November 15, 2008

City Council agenda

For anyone interested, here's the agenda for next Tuesday's City Council meeting. It's packed with items.

Property Transfers: Comfort Inn sells for $2.575 million; Houses holding value

Here are the property transfers for Nov. 3-7.

A few notes:

* The Comfort Inn at 1154 Prairie Drive in Mount Pleasant sold for $2.575 million on Oct. 7. It was recorded by the county on Nov. 4.

* It's not all bad for housing prices in Racine County. A home at 1101 Cooper Hawk Drive in Burlington sold for $437,000, well above the assessed value of $372,800.

* The top selling home in Racine, at 1101 Russet St., sold for $189,900. The assessed value was $184,000.

* A quick look through five other properties sold in Racine this month found they all were selling for about 2-4 percent over their assessed value.

November 14, 2008

RUSD wins 6 state public relations awards

Racine Unified has been awarded six Spectrum Awards from the Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA), in statewide competition for school public relations professionals.

Racine Unified earned three Awards of Excellence, for internal newsletter, “All About Kindergarten” handbook and brochure, and the “Our Kids. Our Schools. Our Future.” materials. The “All About Kindergarten” and “Our Kids. Our Schools. Our Future.” materials received perfect scores.

Racine Unified also earned three Awards of Merit for community newsletter, enrollment information, and Inside Unified audio recordings.

Health Department: State code requires attendent at Laurel Clark Fountain

I just interviewed City Health Director Janelle Grammer and Environmental Health Sanitarian Keith Hendricks about the Laurel Clark Fountain. Grammer and Hendricks play an important role in the discussion because they're required to enforce state code for the fountain.

Here's their conclusions:

1. A new state code, implemented this year, requires an attendant at the fountain whenever people are in the water. The code actually leaves this ambiguous, but Hendricks said he received an interpretation from the state that said an attendant would have to be there whenever the fountain is running.

2. The city is required to enforce the state code, Grammer said. When asked what would happen if the city chose not to enforce the code, Grammer said this was not a possibility.

3. I asked how hotel pools, where there's a clear risk of drowning, can get away with posting a "No Lifeguard on Duty" sign while splash pads like the Laurel Clark Fountain require an attendant. Hendricks said he asked the state the same question, and was not given a clear answer.

4. When asked if there was any question as to whether an attendant was required at the fountain, Hendricks said: "There is no question whatsoever." (This is an important issue because the city would have to pay someone to watch the fountain whenever kids are splashing in the water. This could cost $15,000 a year, money the city may not have.)

5. Hendricks said the state updated its code this year. The city was out of compliance with the state code this summer.

6. The city could request a variance from the state to run the fountain unattended, Grammer said. It's unlikely they would get one, because Milwaukee and other communities throughout the state have splash pads and they provide attendants for them, Hendricks said.

7. There was talk of limiting the hours of the fountain to make it more affordable to run, Hendricks said. But that idea was dismissed because the intent of the fountain was to be "attractive."

8. The fountain was not built with a chlorine system. The chlorine intake system was later added, which led to pumps being eroded, Hendricks said.

9. The chlorine is needed. There are documented cases of untreated "splash" fountains leading to outbreaks of E. coli, Hendricks said. "Numerous people became ill," he said.

Background on the Laurel Clark Fountain controversy

For anyone trying to dig into the Laurel Clark Fountain controversy, here are some resources to look at:

Snow's Memo

Here's the memo Donnie Snow wrote to Mayor Becker and City Administrator Ben Hughes on July 3. It lays out the case for shutting down the fountain.

State Standard

Here is the state standard that regulates use of the fountain, known as an "interactive play attraction" to the state. According to the standard, the Laurel Clark Fountain would require an attendant (not a lifeguard) to be on the premises and provide period supervision.

It's hard to say what the "premises" would be for the fountain, but it's hard to imagine an existing city employee couldn't be assigned to check in on the fountain throughout the day. Would it really cost $15,000 to $30,000 a year to have someone check on the fountain? No city official does that now?

In his memo, Snow confuses the issue by suggesting two attendants would be needed to monitor the fountain. It appears, at most, one attendant is needed.

It also seems common sense would apply. If hotels can post a sign that says "No Lifeguard on Duty" and still allow people to swim, there must be a way to allow kids to splash in a zero-depth fountain without an attendant constantly present. Who would enforce the attendant rule? It seems like a red herring to increase estimates of how expensive it is to run the fountain.

See the city's response here.

Original Use

There are suggestions that the fountain was not built with the intention of children splashing in the water, and as a result the city has had to pay $50,000 to $82,000 a year in unanticipated costs to maintain the fountain.

It's clear from news stories dating back to 2000 that a splash fountain was envisioned for the Johnson Parkway. It was being used as such in 2002, and every summer since.

It's likely Snow and the city are trying to save money, and they've targeted the fountain as an area where they can trim. Their plan is to build a $30,000 chain-link fence around the fountain and apparently recirculate water without chlorine. The lack of chlorine will slow wear and tear on the pumps, but it won't completely eliminate maintenance on the fountain (unless they intend to let it go the way of the city's Festival Hall ice rink). There will still be annual costs. What are those costs?


In his memo, Donnie Snow says the city installed a chlorine intake system in 2004 "after it became evident that the public wanted to use the fountain as a splash pad." (Actually, it was the designers and city planners who wanted the fountain used as a splash pad. Just look at it's design! It was made to walk in.)

The city may have installed a new system in 2004, but it was already using chlorine in the fountain in 2003. The JT reported on it in its Glad You Asked column:
Q: Does the Dr. Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain use fresh water or does it recirculate the same water? If it is recirculated, how is the water sanitized?

A: Rick Jones of the city's Public Works Department was a fountain of information for Glad You Asked. He told us the water in the Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain is recycled. "We have a very elaborate filtration system," he said. The system, which is underground, uses both chlorine and ozone to clean the water before it is recycled, he said. Additionally the water is tested on a daily basis and there are also regular tests of the spray water to check for microbes. The fountain, by the way, closed for the winter on Oct. 1, but will be back spraying and bubbling in spring on May 1.

November 13, 2008

Becker prefers other fountain(s) for kids

Well, that didn't take long.

Word Wednesday about the potential closing of Downtown's summer kid magnet, the Laurel Clark memorial fountain, has brought a response from Mayor Gary Becker. Becker wants to see more fountains for kids, not fewer -- but he'd rather build new ones at existing community centers than upgrade the one kids now enjoy at the east end of Sam Johnson Parkway. His plan could save on personnel costs, if fountain attendants were drawn from existing center employees, he said.

Donnie Snow, Racine's Parks and Recreation Director, estimated this week it might cost $175,000 to rehab the existing fountain for kids' continued use, plus the cost of attendants, chemicals and water.

Meanwhile, the husband of astronaut Laurel Clark, who spent her high school years in Racine, said he was disappointed to hear that the fountain might be enclosed by a fence to keep kids out. Jonathan Clark is quoted in today's Journal Times saying, "To not allow it to be an interactive fountain is really unfortunate. I think (Laurel) would have felt the same way ... She was very much a water person and valued kids’ activities as a part of learning."

The only problem with Becker's plan is cost: He estimates the bill for two new kids' fountains at $400,000. But the fountain constructed in 2001 -- almost two years before the space shuttle exploded upon re-entry -- cost $700,000 to build.

And the only reason Snow brought the matter before the City Council this week was budgetary -- his fears that maintaining the fountain might force layoffs elsewhere as chlorine damaged the fountain's innards requiring continued repairs, and the rising cost of chemicals and water -- not to mention salaries for the newly-required attendants. Nowhere in Snow's memorandum, however, was a figure as large as $400,000...

Root-Pike WIN announces $25,359 in grants

The Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network announced the following grants for the fall:

· $9,804 to the Chiwaukee Prairie Preservation Fund, Inc., Kenosha, to undertake a thorough inventory of plants in the Chiwaukee Prairie in Kenosha County, particularly rare native plants, map them using GPS, and update the Plant Checklist which was first compiled in 1912 and most recently updated in 1986.

· $6,280 to the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, Madison, to fund equipment that will be used to remove invasive plants and restore 30 acres of the Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area in Kenosha County, which is owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

· $6,050 to the YWCA River Bend Nature Center, Caledonia, to fund a natural resource inventory, assessment and stewardship plan for 80 acres of the center’s lands.

· $3,225 to the Village of Hales Corners Environmental Committee to fund a natural lawn care demonstration project at a village fire station that will show how a healthy weed-free lawn can be achieved using natural compost tea and corn gluten, thus reducing polluted stormwater runoff caused by synthetic fertilizers and herbicides.

Six applications were submitted for grant funding in the cycle that ended August 25, 2008. Root-Pike WIN’s next grant cycle ends Feb. 2, 2009 and grants will be awarded in spring 2009.

Since 2001 Root-Pike WIN has awarded $382,857 to 83 watershed projects, thanks to financial support from SC Johnson Fund, E.C. Styberg Foundation, Racine Community Foundation and WE Energies Foundation. The Root-Pike watershed extends from New Berlin to Pleasant Prairie and includes portions of Waukesha, Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties. The Root-Pike WIN grew out of a group convened in 1998 by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to identify critical natural resource issues in the Root River and Pike River watersheds.

Regency Mall pursuing year-round, indoor pool

Curt Pruitt, manager of Regency Mall, wrote us with an interesting response to the brewing controversy over whether kids will be able to continue splashing around in the Laurel Clark Fountain in Downtown Racine.
I'm still seeking an operator who is interested in taking the 27,500 square foot front-facing bankrupt Linens 'N' Things space to create a huge indoor (read - year-round!) water park. I'm totally unfamiliar with water park "requirements" and "needs," but would appreciate the opportunity to negotiate with someone who might agree that the Racine community would support such a facility.

Mayor Becker has turned me down as he's seeking much more acreage than I have available. Additionally, he's not interested in taking any of our parcels "off" the tax roles (understandable). Consequently, if there's an enterprising investor who would like to break new ground in a regional shopping mall, feel free to have them contact me.

Pete reported on this awhile back.

Cory Mason appointed to state's budget-writing committee

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, is making a name for himself in Madison. Now, he has a powerful committee appointment to match his growing reputation.

The Democratic leadership in the Assembly appointed Mason to the powerful Joint-Finance Committee. The appointment places Mason in the middle of a budget process that sets the state's priorities for the next two years.

He'll likely be the second local legislator to serve on the committee. Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, served on the last Joint Finance Committee and is a good bet to be reappointed.

Here's the announcement on Mason's appointment:
Speaker designate Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) announced today that he has appointed Representative Cory Mason to the Joint Committee on Finance. The Joint Committee is responsible for setting the state’s biennial budget.

"Cory Mason has proven to be a tremendously hard worker, has a good policy head on his shoulders, and always advocates for the concerns of working families. That's why I am so pleased to appoint Rep. Mason to the Joint Committee on Finance," said Rep. Mike Sheridan. Sheridan was elected to be the Speaker of the state Assembly yesterday by his Democratic colleagues.

"I am deeply honored to be appointed to Finance," said Mason. "I hope to be a strong advocate for the middle class in Racine and across the state. I am also humbled by the appointment, because the work ahead of us—addressing the deficit—will be a challenge." The state is facing an estimated $5 billion deficit for the next biennium.

Speaker designate Sheridan has six appointments to make to the Joint Committee on Finance. The other appointees are Rep. Pocan (chair), Rep. Colon (vice chair), Rep. Shilling, Rep. Sherman, and Rep. Grigsby.

Coon hound/pointer puppy looking for a home

The Countryside Humane Society is done fixing the kennel flooring, and once again has some nice dogs looking for homes.

Here's just one of their charmers: Daisy Mae, an 8-week-old puppy, a mix of German Shorthair Pointer and Treeing Walker Coon Hound. She is one of a litter of eight, and has both a sister and brother at Countryside for you to choose from. (Four of their siblings were sent to the Elmbrook Humane Society in Brookfield, to look for homes; one already has been adopted.)

Daisy Mae will grow up to be a large dog with lots of energy, with a strong urge to follow her nose -- so a fenced yard is needed. With enough exercise, we're assured by Countryside, hounds make good house pets who are loyal to their family and affectionate.

Interested? Visit Daisy Mae at Countryside, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

November 12, 2008

What's black and white and new all over (at the Zoo)?

The Racine Zoo has two new residents: female zebras acquired from the Glen Oak Zoo in Peoria.

One is a 25-year-old Grant’s zebra, while the other is a 4-year-old Damara zebra. While these two subspecies share many similarities, the most notable difference is the existence of a gray shadow of a stripe between the dark stripes on the Damara. (Which would make the one pictured here the ... um, Damara?)

The zebras are not being exhibited yet, due to standard quarantine procedures involved with any animal transfer. The quarantine allows them to be monitored closely to ensure they are healthy and do not have any communicable illnesses that went undetected at their prior residence or were acquired during transport. This practice also ensures that the Zoo’s current collection is safe from any threat of an undiscovered illness.

The quarantine will end later this month and the zebras will be exhibited in the Charles and Jennifer Johnson Land of the Giants when the black rhinos, that are less cold-tolerant, move inside for winter. The two species would not be shown together due to space limitations.

Zebras are native to eastern and southern Africa. Subsisting on grass, these herbivores have unique striping patterns exclusive to the individual – similar to the fingerprints of a human. At the Zoo, the zebras will eat hay, a specially formulated zebra pellet, and, eventually, alfalfa.

“We are thrilled to add zebras to our collection. We know these will be very popular animals. Acquiring them has been an undertaking in the works for over two years,” said Jay Christie, Racine Zoo president and CEO.

Zoo guests and passers-by on North Main Street might notice a protective black tarp on the fence facing Main Street on the Zoo’s North end. The temporary barrier is part of the Zoo’s new giraffe exhibit and is up while the two giraffes who arrived in early June become accustomed to the nearby vehicle and foot traffic.

The Racine Zoo is open daily between Labor Day and Memorial Day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children 3-15, $3 for seniors and children under three; Zoo members are free.

No pool for Racine kids. Now no fountain, either?

Oh, the irony!

For 20 years, the block sat empty, a parking lot for postal vehicles, an eyesore at the heart of Racine. The city finally got its act together in the new millennium: the Johnson Building was built on much of the lot opposite Monument Square, Sam Johnson Parkway was created, providing a view to the lake, a place to sit, anchored by a lovely fountain at its base, built in 2001 as part of the larger Main Street rehabilitation. The whole parkway project cost $2.3 million; the fountain itself $700,000.

On hot summer days, the fountain -- once officially named "Splash Square" but never called that by anyone -- rings with the laughter of children.

What could be nicer?

Ah, but in one of those ironies of government, exacerbated by shrinking budgets, the city is now contemplating spending $30,000 to build a fence to keep the kids out.

Surely, there's a better answer! But it will be costly.

The fountain today is more than just a well-used amenity for little kids in bathing suits, dashing through the spray. Out of tragedy, came significance: the fountain was overlaid with mementos of Racine native Laurel Clark, one of seven astronauts killed when the space shuttle Columbia exploded upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere on Feb. 1, 2003.

Thanks to about $150,000 in public donations, and $50,000 in city money, the fountain became a memorial -- but one which still rings with the laughter of children enjoying the water spray while their mothers sit nearby.

What could be better? Not much. A Journal Times article last year, "Hot Tips to Stay Cool," listed this as No. 10: "The Dr. Laurel Blair Salton Clark Memorial Fountain, Sam Johnson Parkway in Downtown Racine: It's a great place to splash around, especially for kids."

In fact, when the memorial part of the fountain was finally being completed in September 2007, Brian O'Connell, city development director, explained why no work was done during the summer: “We didn’t want to have the fountain out of commission in the summer,” he said. “We wanted it available for kids to play."

Well, that was then. This is now.

City Parks and Recreation Director Donnie Snow sent a memo to the City Council this week pointing out the high cost of operating the fountain -- especially as an amenity for kids rather than just something to look at. Turns out, when the fountain was first constructed, nobody expected that kids would be attracted "in great numbers... to play in the jetted waters of the fountain... therefore causing the fountain to be used as a 'Splash Pad' rather than a fountain to just sit and view aesthetically."

Because kids starting to use the fountain, state codes had to be met: the water had to be treated with chemicals just as a swimming pool. And those chemicals -- primarily chlorine -- "compromised" the pumps and motors and copper pipes not designed for them. Repairs and maintenance last year cost $82,000, Snow said, up from $50,000 the year before.

Snow says the city could remove the chlorine system it installed in 2004 and upgrade the fountain to accommodate fresh water -- for $175,000. Oh, and then the water bill would be $130,000 a year.

Regardless, if kids are permitted in the fountain, he says, city and state health codes require an attendant -- at a cost of $31,000 a year.

Snow -- who shouldn't be considered the bad guy in all this -- acknowledges that if the city had built the fountain with kids in mind, "some of these costs could have been averted." But now he says, "when you weigh the alternatives, I think it would be even more heartbreaking if we didn't treat the water properly and regulate the chemicals. It cuts both ways. It would be nice to have a water attraction kids can go into."

The fence, he said, "was a proposal we made to the mayor in terms of cost. If you asked us, when faced with other costs, with eliminating positions, where do we look to cut costs? This is something people can enjoy aesthetically; it doesn't have to be something kids can play in.

"If it came down to kids using the fountain vs. cutting a position, my recommendation would be to make this an aesthetic fountain for viewing and not one for kids to play in."

Still, memory sends me back to the archives. Why, here's a quote from Mayor Gary Becker -- as recently as this past June! -- lamenting the fact that Racine doesn't have a municipal swimming pool. Hasn't had one since the 1960s, in fact: "Find me another community our size without municipal swimming pools," Becker said. "It’s a great place for kids to go in summer. They become great community meeting places." Snow, too, recalls learning to swim in the Washington Park Pool, closed in 1968 when the city chose not to spend $200,000 on repairs.

OK, the Laurel Salton Clark Memorial Plaza isn't a municipal swimming pool, far from it. But it's the closest thing we've got. Doesn't say much that it kinda, sorta developed on its own. Would say even less if the city now fences it off -- without offering the kids any alternative. Just my .02 cents.

November 11, 2008

United Way administers Volunteer Solutions website

Are you an individual looking for volunteer opportunities? Are you an organization that needs volunteers? Volunteer Solutions, is an online volunteer database for both individuals and organizations. Recently, United Way of Racine County assumed the lead role in administering the Volunteer Solutions Web site.

Individual volunteers can create multiple profiles based on their social interests, skills and time availability as well as location. They can find volunteer opportunities immediately or return to the site later to search for additional opportunities. Individuals can even choose to receive email updates when a volunteer opportunity arises that matches their profile. They also can use the site to research the sponsoring agency to learn more about it before volunteering.

Organizations can list volunteer opportunities, and any information they feel is helpful to a volunteer. They can create a link from Volunteer Solutions to their own website for the volunteer to learn more, at no cost.

United Way of Racine County plans to enhance the use of Volunteer Solutions through a more active marketing effort and by working closely with volunteers and the organizations who list their volunteer opportunities.

Lehman re-elected chair of Senate Democratic caucus

From the Democrats today:
Senate Democrats met in Madison today to elect their leadership for the upcoming 2009-2010 session. By a unanimous vote Senator John Lehman of Racine was re-elected Caucus Chair. As chair Lehman’s primary duties will be to schedule and preside over meetings of the Senate Democrats.

Lehman commented, “Our upcoming session will be a challenging one and I’m honored to be able to continue to represent the 21st District as part of Senate Democrats’ leadership team. I’ll continue to do my best as caucus chair to help make sure that each Democratic Senator, on behalf of the people they represent, has the opportunity to be heard.”

Senate Democrats will continue as the majority party holding 18 of 33 seats in the body.

November 10, 2008

UPDATED: Racine's CNH Capital laying off 115 employees

Update: CNH Global Spokesman Tom Witom said Tuesday that CNH Capital was laying off 115 employees in its North American operations. He estimated it amounted to 10 percent of CNH Capital's worldwide operations; he didn't know what percentage of the North American operations the layoffs totaled.

Witom said at least half of the lay offs were occuring in Racine, but did not have an exact number. CNH Capital's office in Racine would stay open.

Witom, head of news and information for CNH Global, added that no press release would be issued on the layoffs.

"When we make an adjustment like this it's not a material event," he said. "If we downsize or hire 50-70 people we wouldn't make an announcement."

"It's still a difficult situation," Witom added.

The layoffs have started and will be occurring throughout the month, he said. They were caused by a downturn in the construction equipment market. They will not affect money available to CNH's dealers and customers, Witom said.

Witom's news differs from a high-ranking source we talked to within CNH Capital. Our source was confident the layoffs were between 125 and 150 employees. He also went into detail about financial dealings within the company that left them vulnerable to the recent market downturn. See our initial report below.

The JT is finally reporting the news here.

Here is our initial report:

Racine's CNH Capital is laying off 60 percent of its workforce this week, according to a company official with detailed knowledge of the decision.

The layoffs began Monday with human resources representatives meeting individually with employees and escorting them out of the building, according to the source. The workforce reduction amounts to between 125 and 150 positions. More than 100 of the lost jobs are in Racine.

A CNH Capital spokesman said Monday evening that a press release was going out Tuesday. He denied the company was laying off as many employees as we quoted, but our source said he was absolutely certain about the numbers. The spokesman declined to even confirm layoffs occurred Monday.

Employees in the inside sales, outside sales, marketing, credit, note processing, wholesale and retail positions were laid off, our source said. They added that no employee was sacred. People with years of experience and people with no experience were let go. They described the scene Monday as "devastating."

"It's so many people," our source said. "You had single moms losing their jobs, young parents with newborns who lost their jobs. The human tragedy in this is horrible."

The irony of the move is that CNH reported record profits of $252 million in its third quarter, and new CNH equipment is basically sold out for the rest of the year. But the roiling finance markets took its toll on CNH Capital, which lends money to equipment dealers and customers.

Here's a description from the company's website:
A global financing powerhouse. Today, CNH Capital delivers a wide array of financial products and services to well over half a million customers in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Australia. CNH Capital markets retail and wholesale financing products directly to customers and through the CNH global network of approximately 12,000 independent dealerships and distributors in 160 countries.

Our source said a complicated type of debt security known as Asset Backed Securitizations forced the layoffs. ABS's are basically debt sold as investments to outside companies. They resulted in instant payment for CNH Capital, but left the company's revenue stream vulnerable to outside companies. Now that market-weary investors aren't interested in buying ABS's, there's no steady stream of income companies like CNH Global.

CNH Global has the same amount of money to lend, it just doesn't have a way of selling those loans to investors for a higher profit, our source said.

They added CNH Global is basically projecting there is little money to be made over the next 1-2 years, and cut its workforce based on that assumption. Our source was left wondering about this "business strategy."

"You've gotta wonder what's wrong with these folks," he said about company leaders who made the decision.

Our source predicted company officials would release a statement Tuesday saying CNH Capital wasn't immune to the economic downturn and was reducing its workforce in the best interests of shareholders. They'll add that economic conditions have deteriorated to the point where we have to react, our source said.

They added the company did not anticipate the downturn well.

"In good times, you can hardly make a bad decision," they said. "In bad times, it's a question of how have you planned for the rainy day?"

Racine makes Business Week's 'best places' list -- sorta

What is it that makes a community one of the best places in the country to raise kids? How many of you would put Racine in that category?

If you're Business Week magazine -- which makes a career out of its annual best places, best colleges, best places to work issues -- the most important factors that make communities family-friendly include:
  • affordability
  • school performance
  • safety
Already, you're thinking, "Well, that leaves out Racine." But Business Week also includes such factors as:
  • cost of living
  • air quality (check!)
  • job growth
  • racial diversity (check!)
  • local parks and ball fields (check!)
  • zoos (check!)
  • recreation centers (check!)
  • museums and theaters (check!)

Business Week says it dropped from consideration communities with fewer than 50,000 people, or median household incomes less than $40,000 or more than $100,000 (Whoops! This is a close call: The 2000 Census listed Racine's median household income as $37,164, but more current figures say it's $42,234. We just squeak into consideration.)

But, OK, we didn't win. That honor went to Mount Prospect, IL, "a quiet Chicago suburb" whose high school ranks 12th in the state, its football team has been state champion three times in eight years and its marching band has won 26 straight state championships. "It is a middle-class community with low crime, affordable homes, award-winning schools, ethnic restaurants, a major regional mall, and a small-town charm."

Still, Business Week wants to leave happy readers everywhere, and so it has chosen the best places to raise kids in every state.

Alas, Racine didn't win the Wisconsin title, either. That honor went to Eau Claire, population 61,887; median household income, $60,637, "once primarily a logging and manufacturing town but the economy now includes high-tech, health-care and university jobs."

Runners-up in Wisconsin: Appleton and (drum roll, finally!) Racine. (Take that Madison!)

Business Week provides no supporting information, no rationale. Maybe it's better that way. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, Mother always used to say.

Woman found dead Sunday ruled a homicide victim

Racine Police today declared the death of Ann M. Larson, 29, a homicide.

Larson was found dead by a friend on Sunday in her apartment at 2109 Superior St. After an autopsy today, Police and the Racine County Medical Examiner ruled her death a homicide; the cause of death has not been released.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Racine Police Department at 635-7700, or leave a with Crime Stoppers by calling 636-9330 or texting to CRIMES (274637) with Tipsoft I.D. # of (TIP417).

Crime news

JT Publisher Rick Parrish writes in an editorial:
The simple answer is we try to write what our audience wants to read. The popularity of every story published is tracked on the Web site. So on Monday morning I can see how popular every story from Sunday’s paper was. Virtually every day the most viewed stories are crime related. The daily police report is one of the most popular. We also talk to readers and the community at large everyday and their feedback supports the statistics. Additionally, audience research tells us crime news is the No. 1 topic of interest in both print and online.

The JT could publish pornography and increase its readership. Do readers click on crime stories because it's what they want? Or because it's what they get? Too often, I suspect, it's the latter.

Superintendent Shaw wants your input

Racine Unified Superintendent James Shaw is looking public input on what to do about our public schools. He's called a "Community Connections" meeting for Tuesday, Nov. 18 from 6-8 p.m. at the Cesar Chavez Community Center, 2221 Douglas Ave., in Racine.

The description of the meeting is vague. Shaw is simply inviting community members to share their concerns and opinions on issues facing the district. Participants can attend part or all of the event.

Circuit City files Chapter 11

Circuit City, with 721 goody-filled electronics stores like ours on Green Bay Road opposite Regency Mall, filed Chapter 11 this morning. The chain already announced the closing of about 150 stores -- not including ours -- and the bankruptcy filing should not affect the local operation.

A Chapter 11 filing gives a company time to financially reorganize.

November 9, 2008

Now, Wall Street Journal beats the drum for Ryan

"Ordinarily, we would not insert ourselves into the internal debate over party leadership," the Wall Street Journal opined Saturday -- since when? -- "But in the current political and economic climate, it is important that somebody offer an effective argument against the interventionist, antigrowth conventional wisdom that dominates the majority party in Congress."

And who might that be? Why, none other than our own 1st District Congressman, Republican Paul Ryan, darling of the fiscal conservatives. "Paul Ryan seems to be the right man to make the case," says the Journal, joining those already promoting Ryan as House Minority Leader.

The Journal especially likes Ryan because he manages to win re-election in Racine County, which "voted for Barack Obama, 53%-46%, but still voted to re-elect Mr. Ryan 62%-37%. He is, in other words, a politician practiced in speaking to and winning over voters who are not necessarily die-hard Republicans."

You can read the rest of their paen of praise -- "fresh face," "effective communicator on television," "far-sighted Road Map for America's Future," and so on -- HERE.

Alas for the Journal, Ryan already has said he's not interested, citing family concerns. And in response to the WSJ's push Saturday, his press secretary, Conor Sweeney, said he's still not seeking the House leadership post. "While there remains vocal support for Congressman Ryan to lead the House Republicans, the constraints the House minority leader position would place on his family remain," Sweeney said.