June 27, 2009

'It's not just talk,' the mayor said, wielding a chainsaw

Mayor John Dickert and his son, Riley

It was John Dickert as we haven't seen him before. The usual suit and tie uniform of the real estate broker / mayoral candidate were replaced with bluejeans, t-shirt, baseball cap worn backwards and work gloves.

In his hands, a growling chainsaw.

Dickert and Melissa Warner. Her shirt says,
'Green is the new red, white and blue.'

But first he needed a short lesson from Melissa Warner of Weed Out! Racine. "This one?" the mayor asked, holding a tree's branch for Warner to see. Patiently, she replied, "No, it has seeds; that's a cherry tree..."

"And put your safety glasses over your eyes. They're not for protecting your forehead!"

And so, Racine's new mayor led -- and was led -- as he provided sweat equity and inspiration for the first of his Renew Racine efforts, this one aimed at cleaning out the buckthorn and other invasive species from Riverside Park along the Root River. There was a lot of symbolism in today's project, but also a lot of hard work and progress.

Jesus Lopez, 10, hauling off a tree three times his size

Starting at 9 a.m., some four dozen volunteers manned chainsaws, shovels, clippers and what-have-you, making substantial progress near the Sixth Street bridge alongside the riverbank. Large piles of buckthorn and black locust were hauled out, and ground up.

What does Dickert hope to accomplish? A better-looking park is just the start, but the greater goal is community awareness that "this is a gem." During a short break, Dickert told the volunteers of his experience at the National Mayors' Conference, where other mayors enviously heard him talk of two of Racine's assets: Lake Michigan and the Root River. They had neither, he said.

"I refuse to call this area 'census tracts' " he said. "It's Riverview. We hope and desire that more and more neighbors will come and help. The goal is 50-100 people; we've got a pretty good start."
Administrator-to-be Tom Friedel, doing some of the heavy lifting ...

Melissa Warner and volunteers from Weed Out! Racine provided some of the labor force, and a lot of the knowledge. Riverside, she noted, was either the first or second of the city's parks, dating from 1904. And there also were a few folks from the neighborhood, including Jhon Freddy Correa, a priest from Emmaus Lutheran Church, and some local kids. I counted three aldermen: Tom Friedel, Dickert's choice to be city administrator; Jeff Coe and Greg Helding. Parks director Donnie Snow even limped in, testing his new hip.

Alderman Jeff Coe bested this black locust

There was some good-natured kidding. The idea of the mayor with a chainsaw caused Friedel to worry about the potential for "the massacre on Kinzie." On the other hand, a chainsaw might come in handy during the next budget debate.

Kelly Graham, from the city attorney's office was digging up buckthorn, huckleberry and black locust shoots. She lives in Caledonia, but said, "I'm just here to help." Bob Oertel, one of Warner's early recruits into Weed Out! Racine, has been doing this chore at Riverbend. "Just call me Bob," he said, "not Buckthorn Bob."

Jay Warner gave me a quick lesson in black locust, showing me the little shoots in the grass that appear vulnerable to a lawn mower. But they're not; they'll grow back, and become a tree in a year or two... a tree with wicked thorns. "Cutting them down is not enough; they start spreading. John is right," he said. "This is something we can do."

As Dickert wielded his chainsaw, his son, Riley, hauled out the branches, then went back to dab a few drops of pesticide on the stump, "to keep it from growing back," he explained. The mayor's wife, Teresa, and daughter, Eleanor, were also helping. "It's not just talk," Dickert said. "The mayor, his family, his kids are out there working too."

As volunteers rehydrated themselves with cold drinks and cake provided by McDonald's and O&H Bakery during a short break in the shade of a spreading maple tree, Dickert told them how much he appreciated their hard work ... while warning them, "We're just getting started. We're going to come back every six weeks, or until Melissa tells me to stop."

Melissa Warner looked over at what the group had accomplished in just two hours. "Look over there; you can see the tree trunks," she said. "That's what it should look like." She told the workers, "If you know somebody who would like the lumber and will take it down, I'd like to hear from them." Lots of people will gladly take the free firewood once it's cut and stacked, she said, but she wants more than that.

"We're making a dent," the mayor said, leading the troops back into the forest after giving me the opportunity to take a "class photo," below.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. John Dickert is no longer a real estate broker/mayoral candidate. He IS the mayor!

  3. Why was that first post removed? There was nothing wrong with it.

  4. Racinepost, if you are going to delete posts that's fine, but at least be consistent as to the reason you are doing it. Liking the person in question or not agreeing with the comment should not be the grounds for deleting it. I've seen really nasty, mean, ugly comments being posted here that were not deleted.

  5. Stay tuned...tomorrow the public works department will file a grievence, environmentalists will complain about the tree removal and then there are violations of child labor laws and elder abuse and chainsaw noise complaints!

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. I want to know which guy in the picture is Colt?

  8. Has Mayor Dickert decided what new high paying city position he will create for his wife yet? Maybe one for his son also? Just wondering.

  9. Anon 5:44
    I'm guessing he's the weazel looking guy next to big hat Osterman. I'm not real sure though.

  10. Kelly Graham??? Of course!!

  11. Colt was the the good looking one,

  12. anonymous 5:43 You ARE a jerk, but YOU ROCK!!! Great points about getting hurt.

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Thank you Mr. Dickert. Now I know all the crime has stopped in my neighborhood now that the trees are cleaned up.

    I am forever grateful.

  15. Man, and we all THOUGHT that the JT was censor happy??


  16. Colt; you must not have been there. I don't see a "good looking" one in the bunch.

    I see a few that think they are good looking. I call it smug personally.

  17. Colt took video of the work to put on the Web before helping his young bride with repairs around the hope.
    These videos will with the anti KRM spots will be seen around the area and State.
    Still think this is a good idea

  18. WHATS UP WITH THE CENSORSHIP??????????????

  19. It is called censorship when the government does it. This site is a private entity - they are editing, not censoring. This place is not a playground for whiny malcontents.

  20. I would guess Colt is the only one not smiling. No, Coe doesn't count.

    Where's Dougy?

  21. Anonymous 6/27/2009 5:26 PM,

    The Public Works folks are not likely to file a grievance -- they have been helping invasive removal in other parks for a couple years. People pull junk, they chip it and remove it.

    Environmentalists will not complain - besides, Melissa Warner is Group Chair of the local Sierra Club group. And she knows what she is speaking about. Honeysuckle & buckthorn strongly change the plant life in our parks & 'wild' areas, which changes the other plant life, types of insects, and hence, changes the fish types we have. So fishermen can appreciate what is happening. I don't know anyone who likes black locust and their nasty barbs.

    Didn't see any abuse of children or elders happening there, except occasional difficulty in the latter at keeping up.... And yes, the chain saws were noisy, as was the chipper. But temporary :)

  22. If you can't whine and complain or pick on someone on a blog, what's the point?

  23. "If you can't whine and complain or pick on someone on a blog, what's the point?"

    Yep - know it all loud mouth jerks deserve a place on the internet as well!

  24. I think this project was wonderful. Very good that our leaders got their hands dirty. But, there are many more alderman. Next time, we should see a better turn out. We should also see more support for this sort of thing all over the city.

  25. Mayor Dickert lets have a big Growing Power project here. Racine should be featured. That is something else we have that others don't.

  26. I applaud the effort but have a few questions.

    Of the volunteers how many are unemployed?
    How many are homeless?
    How many have been a recent victim of a crime?
    How many have been forced to go out of business because of the local economy.
    How many have been harassed by the Racine police department?
    How many live in a dilapidated house?
    How many live in the "bad neighborhoods"?
    How many have been plagued by inept city bureaucracies and employees?
    How many struggle to pay their property taxes.

    I guess if they're not plagued by what's killing Racine then I guess cleaning up the woods sounds like a good idea.

  27. Where could the city do a Growing Power project?

  28. 7:40

    I understand that there is a plan to make the Old Danish Home site a Community Garden like Growing Power and perhaps work with them and others on this project.


    is a podcast where lets hope we can learn more.

    I know there are at least two councilmen and a few County Supervisors that believe in this project.

    I understand that (of course) The City Department of Development does not like this idea and wants to see more housing built on this site.
    7:40 maybe we should call the City at let them know we think this is a great idea to bring a Garden to a blighted area vs more low income housing.

  29. All show..no substance

    Its a magic show...here's the left hand do not watch the right

  30. Negative...Negative...Negative...

    Get off your butts and from behind your keyboard and do something postive to make this city better instead of criticizing those who are!

  31. I absolutely CANNOT believe all the mean-spirited, ugly remarks being made here. Can't you just be grateful for the new mayor, along with his family and a group of citizens getting out and cleaning up a public space? Sheesh is right. I wasn't aware that Rush Limbaugh lived in Racine but many of these comments appear to reflect his hatefulness. What a sad, sad commentary on this community. I am disgusted.

  32. I just remembered why I made a pledge to myself long ago to STOP READING the comments section. I was feeling so good 10 minutes ago. We have three consecutive days of glorious weather. My morning began with an uplifting church service (even though I am agnostic), I participated in a group activity that made me swell with pride, I had lunch with good friends. Then I made the mistake of reading the comments posted after this heartwarming article. Now I feel that the goodness I was feeling has been sucked out of me. What a bunch of crappy, ugly, hateful people. Do any of you EVER see anything that is good?

  33. "Aint" it great??

    Go back to church!

  34. No one is forcing people to read every comment. You can select which to read or consider valid. I do volunteer alot. I do have trouble too. I do not just sit and whine. Dickert and the volunteers did a great thing. No one is saying that this handles all the cities problems. But within the same topic I am also interested in having an urban garden like Growing power.

  35. 8:53

    You better call Dept of City Development and ask that the proposal to turn the old Danish home site into a Community Garden approved.
    I understand even the Mayor likes the idea but Mr. X (he who we can not name) wants to put more low income housing in.

  36. Its obvious why Kelly Graham is there. It's called job security. She must be worried about something...