May 15, 2008

Families with Chinese orphans sadly watch quake news

As the news trickles out about China's biggest earthquake in a generation -- 40,000 are reported dead and the government has said the toll could hit 50,000; millions are homeless -- few Westerners are paying more attention than a group of families in Racine.

The Southeast Chapter of Families with Children from China and Asia represents about 40 families here, who have adopted 50 children from the region.

"I can't fully explain to you how painful this is for our families," said Kelly Gallaher of Racine. "We all traveled to China to adopt our children, which was a life-changing experience without a doubt. One of the most difficult aspects of what was a joyous experience was visiting the orphanages that housed far too many children. We are all haunted by the children we left behind."

While little specific information has reached the West about which buildings survived and which collapsed, a story in today's New York Times said residents of Dujiangyan, in the quake zone, are calling for an investigation about why government buildings remained standing while many schools did not. The Times quoted one man who said two stories had been added to the Xinjian school even though it had failed a safety inspection two years ago. The Times has a picture slideshow of the devastation HERE. The Times' latest story is HERE.

Sichuan province, where the earthquake hit, is in central China, about 1,000 miles west of Shanghai.

Gallaher said that Racine's children from China all know each other now, thanks to the local chapter, although they came from different orphanages. "It was not unusual to have four or five orphanages represented in each travel group (when families went to China to pick up their children), so our attachments to the orphanages are broader than one might expect."

Kraig and Debbie Moffatt of Racine have two daughters adopted from China. Makayla, 5 1/2, is from Fulin, which is just south of the quake epicenter, and their older daughter, Linsey, 8, is from a neighboring province. Linsey went back to China with her parents in 2002 when they adopted Makayla. The family also sponsors a child in China's northern province.

"Our heart goes out to them, because when you've been over there, when you adopt a child, you have a lifelong connection," Debbie Moffatt said. "We said a prayer for their biological mothers."

Makayla's orphanage was not damaged "as much as others," Debbie Moffat said. "Many need a lot of help. It breaks my heart to think of the suffering," she said, referring to China's one-child-per-family policy and the thousands of children believed killed.

The Southeast Chapter of Families with Children from China and Asia issued the following statement today:

Chinese rescue workers desperately struggle to remove rubble from flattened buildings, the result of China’s worst earthquake in three decades. Three days after the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Wenchaun, Sichuan, China, there are confirmed 20,000 dead and 22,500 reported missing. The government has estimated there could be 50,000 dead.

There are no words to describe the sadness and helplessness we feel in the face of such devastation. Particularly horrifying, are the reports that the earthquake hit during the school day causing the collapse of at least six schools and the deaths of so many students. Our prayers and deepest sorrow are with their families and the people of Sichuan and Chongqing during this tragic time.

Area families whose adopted children were born in this area have been anxious to hear news of the effects of the earthquake on the orphanages in the area and the welfare of children remaining in these institutions. Through “Half the Sky Foundation” we have heard from staff members in Sichuan about the situation and what their current supply needs are.

Chongqing and Yibin orphanages are fine – no building damage, no shortage of supplies.

The orphanages below report problems. However, please note that not a single child has been injured; all are fine.

--Zigong Children’s Welfare Institution (CWI): Needs bedding, powdered milk, crackers and disposable diapers.

--Neijiang CWI: Has suffered some structural damage; one or two children’s dormitories, office building and laundry room have cracked walls.

--Nanchong 2nd Social Welfare Institution (SWI): Has cracks in walls, substantial damage to the ceiling of a staff building, needs tents.

--Mianyang Zitong CWI: Has severely damaged walls. Children have been moved to a military base. Urgent need for diapers, bedding, powdered milk and purified water.

--Hanzhong CWI (Shaanxi): Quite a few water pipes burst, the water tower had cracks. Children have been evacuated and there is need for more tents, bedding and purified water. We’ve posted a few photos on our website.

--Dujiangyan SWI: Has evacuated all children. They have no tap water or electricity in their temporary shelter. They urgently need food, purified water, diapers and powdered milk.

--We are still unable to reach the following institutions: Deyang CWI (78 children), Abazhou CWI (52 children), Guangyuan SWI, Mianzhu SWI.

The International Federation of Red Cross has made a global appeal for aid and supplies. Half the Sky Foundation and China's Ministry of Civil Affairs (the government agency responsible for disaster relief) have set up a Children’s Earthquake Fund that will provide direct aid to the thousands of children in welfare institutions and in the community who are suffering in the wake of devastating earthquakes in Sichuan Province and Chongqing. Donations will be used to provide emergency and long-term relief to children affected by the disaster.

Individuals who would like to make contributions may do so through the following websites:

Half the Sky Foundation

American Red Cross

The Southeast Chapter of Families with Children from China and Asia is a not-for-profit group of families who have adopted children from China, Korea and other Asian countries. FCC&A works to promote Asian adoption assist families currently waiting to travel for adoption, and organize assistance for children who remain in Asian orphanages. Further information about FCC&A can be found at the group's website.

May 14, 2008

Senate passes Great Lakes Compact

Sen. John Lehman issued the following statement today, after the Wisconsin State Senate approved the Great Lakes Compact:

Lehman, State Senate Vote to Approve Great Lakes Compact

Madison – State Senator John Lehman joined thirty one Senate colleagues in voting to approve the Great Lakes Compact. Today’s Senate action ratifies an agreement among the seven states and two Canadian provinces bordering the Great Lakes to protect this valuable natural resource by limiting the diversion of water outside of the area, regulating water usage in the area and encouraging conservation measures statewide.

“Lake Michigan and all the Great Lakes are crucial to the health and well-being of Racine’s economy and all of Wisconsin. Our action today is an historic step to protect this irreplaceable natural resource for generations to come. It is probably the most important, pro-environment vote we will ever have a chance to cast,” commented Lehman.

The State Assembly is expected to take up and approve the compact yet this week. The agreement must also gain the approval of all seven states and be ratified by the U.S. Congress before it goes into effect. To date Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and New York have ratified the compact.

Lehman, who helped develop the legislation as part of a bipartisan working group, said major provisions of the bill are:
--Formal ratification to the compact agreement itself regulating the use of Great Lakes water within the geographic basin and diversion of water outside of the area;
--New statutes for the use of water in the area of the Great Lakes basin prior to the compact going into effect;
--Implementation of the provision of the compact when it is ratified by all the Great Lakes states and U.S. Congress and;
--Establishment of a process for communities statewide to develop local water supply plans.
“Our bill establishes clear rules for current and potential users of the resource and strong regulations on the diversion of water to help protect the quality and quantity of Great Lakes water we enjoy.”

Support for the compact and implementing legislation from environmental and business interests and across party lines in the legislature is recognition of the importance of water to the economic future of the state and significance for public health according to Lehman. Proactively protecting Wisconsin’s water resources preserves access to a safe, reliable supply of water and prevents the struggles of many areas of the country like the South and Southwest where water shortages are increasing costs for businesses and residents and poor water quality is a health hazard.

Lehman concluded, “I’m proud to have been part of the process and cast my vote today in favor of protecting Wisconsin’s economic and environmental health.”

City moves to eliminate treasurer, give job to city clerk

City Clerk Janice Johnson-Martin may be getting a new title - and a bump in pay.

At a Finance Commitee meeting this week, Finance Director David Brown proposed merging the city's clerk and treasurer positions into a single position. Under the proposal, Johnson-Martin would become City Clerk/Treasury Manager and a new position, assistant city clerk/treasury manager would be created.

Johnson-Martin's pay level would be bumped from NR14 to NR15 (NR stands for non-represented) in recognition of the additional work she'll be taking on. That amounts to about a $2 per hour raise, Brown said. The new assistant position would replace the treasurer and be knocked down from NR12 to NR11. Because the treasurer position is being eliminated, the change should save the city money, Brown said.

The Finance Committee unanimously approved the change, which goes to the full council for final approval.

Johnson-Martin is the second-highest ranked minority in city government behind Donnie Snow, who heads the parks, recreation and cultural services department.

Horlick principal retiring

Horlick Principal Nola Starling-Ratliff is retiring at the end of the year. She's leaving the district after heading Horlick since 1993. Here's Starling-Ratliff's bio on the website for Viterbo University, where she serves on the board:
Since 1993, Starling-Ratliff has been the principal of Horlick High School in Racine. Prior to that, she spent two years as principal of Hamilton High School in Sussex. Starling-Ratliff graduated from Viterbo College in 1974 with a degree in music education and voice minor. She went on to receive a Master of Science degree in Administrative Leadership from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1982.

Starling-Ratliff has been associated with many civic organizations including the Racine Black Caucus and the Racine Alliance of Black School Educators. She was also a member of the Racine Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Committee. In 1997, Starling-Ratliff received the Viterbo Outstanding Alumni Award for exemplary service to her community.

Health Notes: City may require muzzles for biting dogs

Dogs that bite would have to be walked with a muzzle during their probationary period under an ordinance being considered by the Board of Health.

The board voted at its meeting Tuesday to ask the city attorney to draft the ordinance. While the board seemed supportive of the change, they were skeptical that it could be enforced. There is not enough city staff to follow up on complaints and ensure owners are compling with the muzzle requirement, said Marcia Fernholz, the city’s director of environmental health.

Fernholz also told the committee she is working with the police department to get quicker notification of incidents involving dog bites. Sometimes the health department doesn’t learn about incidents until well after they occurred, Fernholz said. That limits measures that can be taken to quarantine the animal and have them tested for rabies.

City/County Health Clinic

Alderman Bob Mozol reported he’s received three or four flyers in recent months talking about the city/county health clinic, which was opened in an attempt to save local governments money. Mozol was concerned not enough was being done to publicize the clinic. The flyers were sent out in response to those concerns. “Everyone knows about that now,” said Mozol, who sits on the Board of Health.

Outbreak in Unified

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is continuing to investigate the outbreak that made about 90 students and staff sick in October. Tortillas served at three middle schools are believed to be responsible for the illnesses, though no final ruling has been issued. The health department is awaiting the FDA’s final report on the incident.

New Employees

Two new health department employees were introduced to the Board of Health. Ana Stier was hired as the healthy birth outcomes coordinator and Tara Needham was hired as the new teen parenting nurse.

Stier is filling a new position created to address the city’s high infant mortality rate. A $500,000 grant from the state is paying for the position. Stier will oversee the Racine Healthy Births Healthy Families program.

Needham is replacing Diane Lange, who left the city to take a job with Racine Unified. She started on April 21.


The city’s health department worked for 2-1/2 weeks on the measles outbreak in the city in April. Twelve people were quarantined for 21 days after the case was discovered. A second case was discovered after it had been through its infectious period, so no quarantine was required.

Public Health Administrator Janelle Grammer noted that there is an aggressive response to measles because it is highly contagious. One outbreak in 1989 infected 2,200 people in Chicago and led to eight deaths.

“Our staff was like a well-oiled machine,” Grammer said. “They did everything the right way.”

Kenosha Country Club

The city’s Health Department recently got a nice surprise. The Kenosha Country Club gave the department $10,000 to help Racine women get tested and treated for breast and cervical cancer. The city had anticipated receiving $5,000 from the country club, but found out the number doubled when they went to accept the check.

The money will be used to support the city's Well Woman program. The department has screened 75 women for breast or cervical cancer through the state-sponsored service. It’s on pace to reach a goal of serving 252 women with little or no health insurance this year. For more information about the Well Woman program, call the health department at: (262) 636-9201.

Clean Water

The city will have a graduate student from England here for the next year studying water quality at beaches and in the Root River. The student has a master degrees in civil engineering and environmental engineering. He will work with the city unpaid.

The department’s current grad student, Jenny Lavender, is leaving the department after completing her master’s degree from the UW-Parkside.

Racine continues to receive international acclaim for its work on cleaning up its beaches. Julie Kinzelman of the health department, met with representatives from the United Kingdom Environmental Agency and the Scottish Environmental Agency about her work in Racine.

Racine was also chosen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the site of a national press release about a newly created beach sanitary survey. The press release will bring national attention to Racine’s clean beaches.


Here’s a note to clarify confusion: Racine residents can recycle plastics labeled with numbers 1-7.

The news came up during a Board of Health meeting where members of the board were confused about what can be recycled in the city. One member thought it was 1-5, others had given the issue much thought.

John Berge, a member of the board and president of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, said the issue gets confusing when you start looking across communities. While the city may accept 1-7, others may accept fewer numbers. The Sierra Club is hoping to standardize recycling across local communities.

Medication collection

811 pounds of medication were collected and safely disposed last month, instead of dumped in the garbage or flushed in the lake, according to Fernholz,

The city’s Health Department sponsored a medicine collection at the same time as the household hazardous waste collection in April. Sites were setup throughout southeast Wisconsin. An estimated four tons of medicine were collected throughout the area, Fernholz said.

She added that she is working with the police department on creating a secure drop-off location for unused prescription drugs. The site would have to be inside the police department because narcotics would be involved.

“We’re looking at a more permanent solution,” Fernholz said.

Board of Health meeting

The Board of Health met May 13. Dr. Mohammed Rafiullah, John Berge, Maria Morale, Alderman Bob Mozol and Alderman Ray DeHahn attended the meeting. Dr. William Little showed up about halfway through the meeting. Dr. Sarah Fouse and Mary Sollman were excused.

Property Transfers, May 5-9

Here's a spreadsheet of the property transfers from May 5-9.

Property Transfers May 5-9

Dem primary candidate wades into foreign policy

Marge Krupp, one of four Dems running to challenge Paul Ryan in the fall, issued a statement calling for more U.S. aid to Myanmar following the tragic cyclone in the southeast Asian country. Krupp has reportedly raised $85,000 in her bid to challenge Ryan in the fall. She's running the First Congressional District primary against perennial nominee Jeff Thomas, plus Paulette Garin and Mike Hebert.

Here's Krupp's statement on Myanmar:
Krupp Calls For More U.S. Help in Myanmar
The world wants to see the United States lead again, it is now time for the United States to act and to provide that leadership

PLEASANT PRAIRIE, Wisconsin -- With a reported death toll of more than 34,000 and as many as 100,000 suspected to have perished as a result of Saturday's deadly cyclone, Marge Krupp is calling on more pressure from the U.S. government to allow relief workers to enter the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar. Myanmar's military regime has barred large-scale relief efforts, and at press, the United Nations is reporting that less than a quarter of the nation's affected are having their issues met. Without proper attention from experts trained in responding to natural disasters of this kind, the death toll is expected to climb rapidly.

Krupp, Democratic Candidate for Wisconsin's First Congressional District criticized the sluggish relief response by the U.S., "The lessons learned from the tragically slow response to Hurricane Katrina in our own nation should be applied to what could amount to a regional refugee crisis in Southeast Asia." Krupp also called on more pressure to be applied by Washington on Myanmar's military dictatorship, "The time to act is now."

Joint communication and aid in the form of relief workers and supplies between the U.S. and Myanmar could avert the possibility of more deaths and a flood of refugees to surrounding nations.

Marge Krupp is a highly qualified Democratic candidate for Congress who will fight to end the war in Iraq, strongly support working families and work hard to ensure a more peaceful and prosperous world. For more information, please visit her web site at

City having a hard time filling vacant positions

The city with the highest unemployment rate in Wisconsin is having a hard time finding people to hire.

Terry Parker, Racine's human resource manager, asked the city's Finance Committee for an additional $14,900 to advertise for open positions in the city.

The extra money is needed to advertise for openings caused by an unprecedented number of retirements, including jobs that require a high degree of education.

Barker said the city has advertised for a director of community health programs for the past two weeks, but has only received one application. A city assessor's positions has been advertised for three weeks and only received four applications, Barker said.

The Finance Committee did not vote on the proposal, telling Barker to come back in the fall if he's not been able to cover the advertising expense.

After the meeting, Barker noted the disparity among job types. A position like a civil engineer receives few applicants, while clerical or public works positions receive over 100 people applicants per opening.

State Street business damaged by city contractor

Adam and Jessie Modrow are trying to make a go of their small restaurant at 1949 State St. They didn't get much help from the city last June when a street contractor dug into the ground and cracked the foundation of their building.

Mann Brothers was doing excavating work for the city near the Modrows' shop, a former Dairy Queen, when the incident occurred on June 25, 2007. The shops walls were also damaged by the contractor, according to city officials.

The Modrows filed an $82,500 claim with the city asking for the building to be razed and rebuilt to fix the damage. Mann Brothers has denied responsibility for the accident.

The Finance Committee reluctantly denied the claim Tuesday. Committee members noted the claim was a procedural step for the Modrows to sue Mann Brothers and the city.

"They were told to put the documentation to the city, so the city could lean on Mann Brothers," said Alderman Jim Spangenberg, who was representing the district after Pete Karas resigned from the council last year.

Spangenberg said he met with the Modrows. They said they had received no response from Mann Brothers, and had hired a lawyer, he told the Finance Committee.

"I feel bad for them," he said. "They're really trying hard (to make their business work). The foundation is in bad shape, the walls are in bad shape. They know they did it, but they refuse to do anything about it."

Alderman objects to paying JT to publish legal notices

Alderman David Maack reiterated his disagreement with the city having to pay The Journal Times to publish its legal notices throughout the year.

The JT was the lone bidder on the contract to publish the notices, which include minutes and agendas for city meetings. Maack argues that the city already publishes its minutes online.

But state law requires that the legal notices be published on a printed paper with enough circulation to reach the community, said Tom Friedel, chairman of the committee. Smaller papers, like the Insider News or the Labor Paper, are not eligible to bid on the contract.

The state has petitioned to change the law, but the effort has yet to pass the state Legislature.

Friedel jokingly asked Maack if he would like to introduce the motion to grant the contract to the JT. Maack declined, and then voted against the proposal.

"Alderman Maack would rather have us break the law," said Friedel, who also noted during the meeting that websites like Racine Post are not eligible to be the official site of record for the official announcements.

Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen ruled that counties with populations under 250,000 people (Racine County has about 196,000 people) do not have to declare an official newspaper and can print official proceedings on their website.

Counties do, however, have to print legal notices in a newspaper, Van Hollen ruled.

We're checking on how much the city spent on legal notices in the JT last year. As a starting point, Clark County (population: 33,000; located in central Wisconsin) paid $11,000 last year publishing legal notices.

May 13, 2008

Senate takes 'action' to lower gas prices. Yawn.

A barrel of crude oil now costs $124. A gallon of gasoline will set you back $4, or darn near that. (The price range around here right now is $3.82 - $4.05. Check HERE.) Why should you care that the Senate voted 97-1 to temporarily stop pumping crude oil into the underground caverns in Louisiana and Texas that serve as the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

Frankly, you shouldn't care.

Despite the high-fives senators (like our own Russ Feingold, see press release below) are giving themselves, this move will accomplish nothing. Releasing for sale the 70,000 barrels a day that would have gone underground won't make much difference to the nation's supply -- we use some 20 million barrels a day -- and therefore, despite what the bipartisan Senate vote would have you believe, won't make any appreciable difference in the price at the pump. None that you'll notice, anyway. (If the Gasoline Fairy waves her magic wand and transforms every bit of this frog into a price reduction, it will create a saving of less than two cents per gallon.)

Sorta like the federal gas tax "holiday" pushed by Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, and our own Rep. Paul Ryan. Eighteen-point-four cents per gallon. Mama, let's drive to California!

The vote is an example of economic naivete: It suspends pumping into the 700 million barrel strategic reserve until the price of oil falls below $75 a barrel. So, it's likely not to be very temporary at all. Hell may freeze over first... assuming the House goes along, and President Bush doesn't veto it, as he's threatened to do. (The one senator who voted with the White House in this election year was Sen. Wayne Allard, R-CO, who's not running for re-election.)

Anyway, now that you know the facts, here's Feingold's take:

By Suspending Deposits into the Nearly-Full Strategic Petroleum Reserve, More Oil Will Be Available in the Marketplace to Help Bring Down Gas Prices

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate passed a measure co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) that will help lower gas prices that have reached all-time highs. The Senate passed a Feingold-backed initiative to suspend the filling of the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) that was originally created to provide relief when oil and gasoline supply shortages caused economic hardships. While the average price of gas approaches four dollars per gallon in Wisconsin and across the country, the administration continues to divert oil into the SPR, pitting the government against the American consumer by taking more oil off the market and driving up the price of gas.

“I am pleased the Senate has taken a common-sense step toward easing the burden Americans are feeling at the gas pump by making more oil available in the marketplace,” Feingold said. “This move is not a cure-all but it should provide some relief without jeopardizing our oil reserves.”

The Senate also blocked an effort that would have endangered the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by allowing drilling in the pristine Alaskan wilderness. Feingold has been a Senate leader in opposing drilling in the Refuge and has led efforts in the Senate to prevent it. To help protect the Refuge, Feingold is a cosponsor of a bill that would designate the Refuge’s coastal plain as a federal wilderness area.

“Drilling in the Arctic Refuge would sacrifice one of America’s greatest natural treasures for a supply of oil that would not do anything to significantly enhance our energy security,” Feingold said. “The Senate has rejected efforts to drill in the Arctic Refuge time after time. It is time to move past this divisive debate and develop a new energy strategy that will protect our national security, economy, and environment.”

Wilbur's BBQ on Sixth Street is NOT closing

No matter what you've been hearing, Wilbur's BBQ on Sixth Street is NOT closing. Let's repeat that: Wilbur's is not closing. 

"I don't know where it's coming from, but it's not coming from me," said Wilbur Jones, owner of the restaurant. 

In an interview Tuesday, Jones said he's been hearing the same rumors about his restaurant's demise. Other people are saying that he's going to close Viper's on High Street, too. Jones said both businesses will keep going. 

"People have been saying I'm closing since I opened, " Jones said. "If people stopped coming because they thought I was closed, then I guess I'd have to close." 

Construction on Sixth Street has hurt his BBQ business, but they've opened an entrance on Seventh Street and continue to serve food. Jones took out the buffet for now, but will bring it back once the construction finishes up in June. He's also planning on bringing back Sunday dinner in June. 

"No, I'm not doing OK," said Jones, acknowledging that the Sixth Street work has slowed business the past two months. "But it's only a couple more weeks and we should be back to normal."  

Wilbur's is located at 515 6th St. in Downtown Racine. Jones also runs a catering business out of the restaurant. You can call Wilbur's at: (262) 633-8416.  

May 12, 2008

City may give senior center to zoo; Aldermen skeptical of zoo's request for additional $50,000

The city may give the former Lakeview Community Center to the Racine Zoo, according to a plan presented to the City Council’s Finance Committee on Monday.

Racine Zoo CEO Jay Christie appeared before the committee requesting more money from the city to help the zoo break even in the coming years. The zoo is seeking a $50,000 increase in the city’s annual $550,000 payment, plus an additional 3.5 percent increase each year.

The zoo is also asking the city to give it the Belle City Senior Center, which is the former Lakeview Community Center. The center would allow the zoo to generate an additional $15,000 per year, plus get more parking near the zoo’s main entrance.

David Easley, chairman of the zoo's Board of Directors, said many more people would use the former community center if the zoo had control of it. Christie estimated thousands of people would use the center if it was run by the zoo, compared to "hundreds" who use it now as a senior center.

The committee spent most of its time discussing the zoo's request for the $50,000 increase. Alderman Tom Friedel, chairman of the Finance Committee, was skeptical of the proposal. He said he would support an annual increase that matches inflation, but not the one-time increase.

“Frankly, I have a hard time making a recommendation like,” he said. “If I had to vote on this today, I’d have a hard time … if that means a policeman is out of the budget, I’m not interested.”

Friedel also raised questions about why the zoo is projected to lose money in the coming years, despite making an additional $180,000 last year by charging a fee.

Christie said a combination of a cut in the amount of money Racine County paid the zoo and rising costs hurt the zoo’s bottom line. After the meeting, Christie also noted that the zoo’s Board of Directors voted in 2000 to use donations over $5,000 to build up its endowment, rather than paying day-to-day expenses. If the zoo doesn’t get additional public support, Christie said, the zoo would have to tap its endowment and cut back on its building projects to meet its budget needs.

“I hope nobody thinks we’re going back to the well too often, or asking for too much here,” Christie said.

Alderman Jim Spangenberg voted to refer the item to the City Council’s Committee of the Whole – a committee of all council members – for further discussion. Alderman David Maack suggested Christie bring animals to the meeting and give the council an update on the zoo’s success in operating the popular attraction for the city since 1989.

The Racine Zoo is run by a nonprofit organization that covers more than 60 percent of the cost of running the zoo.

The county had given $100,000 per year to help the zoo covers its operating expenses, but cut that number to zero in its last budget. The county may restore $15,000 in funding for the zoo in future budgets, Christie said.

Friedel said that Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds does not understand that money negotiated for the zoo in the sewer agreement between the city, Caledonia and Mount Pleasant does not count as county money.

The sewer money is technically excess reserves for the Racine sewer plant that came from Racine, Caledonia and Mount Pleasant. It’s not county money, Friedel said.

“He has a hard time understanding that. I don’t know why,” he said, adding: “It’s the same mistake he makes with the library.”

During the committee’s discussion, the aldermen noted that even if they supported the zoo’s request, they didn’t have control over the budget. Mayor Gary Becker writes the budget and the City Council approves it. Though the council can make changes to the mayor’s budget, it’s difficult to free up $50,000 for any one item.

“It’s still the mayor’s decision,” Spangenberg said. “He’s got to balance his budget for every factor.”

Police department taking back parking ticket collections

Six years ago, the Racine Police Department handed over its parking ticket collection system to a Milwaukee company. Six years later, the department is taking the system back.

The City Council’s Finance Committee unanimously voted Monday to allow the Police Department to renegotiate its contract with Citation Management.

The company was hired in 2001 to manage Racine’s parking system, and to allow the police department to eliminate three positions. Complaints about the system appeared in recent years.

One problem: the company has nine people answering its “convenience phones” for 170 contractors, Deputy Chief Art Howell told the finance committee.

“‘Convenience phone’ is not a very accurate name,” Howell said.

City officials also got complaints about parking ticket payments being lost and had their own questions about how much money they were getting back from the company.

After reviewing the arrangement, the police department concluded it could take back control of its parking ticket transactions without adding new employees, Howell said.

“We’re operating on less staff through technology,” he said. “We now have a software system in place to enable us to do the same job with less people.”

The department will continue paying Citation Management to use its proprietary software, he added. It will still save at least $100,000 per year by collecting its own parking fine.

Alderman Tom Friedel, chairman of the finance committee, said he supported the change.

“The parts that bother us, you’re getting rid of,” Friedel said. “The parts that were working, you’re keeping.”

The Finance Committee voted to allow the police department to alter its contract with Citation Management. The proposal now moves to the full City Council for final approval.

Graham's parents traveled far...

Considering that Pomeranians are named for the Pomerania region in Western Europe -- today part of eastern Germany and northern Poland -- and Eskimos come from Alaska... well, we might wonder how Graham's parents got together. Not to mention the fact that Pomeranians are considered a "toy" breed because of their small size, while Eskimos run quite a bit larger.

Nonetheless, meet Graham, an Eskimo/Pommeranian mix one way or another. A small to medium-sized two-year-old male, Graham is outgoing and friendly. He'd fit best in a family with children six years old or older.

He's available from the Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

Our previous dog looking for a home, Stewi, has found one, and will be a young man's best friend.

Got any doggie underpants?

One of the more interesting phenomena spawned by the internet are swap sites, where people with an extra this or that offer it for free to the first person to pick it up. And people who want something post their wishlist in the hope that someone will provide.

And often it comes to pass.

Racine's happenin' place for this sort of thing is RacineFreecycle, a version of which exists thanks to Yahoo in many, many cities. Membership is free; just follow the link and sign up. You can receive e-mails as soon as they are sent, or in the digest version once a day (A word to the wise: The digest won't clog your inbox as much as individuals messages will, but most of the good stuff will be gone long before you hear of it).

Today's digest is fairly typical: Offered are a couch, a fertilizer spreader, a portable dishwasher, a rug shampooer. Meanwhile, people are asking for stuff like a computer desk, a start-up disk for a computer game, a working cordless drill. "Michelle" asks for a mobility scooter for her husband, an amputee. "Megan" writes: "My husband bought me a puppy for Mother's Day, I need a medium size or small size puppy crate home for sleeping at night. Thanks."

And then there are the more unusual requests. Anybody got a deer hide lying around? "Ladysqueak313" writes: "My daughter wants to make a medicine bag and needs some tanned deer hide."

My favorite of the day: Dog underpants! "Goodnight_ansela" writes: "My mom's watching her boyfriend's dog. I should say she just went into heat so she needs some dog underpants so she doesn't make a mess. Does anyone have any of these? She's beagle size... maybe a little bit smaller, not much. PLEASE!!! We need these asap!"

Boxers or briefs?

Racine, Mo. suffering from deadly tornado

Aside from a name, we don't have much in common with Racine, Mo. The unincorporated town in the southwest corner of the state, just miles from the Oklahoma border, is a small rural community that no one even seems to know population of. Before this weekend, I'm not even sure I knew there was a Racine, Mo.

But Missouri's Racine made the news over the weekend when a massive storm system pounded the area with tornados with winds reaching 165 mph. Twelve people in Newton County, Mo., where Racine is located, died in a tornado, which touched down at about 6 p.m. on Saturday. At least 50 homes were destroyed in the storm, and thousands of people were still without power Monday morning.

Twenty-four people died in the storm, which spawned eight tornados in Oklahoma, Missouri and Georgia on Saturday and Sunday.

Anyone interested in contributing to the recovery efforts in Racine, Mo. can contact the American Red Cross here.

May 11, 2008

Why newspapers are irrelevant (and how to save them)

There should be discussion in the media around the question: What is local news? There should be, but there isn't.

Here's why I believe it's important. For most media, local news is geographic. It's City Hall, Main Street, community events, crime and schools. On any given day in Racine, the local news is: a business opened or closed, a group of people got together, police made arrests, courts tried people arrested, the schools talked about getting better, and so on. It's rare there's a story that really knocks our socks off. Reading or watching the news is a passive activity.

There's another way. What if local media wrote stories that people actually cared about? That's not to dismiss any local efforts or stories ... they're all important. But are they most important issues in our lives at this moment? No.

So far as I know, there are wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan (with local soldiers still on active duty). There's an historic presidential election underway. People are losing their houses on a regular basis. Millions of people are without health insurance. Gas prices are approaching $4 a gallon. Food prices are soaring.

I could go on, but in my experience, this is what people care about. Not to pick on the JT, but was the Carnauba's final flight Monday really the top headline in Saturday's paper?

Local is more than local. All across the country, community newspapers and TV stations have decided to secure their future by strictly focusing on issues in their backyards. Lee Enterprises talked about being "intensely local," a phrase that meant not bothering to focus outside of your coverage area.

What's wrong-headed about this approach is the imaginary walls it builds around readers. Here's a simple example: American Idol. I don't know specific numbers, but thousands of people in Racine County tune into the TV show (the most popular in the country) every week. They then talk about which of the Davids are better, or how Jason Castro made it so far in the competition. People actually care about the show and the people on it. (My wife and I get the same way about 'Friday Night Lights.' We actually have emotions for the characters and think about them long after the show is over.)

Is this stupid? Probably. Is it unimportant in the scheme of events occurring in the world? Yup. Is it what people are interested in? Absolutely.

American Idol is a local story. So is the war. So is the election. So is the quality of health care in our country and the subprime housing crisis. In some ways, those stories are far more "intensely local" than what's happening at City Hall, or even who is getting arrested. Think about what resonates in your life: Is it the police raid on Owen Avenue or the Brewers' Eric Gagne blowing another game? Is it the Carnauba or Hillary vs. Obama? A nurse being convicted of neglect or the cost of gas?

Newspapers are stuck in the idea of what it means to be a newspaper. They have the outdated idea that people's attentions are focused on their local community, with minimal glimpses outside of the geographic borders of their hometown/neighborhood/backyard. The globe is much smaller today. We know so much about what is happening in so many places, and we do it without even trying. We're saturated in a sea of information that dilutes our attention to one place. We quickly evaluate what's important, and dismiss what's irrelevant. It's not that we care less today, it's that we know there's so much more to care about.

Local media is reporting trifles in an era of life-altering events. We all feel the changes coming, and know they're not reflected in our media. (Actually, it's worse than ignorance by the media ... they're outright getting played.) So, alternatives are rising. At Racine Post, we're trying and learning how to be a better news source every day. The page you're looking at now is vastly different from the one we created back in October, and it will change again in the coming months. Hopefully, we can be a model for what local media can become.

Here are five things local media can do to become relevant (Note: This doesn't include coupons and ads, which is the main reason most people read the paper, according to readership studies):

1. Stop relying on the Associated Press for important stories. The AP sold its soul to online media like Google and Yahoo long ago. By the time AP stories are printed, we've read them online.

2. Start writing "national" stories about important issues. During the campaign, a story a day isn't too much. Use local people, use national people ... just make the news your own. We need more people writing about national issues, not a select few at a wire service. Same goes for the war ... folks, there's a WAR going on.

3. Broaden the idea of what's local. Everything is local now ... just run the best stories.

4. Stop using 800 words to write a story that can be told in 100 words, but write more 100-word stories. We're better served with eight short, clear stories than one droning piece (present pieces excluded, of course!).

5. Treat all politicians, at every level of government, as liars. Everybody knows how to spin these days, so you have to assume they're being dishonest when they tell a story. Either fact check everything they say, or don't rely on elected officials for news. (Or don't pretend to report news by re-writing press releases ... at RP, we run the press releases verbatim, so everyone knows it's straight from the horse's mouth. We're not going to launder their spin with the guise of a legitimate story.)