March 22, 2008

Sticky Rice moving to Main Street

We'd been hearing for a while that Sticky Rice, the Thai restaurant occupying the second floor balcony of the former Historic Century Market on Sixth Street, was planning to move to Main Street -- but nobody at Sticky would confirm the new location.

Still won't, in fact.

But a walk down Main this afternoon brought me to the narrow window (next to the stairs to the upstairs apartment) between 345 Main Street, home for three years to Braun's Specialties, a wine and beer purveyor (and before that to the Racine County Convention and Visitors' Bureau), and 337 Main Street, former home of Wisconsin Discount Mortgage.

Peering in, what should I spy but some tables and chairs that used to be at Century Market. And looking through the blinds in the main storefront on the corner one can see the framework of an L-shaped bar under construction.

Further inquiries led to confirmation: Sticky is indeed going to inhabit part of the space -- most probably that of Wisconsin Discount Mortgage and the inside room that was filled with the copious wine selections offered by Braun's, while the storefront at 345 Main will become a cafe and bar. Separate, but connected to each other.

Exactly when is anybody's guess.

Given Sixth Street's construction schedule, immediately probably couldn't be soon enough.

CNH building office in Caledonia?

The Milwaukee Business Journal is working on a local bombshell of a story. CNH may be building a new 300,000 square-foot office building in Caledonia.

Here's the latest report from the Biz Journal, which describes the new CNH office building as the "largest pending office deal in southeast Wisconsin."

They haven't quite nailed the story, though. Officials from Legacy Development, owned by Caledonia's John Helding, and Twelve Oaks Investment Co. did not comment for the story.

The Biz Journal did report Feb. 29, though, that Legacy was selling 320 acres of its Twelve Oaks development - about half of the total development - to a Racine County investment group for $6.9 million, and work could begin on the land "late this year or early next year."

With the latest news, it seems like CNH is preparing to move on its new building in the near future.

March 21, 2008

Hall: I don't want to spend $250K for disc golf

County Board Supervisor Ken Hall ripped his opponent Brian Dey and The Journal Times Friday for reporting that he wants to spend $250,000 on a new disc golf course in Racine County.

"Disc golf courses do not cost anything close to $250,000," Hall said in a press release. "This ridiculous figure was either made up by my opponent to confuse voters or it is simply sloppy homework."

Dey made the comment in Friday's Journal Times that Hall was not a fiscal conservative because he wanted to spend "$250,000 for Frisbee golf." JT Reporter David Steinkraus wrote the story, which has yet to be uploaded to the JT's website.

Hall estimated the cost of a disc golf course in Racine County at $12,000. Here's Hall's take on the proposal:
Is disc golf controversial? No. It is one of many issues the board works on and it is routine to invest in parks. The likely public cost for a tournament quality course, under the terms of the resolution approved overwhelmingly by the county board is likely to be a bit over $12,000, about half of the cost of a playground. Any course will be a 50/50 public/private partnership, as arranged by the Public Works Committee.
Here's a story in the JT from January 2007 reporting the cost of two disc golf courses in the county at $12,000 apiece. A J-S story from Sept. 24, 2006 reports Hall saying two disc golf courses in Racine County would cost $50,000. We couldn't find reference to a disc golf course costing $250,000 to build. Whole parks were estimated at that price, but not just a disc golf course.

Disc golf is like regular golf but played with Frisbee-like discs. Players throw the discs into metal baskets with hanging chains (see right).

UW-Parkside has one of the best disc golf courses in the area, and the university hosts an annual tournament. One nice thing about disc golf is that it's free to play (aside from the cost of buying discs to throw).

Hall and Dey are running for the County Board's 15th District seat. Both have political experience. Dey, a member of the Racine School Board, was an outspoken critic of former Superintendent Tom Hicks.

Hall is finishing his first term on the County Board. He lost to County Executive Bill McReynolds for the county's top spot in 2007.

Snow closing Regency Mall early today

Regency Mall is closing at 5 p.m. today. Here's the press release:
Due to inclement weather and road conditions, Regency Mall will be closing at 5pm on Friday, March 21, 2008. The mall will resume normal business hours on Saturday, March 21. JCPenney, Boston Store, and Sears will also close at 5pm. Target is currently planning to remain open. Regency Mall is closed on Easter Sunday.

Political ads on RacinePost

Just to clarify ...

You may have noticed two political ads on RacinePost in recent days. One is for School Board candidate Pamala Handrow and the other is for City Council and County Board candidate Ken Lumpkin. Both ads were paid for by the candidate's campaigns, and are not any sort of endorsement. (In fact, we're more than happy to run ads for more candidates! If you're interested, contact us and we'll talk rates for an ad between now and April 1.)

Vos backs amendment to repeal 'Frankenstein veto'

State Rep. Robin Vos sent out a pitch today on removing the governor's so-called "Frankenstein veto." There's a statewide referendum April 1 on the issue, which would amend the state constitution to remove the governor's partial-veto power. The governor - whoever holds the office - would be allowed to reduce spending with a line-item veto under the proposed amendment.

Here's Vos' take on the proposal, which he helped write:
On April 1 voters will have the opportunity to take part in a statewide referendum on whether or not the Governor should be allowed to keep his powerful veto pen.

I am a cosponsor of this constitutional amendment and will voting "YES" to the following question:

"QUESTION 1: Partial veto. Shall section 10(1)(c) of article V of the constitution be amended to prohibit the governor, in exercising his or her partial veto authority, from creating a new sentence by combining parts of two or more sentences of the enrolled bill?"

This constitutional amendment was first considered by the Legislature in 2005 because of the irresponsibility Governor Doyle showed in the 2005-2007 budget. He used his partial veto 139 times to transfer $427 million from the segregated transportation fund to the general fund. He did this by crossing out 752 words and forming individual, unrelated words into a new sentence that spelled fiscal disaster for the state's transportation fund.

He also used his power in the most recent budget to allow local governments to raise taxes by increasing their levy limits to 3.86%.

No matter what party is in charge, this is too much power for one branch of government to wield when handling Wisconsin's finances. The only way in which this veto pen would be acceptable is if it were used to reduce spending amounts by eliminating numbers, or by writing in lower figures.

Fortunately, these things will still be allowed. And by allowing them, the Governor will still have the most powerful veto pen of any state in the nation.

Remember to go to the polls on April 1 and be sure to slay the Frankenstein Veto for good by voting YES.

March 20, 2008

Property Transfers: Former ACMI plant sells for $2.5 million

Highlights from this week's sales:

* The former ACMI manufacturing plant in Racine solid for $2.5 million this month. Gyrus ACMI, which makes medical devices, shutdown its local facility in 2007.

* The Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon near Regency Mall was sold last week for $1,966,600.

Here's the full listings (click here if you can't see the table below):

Senate committee approves KRM funding

Funding for the KRM commuter rail continues to get support in the Senate, but is likely headed to its death in the Assembly.

A Senate committee included funding for KRM in its budget fix bill, which passed on Thursday. The bill heads to a vote before the whole Senate on Tuesday. After that, the Senate will have to compromise with the Assembly on a final bill. It's highly unlikely the Assembly will back the plan.

Here's Lehman's statement on the Senate committee's vote:
Senate Finance Committee Adopts Budget Plan
Lehman Votes for Plan That Responsibly Closes Budget Gap, Includes KRM Rail Line

Madison – State Senator John Lehman voted today to advance a balanced and responsible state deficit fix out of the Senate Finance Committee. The bill is slated for a vote before the full Senate next Tuesday.

Lehman commented,” Our budget plan is a balanced and responsible proposal that closes the current budget gap with a mix of cuts and revenue, protects core state programs and gives the go ahead to critical economic development programs like the KRM rail line.”

The Senate plan does not increase sales or income tax rates or property taxes on Wisconsin residents.

Lehman noted that by closing a corporate tax loophole that allows some business to escape paying any state taxes the Senate budget plan delivers a corporate tax rate cut to help out Wisconsin businesses.

Additional highlights of the bill include:

• Authorization for the KRM rail line that will bring in over $100 million in federal construction aid and is estimated to create 3,000 new jobs;

• An additional $40 million in new state spending reductions on top of the $200 million already required in this budget cycle;

• No raids on transportation or any other segregated funds;

• A reduction of the structural deficit of over $270 million compared to the Assembly budget fix;

• Implementation of a hospital assessment that will bring over $400 million in new federal money to increase reimburse rates to hospitals for care given Medical Assistance program enrollees and reduce cost shifting to privately insured patients;

• Protection of local property tax savings including full funding of shared revenue, local school aids including categorical aids and the school levy tax credit.

He concluded, “No one likes our state fiscal situation, but our Senate plan maps out a responsible path forward. We mix spending cuts with investments in economic growth, combine new ways to capture additional federal revenues with closing tax loopholes to help out our local hospitals and reduce the corporate tax rates and at the end of the day have the least borrowing and lowest structural deficit of the three budget repair plans.”

Bing, bang, boom: Council re-spends $2,164,617.45

As promised, today's special noon meeting of the Racine City Council went off like clockwork (if you ignore the fact that it had to be held in the first place because of a clerical error).

In short order, less than 15 minutes total, under the watchful eye of just two department heads (no public, no press 'cept for little ol' me), the 11 aldermen present whipped through a 16-item agenda and approved expenditures of $2,164,617.45 without a nay vote or a miscue. Even for a do-over, it was impressive.

Besides all the re-approvals of Public Works projects -- the largest item being the paving of Oakes Road at a cost of $1,270,796.43 -- the council also tweaked the city's graffiti ordinance, injecting a bit of common sense into the removal process. From now on, if a landlord needs, for just cause, some extra time to remove graffiti, the chief building inspector may grant it.

As always, leniency comes with a cost. "If the owner fails to comply...the chief building inspector may remove or cover the graffiti and all costs, fees and expenses ... shall be levied against the property."

And so to lunch...

Saving the economy, one corn flake at a time...

Earlier this week, we couldn't keep up with the eBay auction of an oversized corn flake shaped like the state of Illinois.

Now it appears the entire U.S. economy may be revived because of that one auction. More than one hundred copycats and hangers-on have filled the eBay auction world with similar items. An eBay search for "corn flake Illinois" produced 105 separate auctions this morning ... there are probably more by now.

Dare we say it: There sure are a lot of flakes on eBay!

To briefly recap for those of you who may have tuned in late: Our first link to the auction on Monday night, about 6 p.m., said bidding had reached $6,600. Within half an hour, it was up to $60,000; by Tuesday night it hit $200,000 -- this is for a single oversize corn flake, remember! P.T. Barnum was wrong, after all; Fools are born more frequently than one a minute.

But suddenly, without warning, the corn flake auction disappeared. Well, that mystery's been solved: The auction ran afoul of eBay's prohibition against selling "food" on the site.

And now it's back: This time -- you have to admire the ingenuity -- you're bidding not for the corn flake, but rather for a "coupon" redeemable for the actual "NOT edible" corn flake. (Get the distinction? We don't either.) Already the bidding is up to $1,025 -- far more than Chesapeake, VA, sisters Melissa McIntyre, 23, and Emily, 15, ever hoped to receive for their Kellogg's Frosted Flake. (UPDATE: After 68 bids, the corn flake went for $1,350. The winner, eBay member "Triviamania," won with a bid placed just seven seconds before the auction's scheduled end.)

But that's not what fascinates us. Rather, it's all the poseurs and copycats. Bid carefully; why some of these aren't even Frosted Flakes! Raisin bran, feh!

Here are just a few headings from the copycat auctions.
-- The ULTIMATE REAL ILLINOIS CORN FLAKE, which doesn't look anything like the state (no bids yet, with an ambitious starting price of $9.99.)
--The Great Illinois corn flake Honest Abe Lincoln, a penny-sized clumsily nibbled flake overpriced at 99 cents. ("Four score and seven Special K's ago...")
--The Original Illinois Frosted Corn Flake, which isn't the original at all, but which comes with a bonus: "It has been brought to our attention that you can see the face of JFK" on the side of the corn flake. How rare is that!!! Get two rare finds for the price of one!"
--The Great Illinois Corn Flake Commemorative T-Shirt; after six bids it's up to $5.50. ("Someone else got the darn corn flake but I got the t-shirt.")
--Illinois Corn Flake Display Frame, so far no takers at $24 -- probably waiting until they win the main auction.
--Torn Paper in the Shape of Illinois Corn Flake, as promised, although no corn flake processing is involved. It's just a piece of paper, which the "artist" promises to sign if the winning bidder requests. Already at $5.50 after six bids.
--The Original Illinois Corn Flake Site Domain Name -- hurry!
--Barack Obama with the Great Illinois Corn Flake Ear Picture. Pretty much what it says: a photo of Obama with corn flake ears. Not autographed. ("Do not copy" is printed over the photograph. As if.)

And so it goes: Bermuda, Michigan, South Carolina, Jesus and heart-shaped look-a-like corn flakes; a t-shirt with an Illinois-shaped coffee stain; the corn flake's "embryo" and its "stunt double;" buttons declaring your unfortunate loss of the actual corn flake auction; certificates "proving" you were a bidder ... why, even a spoon to eat it with.

So far -- we'll save you the trouble of looking -- there have been no auctions offering corn flakes in the shape of Wisconsin or Brett Favre. (But if any of you find such rare and wonderful, and obviously collectible corn flakes, please call us first!)

P.S. Here's a Wisconsin-shaped pothole!

March 19, 2008

Whoops! City Council holds special meeting after agenda mistake

The Racine City Council will hold a rare noon time meeting Thursday to approve a handful of items that were accidentally left off the agenda for Tuesday's regular meeting.

Sixteen items from the Public Works committee were not properly noticed, said City Administrator Ben Hughes. State law requires all items on a governmental body's agenda to be made public 24 hours before the start of the meeting. The law is designed to prevent government officials from discussing or passing laws without telling anyone about them.

The 16 items before the Council on Thursday appear to be routine business (see the agenda here). The special meeting could last less than 10 minutes.

Hughes said the special meeting was called because the city needed to take action on some of the items before its next regularly scheduled meeting. However, none of the items qualified as an "emergency," which would have allowed the council to suspend the rules Tuesday and vote despite not giving proper notice.

"When government makes a mistake, we of all people have to own up to it," Hughes said.

In an e-mail to City Council members Wednesday, Hughes said the error was an employee mistake. He took responsibility for the error, and promised that checks and safeguards would be put into place to prevent future omissions from agendas.

Hughes noted that it was the third time in the six months that he had been administrator that there had been a problem with the City Council's agenda.

Here's an excerpt from his letter:
I fully recognize that these mistakes are publicly embarrassing to you as elected officials and to the city government as a whole. These errors tend to erode the overall confidence that our citizens have with our government. I personally accept responsibility for the errors and I also want you to know that I will be addressing this issue in a firm and clear manner with our 13 department heads. Mistakes are human and understandable; repeated mistakes on the same issue are unacceptable.

Racine woman stops theft of Shepherd Express newspapers

Maggie L., from Racine, was shopping at the Pick N Save at highways 11 and 31 this afternoon and stopped to pick up a Shepherd Express. She knew the alt-weekly newspaper based out of Milwaukee was dropped off at the store around 2 p.m.

After picking up her paper, a well-dressed man walked in and grabbed the entire stack of Shepherds and turned to leave. Maggie yelled that he couldn't take them all. He turned and said the papers were free, so yes he could.

An avid reader of the Shepherd - and a supporter of its liberal views - Maggie wouldn't let it rest. She grabbed a handful of the papers and demanded that the man give back the stack he'd taken. She then called the manager and kept yelling at the alleged thief.

"I created a scene, I'm very good at that," Maggie said.

To her surprise, the man not only kept the newspaper he took, he walked around to the store's other entrance and prepared to take those papers, as well. By then the manager of the store arrived and prevented the man from taking any more papers.

During the exchange, the newspaper thief told Maggie to shut up or he'd punch her husband in the face. Maggie and her husband are senior citizens. She asked that her last name not be used in the story.

Maggie reported the theft to Shepherd Express, who explained they do have a policy of one paper per reader. In other words, you can steal a free newspaper. Here's the policy straight from the paper:
DISTRIBUTION: Shepherd Express is available free of charge. Additional copies of the current issue may be purchased for $1.50, payable in advance at our office. The Shepherd Express may be distributed only by authorized distributors. No person may, without prior written permission of Shepherd Express, take more than one copy of each weekly issue. To have the Shepherd Express delivered to your home each week, subscriptions are available.
As for why the man was taking the papers, it's hard to say. There's no Racine-related stories in the paper, but it could be someone opposed to liberal stories, a certain ad ... who knows. As for Maggie, she's a great testimonial for the Shepherd.

"I thought it was important because the Shepherd is one of the few places that tells it like it is," she said.

The first full moon of Spring...

Or is it the last full moon of Winter?

The Christian calendar makes what goes on overhead this week especially significant because it brings us Easter on March 23 ... the earliest since 1913, and earlier than all the Easters to come until 2160, 152 years from now.

This is so (according to those whizzes at Wikipedia, and elsewhere on the internet), because Easter's date is based on the lunar calendar: The first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox is always Easter. This year, the full moon officially comes one day after Thursday's Spring Equinox.

Needless to say, the picture above is not of this week's full moon; it was taken last month, on Feb. 21, as I waited for the lunar eclipse to begin over Mount Pleasant's Hansche Pond.

(Easter actually could be one day earlier, on March 22, but that won't occur until 2285; the last Easter on that date was in 1818. The latest date Easter can come is April 25; the most recent of those was in 1943 and the next will be in 2038 Somewhere, I read about Leap Year being involved in this scheduling as well... the mind boggles that people have so much time on their hands to figure all this stuff out.)

Helding asks city to discuss police video cameras

Alderman Greg Helding's request for the City Council to review plans to install police video cameras throughout the inner city was referred to the council's "Committee of the Whole" at Tuesday night's meeting. Click here to read a letter Helding wrote on the issue.

City may spend $10,000 on Civil War cannons for Monument Square

Remember Racine's Civil War cannons? They're back as a local issue this spring. Parks and Recreation Director Donnie Snow will ask the City Council to spend $10,000 to buy two new granite bases for the cannons, which will be placed on Monument Square. Snow hopes to have the cannons displayed by Flag Day on June 14. Fundraising remains an option for the bases, but would draw out the process of restoring the cannons, according to Snow. Unless, of course, someone comes forward with the money.

Here's a letter Snow wrote today updating progress on the cannons:
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have been working with a number of individuals to bring about the cannon restoration and ultimate return of the cannons to Monument Square. If all goes as plan the targeted date for the return of the cannons to the square will be June 14th.

I have been working with Mr. Pat Kulas, of Cushing 4th U.S. Artillery Battery A, Ms. Sharon Baldukas and Mr. Kim J. Heltemes, Wis. Dept Memorials Officer, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to try and make these plans a reality.


Midwest Special Coatings Painting has agreed to do the cannon restoration/coating with materials donated by Hallman Lindsay Paint.

Through Sharon Baldukas there has been some discussion about fundraising for the granite cannon bases but if that is the way the bases are purchased I think it is safe to say that there will not be enough funding to make the purchase by June 14th. So, what I have done is, I have submitted a letter to the common council to inform them of the situation and the cost of the bases should the council want to allocate enough money to make this purchase. This item should come before the Finance and Personnel Committee on Monday, March 24th, 2008.

I have been in contact with Monte Osterman of Osterman Granite and Marble and he has given me a price of approximately $10,000 or $4,700 to $4,900 each for the two cannon bases. If we act expeditiously he thinks that he could make the shipment happen along with the seat wall granite pieces being provided by DRC. That would also save on shipping as well which could cost as much as $1,000 if ordered alone and shipped separately at a later date.

Further, Mr. Osterman is already making arrangements to take one of the cannons from storage to his shop to prepare for carving the cannon bases and determining the balance point in the event the Council allocates the necessary funding or that some donor steps forward.

Needless to say I think the Common Council’s decision will be key to whether or not the cannons are restored to the square by the targeted date of June 14th, Flag Day.

If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions contact me at your convenience.


Police, firefighters unions endorse Wisneski for City Council

The Racine Police Association and Firefighters Union endorsed incumbent Aron Wisneski for the City Council's 12th District seat.

"I am proud to accept their support," Wisneski said. "These men and women work hard every day to protect us from danger."

"That message came through loud and clear through his work on this year’s budget," said Craig Ford, Executive Board Member of the Racine Firefighters Local 321. "Aron worked hard to make sure we have the resources we need to protect the people of Racine."

"I have great working relationships with our Police and Fire Departments," said Wisneski. "I look forward to continuing those in my second term."

Todd Hoover, President of the Racine Police Association, had praised Wisneski’s work so far.

"Aron really understands the needs of his district. He has helped to strengthen the relationship between the Police and the people of the 12th District."

"When the troubles at the Speedway station started spilling into the neighborhood, Aron got involved right away," said Karen Nielsen, who lives near the gas station. "Aron worked with the police and helped to get things under control."

Wisneski was first elected to the Common Council in 2006 and is seeking re-election. He is being challenged by Joey LeGath.

The general election is Tuesday, April 1.

County cancels meeting on Superior Linens

The issue of Superior Linens' contract with Racine County continues to simmer.

The contract was set to be discussed on Monday during the Ridgewood Board of Trustee's regular meeting. Supervisor Joseph Bellante, chairman of the Ridgewood board, confirmed the agenda item during the County Board's March 11 meeting (you can hear the audio here - it's around 35:00.)

That meeting has since been canceled. County Executive Bill McReynolds decided he wanted to attend the meeting, but couldn't make the March 24 date. The meeting will now be pushed back to April - after the County Board's April 1 elections.

Bellante said the postponed meeting had more to do with Easter than the elections.

"The County Executive wanted to be there, and we didn't realize Easter came early this year," Bellante said in an interview Tuesday night. "Some other personnel wanted to be there and couldn't make it."

He added that after the election, there's a chance he won't be involved with Ridgewood anymore. The County Board is going to choose a chairman and vice chairman, and then members of the board are going to designate three choices for the committees they want to serve on.

"I might not wind up on health and human services" committee, he said. "That one is probably going to confront the Superior issue."

When I called to asked Bellante questions, he immediately raised Supervisor Diane Lange's name as the instigator behind the Superior Linens issue. "I plan to talk with Supervisor Lange when I get ahold of her in the next week," he said, somewhat cryptically.

Holding off the Superior discussion makes sense for the county executive. Lange is being challenged for her board seat and could lose on April 1. That would likely take pressure off the issue.

It also keeps Lange's name out of The Journal Times, on the chance that they would have covered the Ridgewood meeting.

It's clear Lange is irritating top officials in the county. During the March 11 board meeting, a handful of residents spoke in defense of Lange and against Corporation Counsel Jonathan Lehman, who took her to task at the February meeting, during the public comment period. Racine County Sheriff Bob Carlson spoke in favor of Lehman, citing the corporation counsel's "professionalism and integrity."

Click HERE and HERE for background on this story.

Library to award three honors at April 20 luncheon

The Racine Public Library Foundation has selected the first recipients of the Emily Lee Award, Distinguished Librarian Award and the Friend of the Library Award.

The award winners are author David Kherdian, librarian Nancy Elsmo and the Friends of the Library.

The recipients will be recognized at a special awards luncheon on Sunday, April 20, 1-3 p.m., at the Racine Marriott, 7111 Washington Ave. "We invite the public to show their appreciation for the years of good work done for the Library by these folks," says Andrew McLean, president of the Foundation.

The Library Foundation, established in 2006, raises money to support future Library needs. To keep the public informed of its work, and to celebrate those people and organizations that have supported the Library, the following awards have been established:

The Emily Lee Award is given to persons with Racine connections who have distinguished themselves in the world of literature. It is named after the wife of the first president of the Library Board who, in 1927, left the library $100,000.

David Kherdian, author and Racine native, is receiving the Emily Lee Award. It recognizes his distinguished career as a poet, novelist, children's author and biographer. Born in Racine and raised here during the 1930's and 1940's, Kherdian has frequently celebrated his life here in dozens of his books. Many of his major themes focus on the city of Racine and its history, and on the conflict he experienced between his parents' Armenian culture and his need to assimilate into American life.

The Road from Home is an account of Kherdian's mother, and her flight from Turkish genocide. In 1924 she arrived in America, married Melkon Kherdian and David was born seven years later. Kherdian has written over 50 books — poetry, memoirs, novels, biographies and children's books, some in collaboration with his Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator and wife, Nonny Hogrogian.

His most recent book, Forgotten Bread, collects examples of 17 Armenian-American writers. They have, according to Kherdian, "a unique Armenian sensibility — a kind of naiveté, a sense of irony and laughter and bitter sweetness, and a love of nature."

There are about a dozen books in Kherdian's Root River Cycle that contain autobiographical remembrances of his boyhood. Collectively these poems are a poetic and literary tribute to the city of Racine, life in the Midwest, and to the places and people which molded this young writer.

Many of his books contain poems dedicated to friends, neighbors, streets, businesses, parks, and other Racine landmarks. These friends and places shaped his world view, and made him who he became: a poet of vision, a writer of place and memory.

The Distinguished Librarian Award is given to a librarian whose work has contributed significantly to the development and growth of library services in Racine. The first recipient of this award is Nancy Elsmo.

Nancy Elsmo started her career as a work-study Master's degree student in the Art Library at Syracuse University. Now, 53 years later, she has come full circle and works as a volunteer at the Art Library of the Racine Art Museum. Between these two positions, she has also spent time in a library career that she has treasured.

The Wisconsin Library Association in 1977 named Nancy Elsmo the Librarian of the Year, acknowledging her work then as director of children's services and as a pioneer in introducing innovations in the Racine library long before they were done elsewhere.

Nancy served the Racine Public Library in many leadership positions: Head of Technical Processes, Director of Children's Services, Head of Adult Services, and Acting City Librarian. She also has been active in many community organizations including Big Sisters, the Mental Health Association of the Racine County Board, Community Service Forum, Altrusa Club, the Racine Literacy Coalition and the Southeastern Wisconsin Literacy Alliance.

She is also a horticulturist, affiliated with the Herb Society of America, and worked part-time as a perennial plant specialist at a local garden center.

The Friend of the Library Award is given to a citizen, organization, or institution that has promoted the work of the Racine Public Library. The recipient of this first award is the Friends of the Library support group.

For several decades, the Friends of the Library have held annual book sales and raised many thousands of dollars to supplement Library programs and needs. In the last several years, for example, fall and spring book sales, an on-going book sale in the Library (opposite the Circulation desk), Monument Square summer sales, and membership dues, have raised over $12,000 annually.

The Friends are governed by a volunteer Board of Directors that meets monthly. They decide how to spend the money to benefit the Library's programming and staff needs and make funds available for new or innovative projects. Such projects include buying books for the Library's children's and young adult book clubs, supplying prizes for summer reading programs, purchasing materials for the annual Battle of the Books, and other projects that may not fall within the Library's normal budget.

The Friends annual meeting in the fall is combined with the Breakfast with the Authors to which the public is always invited. The Friends of the Library continues to be an important group that works to sustain quality Library services and programs. "The Friends group has been so supportive of Library staff and activities," says Jessica MacPhail, director of the Library, "Many of our cultural and educational programs would not happen without their support."

Susan Kowbel-Keller is the current President of the Friends which has a membership of nearly 300 people.

The public is invited to this first awards event. "It is a wonderful way to show support for your library," says McLean, "and it is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon in spring." Tickets for the luncheon on April 20 are $35 and may be purchased at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St. For more information, contact the library at 262.636.9170.

March 18, 2008

Mount Pleasant tax assessor endorses candidates

Update: Potter's website is changed. He took down all references to candidates and left up a thank you note to the village's anonymous $10 million donor. If you want to read the original content, Kilobite's blog saved it here.

Original post: Mount Pleasant's tax assessor is taking an active role in the Village Board's upcoming election.

Ed Potter, who used to serve on the board, started a website at to endorse three of the candidates running for the board. Potter received a three-year, $417,300 contract in November to serve as the village's tax assessor.

Potter's website includes a message on the opening page thanking the anonymous donor who gave the village $10 million to build a new municipal building. It then goes on to endorse Ken Flones, Robin Garard and John Hewitt in the April 1 election. He writes on the site:
This website is dedicated to honor those anonymous donors who saw an opportunity to leave their legacy in public structures for the use and enjoyment of their fellow Mount Pleasant taxpayers. They came forward unbidden to the Village, through Village Administrator Michael Andresen, Village Attorney John Shannon, indirectly through Village President Carolyn Milkie, and her fellow Trustees, Ken Flones, Sonny Havn, John Hewitt, Ed Potter (and his replacement Ingrid Tiegle), Jim Chaplin, and Robin Garard. For leaving the stewardship of $10,000,000 in the hands of the Village of Mount Pleasant, via their Village Board, we are humbled, honored by their trust, and thankful for their gift.

Betsy Costello named Racine Dominicans' 'Woman of the Year'

Artist Elizabeth "Betsy" Costello was named "Woman of the Year" by the Racine Dominicans.

For the past seven years, Costello has taught teenagers at the Racine Youth Offender Correctional Facility crafts such as knitting, embroidery, crocheting, basket-weaving, latch-hook and needlepoint on canvas.

"Betsy’s true artistry is in weaving self-confidence into these young men – in helping them believe in themselves and their ability to turn their lives around," said Sister Maryann McMahon, vice president of the Racine Dominicans. "She sees their potential, and she encourages each person to develop his own strengths."

"It’s never a waste of time to encourage someone,” said Costello, who was presented with the "Exemplery Volunteerism" award by Gov. Jim Doyle in February 2007.

Each week Costello, who is physically handicapped and must use a walker or wheel chair, goes to RYOCF on Tuesday and Wednesday to teach classes. Beginning with a class of 14, she noted “the first thing I taught them was that if they understood something and someone else didn’t, they were to put down their project and help the other fellow.” She was impressed by the young men’s willingness to help and their understanding that the only way a class that size could work was if they pitched in to help. Since then classes have grown to as many as 22 students.

"It's not just the craft I'm teaching," Costello explained. "I'm really teaching responsibility, accountability, belief in oneself and service to others."

The inmates know that any project they make will go to someone in need. They are not allowed to keep or even make the items for family or friends. When any of her students prepares to leave RYOCF, she makes a point of talking with him privately to encourage him in building on the strengths she has witnessed in him. Of each young man she asks, "What are you going to do to help society when you get out?"

What impact is Betsy having? It’s not easy to tell what will happen to a young man when he leaves the correctional facility. Yet, Costello says she is often "blown away" by the profound things her students say or by the questions they raise. During one class, an inmate asked her, "What do you think is the worst thing a person can do to someone else?" After answering, she turned the question back to the young man, who responded, "Deny them an education. You shut people down when you don’t let them get an education."

"Betsy certainly uses the visual arts to promote the values and ideals of the Racine Dominican community," said Sister Carol Wester, who served on the Dominicans' award committee. "Her belief in the dignity and worth of every person drives her to help the young men at RYOCF move beyond the challenges that put them there and to find meaning and purpose in their lives."

The Racine Dominicans are a community of Catholic Sisters of St. Dominic and lay associates who live by the mission "committed to truth, compelled to justice." They have a 146 year history of serving the city.

March is Women's History Month.

Pritchard Park's buckthorn meets its match

The fog lay heavy and damp over Pritchard Park this morning. Underfoot, some snow and ice, but mostly mud. Leaves and lawn mixed with melted snow make walking anywhere off the pavement a treacherous experience, marked by soggy footprints.

Still, a peaceful place for a solitary stroll ... but what's that sound? Chainsaws!

The saws shouldn't come as a surprise. Around the park's perimeter, especially visible around the picnic area, are huge piles of brush, some of them eight to ten feet tall, 30 to 40 feet long.


Is this a major Parks Department cleanup? Not hardly. It's all being accomplished by volunteer labor: two retirees who saw a problem and brought a solution. Dick Ehlert, a retired Unified guidance counselor, started the job on his own last year. Then Bernie Mann, a Case retiree, spotted him, and brought his own chainsaw. Now they work together, for two or three hours a morning, cutting and hauling and stacking.

Buckthorn is a Eurasian tree/bush that came over to the U.S. in the 1880s, an invasive species clearly capable of taking over the woods. "Some of them get pretty-good sized -- 8" to 10" in diameter, 30 feet tall," said Bernie. "It can take over." But not at Pritchard Park, if the two men have anything to say about it.

Occasionally, people will come by and see what the two are doing and question their right to attack Pritchard Park's "trees" with chainsaws. But Dick is ready for them. "I have a letter in my car from the County, giving us permission," he said, "and as soon as I show them that, everything's OK."

Once they've cut down the buckthorn, Dick paints the stumps with Roundup, a pesticide. "If you don't do that, then one stump becomes eight more buckthorn trees," he said. County crews come by and haul off, and burn, the brush they cut and stack.

The two started cutting in the section of Pritchard Park at the corner of Ohio and Durand last fall. "Bernie's optimistic that we'll be through this section by the end of Spring," Dick said. Then they'll start on another section of the park. No rest for the chainsaws.

Bernie Mann, left, and Dick Ehlert

Miss the Parade? Here it ALL is -- in one quick video

Racine's St. Patrick's Day Parade in ten minutes! (From the comfort and warmth of your computer.)

For all of you who overslept and missed the refreshing breezes whistling through downtown Racine last Saturday morning, during the Second Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, John Polodna, a local videographer, taped the parade and created a 10-minute speeded-up version. Watch your friends and neighbors moving faster than you have ever seen them move before. Just click above -- and enjoy Jeff Ward's vocals as well.

Just about says it all...

A letter in today's Journal Times:
Positive coverage needed

I moved to Racine 12 years ago. I believed Racine was going to be a great place to raise my children. In the last couple of years I have doubted my decision. I know there is crime every where in every state but every time I read the news paper it seems like people are not safe to even walk down the street for fear of being mugged or beaten.

I will not even let my children walk to the store around the corner and they are teenagers. They have absolutely wonderful teachers, but it is no secret that our school system is falling apart. Just when I am ready to look for a new city to move to something happens to change my mind.

My children and I attended the St. Patrick’s Parade last Saturday. It was wonderful! The sense of community was all over the place. Before it was even over, the kids were asking if we could come back next year. Strangers were talking to strangers and everyone around me was just as impressed as I was.

I was stunned to open the paper the next day, only to find that all that was written about was Shilling’s Irish Pub and what they serve. I am sure it is a great place but why wasn’t anything else mentioned?

There were so many positive things going on and the Irish was over the place. I am inclined to just quit reading the paper. All it does it makes me feel like our city is a disgrace and that is just not the case. I feel like the paper should have a section dedicated to all the good things happening with Racine, like they do for the criminals.

Since The Journal Times did not take the opportunity to recognize the people that made the parade I will. Thank you so much! That was a great way to start the Irish holiday. We look forward to next year. I have told everyone I have came into contact with and they will also be coming next year. Thank you, Racine. There may be some bad apples around but there are more good people than I thought. We will continue to live in Racine and be proud of our city. Thank you!

Pamela Kraimer

RacinePost's St. Patrick's Day Parade photos...
More photos...
And more photos...

March 17, 2008

Starbuck Middle School teacher chased, grabbed student, police report says

Update: We have made several attempts in recent days to contact Maack. She has not returned our phone calls. Racine Unified has also declined comment on Maack or the incident. The district said the matter is under investigation. They also released that Maack started teaching in Unified in February 2005.

Original Story: A teacher at Starbuck Middle School is under investigation for chasing a student around a classroom and wrestling with her, according to a Racine Police report.

Teacher Amy Maack allegedly got into an altercation with a student on March 11 at the school, which is located at 1516 Ohio St.

Police were called in to investigate the incident, including possible assault charges against the student. Instead, their report concluded that no assault took place and that Maack mishandled the incident, said the police report, which was written by Officer T.A. Johnson. Officer Vic Cera also responded to the incident.

"After I talked to Officer Cera, it was both of our opinions there was no criminal assault and that we found it questionable as to why the child was put in the hall, then chased, and grabbed by the teacher," Johnson wrote in the report. "We agreed that there might have been some better responses to the situation; both on the child, but more so that of the teacher in this incident."

The police report (click here for a PDF of the report) adds that Starbuck Vice Principal Jacquelin Brownell seemed "distressed" by Maack's actions.

"I then spoke to Ms. Brownell who in my opinion seemed distressed at the actions/response of the teacher in this incident," Johnson wrote.

Johnson noted in the report that he had a "conflict of interest with the child and her family." The conflict of interest was not explained.

The altercation allegedly began after Maack gave one of her students a one-hour detention for getting a blue slip from a substitute teacher. Maack then ordered the girl to stand outside the classroom in the hallway. When the girl came back in to get her books, Maack allegedly chased her around the room, grabbed the girl's arm and ended up wrestling with her on the classroom floor, the report said.

Maack and the student ended up in the principal's office. Police were called in to investigate a possible assault charge against the student. During the police investigation, Maack said she wasn't injured during the incident. After Brownell pointed out there could be no assault without an injury, Maack told police her thumb hurt and she may have a mark on her left arm.

Two student statements about the incident said that Maack chased the girl, tried to grab her, and then grabbed the student's arm and took her out of class, the report said.

Both Johnson and Cera concluded no criminal assault took place. They agreed, along with Brownell, to handle the incident within the school. The report concludes that Maack, the student and the student's father were satisfied with handling the incident within school.

On March 12, Maack appeared at the Racine Police Department to have photos taken of her injuries. Officer K. San Felippo took photos of a bruise on Maack's left arm, her left shoulder where she felt pain, two bruise marks on her back, a red mark on her middle finger on her left hand, and red marks and scrapes on her left forearm and elbow.

San Felippo also noted in his report that Officer Voss, with the Racine Police Department, told him Maack was assaulted by a student at Starbuck.

Unified declined to release Maack's teaching status on Monday. Sandra Brand, principal at Starbuck, said personnel and student confidentiality prevented her from commenting on the incident.

Maack, 38, is the music director at Starbuck. Her husband, David Maack, serves on the Racine City Council and is Racine County's director of emergency management.

Four pups straight from the cleaning supplies shelf

Four brothers are up for adoption this week at the Countryside Humane Shelter -- and some of them are perfectly named for you SC Johnson employees out there.

The others -- well, I suppose you could rename 'em if you must!

The boys are three-month-old Border Collie/Golden Retriever mixes, all black with a small touch of white. (As you can see from the picture, very difficult to photograph; please don't hold that against the dogs.)

There were six of them: Oxi, Borax, Glade, Comet, Fantastik and Ajax, but Fantastik and Ajax have been adopted. You can't tell them apart (Countryside uses color-coded collars, but that's cheating).

And how did they get those names? They were transferred from a humane society that was full, and when they arrived here they smelled like a cow barn (a dirty one; manure, ya know). Countryside used some good-smelling soap and bathed the dogs multiple times before they were presentable. The names of cleaning products just came naturally...

Countryside names about 2,000 dogs each year. "I keep a notebook of the names, to keep track of what was most popular, and to make sure we don't release 15 dogs named 'Buddy' into the area," said Countryside's Maggie Skovera.

In any case, Oxi, Borax, Glade and Comet will need training; when they arrived here a week ago they'd never been on a leash. But they are fast learners, laid back and gentle for puppies. They are available to families of any age.

The most recent of Countryside's dogs featured here, a Lassie look-alike named Nick, has found a new home.

Root-Pike WIN gives $46,328 in spring grants

The Root-Pike Watershed Initiative announced $46,328 in spring grants for local projects. They include:
· $10,000 to the Village of Mt. Pleasant for improvements in the north branch of the Pike River to reduce sedimentation, aid fish in traveling up the river and restore the corridor’s native vegetation.

· $10,000 to study Blanding’s turtle populations in Racine and Kenosha counties with the goal of protecting the habitat of the species, which is threatened in Wisconsin.

· $9,431 to the City of Racine Health Department to carryout a 14-month assessment of water quality in the Root River from the Horlick Dam to Lake Michigan in Racine. The study, an expansion of one undertaken last summer, will include additional water quality parameters of dissolved oxygen and phosphorus.

· $7,250 to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside for a land restoration project in the riparian zone immediately surrounding the Root River Environmental Education Community Center in downtown Racine.

· $5,000 to Milwaukee County Parks Department to convert agricultural lands located in Franklin Park, an undeveloped park in the City of Franklin, to native prairie and savanna.

· $2,000 to a Leadership Racine group to attract attendance at the May 3, 2008 open house event of the Root River Environmental Education Community Center (REC) with a free fishing event for youth, and educate the public about fish species and habitat in the Root River with the creation of an educational exhibit.

· $1,947 to Hoy Audubon Society and Pringle Nature Center to monitor ephemeral ponds in the Chiwaukee Prairie in Kenosha. Ephemeral ponds are basins that seasonally fill with water and provide vital habitat to amphibians which thrive in the absence of predatory fish. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is expanding citizen monitoring of the ponds from Kenosha to Sheboygan counties to understand the ecosystem and determine the need for rules to protect the ponds.

· $700 to a Leadership Racine group to develop a Root River Water Trail in the Upper Root River, above the Horlick Dam, for the purpose of expanding the recreational opportunities on that portion of the river and increasing understanding of the historical and cultural significance of the river. Signs will be installed along the river banks, and people can launch watercraft and follow the signs to learn about historical information and recreational opportunities.
Ten applicants applied for grant funding in the cycle that ended Feb. 2. Root-Pike WIN’s next grant cycle ends Aug. 25 and grants will be awarded in fall 2008.

“The $46,328 in grants is the largest amount awarded by Root-Pike WIN in a single grant cycle,” said Susan Greenfield, executive director of Root-Pike WIN. “We had a wide range of excellent projects and well-written grant proposals. We are pleased we were able to fund so many good projects.”

Since 2001 the organization has awarded $357,498 to 79 watershed projects, thanks to financial support from SC Johnson Fund, E.C. Styberg Foundation, Racine Community Foundation and WE Energies Foundation. The Root-Pike watershed extends from Kenosha County, through Racine, Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. The Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network grew out of a group convened in 1998 by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to identify critical natural resource issues in the Root River and Pike River watersheds.

Updated: McKenna says she was ignored on commentary

Updated: Julie McKenna said Tuesday she was "frustrated" with her fellow School Board members when she wrote the letter to the editor that appeared in Sunday's paper opposing a commentary by the School Board on the same page.

We called McKenna Tuesday and asked her to expand on her concerns with the commentary. She described a confusing and rushed effort by the School Board to get the commentary out to The Journal Times. She declined to single out any members on the board, but said she felt ignored throughout the process.

"I can understand why the public is so angry (with Unified)," McKenna. "It's like they won't listen to anyone."

McKenna's main concern about the commentary was the opening paragraph, which she wanted to clearly state that there was a gap between Unified and the public. Instead, the commentary read there was a "perception of a gulf."

"It's not perception," McKenna said, "it's reality."

McKenna wanted the commentary to focus on positive aspects of the district, particularly on student achievement. She pointed out that many Unified students succeed every day, but those stories seem to get lost in the negativity that engulfs the district.

"If the School Board can't celebrate students, who's going to?" she asked.

McKenna added that she wanted the piece to be more direct. If the School Board wants to ask people to vote for the referendum, it should simply ask voters to support the upcoming five-year, $16.5 million proposal, she said. Instead, the piece danced around the issue and only got to the referendum at the end.

For the record, McKenna strongly supports the referendum. She helped come up with the five-year proposal and is working hard to get it passed on April 1.

More troubling than the wording of a commentary, though, McKenna said she couldn't get anyone on the board to listen to her concerns. When she made a motion to edit the piece, prior to publication, she couldn't even get a second on the motion to open up discussion. It was a remarkable sign of disrespect for the longest serving member of the School Board who easily won re-election the last time she was up.

Stung by the board's unwillingness to listen to her concerns, McKenna went public. She was initially told no one's name would appear on the commentary; instead, it would be signed by the Racine Unified School Board. McKenna said that would have been OK, because she could respect the board's vote on the issue.

But she later learned that they intended to place every board member's name on the commentary. McKenna decided she couldn't support the commentary, and wrote The Journal Times asking that her name be taken off the piece. The JT agreed, and asked her to write a letter. Both ran on Sunday's Opinion page.

McKenna said the disagreement over the commentary is indicative of the working relationships on the School Board. While they can work well together, often it seems like some members are left out of discussions. McKenna said she's situations where one, two or even three members seem to be unaware of an issue that comes before the board.

"We're definitely not working together as nine,"McKenna said.

Original post: A little spat between School Board members showed up on Sunday's Opinion page in The Journal Times. School Board Member Julie McKenna broke from the rest of the board and refused to sign a commentary about the April 1 referendum. Instead, McKenna wrote a letter to the editor explaining why her name was not on the commentary that ran on the same page.

McKenna said she disagreed with the first paragraph in the commentary, which reads:
We are at a critical juncture in determining the future of the Racine Unified School District. Coming out of a very difficult period, we know community confidence in the district is shaken. As a result, many see a wide gulf between the community and its school system. This perception itself could be a barrier to progress if we let it. But as a community, we cannot afford to let this become a barrier. We have to move forward. And we must find a way to move forward together.
In her letter, McKenna wrote:
As an individual school board member my disagreement lies in the first paragraph of the commentary. I wanted the focus of the school board to be on student achievement and I believe the perception listed about the gap between the community and school is a reality, not perception, and the critical juncture about the future is not about the future but the status quo.

I wanted the focus of the letter to be on getting support for the schools and asking the community for help in achieving that vision and to recognize the success of our students and the reality of some students not succeeding. I do agree this has been a difficult time in the past year.
I've read both the commentary and McKenna's letter a handful of times. I'm not sure what she's getting at. Is she opposed to the referendum?

The commentary seems straight forward: Here are five things we're doing to improve the district. The most encouraging point is the plan for the middle and high schools. District officials are trying to implement alternative teaching methods, along with traditional instruction, to reach out to more students.

The others include hiring a superintendent, holding community listening sessions, redistricting elementary schools and passing the April 1 maintenance referendum.

Based on her letter, I'm not sure why McKenna felt she needed to pull her name from the commentary. There's public support to be won in opposing anything Unified does right now, but McKenna isn't up for election this spring. I'm guessing she felt ignored by the other board members, and felt this was the only way to make her voice heard.

March 16, 2008

An absolutely, positively sure sign of Spring

Mr. Pepper, meet Ms. Tomato

Outside, there's snow on the ground. The pond behind the house is still frozen over. No sign anywhere of crocus or daffodil.

But there are fewer birds at the feeders; they're finding sustenance somewhere else. Our two greedy squirrels (we can tell them apart because one has lost most of its tail) are elsewhere these days. They were smart and agile enough to have found their way around the baffles hung on the bird feeders, but somewhere they've found even easier pickings.

And inside! Not only do we have the occasional housefly languidly walking up the window, or buzzing angrily around the lamp, but the sunroom is full of seedlings that prove the truth of Hal Borland's words: "No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn."

This year my wife has found a use for all those newspapers that otherwise pile up until recycling day: even before I've finished reading them, the pages are artfully folded into small seedling pots, just right for a pepper or tomato seed, a bean, or even a flower or two. No cracks here about the newspaper's rightful place under the puppy we don't have.

So take heart. No need to wait for next Friday's vernal equinox, or Easter's arrival on Sunday. Spring is already here, bright green and bursting with promise. It's on our windowsills, and on the moving spotlight of sunshine on the floor; tiny leaves on spindly stalks reaching for the sun from hundreds of soggy, folded newspaper, plant pots. One leaf today, two tomorrow, three and more the next.

As the great philosopher, Robin Williams, noted: "Spring is nature's way of saying, 'Let's party!' "

(Meanwhile, keep in mind that the deadline for ordering Neighborhood Watch's flowering baskets is April 18. And mark your calendar for the annual (and huge!) Potpourri Garden Club plant sale on May 31 at Sam's Club.)