of the bank robber. But they lost their bid and Dillinger later escaped from an Indiana jail. That led Racine Police Chief Grover Lutter to issue a statement saying if Dillinger had been returned to Wisconsin he would be in prison instead of roaming free.

Gardner figures since Racine played such a prominent role in Dillinger's time in Wisconsin, our city should play a prominent role in the movie. "Why don't they shoot the scene of him robbing the bank in Racine?" he asked.

The answer probably has something to do with the lack of a suitable location. The original bank is long gone and replaced by the stylish art museum, which would make a lousy place to recreate a 1933 bank robbery. Instead, the movie is planning to shoot a bank scene at a historic building in Milwaukee.

What we'll probably get is Racine included in the movie, without any actual scenes from Racine. Here's another question: Is Johnny Depp going to use the original tommy gun that Dillinger stole from the Racine bank? It was later recovered by Racine police and displayed at the police department and the Racine Art Museum. Does anyone know where the gun is on display now?

March 2, 2008

Our Winter so far: 'One for the Ages'

Only a weatherman would rhapsodize about 100 inches of snow like this:

Incredibly snowy... 100 inches ... one for the ages!

Oh, yeah! Now I'm excited.

As the National Weather Service puts it:
"The 2007-08 winter season has been incredibly snowy...with all locations in south-central and southeast Wisconsin exceeding their normal snowfall for an entire winter season through 8 a.m. Feb. 29. Above is a graphic showing roughly how much snow has fallen this winter season through Saturday. It’s safe to say that by the end of the winter many locations will be in the 85 to 100 inch range (roughly double a normal winter snowfall)...and several places will exceed 100 inches.

So we are talking about many, new, all-time winter snowfall records being set this for the ages!
Feel better about the snow now?

More of the delightful details HERE. Madison set a snowfall record this year -- oh, joy! -- and Milwaukee's winter now ranks 10th overall -- but, of course, we're not done yet.

P.S. More of the white stuff is predicted overnight.

Behind the kerfuffle, maybe a real story lurks

There's more than meets the eye in a story published by the Journal Times this week. The headline read:

County’s top lawyer berates supervisor over contract allegations

and the gist of the story covered a contretemps Tuesday at the Racine County Board's meeting, when,
"Corporation Counsel Jonathan Lehman chastis(ed) Supervisor Diane Lange for her comments about a contract he reviewed. The contract is for laundry service at Ridgewood Care Center, the county’s nursing home, and it was given to Superior Health Linens... Lange said that Superior had misrepresented itself and that the contract had been subsequently amended after she started asking questions. Her question was whether Superior was accredited by the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council. The company wasn’t; the contract amendment and an e-mail to Lange both say the company had only applied for that status."
The rest of the Journal Times' story is HERE, and the County Board's audio recording of the meeting is HERE. (Lehman's best soundbite: "There are no backroom deals; nobody on the grassy knoll with an umbrella." Whaaa?)

But what you won't find in either is anything about the company at the heart of Lange's questions: Superior Health Linens.

We'd bet that oversight will be remedied one of these days, because the company has quite a history... and it ain't good. A lot more may be at stake here than when a minor contract amendment was reviewed.

A simple search of the Internets quickly produces the following stories:

Pols Report Abuses at Superior Health Linens
A new report has been released detailing significant problems at Superior Linen’s Madison plant ranging from health and safety problems to violations of the county's Living Wage Ordinance and workers' right to unionize. The report is a follow-up to a public panel convened by Dane County Board Chair Scott McDonell and County Executive Kathleen Falk, June 27, where politicians heard directly from the workers about conditions inside the plant.

Said County Board Chair Scott McDonell. “What really stands out was how little concern Superior’s management has for the importance of worker health and safety. We heard about needle sticks, dirty and contaminated linens, and a complete lack of training on the heavy equipment.” --South Central Federation of Labor (November 2007)
Superior Health Linen Exposed as Sweatshop
Workers from Superior Health Linens aired the company’s dirty laundry – unsanitary working conditions and the firings, threats and intimidation of union supporters – at a public hearing July 6 in Oak Creek...“Our purpose here is to raise awareness and increase pressure, to be sure that the men and women who work in this community are treated fairly, are treated like human beings,” said State Senator Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) who moderated the hearing before a panel of elected officials, and religious and community leaders. --South Central Federation of Labor (August 2006)

Union alleges unfair labor practices at Superior Health Linens
A union that is trying to organize hourly workers at Superior Health Linens' plants in Cudahy and Madison is accusing company management of intimidating, harassing and even firing employees who have supported the organizing effort or raised concerns about working conditions. --The Business Journal of Milwaukee (August 2006)

NLRB Pursues 21 Charges At Superior Health Linen
One of the area’s worst employers, Superior Health Linen, is getting further scrutiny by the National Labor Relations Board which found merit last month in 21 out of 23 unfair labor practice charges filed on behalf of its workers.

Complaints about the company’s practices also raised public health concerns about exposure to potentially dangerous pathogens, fungi and viruses this spring. Workers testified that due to a lack of vigorous health and safety measures, dirty linens soiled with blood, vomit, urine and feces can easily contaminate clean linens bound for hospitals and nursing homes.After being slapped with OSHA fines in June (2006), Superior Linen was also found to be in violation of the Dane County Living Wage ordinance. --South Central Federation of Labor (October 2006)

Superior linens agrees not to interfere with workers rights to unionize
Superior Health Linens, which runs plants in Cudahy and Madison, has agreed not to interfere with hourly workers' efforts to form a union.

The notice was posted after the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board's Milwaukee office found sufficient evidence to support 21 unfair labor practice allegations brought against Superior by Unite Here, a New York City-based union. -- The Business Journal of Milwaukee (September 2006)

Federal Officials Investigate Madison Laundry Company
MADISON, Wis. -- Federal officials are looking into allegations of unsafe working conditions at a company that does laundry for Madison's St. Mary's Hospital.Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating Superior Health Linens. --WISC-TV (May 2006)
Keep in mind: some of those stories come from Union publications, and may not be completely objective. Still, they should provide food for thought and further investigation as the County looks ahead and, hopefully, beyond the kerfuffle between Supervisor Lange and Counsel Lehman.

TFF: Are we having fun yet?

More on this year's Thoughts For Food extravaganza HERE.

The answer to our question above is yes.

Mohr Ave.'s setlist

Fan affixes good luck (?) charm to microphone

Captain's Galley barbecued outdoors.
(P.S. Never stick your tongue out at roving photographer.)

Dan Taivalkoski, Food Bank director

HERE's a story about the Food Bank.

TFF: A great concert for a great cause

When Racine wants to, it throws a great party! Saturday night's 16th Annual Thoughts for Food event presented more than three dozen bands and performers -- all working for free at 10 downtown venues -- to raise funds and food for the Racine County Food Bank.

If you weren't there, wandering from bar to bar in the bracing -- but bearable -- cold, you missed some great performances in a variety of genres: from trombones to guitar; keyboard to accordian; drummers, sax, harmonica; folk singing to hard rock. There were touches of Johnny Cash, a smattering of Violent Femmes and lots of original music.

Below, are just a few of the performers.

And HERE are pictures of Racinians having a great time at the many venues.

Night Wing's sister act, at Chartroom

Jill Plaisted, at Sandpiper

Al Grove at George's

Pulltops, at George's

89 Mojo, at Coasters

3 Floors Up, at Racine Yacht Club

Mohr Avenue, at Michigan's Pub

Dancing to Mark Harrod, at Chartroom

Root River Band, at the Eagles

EZ Liv'n, at the Eagles

Catch Me One Kid, at Redline Tavern

The complete Thoughts For Food lineup is HERE.