Some nights this democracy thing works.
Sure, there was some mayoral grandstanding and subtle digs, but the City Development Committee solved some problems Thursday night, got some people employed and fixed up some housing - all before Grey's Anatomy started.
The big problem of the night was getting people from Racine - mainly teenagers - down to Great America for summer jobs. In past years the amusement park in northern Illinois provided a bus up to Racine to get people to work. This year it canceled the bus, leaving a lot of people without access to a reliable employer.
Pastor Elliot Cohen, an advocate for the Great America program, tried to address the problem with a request from Project New Life to buy a bus to drive the employees to the jobs. But the committee tossed out that idea after City Development Director Brian O'Connell noted the available money typically isn't used to buy "things." It's usually used to provide needed services.
If the committee had approved Cohen's bus proposal, Project New Life would have had to return the vehicle to the city when it wasn't being used for the job program. O'Connell said the city wasn't interested in owning another vehicle, and the committee shut down the idea pretty quickly.
But Parks Director Donnie Snow offered an alternative idea to move people to the jobs on rented buses. It'd cost about $46,000 for the summer, but riders would be required to pay $15 per week to offset some of the cost. The remaining amount ($28,000) will come from the block grant money.
The committee backed the proposal, though Alderman Sandy Weidner raised a solid point when asking if it was the city's job to subsidize Great America $500 a day to carry their employees to the park. But the committee decided it was more important for the Racine residents to get jobs than to worry about a corporation making money off of the city.
Earlier in the meeting the committee had a lengthy discussion about another Project New Life proposal, this one more successful. Cohen and his staff proposed a summer internship program that would pay 20 teenagers from poor families $7.50 an hour to work for a local company for 10 weeks. They requested $30,000 for the project.
This one brought out the mayoral candidates. Aldermen Jim Spangenberg, Greg Helding and Q.A. Shakoor II shamelessly spoke (campaigned?) in favor of the proposal. More importantly, they voted for it. And, to be fair to all three, their points were well taken. All three said Project New Life's proposal was the type of program needed to help kids learn job skills and think about their career.
Spangenberg said it was the type of program that gave kids hope. Helding said he voted against the proposal the first time around, but was impressed Project New Life did its homework, re-wrote the proposal and brought back a solid program he could support. Shakoor added his support by saying Project New Life's proposal was the type of preemptive program needed to deter kids from making bad choices
Alderman David Maack cast the lone vote against the proposal. He suggested Project New Life look into a program that would put teenagers to work doing needed jobs, like landscaping or lawn mowing, and then teach them how to run a business.
Cohen responded that Project New Life has long-range plans to develop new programs for the city, but needed to start with the internship program to build trust and success in the community.
Snow shared a personal story about the program. In the '60s and '70s the city offered employment programs for teenagers in poor households. He participated in one of them and it helped develop his work ethic - and gave him some spending money while growing up.
United Way President Dave Maurer gave a brief presentation on the Advancing Family Assets program, which is designed to help families out of poverty (read our story about it here). The proposal for city funds ($19,000) easily passed the committee, with an aside from Alderman Aron Wisneski who noted the United Way proposal was based on a 10-year "Higher Expectations" plan passed by a committee led by Twin Disc CEO Michael Batten. That was a subtle dig at John Dickert, who is campaigning on a 10-year plan he'd put together as mayor.
The housing programs were passed with relative ease. The committee approved money for Habitat for Humanity ($225,000), Neighborhood Housing Services of Southeast Wisconsin ($278,000), Project New Life ($28,175 - they had a good night), Racine Housing and Neighborhood Partnership ($25,000) and a private rental rehab ($94,425).
Not to leave anyone out, Bonnie Prochaska pitched a $15,000 request to help pay for the "Back to the Root: An Urban River Revitalization plan." It passed with no discussion.