April 26, 2008

What I learned at the Eco-Fair

No better site for an Eco-Fair
than Racine's refurbished rail station

13: There's more to wine than red or white: Sherry Etes of Uncorkt displayed almost a dozen organic wines, all certified by their country of origin. The grapes that go into them are grown without chemicals, and the wines themselves have no sulfites added, as many do (it's a preservative). Her favorite (yes, she has to taste-test all the wines she sells -- it's a tough job, but someone has to do it.) is Mas de Gourgonnier, from Provence, $18 a bottle. Just remember: while it's environmentally OK to sit back at the end of the day with a glass of wine, it's no longer OK to do it by a roaring fire.

12. Support your local farmer: Community Supported Agriculture brings the produce of local farmers to your dinner table. The closest participating farmer is Pinehold Gardens in Oak Creek which will deliver a box of produce to Racine just for you, every Thursday for 20 weeks, for a fixed fee. Pinehold Gardens' goal "is to close the loop in agriculture by providing most of our own inputs, including much of our own electricity through a large photovoltaic system." For information about Pinehold Gardens, email or call 414-762-1301. For more information about CSA farmers throughout Southeastern Wisconsin, as well as a listing of all farmers' markets in the region, go to www.farmfreshatlas.org.

11. Churches go green, too. Betty Brenneman pointed out that the Eco-Fair grew out of efforts by Dr. David Rhoads of Racine, a professor at the Lutheran Seminary in Chicago, who has led the "green congregations" movement. Now some 16 local congregations from various denominations -- Lutheran, Catholic, Dominicans, Unitarian Universalist among them -- are sharing ideas about "growing lifestyles that are ecologically friendly." For more information, check their website.

10. It's never too late: Four years ago, Mike Prudhom wrote an essay that won one of 50 bicycles given by Biketown to Racine residents. Now he's president of the Kenosha Racine Bicycle Club (125 members) and, at least once a week in the summer, bicycles to work -- 19.5 miles each way. It's an hour and 45-minute trip. Which might not seem so much except that Prudhom weighs "north of 350 pounds." Definitely not the physique of your typical bike rider. He says he loses about 40 pounds each summer, but mostly rides for the enjoyment (and doesn't mind saving $7 a day in gas.) The bike he rides is a hybrid: not a road bike, not a mountain bike -- but somewhere in-between. So far, he's put 5,000 miles on it. "My doctor says all my numbers are good, except my weight," he says cheerfully.

9. Recycling is the law: Since 1989, it's been illegal in Wisconsin to incinerate or put into landfills all of the following: plastic containers, glass containers, office paper, corrugated cardboard, tires, lead acid vehicle batteries, aluminum containers, steel containers, newsprint, magazines, old appliances, used motor oil. The reason: to cut down on the amount of trash sent to landfills each year: 6.7 million tons in 1990. For highlights of recycling in Wisconsin, go to: http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/aw/wm/recycle/

8. It's more than just coyotes: The National Wildlife Federation has a new crusade. Rebecca Eisel, a local volunteer, explained, "if we don't stop global warming, all the work we've done for animals will be ruined." NWF has a new program -- Good Neighbor -- which lays out the things each of us can do, including recycling, cleaning furnace and air conditioner filters, making sure you car's tire pressures are correct, shopping for Energy Star appliances. For more information, go to : www.nwf.org/goodneighbor.

7. Drink tap water: Kari Olesen of the Sierra Club said the average American drinks 14.3 half-liter bottles of bottled water each month. Multiply that by 300 million of us and you've got far too many plastic bottles to dispose of. Bottled water "is the fastest-growing drink of choice in the U.S., and Americans spend billions of dollars on it each year." And yet, blind taste tests show that few people can distinguish between bottled water and tap water..

6. Watch your legislators: The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters rates all legislators every year, comparing their votes on a number of environmental issues. Adrienne Roach checked the rankings for us for the Wisconsin 2005-2006 legislative session, : State Rep. Robin Vos voted "green" 12% of the time; State Sen. John Lehman got a 100% rating. (Lehman showed up at the Eco-Fair while I was there. The only other pol I saw there was Mike Hebert, who is running for the Democratic nomination to oppose U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.) For more information, go to www.conservationvotersinstitute.org.

5. Buy used stuff: Carla Wilks pointed out that Habitat for Humanity's ReStore "accepts and sells a variety of household-related goods -- lighting fixtures, doors, appliances -- all of which otherwise would probably end up in the landfill. Plus, you can save money.

4. Why not drink coffee that benefits someone? Why not, indeed! Andrea Godson of Holy Communion Lutheran Church, part of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, was offering taste tests of Mt. Meru coffee, a fair-trade blend. "It's a way to help the farmers get more money. We're not only selling it, but many of us buy it." The Mt. Meru coffee project is a partnership between Lutheran churches in Northern Tanzania and Southeastern Wisconsin. For more information, contact Jerry Schmidt, 262-335-3815 or email

3. Go Native: Nan Calvert of the Root River Chapter of Wild Ones, a native plant advocacy group, promoted the organization's native plant sale, scheduled for June 7, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Kenosha County Center. More than 6,000 native plants for sun and shade, wet and dry soil, with proceeds supporting local nature centers. More information at www.for-wild.org.

2. Burn grease, not gas: Swee Sim showed off his 1984 Mercedes that runs on biodiesel fuel that he makes from grease from a friend's Chinese restaurant. The grease (jar at left) goes into a 55 gal. drum heated to 130 degrees, mixed with methanol and sodium hydroxide. After two hours of heat, and 16 hours of settling, he skims off the glycerin and has diesel fuel (right jar) that takes his car 25 miles per gallon. (Actually, the car will run directly on the grease itself, as long as it's sufficiently heated; in his car trunk are two fuel tanks, one for each of the fuel sources.) Swee has a store in Milwaukee, Future Green, specializing in organic clothing, fair trade housewares and other green goods.

1. Pride Goeth Before a Fall: Despite the windy day, I drove my Vespa motorscooter (60 miles per gallon!) to the Eco-Fair, and parked it next to dozens of SUVs in the parking lot, a warm Eco-Superior feeling washing over me. But then I saw Mark Hertzberg, the Journal Times' chief photographer, arriving on his bicycle...

April 25, 2008

MRQ of the Week

Dear Readers,

Local Blogger Fred Dooley's popular MRQ of the Week poll is up, and I'm one of the four finalists (or at least something I wrote is). Fred said there's no cheating in the contest, so if you get a chance, head over to Real Debate Wisconsin and vote for the quote about the media being easily bought off with caffeine and sugar (which is entirely true).

Thanks! -Dustin

New business pulls out of Southside Industrial Park

The first possible tenant of city's Southside Industrial Park has pulled out.

The city announced in February that Winona Pattern & Mold had asked for 1.8 acres of land at the southwest corner of DeKoven and Hamilton avenues. The company had planned to build a 25x80-foot building on the site.

Brian O'Connell, the city's development director, said Thursday during a Joint Review Board meeting that the company had pulled out of a purchase agreement with the city sometime in the past two weeks.

An employee with the company said Friday that Winona had bought a building in Sturtevant and was planning on moving its Raymond business there. The company employs 14 people in a leased building in the Blackhawk Industrial Park just west of I-94.

Winona Pattern and Mold makes tools for foundries and other industrial customers. It had plans to move to a new building and expand to 30-35 employees.

The company is based in Winona, Min. It opened locally in 2003.

The Southside Industrial Park is the former home of the Jacobsen/Textron property. The city tore down the old building and created a tax incremental district on the site in 2003. It has invested $10.8 million preparing the site for industrial development, though much of the cost was covered by state and federal grants.

The city recently purchased a building adjacent to the industrial park and is planning to expand the district across Phillips Avenue to include the purchased site, plus an existing site of Burt Jensen & Son.

The purchase brings the total buildable area in the industrial park to 11 acres. It's being marketed as an upscale business park with restrictions on steel buildings and requirements for landscaping and decorative masonry on the buildings.

Ribbon-adorned trees a somber warning in North Bay

Drive up North Main Street to North Bay and notice the lime green ribbons tied two days ago onto the big trees along the street. Then hang a right onto Vincennes Circle and you'll see dozens more ribbons; they're tied onto almost all the mature trees along North and South Vincennes, Nicolet Place, North Bay Drive and Hennepin Place.

The ribbons don't represent a political statement, or a feel-good comment about Earth Day. Rather, the village tree committee is making the point that the tall and mature trees -- those along the streets are mostly ash -- are old and dying. And even if they are healthy, they are living targets of the Emerald Ash Borer which is inevitably, inexorably making its way toward the village.

One day soon -- within the next ten years for sure, according to Lynne Fiser, a village trustee who serves on the tree board -- the nasty Asian bug will make an appearance here, and all those lovely 80-year-old ash trees will have to be immediately removed, and the image of this village's tree-lined streets will be changed forever...

Well, maybe not forever. The village is working with residents to prepare them for the emerald ash borer now, and to get the tree replacements under way. "The green tape was the idea of the tree board," Fiser says, recalling that it was first used by Stuart Road homeowners, trying to save their trees from a different predator -- a widened highway -- earlier this winter. "It's very evident that we're losing trees. There are broken branches, pieces falling off. It's sad," says Fiser. "We're going to lose the face of our village."

But just as most elm trees fell victim a decade ago, and two or three ash die in the 750-acre village each year now -- even before the ash borer arrives -- there is an alternative. The village -- it was just a farm in 1927 and originally part of Caledonia -- is working with residents to replace trees with healthier species: seven varieties of maple, oak, horse chestnut, American beech, crab apple, two types of linden, regal elm, honey locust.

"Any one tree going in is a little miracle," Fiser says ... and since last fall, about 50 new trees have been planted along North Bay's streets. The village is sharing the cost of the first tree each of the village's 97 homeowners plant streetside, meanwhile monitoring throughout the village to determine where trees should go and what types to put in.

The emerald ash borer arrived in the U.S. in the 1990s, and was first reported killing trees in the Detroit and Windsor areas in 2002. Since then, infestations have been found throughout lower Michigan (where it has destroyed more than 6 million trees), Ohio, northern Indiana, the Chicago area, Maryland, and recently in Pennsylvania. Just two months ago, Kane County, IL, cut down 100 infested trees.

Wikipedia, and other sites tracking the ash borers' march, says "the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture is attempting to exterminate all of these beetles on the continent, and has taken the unusual measure of destroying every ash tree within a half-mile radius of known infested trees. Southeast Michigan is a quarantine zone from which ash trees -- and even firewood -- cannot be removed.

"Michigan officials announced in 2005 that ash borer infestation had crossed the Straits of Mackinac and was in the Upper Peninsula. Wisconsin environmental officials considered it a grave threat and began preparations for surveys in northern counties. Currently twelve counties in Indiana are under quarantine," says Wiki.

Jet ski rentals proposed for North Beach

You may be able to rent jet skis and power surf boards (right) on North Beach this summer.

Brett Kaydo brought the proposal before the city's Board of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services meeting on April 23.

"We have to work out some of the details," Kaydo said after the meeting. "We're moving forward as far as the concept goes."

Placement of the rental equipment is one of the main details to be worked out, said Kaydo, who has yet to name the rental service.

As for exactly what will be available, Kaydo said nothing was final. He and other people involved with the proposal have access to jet skis and power surfboards.

"It will be a trial-and-error thing," he said. "We'll see what works."

April 24, 2008

Failed projects suck up local tax dollars

Caledonia Village President Ron Coutts recently talked about being leery of investing village money into projects with the hope of attracting businesses, or one big business, to the village. The city of Racine's TID situation is the reason why Coutts is right to be cautious.

Before we get to why, let's define TID. It stands for tax incremental district, which doesn't explain much. TIDs are important to local governments because (when done well) they can help spur development (ie. new construction, new businesses, new jobs, new homes, etc.) TIDs are used to pay for all of the stuff you need to build a development.

Roads, water lines, electrical lanes, stormwater drainage and all that other stuff we don't like to think about too much. Somebody has to pay for all of that work, it can run into the millions of dollars to get land ready for the fun stuff (like an office building or condo tower). The TID allows a city to say, "We'll pay for all of the infrastructure stuff, and then we'll pay ourselves back with property taxes on the new development."

It's a really good deal for the local government, because they get to keep all of the taxes on the new development. They don't have to share with the school district, the state, Gateway Technical College, or even their own budget. All of the taxes go into paying for the roads and pipes needed to make the development possible.

If all works well, a TID is created, development occurs, the TID is paid off and then everyone (schools, the state, the county, Gateway, etc.) get paid. But that's a big "if."

All of this is a big lead into news that came out of the city's Joint Review Board meeting today. Yes, that's a pretty bland name, and yes, not much happens with this board. It's largely an oversight committee comprised of the people who run the finances for local governments.

In the 1980s, Racine set up six TIDs (maybe more, but we're only talking about six for this article). Three of these TIDs have been successful. One was used to redevelop the city's shoreline from Downtown north over the Root River. This has led to a $48.2 million increase in property value since 1983 and annual payout (a tax increment) of $1.064 million. Not bad.

Another TID created in 1989 led to the creation of Gaslight Pointe, complete with the Chancery and all of those nice condos. That's led to $43.6 million in additional property value and annual tax payment of $962,00o. Again, not bad.

And the last of the good news: the TID created in 1985 that led to the Olsen Industrial Park between Durand Avenue and Chicory Road on the city's south side. That's led to $19.3 million in new property value and $425,000 in annual tax payments.

Brian O'Connell, director of development for the city, referrred to these TIDs as the donors. They made enough money to give away annual payments to a group called the "laggards." This is the bad news portion of the story.

Three TIDs created in the 1980s have not fared well. All are losing money, and worse, all of them are preventing the good TIDs from paying taxes to our schools and government services. Here's why: the bad TIDs still owe money. The city borrowed millions to setup these areas for development, but they haven't paid off. Now, the city either has to pay for the debt out of its general fund (it would be over a million dollars per year), or it has to take money from the successful TIDs (the donors) and pay down the debt.

Let's look at the failed projects:

1. The Shoop Parking Ramp. The city invested $2.06 million to build the ramp in 1983, but it's property value has only increased by $2.98 million in 25 years. The city needs to borrow about $120,000 from its good TIDs to pay off this debt.

2. The Lake Avenue Parking Ramp. The city spent $3.9 million in 1993 to build the ramp and repair streets and sewer and water mains. Its led to $19.7 million in increased property value, but it's short of expectations and the TID still needs money. The city will be paying this project off through 2011. It's worth noting here that the state's revenue limits hurt these projects. When the Legislature limited how much local governments could raise taxes, it limited how much money the TIDs could raise. That's hurt their botttomline.

3. Case. The city invested $10.1 million in 1990 along State Street in preparation for Case's expansion. When this was approved, the company had bought International Harvester and was going strong. But the bottom fell out, the need for a new office building disappeared, and Racine is still paying for the development (which, incidentally, is exactly what Coutts is worried about with rumors of CNH looking at building in Caledonia).

So what does all of this means? Not much, really. O'Connell noted at the beginning of the Joint Review Board meeting that the committee's actions were largely housekeeping. These TIDs were set in motion decades ago, and the report is simply the result of past decision.

But it's an important cautionary tale for governments interested in TIDs. The districts often span such large periods of time that no planner or elected official could anticipate the changes that will influence future development.

The big loser in all of this is Racine Unified and the other local governments that survive year-to-year on property taxes. New development should mean additional revenue for schools, the technical college and local programs. But TIDs claim all of the money for additional development for decades.

The city's shoreline TID will start paying local governments in 2010. The other two donors will begin paying in 2012, and the three laggards will return to the tax rolls in 2014. It'd be interesting to calculate the city's rate of return on their TID investments in the 1980s and '90s. It's questionable as to whether they have really paid off.

It takes the Senate to break that cell phone contract

If there's anybody out there wondering why Americans have so little faith in their government, or in the legislators we elect to serve us, or in the commonsense of businesses we depend upon for basic goods and services, here's some more ammunition, courtesy U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI.

It involves an issue so trivial -- with a solution so obvious -- that the mind boggles that it has taken two years to wend its way through the Senate.

The news from Feingold is this: The Senate has just passed a bill which allows service members deployed overseas to terminate cell phone contracts without having to pay termination or reactivation fees. Get it? They volunteer to risk their lives for us, and yet it takes an act of Congress to get them out of a cell phone contract without penalty!

It took two years to make this happen. (Well, to be honest, it hasn't really happened yet; it still has to pass the House and be signed into law.) Feingold introduced the measure in 2006 after hearing of Wisconsin soldiers being forced to pay early termination fees -- or continue paying for cell phone service they cannot use while overseas. The Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Act, which included language based on Feingold’s Servicemembers’ Cellular Phone Contract Fairness Act, will also expand rights that service members currently have to terminate similar contracts like residential and automobile leases without penalty.

Two years ago, 1st Lt. Melissa Inlow of the Wisconsin Army National Guard testified at a hearing in Madison: “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get cell phone service providers to suspend the contract,” she said. “Even with suspension the soldiers are still paying up to $25 a month for a service they cannot reap the benefits of. These fees can accumulate to more than the termination fee which on average is $200.”

Said Feingold today: “I am pleased the Senate acted to ease the financial burden on our service members by helping them avoid cell phone contract fees when they are called upon to serve their country. Our brave men and women in uniform, along with their families, can face difficult financial challenges when they are serving far from home. We should make every effort to make things easier for our military families during times when they are already under enough strain.”

Two years... and counting.

City Council to discuss video surveillance May 6

We're a little behind on city meetings here ...

Congratulations to Alderman David Maack for being voted City Council president for the coming year. He was elected on a unanimous vote by the council at its April 15 meeting. The council typically sticks with seniority when it comes to selecting a new council president each year.

Below are the committee assignments for the next year. Alderman Tom Friedel retains control of the Finance and Personnel Committee, a powerful position because of its ties to the budget. Aldermen Greg Helding and Q.A. Shakoor II chair the public works and public safety committees, respectively. Here's the list:
Alderman Thomas Friedel, Chairman
Alderman James Spangenberg, Vice-Chairman
Alderman David Maack
Alderman Robert Anderson
Alderman Michael Shields

Alderman Greg Helding, Chairman
Alderman Ronald Hart, Vice-Chairman
Alderman Sandy Weidner
Alderman Jeff Coe
Alderman Raymod DeHahn

Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II, Chairman
Alderman Aron Wisneski, Vice-Chairman
Alderman James Kaplan
Alderman Robert Mozol
Alderman Terry McCarthy

Alderman Sandy Weidner
Looking Ahead

The council will discuss video surveillance during its Committee of the Whole meeting on May 6. True to his word, Alderman Greg Helding is bringing the topic up for discussion.

April 23, 2008

New engineering firm opens in Sturtevant

A new start up, Adams Engineering & Manufacturing, will open in May, at 1510 S. Sylvania Avenue, Suite 206, in the GrandView Business Park in Sturtevant.

Randy Adams, with nearly 20 years of engineering experience, offers custom precision prototyping in hydraulics, agricultural, machinery, and construction industries, as well as production machining.

Adams Engineering & Manufacturing also offers manufacturers the value-added service of in-house engineering consultation on tooling, fixturing, repeatability, or process development.

With the downturn in the economy, Randy Adams could see no better time to start a new business saying, “Change is good. Companies are looking to cut costs. I can offer the skill sets that are in short supply out there, without the overhead of larger companies.” Adams completed a state apprenticeship program becoming a journeyman machinist by going to school days, plus taking night courses, and working full-time. “I wanted to be the best I could be in my field,” he said.

As a new start up, Adams Engineering faced the hurdles of developing a business plan, getting financing and finding a location. The Small Business Development Center assisted with the business plan, and the Racine County Economic Development Corporation helped find a location. “It took a real leap of faith,” he said, and with his wife’s support he personally funded the equipment, having been denied financing from every bank.

Looking for his first customers in mid-May, Randy says, “Whoever’s late, or having problems with quality – I’ll fix your biggest problem.” Randy Adams can be reached at (262) 497-5288.

For additional information on start-up assistance through the Small Business Development Center, call Deneine Powell at (262) 898-7414, or for information on site locations within Racine County, call Jenny Trick at Racine County Economic Development Corporation at (262) 898-7424.

Coutts talks about CNH building in Caledonia

Here's a minor update on reports that CNH is looking to build a 300,000-square-foot office building:

Caledonia Village President Ron Coutts said this week that the village wouldn't take any financial risks to lure CNH out of the City of Racine.

Coutts acknowledged reports that CNH was considering a move to the village, but said the interest appears to have cooled off. He added that the village wasn't going to implement a TIF district in hopes of attracting development, only to have it go belly up in the current economy.

CNH is reportedly considering building a major new office building, but has yet to pick a location. The company was close to move out to Highway K, but those talks fell through, according to the the Milwaukee Business Journal.

Coutts added that he expects Racine to fight to keep CNH in the city. "The mayor will do everything he can to keep CNH," he said.

Bravo! Saturday morning at the opera (in Sturtevant)

Last month, Greg Berg of WGTD gave my wife and me two tickets to see The Metropolitan Opera live in HD at The Renaissance movie theater. The broadcast performance was the actual performance that was going in New York, featuring some of the greatest singers in the world.

We're not big opera fans, but we were interested enough to check it out. The show was Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde," an opera Greg described as not being the best choice for someone new to the art form. The main reason: It's three acts and six hours long. Still, we decided to go (the tickets were free, right?)

The show we saw was March 22. I bring it up now, because the final Live HD broadcast of the Met season is this Saturday with Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment." It's described as a comedy running 2 hours, 45 minutes. It's much more suitable for the opera novice, according to Greg.

Based on our experience with "Tristan and Isolde," we'd recommend going to see this weekend's show. Here's some pictures and observations from our show:

The performance was amazing. We stayed for two of the three acts and were both amazed by the power and beauty of the singers' performances. How they manage to sustain that level of effort for so long is beyond imagination. (Above and below are photos from inside the theater.)

We learned some interesting things about the show along the way. One, is that the opera was cursed. The male lead, Ben Heppner, had gotten sick and was unable to perform the first three shows of the run. The female lead, Deborah Voight (right), of Chicago, had to perform opposite three different leading men in the first three shows. That's quite impressive considering that "Tristan and Isolde" is considered among the most difficult pieces in the world. When it was first written, conductors had dismissed it as "unperformable," because it was so challenging.

Voight herself fell ill during one performance and had to be replaced in the middle of the show. And, one of the men playing Tristan took a tumble on stage and the show had to be stopped. The version we saw went off flawlessly (so far as we could tell).

My favorite part of the HD show in the movie theater came before the show and during the intermissions. A host interviewed the conductor, James Levine, and Voight, as they came off stage. It was remarkable to see them in a casual setting, and they came off as very kind and interesting people (as opposed to that opera diva attitude I expected). Voight seemed straight out of the Midwest and was very charming.

All in all, it was a great show. We could have stayed for the third act, but hadn't planned on spending the entire day at the opera so we had to leave. It really was remarkable, though, the Met does a wonderful job of bringing world-class opera to the movie screen.

One note of caution: Tickets aren't cheap. We got ours from WGTD, but walking up to the box office will cost you $22 a ticket. It's actually a great deal for what you get (tickets are not $22 to see a show at the Met), but it's quite a bit more than a typical movie.

Questions raised about concealed carry for officers

The city's plan to allow retired police officers to carry concealed guns may come at a steep price for the city and the retired officers, according to a report from the Wisconsin Attorney General's office.

In a 2004 memo, Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager laid out several questions the state would need to address before passing a concealed-carry law for former cops. The memo was in response to a federal law passed in 2004 that allows current and retired officers to carry concealed guns anywhere in the country.

Liability is among the main concerns raised in the memo. If a retired officer uses a gun in public, is the state or local government liable for their actions? If a retired officer is arrested for carrying a gun (there is no way to check a person's background), could the officer sue for the mistaken arrest? Here's how the memo puts it:
Questions have arisen regarding civil liability flowing from conduct by officials adhering to the provisions of the Act. Since the Act requires a certification of training and presumably assumes some assessment of capability of the individual to have a concealed weapon, the main question concerning liability is whether state or local government officials or entities could be exposed to potential legal liability for actions they might perform in the course of implementing the Act.

Additionally, there is currently no database or other means by which local police in
Wisconsin could validate the concealed-carry credentials presented by an individual claiming to be an active or retired officer from another state. As a result, Wisconsin police might have occasion to arrest such an individual for carrying a concealed weapon in violation of state local law. If such an arrest turned out to be mistaken, the arresting authority could be exposed liability.

Third, there is the concern for liability for either the active duty or retired officer who
chooses to carry a concealed weapon. The Act does not speak to a broadened police authority. The Act simply provides the ability to carry a concealed weapon when the proper credentials obtained. As such, if an active duty officer chooses to use a weapon outside his or her jurisdiction, or if a retired officer who has no police authority whatsoever uses his or her weapon, such conduct could expose the person using the weapon to civil or criminal charges.
Lautenschlager's concerns may be overstated. Illinois, which, like Wisconsin, has a ban on concealed carry, has been quietly licensing retired officers to carry handguns for years.

Racine's ordinance tries to address liability by saying the retired officer is responsible for their actions, but it's hard to know if that would hold up in court. If the city is licensing ex-officers to carry guns, wouldn't they be at least partly responsible for the ex-officers' actions?

But it's unusual for a local government to pass gun legislation. Just like Racine cannot pass a law banning handguns in the city, it seems unusual that a city can legally expand concealed carry rights within its borders. In general, issues like this are handled at the state level. Legislation has been introduced to the Wisconsin Legislature, but has yet to pass.

City Attorney Rob Weber addressed the concern at a recent city meeting. He said the city's police chief has the right to allow ex-officers to carry concealed weapons, according to federal law.

A city committee unanimously passed the proposal. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance May 6.

The Journal Times supported the proposal.

We asked former alderman and gun control activist Pete Karas for comment on this story. Here's the argument against the ordinance:
Considering the probable and extreme liability risks to the City of Racine, it is irresponsible for the City to allow retired officers to carry concealed weapons until the State of Wisconsin enacts a law clarifying how the process will be handled in Wisconsin.

The City Council approving this puts not only the City, but also the retired officers at risk. Although they may be given local authority to carry a concealed weapon, any authority to use it is vague at best.

There are just too many unanswered questions at this point in time. Is there a liability risk? What if the permit holder travels to Mount Pleasant where this has not been enacted? Will there be recertification? What type of firearm standards and continuing qualification system will be created and used? Does the $100 fee cover the administrative and certification costs? Do any administrative restrictions violate the State's firearm preemption clause?

The list of questions could go on and on. This uncertainty is the reason that most states and municipalities, even those generally considered "pro-gun," have not yet acted on this federal law in the several years since it was enacted.

It is imprudent for Racine to be a pioneer in this instance. The City Council should do the prudent thing and table this resolution until such time when the State acts on this item, presumably in the next legislative session.

April 22, 2008

Thou shalt not create new acronyms...

Church on Sunday mornings, SIN on Sunday evenings? Actually, it's not what you think.

Rather, it's a sign aimed at gathering service industry workers together for camaraderie. SIN=Service INdustry, get it? Or, Service Industry Night. (Or, Self-Inflicted Nonsense, my favorite of the 30 SINs listed on the Acronym Finder.)

Just the folks at George's Tavern on North Main having a little fun. David Popoff, George's genial host, insists, "I applaud the service workers of America." At least, we think the picture came from David. The sign is over his front door.

McReynolds sets 'Town Hall Meeting' in Caledonia May 5

County Executive Bill McReynolds will hold a Town Hall Meeting for citizens to meet with county officials, on Monday, May 5, from 6 to 7 p.m., at Caledonia’s Eastside Community Center, 6156 Douglas Ave.

Since taking office in 2003, McReynolds has held 13 such meetings. "Some of the best conversations I’ve had with our citizens have occurred at these meetings, because we focus on the issues that are truly close to home," McReynolds said.

Among the attendees will be Racine County District Attorney Michael Nieskes, Register of Deeds Jim Ladwig, Treasurer Betty Majeski, Clerk of Circuit Court Roseanne Lee, County Board Supervisor John Wisch, and the appointed heads of county departments.

Stewi: A handsome and affectionate pup

Is that a good "sit" or what?

Stewi does well with training, and he has an intelligent, "what do you want me to do" attitude. He handles corrections with aplomb. He is very handsome, a friendly and affectionate pup.

Countryside Humane Society says he's a three- to four-month-old Rottweiler/Pit Bull/Chow Chow mix according to the information received, but we can't see the Pit or Chow Chow. We can guess he will be a medium to large-sized dog. (Mom was medium size.)

Stewi has a coat that feels somewhat like a German Shepherd. He will need an owner who will be responsible for his training as he will be a powerful dog. A household with children over age 12 is recommended, due to his strength.

Families interested in adoption should contact Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

Last week's dog, Isis, a mellow Rottweiler, goes to her new home after her spay surgery Thursday. When Isis came to Countryside she was thin and frightened. It took much coaxing for her to learn to trust strangers. She cowered and flinched when people approached and petted her. After several employees saw her potential and worked with her daily, she blossomed into an outgoing, affectionate dog. She has gained weight, been house trained, walks nicely on a leash, gets along with other dogs and, most importantly, greets everyone without fear or reservation. The staff will truly miss our special girl but we know there are far to many Isis's that come through our door. Thursday we will choose another of those special dogs to give extra attention and love to.

Today is Earth Day, but dirty air is back...

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an Air Quality Advisory for Particle Pollution (Orange) for Brown, Calumet, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond Du Lac, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jefferson, Kenosha, Lafayette, Manitowoc, Marquette, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Racine, Rock, Sauk, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, Waupaca, Waushara and Winnebago counties effective 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 22, through 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

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

The Air Quality Index is currently in the orange level, which is considered unhealthy for people in sensitive groups. People in those sensitive groups include those with heart or lung disease, asthma, older adults and children. When an orange advisory for particle pollution is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous activities.

People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, and heart disease should pay attention to cardiac symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns or are experiencing symptoms. Fine particle pollution deposits itself deep into the lungs and cannot easily be exhaled. People who are at risk are particularly vulnerable after several days of high particle pollution exposure.

There are several actions the public can take to reduce their contributions to this regional air quality problem.

  • Reduce driving when possible and don't leave vehicle engines idling.
  • Postpone activities that use small gasoline and diesel engines.
  • Minimize outdoor wood fires.
  • Conserve electricity.
  • For more ideas on how you can reduce your emissions today and every day visit: Do a little, save a lot!

April 21, 2008

McReynolds to hold "office hours" west of the I

After five years as Racine County Executive, Bill McReynolds has discovered west of the I.

McReynolds announced today that he will begin holding "office hours" sessions -- the quotes are his -- in municipalities in the western part of the county.

Quote: "Some of the most dynamic growth in the county is happening west of I-94. It's important for all our people to know that county government is here to serve them and that it's easily accessible to them."

Mac said he will try to hold office hours in each municipality in the western part of the county at least once a year. No appointments will be necessary. "I always try to make myself available to county residents; this will make it a little easier for them," he said.

Mac's first session will be on Wednesday, May 7, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Norway Town Hall, 6419 Heg Park Road, Wind Lake. Accompanying him will be several members of his staff as well as Racine County Register of Deeds Jim Ladwig.

Mac says he'll visit one municipality a month, usually during the first week of the month.

Kramer ends nearly three decades of Racine tennis

By Michael Johnson

For the first time in 28 years, this spring will be different. Ned Kramer, the long time boys’ and girls’ tennis coach of Case High School, Horlick High School, and yes also Park High School, has retired from coaching. Give the guy a few more years of sleeping late and 10 a.m. tee times, and see if he ends up coaching Prairie and St. Catherine's.

To do anything this long, you’ve got to love it; and speaking from experience, it sure ain’t the pay. Ned Kramer started coaching in 1979 as an assistant coach at Park High School under Bob Holroyd on the now abandoned courts behind the school. Two years later he scored his first head coaching position as Horlick girls’ coach in 1981 and never looked back.

Photo of the 2004 Case boy's tennis team. Coach Ned Kramer is in the back left.

The team building soon commenced. The first order of business was to address the schedule. Many of these teams played few teams outside of the South-East Conference. To produce and support top Racine players the likes of Marie Dennison and Patrick Dwyer, he started to “wiggle his way in” to top invitational tournaments around the state. As the competition got better so did his players. Many of the players were earning seeds at the State Tournament based on their performance against ranked players at the invitationals. The resurgence of these teams earned him the Wisconsin Coach of the Year award in 2001 (as far as I know, he’s the only Racine tennis coach to win this), and double digit honors of All Racine County Coach.

The grueling schedule meant that both Ned and the kids put in a lot of court time. With travel time, it’s not uncommon to devote an entire Saturday to an invitational. The bus leaves at 6 a.m., and returns at 8p.m. (Durham Bus company loved tennis teams). Ned’s philosophy is, “If you put in the time, you’re going to win.” To help his team understand his level of commitment he remarked, “I’ll spend more time with you this season than my own little girls.”

When pressed to remember any highlights, Ned doesn’t have to look back far. During the last four years of coaching, the Case Eagles boys’ team qualified for two of the four Team State Tournaments, to which only eight teams qualify in the entire state of Wisconsin. All three doubles teams qualified for the State Tournament in 2007, a Racine first, and the 4-3 upset over the undefeated Franklin team in 2006. Oh, yeah also that year, Patrick Dwyer, arguably the best player to come out of Racine, took second at State. Not a bad way to end almost 30 years on the court.

Is Ned Kramer through with tennis? Hardly. He’ll continue to coach at Warhawk Tennis Camp at Whitewater this summer, his 17th year doing so. Also, he decided to take a shot at USTA umpiring, so watch your foot faults.

Michael Johnson is a local writer, teacher and tennis coach.

Lincoln Lutheran plans small 'active adult' development

Lincoln Lutheran is proposing to build a small condominium development south of The Atrium on North Main Street designed expressly for "active adults," a new departure for the organization which already provides about 1,000 nursing home, independent living, assisted living and memory care facilities,

A marketing letter sent out to the 53402 zip code in Racine last weekend says Woodland Pointe will be located on North Main Street, two blocks south of 3 Mile Road, just south of Carlton Park. Plans are for a "quaint active adult community" with ranch-style, side-by-side condominiums -- just 14 in all. The aim is to "give the feeling of a single-family home nestled in a private neighborhood, yet with all the benefits of condo living."

Darlene Piszczek, Lincoln Lutheran's director of housing development, said, "The aging-friendly design will showcase Lincoln Lutheran's knowledge in this area. In addition, owners can benefit from services available through their association with Lincoln Lutheran."

The condos will feature two-bedrooms, optional sunrooms, full basements and two-car garages, and will range from 1,700 to 1,850 sq. ft. Pricing will be in the range of $300,000. In all, there will be seven buildings on a three-acre parcel at 3720 N. Main St. (Bay Pointe at the Atrium is at 3950 N. Main.) Lincoln Lutheran took its proposal to the City Plan Commission in January and received preliminary approval for the necessary zoning change. The plan will return to the Commission again for review of architectural elevations.

Piszczek said the development is a departure in many ways. First, "so many of these developments are big, massive. This will be very much a neighborhood community." And it's being constructed for active adults, 55 and older; "very independent people, who may have an association with Lincoln Lutheran down the road."

The homes will be "aging-friendly," she said, defining that to mean not-very-noticeable accommodations. "For example, there won't be six grab bars in the bathrooms, although the residents will know that it's been designed to handle that in the future if it's needed." Piszczek said she had expected a few responses this morning, "but my phone has been ringing off the hook already."

Teachers seem to like Unified's new reading system

I spent some time this morning researching Harcourt's StoryTown, the new $3 million elementary school reading system the Racine Unified School Board is expected to approve this week. Other teachers around the country seem to like the new system. I suspect most teachers are excited to get new materials to teach with. Here's a summary of what I found:

Teacher forum on Harcourt's StoryTown - "We got the brand spankin-new 2008 version in September. I teach 2nd and there is a lot to it!!! I was very overwhelmed at first and spend hours planning my reading for the week. It does get better with time and as the kids become more accustomed to it."

Teacher Forum:
- "As a new teacher it was nice because I could always find something to support the reading."

Teacher Forum: Our district adopted Storytown this year and I am finally feeling pretty good about it. It was hard at first because they had about 3 hours of activities planned for a day and we only had about 2 hours and 15 minutes to teach reading. ... I do like the robust vocabulary - I teach a higher reading group and my kids eat it up!

Free Downloads - This teacher in Florida is offering materials they made to work with Harcourt's StoryTown for other teachers.

April 20, 2008

The Democrats' Dilemma: Picking an electable candidate

Paulette Garin, Mike Hebert, Marge Krupp, Jeff Thomas (l-r)

First Congressional District Democrats met in Franklin Sunday for their annual convention, and the elephant in the room -- who wasn't actually there, of course -- was U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI.

Speaker after speaker took up the cause, following the lead of 1st CD chairman Ray Rivera of Kenosha, who announced at the start, "I hope to be 100% behind the person taking on Paul Ryan. I hope we all can get behind an electable candidate."

A district chair who hopes to be behind the party's candidate? If that sounds somewhat strained... well, it is indicative of the dilemma the 1st District finds itself in: a surfeit of four candidates, but two of them ... well, to be blunt, two of them want to run without money. None, nada, zip. Against an incumbent with $1,623,394 cash on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission. There have been rumblings, conversations among Democrats wishing to convince those two candidates, who have run and lost before, to withdraw ... but there is nothing in the party's rules allowing any such action. For now, there is just the undercurrent of frustration, which occasionally makes it to the surface. And no official party support either.

In early April, Rivera sent a letter to district Democrats stating: "Without a significant political gaffe, it is difficult to beat an incumbent without the following: A: Fulltime candidate; B: Excellent staff; C: Exceptional fundraising capability; D: All of the above." Sunday he told those at the convention: "The number one challenge of the district is to find a candidate to run for Congress." The task is especially difficult, Rivera said, because the primary is Sept. 9, and "we can't do anything until the primary... and then it's just 60 days until the election. I think that stinks. The Congressional District, in my opinion, is a little hamstrung."

Keynote speaker State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, agreed, pointing out that there are just 79 days until July 8 -- the filing deadline to qualify for the primary, and 198 days until the election on Nov. 4. Still, he said, "Paul Ryan is a beatable member of Congress." Not that anyone thinks it will be easy. Racine County's Jeff Van Koningsveld said Ryan "is a giant ...we have to chop him down little by little. We need to tie him to this president, to this war, to Social Security, healthcare..."

The four announced candidates for the party's nomination were each given five minutes to address the delegates. Two of them discussed their positions; two appeared to be addressing Rivera's four points, above ... and sticking their tongues out at them.

Janesville surgeon Jeff Thomas, for example. Thomas, the party's unsuccessful nominee in 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006 said, "I'm going to stay in the race. I know some of you would like me to go home."

Mike Hebert of Kenosha -- who came in second to Thomas in 2006 -- was similarly unmoved by Rivera's criteria. "I'm a part-time candidate, not full-time." Nor, like Thomas, does he plan to raise any money. Hebert compares himself to former Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire (1957 to 1989), who famously ran for office by shaking hands. Hebert said he shook 10,000 hands last year, and he pointed out that the most Proxmire spent on a campaign was $175 -- "and that was for stamps to send unwanted contributions back."

Hebert heaped scorn on "this delusional administration" and said "it's very important that we get rid of Mr. Ryan, who uses cash as an intimidation tool."

The other two candidates for the nomination more closely fit Rivera's wishlist; one more than the other. Marge Krupp of Pleasant Prairie addressed the issue directly: "I quit my job over a year ago to run full-time. I have the fund-raising skills to beat Ryan. I have a full-time professional staff." Her latest FEC campaign report shows $74,376 raised, with $22,153 coming from herself; expenditures so far total $50,048, with $24,328 cash on hand and debts of $19,392. Krupp has said the race against Ryan will cost $2 million.

Krupp said Ryan's voting record has backed President Bush "94% of the time. He votes against Wisconsin's working men and women. Paul Ryan stands against affordable heath care." She said American citizens are under domestic surveillance as "tools meant to keep us safe are used against us. We're in the Iraq recession and few know it."

Paulette Garin of Kenosha had a similar message, outlining a campaign platform of universal healthcare, education, the environment and fiscal responsibility. "The GOP is trying to privatize unemployment insurance," she said. "One way or another, we must make sure every American has healthcare."

She pointed out that defense spending has increased 62% under Bush -- "and that's not including the Iraq war." Garin's campaign report shows $8,946 raised, with $2,724 from herself; expenditures so far total $6,612, with $2,334 cash on hand and no debt. Garin rejects a focus on campaign funds, however, noting, "if we base this campaign on dollars raised, we keep the Republican incumbent in office."

Needless to say, neither Thomas nor Hebert has filed any campaign finance report...

The next official step in the election begins June 1, when candidates may begin collecting signatures to support their candidacy. The necessary papers to gain inclusion in the primary must be filed by July 8; until then 1st District Democrats have four candidates, and none.
- - -
ADDENDUM, 4/21/08: I just received the results of a questionnaire distributed after the Walworth County forum on Feb. 23, at which all four candidates spoke. The three dozen or so Democrats who filled out the form clearly divided the candidates into two tiers: Paulette Garin and Marge Krupp on top; Jeff Thomas and Mike Hebert on bottom.

When asked, "Do you think any candidate should NOT be in the primary?" their response was clear: Thomas got 34 votes; Hebert received 4. Which candidate are you likely to support? Garin received 21 votes; Krupp got 6.

On issues and impressions, Garin clearly led in every area, with Krupp in second place. Thomas and Hebert both occupied a definite lower rung. The full results are below; click to enlarge:

The 1st Congressional District Democrats have a new website, HERE.