July 26, 2008

22,000 miles on a scooter -- for peace

Racine has a spot on the largest peace sign ever created.

Alix Bryan, a young activist from Charlottesville, VA, has nearly completed a journey she began last summer, to trace a huge peace sign on a map of the U.S. That sounds easy, but she's doing it the hard way: driving more than 22,000 miles around the U.S. on a small motor scooter, talking about peace whenever she stops. When she's done, her route will indeed look like a peace sign superimposed on the map, stretching from coast to coast and north to south.

She stopped in Racine this weekend, staying with a local scooterist (me) and having dinner with members of the Kenosha-Racine Matadors Scooter Club, on the final leg of her journey. She has about 1,500 miles to go, expecting to finish on Aug. 8 exactly where she started on July 15, 2007: at the White House.

This all started when Alix -- a slim, tousle-haired young woman with a gap-toothed smile who turns 34 on July 29 -- attended a traveling exhibit of Beatle John Lennon's artwork, and came across a quote from him: "If a billion people were thinking about peace, there would be peace in the world."

"It was a eureka moment," Alix said. "The quote struck me and gave me the chance to contemplate what peace means to me. I've been involved with the social justice movement for a long time, and I thought, 'Most people don't have a working definition of peace."

Peace means a lot of things, she said.

"For myself, peace is how I take care of myself, and my community and my environment. At least every day, I'm working towards improving them."

Alix's eureka had a second component. She wanted to elevate discussion of peace, and encourage others to think about it, too. She also wanted to collect one million personal definitions of peace. As a scooterist -- she had a 49cc Honda Metropolitan at the time -- she decided to travel around the U.S. and literally trace a peace sign with the scooter's itinerary. Keep in mind that until that moment, the longest scooter trip she'd made was 30 miles.

Alix and Audre ready to hit the road again

And so the planning began. Her trip began in earnest when Phil McCaleb, owner of the Genuine Scooter Company in Chicago, responded to her request for a discount on a 125 cc Buddy scooter by giving her a scooter, and promising to cover any repairs needed throughout her trip under the scooter's two-year warranty. She named the scooter "Audre," after feminist activist Audre Lorde. It has a top speed of 55 miles an hour, gets 85 miles per gallon of gas, and is decorated with a custom-made, colorful peace sign seat cover and appropriate stickers with messages like this one by Ben Franklin: "There's never been a good war or a bad peace."

Last summer, Alix and Audre covered 11,000 miles, drawing the vertical leg and the two "arms" of the peace sign, as she drove from the White House to New Orleans, to Salina, KS, North Dakota, Seattle, down the west coast, through Crawford, Texas, where President Bush has his home, and back through Louisiana. There's some back-pedaling along the route; it's not a straight shot. This summer, again, starting at the White House, she is drawing the circle around the country's perimeter, touching a total of 32 states in the process.

It hasn't been an easy trip. She's run out of gas and had breakdowns -- Audre is on her fourth engine, which Alix ascribes to mechanic errors (all covered under warranty).

But mostly it's been a trip of contemplation (while in Madison, she attended the Dalai Lama's lecture), of conversations, of insights shared. "Throughout the journey, I randomly interview people that I come across, asking, 'How do you define peace?' It is a fundamental truth that we must know what something means to us before we can work towards it."

And it has been a trip of private moments, like the point in Nebraska early in her journey, when she reached 3,070 miles on the day U.S. casualties in Iraq hit the same number. "It was on Highway 15, 30 miles north of Seward. I said a prayer and spent a few moments in meditation, did a geocache, read a Martin Luther King passage. It was in a cornfield patch but I saw a mailbox across the highway, so I wrote down what I'd done on one of my trip postcards and put it in the mailbox."

She recalls another moment, this one in Kansas, where she ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere and "Farmer John" came to her rescue, saying, 'This is how I'd want my daughter treated.'

"He gave me gas. We had a complete difference of opinion, but a pretty friendly discussion. Because he was placed in the role of helping me, he let his guard down when we had a political discussion. More people need to strive to have conversations with people they disagree with. More people need to step out of their safe zones."

"It's been wonderful to see my philosophies put to the test. This was an abstract thought in my head, but after a 400-mile day, you haven't eaten, it's really hot and you're in Nebraska and the person you're talking to has a kid in the war. Remaining outgoing, pleasant... it was a test, not to judge people."

"A lot of people couldn't agree more with this effort. Peace is the litmus test in this country. There are a lot of very reasonable people in our country, and I'm not sure why we live in such unreasonable times." Alix encourages the people she meets to write their names and messages on Audre, to become part of her trip in a way. "The peace sign reflects community all around the country. People are sharing their stories and feelings."

Alix, who has a degree in political science, women's studies and non-profit management, tries to make it clear that hers is a "pro-peace event," not to be confused with the anti-war movement. "My challenge traveling has been to separate peace from politics and religion." She notes, "My Mom's not going on an anti-war march, but can't we agree on what peace is?"

If she's had one major disappointment, it is that most peace and anti-war organizations she's contacted have been indifferent to her journey. ""They haven't responded to my letters for help, or cross-promotion, facilitating activities, hosting me, or helping with the media. I was really foolish; I thought the antiwar movement would be supportive of this peace ride. But although we're two sides of the same coin, you can't see both at the same time."

Messages written on Audre from around the U.S.
On the other hand, the scooter "community" has been very supportive. Individual scooterists have put her up, taken her around their cities; she visited the lakefront, the Johnson Administration building and Monument Square, among other places, while in Racine. Local scooterists sometimes ride along for short stretches of her journey. In many places she's stayed, Alix has also managed to do volunteer work to help others. "I've served a lot of food at homeless shelters. (She tried to volunteer at HALO, but schedules didn't mesh.) I worked at a recycling center in New Orleans, helped pack disaster supplies in Lake Charles, LA." She had hoped to raise $22,000 in donations -- $1 per mile -- 40% to cover her trip costs and 60% split among the Peace Alliance (an organization campaigning for the creation of a Department of Peace within the U.S. government), Scootin' for a Cure (Vespa owners raising money to fight breast cancer), The Last Mile (an end-of-life hospice charity) and an environmental organization she hasn't yet chosen. So far, however, she's raised just $8,000, and took out a $6,000 loan to pay for the trip.

Right now, as the journey nears its end, Alix is fighting what she has heard called "get-there-itis," the point at which someone completing a trip like this focuses on its aftermath, and thus gets sloppy and accident-prone. "The challenge I face right now is to stay in the present moment, stay careful," she says. She's added safety gear -- like Kevlar knee pads -- as an extra margin; she's also shipped some of her gear -- like the tent she carried for camping out when necessary -- to lighten the load on Audre.

For now, Alix is focused on finishing her trip -- "You can make your dream come true," she says. "The only limitation is your own mind." --and trying to organize an event outside the White House to mark the trip's end, hopefully with representatives of some of the peace organizations she's talked with. There's also a reception scheduled Aug. 9 in Richmond, VA, connecting scooterists, peace and anti-war groups. And she plans to keep her website up indefinitely, continue blogging and collecting definitions of peace, hoping to reach her goal of one million of them.

Alix Bryan's website is HERE.

Coincidentally, this is the peace sign's 50th anniversary. It started out as the emblem of the British anti-nuclear movement, utilizing the semaphore signals for N (nuclear) D (disarmament). The BBC's story is HERE.

A car that would fit in your SUV's glove compartment

Messerschmitts got lots of attention

"Compact" doesn't begin to tell the story of the micro cars that visited Monument Square Saturday.

These mostly Minis, Isettas, Citroens, a Zundapp, Messerschmitts and a teeny Berkley not much bigger than a child's pedal car wouldn't just fit into today's SUV's -- they would fit in their glove compartments, or at least in their trunk. One bright red Messerschmitt even came with a tremendous backstory: it was won by a seventh grader on The Price Is Right television show!

Tiny? Toy-like? Yes, all of that. And photogenic as all get out. Beautiful little cars, with the emphasis on little, unless you know a synonym that means even smaller than that. Mostly two-seaters, one or two with the seats laid out like a jet, one in front, the other behind. One with the rear seat facing backwards -- not that any full-size person could actually fit into it. The Isettas with their quirky doors that opened forward and up like a refrigerator (probably because the company that first built them actually was a refrigerator manufacturer).

Mileage for most topped 50 miles per gallon. Which is not surprising, since the engines ranged from 250 cc's to no more than 700 cc's -- usually a single cylinder with a combustion chamber about the size of a small cup of coffee. Some were three-wheelers. There even was an AmphiCar on display, a car/boat combination that would be just as comfortable on the highway as in a lake. (Which is not to be taken as an endorsement for it in either venue.)

Micros on the Monument -- something to gawk at and admire, and to wish one of them was parked in your own driveway. Not so much just for the gas mileage, either. Cars from the era -- '50s and '60s -- when style really, really mattered. Comfort? Well, you look mahvelous!

Very rare Isetta convertible

Alix Bryan points out her favorite, an original Mini Cooper

Our earlier story is HERE.

July 25, 2008

A New Perspective: Kayaking the Root River

A family out in a canoe rented from the REC.

You haven't seen Racine like this.

My wife and I headed out on the Root River Thursday thanks to the Root River REC Center opened this spring. We rented a tandem kayak - the first hour is free on Thursdays - and paddled upstream to the W. 6th Street bridge.

Geese hanging out along the shoreline.

Throughout the trip, Marie and I kept wondering where we were. Instead of homes and streets, we saw prairie grasses and swallows. Instead of concrete and cars, we saw trees hanging off the shore. It was a real change in perspective.

It's also an important step in reclaiming the Root River from its industrial past. While the river was used as a dump for decades, it's slowly being reclaimed as a natural gem through the heart of the city.

Marie leads the way in our tandem kayak.

The REC was started by a group led by UW-Parkside Professor John Skalbeck, who started a similar center down in Kenosha. Skalbeck received a grant to open the centers, and the board hired Ben Lehner to run the REC this summer.

Interest in the rentals - $7/hour on Fridays and Saturdays - seems to be increasing. About 20 people were waiting for kayaks and canoes when the REC opened at 4 pm on Thursday.

As for skill level, the river is calm and shallow and the kayaks are easy to paddle. We saw young teenagers out on the water in single kayaks having no trouble moving around.

Kayakers along the shore.

One note of caution: You will get wet. If you bring a camera (and you'll want a camera), bring a case or plastic bag to keep it from getting soaked.

All in all, it's worth the effort to checkout the REC. You'll leave with a new perspective of Racine.

A little work still needs to be done on the river ... here's a camper hung up on a bridge.

Sixth Street getting another new restaurant

Sixth Street has its ups and downs lately. While the Tango Bar and Wilbur's are closed, the impressive Park 6 is open and now a new BBQ place is opening.

The owners of Fireside BBQ, 515 6th St. (Wilbur's former site), received a liquor license this week. Robert Watson and Crystal Morris appeared before the Licensing and Welfare committee to talk about their restaurant.

They described the restaurant as providing a relaxing, nonsmoking environment with jazz and 60s and 70s music for entertainment.

The committee approved the liquor license.

We have a call to the owners to learn more about the restaurant.

Are Racine Concert Band members city employees?

Are members of the Racine Concert Band city employees?

The answer to that question is a puzzler for city attorneys, officials and even the band itself. It could also have important ramifications for the band, which has been playing community concerts for 88 years.

At issue, like it seems almost everything these days, is liability. The concert band uses city vehicles to move its equipment to concerts. If the band gets into an accident, or has its thousands of dollars worth of instruments stolen, is the city liable?

If the band members are considered city employees, the answer may be yes. But in some ways, it's clear the band members do work for Racine. For starters, they're paid by the city and get a W-2 every year. Also, the band was originally called the "Park Board Band" and was part of the city's parks department.

But the arrangement is unsual. Should the city be counting the band members as employees? A better designation may be independent contractors, but that would require a different tax form, according to city officials. The city could also give the band a lump-sum payment and have it pay its members.

The City Attorney's office is reviewing the issue and should bring a report to the Personnel and Finance Committee's next meeting.

In the meantime, you can go see the Racine Concert Band on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the Racine Zoo. The concert, directed by Mark Eichner, is free.

The Racine Concert Band has played 1,400 free concerts since 1923, and has been named one of the top 10 community bands in the U.S.

Mayor to hold community meeting at King Center July 30

Mayor Gary Becker will hold a community meeting at the MLK Center on July 30 to talk plans for the surrounding neighborhood. Topics include:

1. The redevelopment of the Homeward Bound location. There's some interesting talk about this site being a "green" development with affordable housing. It could be another environmentally solid idea from the mayor.
2. The potential to convert Marquette Street and MLK Drive into 2 way traffic. This idea looks all but dead after city committees sat on the proposal for months. It may also be too expensive.
3. The construction of a new COP house on Hamilton Street. Neighborhoods like COP houses. This could be interesting improvement to the area.

Here's the official description of the meeting:

Neighborhood Meeting at the MLK Center with the Mayor

The Mayor will conduct a neighborhood meeting for those residential areas near the MLK Community Center (in the areas of State Street to High Street and various side streets off of Marquette, MLK, and Douglas). The meeting will be on Wednesday, July 30 at 6:00 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Community Center. The discussion will provide updates for the following topics amongst others:

Finance committee stalls $19K study on two-way streets

The Finance and Personnel Committee meets July 21.

Mayor Gary Becker seems to get most of what he wants from city government. But when it comes to one-way vs. two-way streets, his political reach isn't quite long enough.

The city's Personnel and Finance Committee took a step worse than rejecting the mayor's request to study making MLK Drive and Marquette Drive two-way streets off of State Street. The committee voted to table the request, more effectively killing it than actually killing it.

By refusing to take an up-or-down vote on the $19,000 request to study the streets, the committee simply held the proposal. That means it can't advance to the City Council (the proposal had passed another committee) for at least another month.

Director of Public Works Rick Jones told the committee a decision was needed soon so any changes to the streets could be worked into the state's plans to rebuild State Street. The committee was unswayed.

Alderman Michael Shields was the most vocal critic. He said the $19K seemed like a waste of money on two streets that seem to be working fine. City resident George Meyers agreed, telling the committee it should leave the streets alone.

The committee itself was stuck because it had to come up with the $19K. There seem to be no obvious places to take the money from.

Committee Chairman Tom Friedel explained that tabling the proposal would bury the request, which first came before the group in March. The Traffic Commission deferred the proposal twice before approving it in June. The Public Works and Services Committee approved the $19K in May.

Shields said the committee should hold onto the proposal because he didn't trust the full council. "They might just rubber stamp it because it's something the mayor wants to do," he said.

The committee voted on unanimous voice vote to table the motion.

The proposal will next come up at a neighborhood meeting the mayor is holding on July 30 at the MLK Center. Becker will ask residents at the meeting about converting the streets into two-way traffic.

Quilts on Barns takes shape

Kathi Wilson, Phil and Jean Jacobson

The transformation of Racine County's rural landscape began Friday morning, with the hanging of our first "barn quilt."

The 8-ft. by 8-ft. painted rendition of "Tulip Basket" was hung on a beautifully restored 120-year-old barn belonging to Jean and Phil Jacobson, at 6119 Heg Park Road in Wind Lake. The barn, that in its heyday housed cows and pigs, will now serve -- it is hoped -- as a tourist attraction, just one of many such decorated barns.

The project sprang from the head of Racine quilter Kathi Wilson (earlier story HERE), who has found sponsors, chosen barns and patterns and put together a crew of painters and quilt hangers.

The Jacobson's barn is just the first to be decorated. A second barn -- owned by Bill and Sandra Swantz and located at 4603 108th St., Franksville -- will receive its quilt Saturday morning, starting at 8:30 a..m. Then, at 11 a.m., there will be a small celebration at the Jacobsons' barn, with certificates presented to the barn owners.

As the summer progresses, a total of 15 barn quilts will be hung. Wilson says she has enough barns on a waiting list to keep the project going for at least another two years.

So far, Wilson has raised about $7,500 for the project, along with donations of some materials -- Shur-Line donated 15 boxes of paint brushes and rollers. It costs $750 to sponsor a barn quilt. The Jacobson's barn quilt was sponsored by Johnson Bank, and the Swantz's quilt, which was painted by the Racine Montessori School, by Shur-Line. Wilson is looking for more sponsors -- both for the quilts themselves and to help pay for a documentary she is helping to make about the project. Sponsors get their name on a roadside sign by their barn, and recognition in all marketing materials and on the project's website.

Painting of the quilts is a community affair. Jean Jacobson -- yes, she's the former Racine County Executive who "retired" in 2003 -- said she and four other women from the Norway Garden Club primed each side of their quilt's plywood twice, primed the edges four times, and spent about three weeks -- weather was damp and it took awhile for various colors to dry -- to complete their Tulip Basket square.

"We were disappointed when it was done," she said. "We had so much fun, someone suggested we turn it over and paint the other side!"

Jean and Phil have lived on the property for 45 years, spending the first six years of their marriage in a rented one-bedroom apartment in the farm house, before finally buying the spread. She grew up in Wind Lake, two miles away, and they were married in the little Norway Lutheran Church that is separated from their six acres only by its cemetery. The 1843 church was the first Norwegian Lutheran Church built in America; buried in the cemetery is Col. Hans Christian Heg, a brigade commander for the Union Army during the Civil War. Heg Memorial Park is across the street. The Prince of Norway visited the church in the 1940s.

"Lots of people will see the quilt," Jacobson said, noting that Norway's 8,000 residents must pass it as they go to vote at Norway Town Hall. Jacobson, who once oversaw Racine County's $200 million annual budget, is now in charge -- as Norway Village president, appointed in March, 2007 -- of the village's $2 million budget. She's also a director of Johnson Bank -- a $5 billion enterprise -- whose board she joined after retiring as county executive.

Jean Jacobson with the roadside sign explaining the project

Kathi Wilson shows off her thrift-shop jacket,
embroidered with the project's logo

I couldn't be present at Saturday morning's hanging of the project's second quilt, a "Tennessee Star" at Bill and Sandra Swantz's barn in Franksville, but Kathi Wilson was kind enough to send the following pictures.

Workers finish hanging the quilt

The certificate celebration with the Racine Arts Council;
painters from the Racine Montessori School;
and sponsor Shur-Line Paintbrush

July 24, 2008

North Bay has a new Village president

The Village of North Bay has a new president.

Dennis Mahoney, Village president for the past dozen years, resigned last Tuesday. The retired Clifton-Gunderson accountant is is getting married in Illinois and plans to leave the village of 97 homes.

In his place, trustees appointed Kristen Wright as Village president. Wright, a professor at UW-Parkside, has been the trustee in charge of the constable. In her place, trustees appointed Roger Mellen, a retired policeman from Chicago.

And we have a winner -- in a photo finish!

The pack turns from Main onto Sixth...

Superweek's morning and afternoon bicycle races through Downtown Racine were exciting, but nothing compared to the finale of the International Cycling Classic's races here on Thursday night, the Pro/1/2 Men's Race.

Scores of cyclists raced -- seemingly in one huge scrum for much of the race -- around Downtown. Here are some pictures ... scroll down to see the winner!

Here they are, riding up Main...

And the view from atop the judges' platform...

Examining the videotape to determine Racine's photo-finish champion

And here he is: Jonathan Page of Northfield, NH,
interviewed by Eddy Van Guyse, the "voice of Superweek" for 26 years.
Bucky Miller of Deux Rivers, Canada, was second;
Brian Buchholz
of Winter Park, CO, came in third.

Page talks with Dave Blank, president of the Racine County
Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Eileen Arnold of the RCCVB,
which brought the cycling classic here this year,
and for the next two years as well.

Our earlier story about today's preliminary races is HERE.

Friday, the series continues in Kenosha, then Saturday in Milwaukee and wraps up Sunday in Whitefish Bay. The International Cycling Classic website is HERE.

RacinePost breaks 1,000 daily readers

1,071 visitors loaded the RacinePost's main page 2,714 times on Tuesday, and another 871 visitors hit the main page on Wednesday. Our blog drew 736 readers Tuesday and 626 readers Wednesday, plus all of our RSS and Twitter readers.

When we started the site we hoped for 1,000 readers daily by the end of the first year. We're three months ahead of schedule ... thank you to all of our readers and supporters!

Spread the word ... Save a tree, Read the Post!

JT lays off seven and loses reporter

The same day its parent company released a dismal finacial report, the Journal Times laid off seven employees. The paper isn't talking publicly about the layoffs, but it's believed none of the dismissed employees worked in the newsroom.

However, reporter and columnist Phyllis Sides was let go earlier this month. JT Editor Steve Lovejoy declined to say why Sides left the paper, and hung up on the RacinePost when asked for comment.

Sides, a JT reporter for nine years, was the only minority employee in the newspaper's newsroom. She was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Colorful excitement as Tour de Racine debuts

When cyclists come out to play, everyday streets are transformed into racetracks.

Millions line the roads every year to watch the Tour de France.

Today's Tour de Racine: Not so much.

Maybe because the event is new here. Maybe because "criterium" isn't a word we're familiar with. Maybe because it is, after all, a work day. Whatever the reason, the excitement of hundreds of cyclists zooming around Downtown was enjoyed by only a handful of fans ... and many of those who did turn out were connected to this racer or that: a friend, a parent, a girlfriend.

Those who did come to watch were treated to a colorful scene, as a leg of the International Cycling Classic zoomed around -- and around, and around -- a .78 mile course of Main, Sixth, Wisconsin and Third Streets. The first race sent scores of elite men around the course 35 times -- a total of 27.3 miles. The breakaway was led by three racers who managed to hold off the rest of the pack.

The three leaders in their final lap

Winner was Marc Fournier of Winnipeg; Jonathan Heile of Milwaukee was second; and Doug Wamback of Menomonee Falls came in third.

Races will continue all day.

Our earlier story is HERE.

And HERE'S a link sent to us by Mark Czerniec to an interesting story about the voice of Super Week," Eddy Van Guyse, who's been announcing this race for 26 years.

July 23, 2008

Ryan announces fall schedule of mobile office

U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan, R-1st District, has announced his mobile office schedule for August through October. At each scheduled stop, a representative from Ryan’s office will be available to meet with area residents.

Ryan established the mobile office to serve as an extension of his Constituent Services Centers. Since 1999, the mobile office has made nearly 2,000 visits to area communities.

“When the mobile office comes to their town or area, they can stop by and talk to a member of my staff about any difficulties they are having dealing with government agencies or share their views on issues before Congress," Ryan said.

Sites and addresses listed indicate where the mobile office will be parked (normally beside the address listed or in an adjoining parking lot).

The office's Racine County schedule is:

Burlington: Tuesdays, Aug. 5, Sept. 23, and Oct. 14 from 2:30-4 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 1, from 12-1 p.m., street parking outside the Burlington Public Library on Pine Street

Waterford: Thursday, Aug. 21, from 2:30-4 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 1, from 1:30-2:30 p.m., west lower parking lot in front of baseball fields, 507 West Main Street

Caledonia: Tuesdays, Aug. 5, Sept. 23, and Oct. 14, from 9-10:30 a.m., parking lot of the Caledonia Town Hall, 6922 Nicholson Road

Sturtevant: Tuesdays, Aug. 5, Sept. 23, and Oct. 14, from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., parking lot of the Sturtevant Police Department, 2801 89th Street

Union Grove: Tuesdays, Aug. 5, Sept. 23, and Oct. 14, from 1-2 p.m., parking lot of the Graham Public Library, 1215 Main Street

Wednesdays, Aug. 6, and Oct. 1, from 3-4 p.m., street parking outside the Rochester Public Library, 208 West Spring Street.

Superior Linens accredited; Mac hopes issue is dead

Racine County has finally driven a stake through the heart of the Superior Health Linens controversy. Or so County Executive Bill McReynolds would like to believe.

So all of you County Board members "fixated" on the fact that the company lacked accreditation when it signed the county's Sept. 1, 2007, contract requiring accreditation, and all of you "making a mountain of a molehill," and those "few supervisors" raising "spurious concern" -- shut the !@#%&!!! up!

OK, Mac didn't really really say !@#%&!!!. (At least not in print.) What he did say -- in a memo given to the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night -- is this: "It is hoped that Superior Health Linens will not continue to be a topic of public comment."

And why would Mac hope that? Because Superior has been accredited!

Cue the trumpets! The problem that never was, is no longer. Retroactive cleansing has been accomplished. Writes Mac (or is it Geoff Greiveldinger, his chief of staff?):

"You will recall that, at several meetings earlier this year, the County Board heard lengthy public comment and other discussion about whether Ridgewood Care Center's laundry contractor, Superior Health Linens, had a certification from a non-profit accrediting agency, Healthcare Linen Accreditation Council. I am pleased to inform you that you need not expect further discussion on that point. Superior has received that certification."

Actually, only the first half of McReynolds' memo deals with the certification issue. The second half implies that the issue was really about efforts to unionize Superior and how "some supervisors may have unknowingly tried to lead the county into a violation of the law." (Mac's complete memo is at the end of this story.)

In any case, almost 11 months after the contract that stated: "Upon request, Superior shall provide to customer copies of its Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) audits and certification as evidence for meeting state and/ or JACHO standards as they pertain to linen service;" and six months after the contract was amended by Corporation Counsel Jonathan F. Lehman and McReynolds, eliminating any requirement that Superior be accredited; and four months after Lehman ranted for 10 minutes at a County Board meeting against Supervisor Diane Lange, who'd questioned Superior's non-accredited status months earlier; and four months after a meeting to discuss the issue was canceled because Mac couldn't attend (and maybe the voters will dump Lange on April 1 -- oops, that didn't happen); and three months after it was supposed to come up at the County Board's April meeting, and then at its June meeting -- but conveniently didn't why, after all that: Superior has been accredited!

Problem solved?

Lange still wants to discuss the issue formally, but continues to run into roadblocks. She had asked for time on the agenda of next Monday night's Ridgewood Board of Trustees' meeting, but Mike Miklasevich, new chairman of the Health and Human Development committee of the County Board, refuses to give it to her. "I wanted to have some time on the agenda, " Lange said. "I'm frustrated that a supervisor like myself who's been patient, and worked through the system, is still being denied. "

Nonetheless, she plans to speak during the three minutes reserved for public comment at the meeting.

Does she think the issue is now dead, as McReynolds hopes? "I don't think it excuses the fact that they had misrepresented themselves originally," she said. "I don't know if there were any consequences."

Although Lehman and McReynolds have taken great pains throughout this debate to insist that -- despite what the original contract said -- accreditation was not required, and Ridgewood is happy with the service it has received, it is clear from an email exchange between two of the parties involved that Superior's finally receiving accreditation is a big deal to the company.

On July 18, Judy Reino, president of Reino Linen Service of Gibsonburg, OH, and chairperson of HLAC, wrote Scott Reppert, president and CEO of Superior: "Yesterday, Lindsey Fior (sic: It should be Lindsay Fiori) from the Journal Times in Racine, Wisconsin, called me to verify that Superior received the HLAC accreditation. In a nutshell, I said the two plants passed with flying colors and that you run an exemplary organization. It seemed as though she was digging for some dirt but I kept responding with positive information about your operation. Please send me a copy of the article when it comes out." (Note: The JT hasn't written anything about this yet.)

Another note to Reppert, this one from Manda Shaw of HLAC, said: "Congratulations on passing the HLAC inspection. ...Attached is an invoice for Ken Dott's travel expenses during his visit. Upon payment of this invoice, I will send you the accreditation letters, plaques and marketing kits."

After the break, the complete text of McReynolds' memorandum to the County Board of Supervisors, dated July 22.

Subject: Ridgewood Care Center Contract with Superior Health Linens

You will recall that, at several meetings earlier this year, the County Board heard lengthy public comment and other discussion about whether Ridgewood Care Center's laundry contractor, Superior Health Linens, had a certification from a non-profit accrediting agency, Healthcare Linen Accreditation Council. I am pleased to inform you that you need not expect further discussion on that point. Superior has received that certification.

Most supervisors understood that the performance of a contractor is a day-to-day management matter that is the responsibility of the staff. Most supervisors also understood that, from the county's perspective, the fundamental questions were whether Superior provided linens that met Ridgewood's rigorous standard of care for its residents and whether the other aspects of its service met Ridgewood's standards and needs. The answer to both of those questions was then, and continues to be, an emphatic Yes!

A few supervisors, however, were fixated on a contract provision that had nothing to do with the bidding process, the awarding of the contract, or Superior's contractual obligation to meet all applicable state and federal health standards. Making a mountain out of a molehill, they wanted the County Board to parse out and interpret the legal effect of a sentence in Superior's contract stating that, as evidence of its full compliance with health regulations, Superior would provide evidence of its Healthcare Linen Accreditation Council. Most of us understood, of course, that the critical concern was not whether there was a certification, but, rather, what the certification helped demonstrate; namely, the quality of Superior's service.

Now even that spurious concern about certification is moot. As reflected on the attached email, Superior has passed the Health Linens Accreditation Council review.

For the sake of the County Board and the Health and Human Development Committee, it is hoped that Superior Health Linens will not continue to be a topic of public comment or floor debate. Unfortunately, even this recent development may not end the efforts of some to draw public attention to Superior.

Supervisors will no doubt recall public comment by representatives of Unite Here, a union that has been trying to organize at Superior, and by representatives of other labor unions. That is the underlying issue, and that is why Unite Here and others have been working so hard to undermine Superior's contractual relationship with the county.

If there is a labor-management issue at Superior, it is none of the county's business. Quite apart from the fact that the county is in no position to evaluate Superior's labor relations, it would be illegal for the county to take Superior's labor relations into account when determining whether to contract with it.

In a 1990 opinion, the Wisconsin Attorney General informed Dane County that, in evaluating contract bids, it could not consider whether a prospective vendor was unionized or even whether it was involved in a "labor dispute." A 2005 decision of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce v. Milwaukee County, held that a Milwaukee County ordinance requiring prospective contractors to sign "labor peace" agreements contravened the National Labor Relations Act. It is regrettable that, in their zeal on behalf of a labor union, some supervisors may have unknowingly tried to lead the county into a violation of the law.

Worse yet, we'd have terminated a contract with a vendor that's provided excellent service for four years and that was the lowest bidder when the contract was bid out last year -- all over whether it had a certification that it now has. That would not have been good for Ridgewood's residents, for Ridgewood, or for taxpayers.

I am grateful to many supervisors for their understanding of the difference between the Board's responsibilities and those of the Executive Branch. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the Board on matters of real importance to the people of Racine County.

RacinePost's earlier major stories on this dispute are HERE and HERE.

Drunk driver charged with homicide in bicycle death

The woman who hit two bicyclists in the Town of Raymond on July 9 was charged with homicide. She was drunk at the time of the crash, according to the criminal complaint. You can read the full complaint here.

A 'targeted' murder starts the day in Racine

Wednesday started out with murder in Racine.

As the Racine Police Department tells it:
At 1:01 a.m. officers responded to 3315 Victory Ave. for the report of an attempted homicide. A female occupant told officers that two masked parties had entered the home, and entered the upstairs bedroom where she and her boyfriend were sleeping.

The masked men forcibly removed the boyfriend from the bedroom, taking him downstairs and shot him in the face several times. The masked men then fled the home.

The victim, a 28-year-old male, was pronounced deceased at the scene.

In addition to his girlfriend, there were two children, 4 and 8, in the home at the time. Investigators are processing the scene and interviewing family members that were in the home.

Based on the initial investigation, there is a belief that the victim in this case, was specifically targeted and may have known his attackers. This is not believed to be a random attack.

Anyone with information pertaining to this investigation is asked to contact the Racine Police Department at 262-635-7700. Persons with information can also call CrimeStoppers at 262-636-9330.
UPDATE: At 8:28 a.m. this morning, Racine Police released the following information. It becomes less clear whether the victim was targeted or not:
The masked offenders did enter via the front door of the home, and as a result of that noise, they woke up the mother of the victim who had been sleeping on the couch. As she spotted the masked offenders, she screamed and her son (the victim) came running down the stairs from the second floor, spotted the offenders, and attempted to return back up the stairs.

One of the offenders pursued the victim, dragging him back down to the living room and demanded “the money." They then dragged the victim into the kitchen and a few minutes later, returned him to the living room where they threw him down onto a couch. One of the offenders headed for the door, while the other offender shot the victim several times in the upper body and face. The second offender then followed the first offender out of the area.
SECOND UPDATE: More now from the JT, which identifies the victim as Terrence D. Miller.

July 22, 2008

Rep. Vos raises $83K for re-election

State Rep. Robin Vos is off to a nice start in his bid for re-election. He's raised $83,538 for the fall race against Linda Flashinksi. It's hard to say how much money Vos will need to hold the seat. It's a Republican-leaning district and Vos is formidable. But Flashinski has some name recognition from her time with Unified and no doubt Democrats will be gunning for Vos, who is already one of the party's top leaders. In a political year that seems to be leaning Democrat (though there's a long way to go) Vos will need every penny to hold on to his seat. It could get real rough if business money in favor of KRM gets in the mix

Flashinski reported Monday that she's collected $12,956, and has spent $2,608.

Here's Vos' statement:


RACINE - A campaign finance report filed yesterday with Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board revealed that Rep. Robin Vos (R-Caledonia) was successful in raising $83,538 to aid him in his bid for reelection to the State Assembly this fall.

"I'm thankful for the overwhelming support I've received from the people in Racine County," said Vos. "Representing their interests in Madison is the best part of my job."

Rep. Vos noted the importance of gathering the majority of his support from those who vote for him. A Racine Journal Times article reported earlier this year that, compared to all other Racine County state representatives and senators, Robin raises the least amount in out-of-state contributions.

He remarked: "I've always made it a point to run a very grassroots campaign. In 2006, we knocked on every door. This year, alone, we've knocked on more than 5000 doors, and it's our intent to visit every house again before the general election."

Robin explained that during the month of June, as he was collecting enough signatures to have his name placed on the fall ballot, over 100 people volunteered to help him circulate his nomination papers. These volunteers were successful in collecting over 1500 signatures, reportedly the most collected by anyone in the state.

Rep. Vos also prides himself on his accessibility. He calls most constituents back personally to better understand the issues that are of concern to them. In the last legislative session, Vos made more than 3,000 phone calls his constituents. He said it makes no difference if they call, email, or write, he calls them back to assure his constituents that their communications to his office are heard.

"My accessibility is a key component in my ability to gather the support of the community," said Vos. "Because I go door to door, and spend hours on the phone with constituents, I know what the most important issues are to them."

Vos indicated the most frequently-heard concerns right now relate to people's uneasiness about the lagging economy. He also hears complaints every day about Wisconsin's high tax burden, the need to create more high-paying jobs, concerns about accessibility to quality, affordable health care, and the need to have a strong education system in Racine.

The fall election is scheduled for November 4th. Vos is being challenged by Linda Flashinski, the former president of the Racine Unified School Board, and a Caledonia democrat.

Coe behind attacks on Hughes?

We received an anonymous tip last week claiming that City Administrator Ben Hughes was in the crosshairs of a group of city politicos. After today's news in the JT about Sandy Tingle's suit against the city, it looks like there was some truth behind the tip. So, here's what was written to us:
Alderman Jeff Coe has filed an open records request with the city. He wants copies of city administrator Ben Hughes' e-mails. He has been making noise publicly about "going after" Mr. Hughes and trying to get him fired. This has something to do with a personnel dispute involving another employee in the Mayor's office.

Doing it right: Impressive Park 6 club opens on Sixth Street

Thomas Holmes, coordinator of events at Park 6, stands behind the bar
at Racine's newest club.

Where'd this place come from?

I drove past Sixth and Park streets yesterday and saw the "Park 6" club for the first time. The front doors were open so I ducked in to find out when the club was going to open. Turns out it's been open for three weeks. ... so much for being on top of things. (I was still waiting for the salsa club to move into this place.)

Park 6 looks incredible. I met briefly with Thomas Holmes, coordinator of events at the club, and, in his words, "the man who made things happen." I'd try to describe the place, but the pictures below do a better job.

A view from the back of the club looking forward.

The club has a huge open space with a raised stage, floor to ceiling windows, leather couches, two pool tables, a dart board and tables throughout. It's obvious the owners sunk some money into this place, which should work out well for them. Let's all take note: You can't get by on the cheap. If you're going to do something, do it well and put the money in on the front side.

It's also completely smoke free. "We want people coming in smelling good and leaving smelling good," Holmes said. He added that they've only gotten positive feedback on the smoking ban, and it's smokers who are the most complimentary. (Don't forget the smoke-free celebration at Shilling's today.)

Here are the leather couches in the front window.

Holmes described the crowd they've gotten so far as being a little older and sophisticated. There's dancing most nights, and Tuesday nights there's a jazz jam session. The hours are 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Cold sandwiches are served from 5-9 p.m.

The bathrooms are getting rave reviews. Here's the women's bathrooms ...

... and the men's.

The Park 6 has a good chance for success. Holmes, who designed Park 6, owns three establishments in Milwaukee, including Temptation Jazz and Blues, Fitzgerald's and the Amistad Pavilion. He's in business with owner James McCaine. Kati Connor is the manager.

July 21, 2008

River Walk planned for Downtown Racine

A conceptual drawing of the river looking downstream from 6th Street. UW-Milwaukee Community Design Solutions student Anna Grosch created the drawing.

A few months back I wrote a story for Wisconsin Builder Magazine about Baraboo's plans to reclaim the Baraboo River as a source of economic development. In talking with river experts, Racine kept coming up as another city that was doing interesting things with its river. I'd heard a little about the city's plans to develop along the Root River, but thought it was more Mayor Becker's dream than actual progress.

The dream may be more real than I thought. The Root River Council and River Alliance of Wisconsin presented a fully formed plan (click here to read it) to convert Racine's Root River from an after-thought into a jewel of economic and environmental development.

The key to the proposal (in my opinion) is a river walk along the south side of the river from the 6th Street Bridge to the Main Street bridge. It would be no more than 15-feet wide and lined with native plants. It'd also create public access along the river, which now seems exclusive to the yacht clubs, and connects nine city parks, two county parks, two golf courses and neighborhoods.
Proposed banners for the retaining wall beneath Water Street in Downtown Racine. Rendering by Ann Grosch.

For development, waterfront properties are hot (that's why Wisconsin Builder was interested in Baraboo's plans). People are paying premiums for business, condos and homes with access to water, and Racine would benefit if it can replace the old industrial buildings on the Root with newer developments. Yeah, the development will go to people with money. But the plan makes four specific recommendations for making the river more accessible to the public. They include:

* Provide access points for public fishing, boating, and viewing the river
* Draw people to the river by placing signs directing them to recreational opportunities along the river
* Move the Mound Avenue section of the Root River Pathway off the street between 6th and Marquette Streets
* Improve the Water Street retaining wall by placing public art over the wall
* Connect the river walk to downtown by improving the 4th Street stairs and adding matching access on the park

It's hard to say how much, if any, of this can get built. Organizers are moving forward with a public listening session on July 29. Here's the details:

You can help make Back to the Root: An Urban River Revitalization Plan a reality

By attending the next Root River Conversations on Tuesday July 29 you will learn about several opportunities for you to take action to improve the Root River in Racine.

Back to the Root: An Urban River Revitalization Plan is a vision for the Root River that was created by the Root River Council based on more than a year’s worth of public input. The plan lays out recommendations to bring a positive focus back to the Root River within the City of Racine. It is available for download at www.backtotheroot.org

What: Root River Conversations
When: Tuesday July 29, 6-8 pm
Where: Root River Environmental Education and Community Center (REC), 1301 6th Street

Here are the volunteers who helped put the plan together:
  • Chris Flynn, owner of DP Wigley
  • Susan Greenfield, executive director of the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network
  • Reva Holmes, board member of the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network
  • Rep. Cory Mason, a board member of the River Alliance of Wisconsin
  • Donna Peterson, of the Southeast Gateway Group Sierra Club
  • Bonnie Prochaska, the owner of Ginkgo Leaf Consulting
  • Thomas Schnaubelt, the dean for Community Engagement and Civic Learning at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside
  • Melissa Warner, coordinator of Weed Out! Racine and vice chair of the Southeast Gateway Group Sierra Club
Allison Werner and Helen Sarakinos, staff with the River Alliance of Wisconsin, were the paid consultants on the job.

Here's a link to the JT's story on the report. The comments aren't real supportive (surprise, surprise).

July 20, 2008

Spirit of Racine Triathlon overcomes foggy start

Swimmers trudge through the fog to the starting point

The big story at the start of the Spirit of Racine Triathlon this morning: fog. It covered everything. It limited visibility -- it was hard to see the buoys swimmers would have to pass, and impossible to see the safety boats.

And it delayed the start of the race...

But then it lifted! By 8 a.m. the first waves of what would prove to be almost 2,000 triathletes hit the water for the 1.2-mile swim, the 12.4-mile run, the 56-mile bicycle race. Here are some pictures from the beginning of Sunday's race.

Transition point a mass of bicycles and cyclists at 7 a..m.

A last moment to reflect, and get ready for what's ahead

As far as the eye can see: Swimmers waiting for the start

At 8 a.m., the fastest men's pros hit the water

Less than four hours later...winners!

All received finisher's medals...

...and this one also got the pretty girl!

We'll link to the complete race results as soon as they're online. For now, only this: The overall winner is Luke Bell, who completed the course in 3:49.58. Joe Gambles was second, barely a minute behind at 1:51.03. David Thompson, who won in 2006 and 2007 and was seeking a tri-peat, came in third, not quite four minutes behind with a time of 3:53.47.

Spirit of Racine Half Triathlon
Spirit of Racine Half Triathlon/Half Aquabike
Yesterday's Women's Only Triathlon and Blue Wave Sprint results HERE.