January 10, 2009

Perfect weather for ice carving, and trash talking

Joe Haas creates Lightning McQueen, his 3-year-old son's favorite

The snow was falling this morning. So was the temperature. Cars were slip-sliding down Main Street.

A perfect day for ice-carving!

And so, Racine Carves Its Niche took place along Main and Sixth Streets, with a dozen ice-carvers plying their hand tools on 300-pound blocks of ice brought in just for their pleasure.

The carvers -- an extended family of brothers, sisters, boyfriends, father-in-law -- I lost track after a while -- started chipping away at their blocks about 10 a.m., reveling in the cold that drove the rest of us into shelter.

By noon, the blocks were taking shape: What onlookers first took to be a dolphin, began looking more like the shark Andy Haas Schneider had in mind. As she carved the teeth, a little girl said, "My daddy's a dentist. He'd say they all have cavities!"

Art Rice's block was turning into a dragon, Bob Lechtenberg's into a swordfish, Joe Winters' into a toy soldier, or maybe a nutcracker; he wasn't too sure either. What I thought was a chicken, began looking more like a cardinal under the hands of Noreen Haas-Lephardt. Paul Enders obviously was carving a dog.

Mike Lechtenberg was having trouble with his Angel's wings -- one of them had a crack and he was having to "weld" it together.

Joe Haas, sprawled out on the sidewalk, was having no problem with his carving. What I mistook for a Porsche -- all good-looking sports cars are Porsches -- he quickly informed me was actually Lightning McQueen -- the favorite Disney character of his three-year-old son, JJ. It must be a generational thing; I never heard of Lightning. (Maybe he has a Porsche engine?)

Sarah Lephardt works on her snowman's eyes

Sarah Lephardt's was another recognizable sculpture: a snowman with branch arms "taken from down the street, don't turn me in," she said conspiratorally. While I watched, she was digging out eye sockets, and planning a trip to the Subway sandwich shop to beg a couple of olives for eyes. Or maybe strawberries?

Down the street, Dick Emmerich was carving a woman. "Anyone in particular," I asked. "Well, it depends," he said, with a sly smile. "If the butt turns out big, then it's Andy. If it's small, then it's John." Ah, yes, trash talk; I'd forgotten how much this crew likes to rag on each other. "Be sure to print that 'big butt' part," Emmerich said, adding that John was across the street, probably carving a penguin. "He always does penguins, even when he doesn't want to. Everything he does looks like a penguin," he said.

Joe Winters works on his toy soldier. Or will it be a Nutcracker?

Ah, but not this time; John Haas actually was carving a Liberty Bell. Andy knew that; when I stopped by her carving station she suggested I ask her brother John if he was making a Taco Bell. John just laughed, as big brothers do.

And so it went, for about four hours. The jokes and digs were telegraphed back and forth, as the carvers polished their work with scrapers and chisels, and an occasional blast of flame to melt this or that. One thing was certain, the weather was perfect, and so is the forecast: zero or below. Recently, they all had carved at Candy Cane Lane in Milwaukee -- only to have their work washed away the next day by rain.

This time, it looks as though the sculptures will last a while. Be sure to visit them: Along Main Street, on both sides of Monument Square and on Sixth Street. Before the next thaw -- June, probably.
Dick Emmerich tries to decide which relative he's carving...

John Haas carves Liberty Bell as Austin, 5, and Eli Imhoff, 1, watch

Andy Haas Schneider's shark emerges under
the watchful eyes of Isabelle and and William Buhler

La Terraza restaurant opens on Sixth Street

A couple of early diners tryout the new La Terraza on Sixth Street.

A new Mexican restaurant is the latest to join a growing nightlife district on the west end of downtown Sixth Street.

The appropriately named La Terraza opened on the second floor of the former Historic Century Market in the space that was formerly Sticky Rice. La Terraza means balcony or terrace in Spanish.

The business opened last week and had its grand opening this weekend. I met briefly with owner Carlos Cervantes on Saturday afternoon.

Cervantes has 25 years' experience working in restaurants in the Milwaukee area. He's started other Mexican kitchens, but this is his first full restaurant.

The restaurant looks great in the balcony location and the menu has a wide variety of Mexican standards and specials, plus appetizers and salads. Prices range from about $7-$12 per entree. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

There's parking east of the building, which is in the middle of a suddenly strong bar and restaurant district. Blueberries cafe is downstairs, Fireside BBQ, Henry and Wanda's and Timothy York's Bistro are across the street and Asiana, Shogun and Olde Madrid are nearby. The Park 6 bar is also on the block, and the Hopes Center coffee shop is close by.

Not bad for an area that looked pretty desolate a few years ago after the impressive, but money-losing, Century Market was forced to close. Let's hope this area keeps up its momentum.

January 9, 2009

Ryan comes to thrift shops' aid ... as problem solved

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-1st District, wrote the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commissions today about his concern over the "unintendended consequences" coming from a new law aimed at protecting children from products containing lead and other dangerous chemicals.

The law, passed overwhelmingly by Congress with support from the entire Wisconsin delegation, threatened to bring about the closure of thrift stores specializing in children's clothes, because they couldn't possibly afford to test every item they sell. It takes effect Feb. 10. We wrote about it here on Thursday, and on Thursday afternoon emailed Ryan and Sen. Herb Kohl asking for their reaction.

On Friday, Ryan wrote (click the letter at right to read it all) Nancy Nord, chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, that the law is well-intentioned, but "pleas for assistance are compelling," especially those from small retailers and thrift shops "that sell children's clothes that are unlikely to exceed the law's new thresholds." He "strongly encouraged" the commission to consider the ramifications of the law's implementation.

Well, timing is everything.

Or do good intentions matter?

Regardless, Ryan's office sent me a copy of his letter Friday evening. I don't know when it was sent to Nord -- or even whether it's been received yet -- but the CPSC on Friday morning eased the regulations, at least as far as thrift shops and secondhand stores are concerned.

Problem solved. Who really cares how it happened?

Racine Police say arrest solves 2005 drive-by killing

Racine Police announced today that they have solved a three-year old killing. Arrested is Deadrian L. Bostick, 21, charged with three felony counts in a drive-by shooting that left a man dead on June 24, 2005.

The criminal complaint alleges that Bostick was a rear passenger in a vehicle with several others, when he noticed several “Vice Lords” driving around in a different vehicle. Bostick saw that vehicle parked in the driveway at 829 Park Ave., and "leaned out of the car firing several shots towards the area. Darius J. Harlan was struck and killed by the gunfire," police said. Police said Harlan did not appear to be the intended target as he had left the home moments before the shots were fired.

Bostick is charged with repeat counts of first degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon and reckless endangerment.

UW-Parkside's Schnaubelt gets prestigious appointment at Stanford

The UW-Parkside dean who helped create the REC Center in Racine is taking a new job at Stanford University in California.

Prof. Thomas Schnaubelt (pictured right) is the new executive director of the Haas Center for Public Service at the prestigious university. He'll also work as assistant vice provost for student affairs at Stanford.

Schnaubelt will leave his job as UW-Parkside's Dean for Community Engagement and Civic Learning on March 6. He's held the position since 2005. Schnaubelt also runs Parkside's Center for University Partnerships. An interim director of the center likely will be named until a permanent successor is found, Schnaubelt said.

Schaubelt has built a career around bringing the research and expertise on college campuses into their surrounding communities. UW-Parkside created a new position for him in 2005 to build connections in Racine and Kenosha. One of the most visible examples of this in Racine is the REC Center along the Root River. The center rents canoes and kayaks, hosts educational programs for groups and generally works to raise awareness of the river in Racine.

Schnaubelt said Stanford chose him because of the support UW-Parkside gave him in working to connect the university with Racine and Kenosha.

"The reason they're interested in me is because Parkside has made such a name for itself in community engagement," Schnaubelt said. "That's how I got on their radar. I have Parkside to thank for that."

Schnaubelt will start at Stanford on April 6. His wife, Mary Esther Schnaubelt, and their 8-year-old daughter will move out to California after the school year.

Mary Esther is well-known in Racine for her work at Focus on Community curbing underage drinking and holding local businesses accountable for selling alcohol to people under 21.

Schnaubelt grew up in Lake Geneva and considers UW-Parkside his own. He said it'll be hard leaving the area and described himself as a "four-season" person who will miss winter living in southern California. But on a snowy January day, he added California didn't sound so bad.

The move west will be the latest in a career that's taken Schnaubelt around the country. He graduated UW-Stevens Point with a bachelor's degree in physics before earning a master's degree in education from the University of Michigan and a PhD in higher education administration from the University of Minnesota.

While the Stanford opportunity was a good fit, Schnaubelt said he would miss UW-Parkside.

"It's really important for me to share that I'm really happy here," Schnaubelt said. "I was nominated for the position. I didn't go seeking it out."

Vos wails on state Dems' plans

State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, blasted state Dems' plans to raise the minimum wage and help families with autistic children. Both, Vos said, are irresponsible in the current economy. Here's the full release:

As Wisconsin’s economy continues to struggle, Rep. Robin Vos (R-Caledonia) voiced great concern today for a proposal the Senate Democrats are calling their “economic stimulus plan”. Vos says the plan will further damage Wisconsin’s fragile economy by raising the costs of doing business, making it harder for small businesses to borrow money, and increasing health insurance premiums.

“This is their idea of an economic stimulus package?” asked Vos. “The economy has no chance of getting better if this anti-growth, anti-business agenda is signed by the Governor.”

According to Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, the first three bills the Senate will take up this session will raise the minimum wage, overturn a provision designed to make it easier for businesses to obtain capital, and mandate expensive insurance coverage for children with autism.

According to Vos, Decker’s bill to raise the minimum wage shouldn’t even be considered until some point in the future when Wisconsin’s economy is back on track. He believes it would be irresponsible to consider it now when hundreds, if not thousands, of Wisconsin businesses are hanging on by a thread. Vos believes the same to be true about Senator Robson’s autism bill.

“The Assembly passed a bill last session that would have provided more services to autistic children than the current proposal would, but Senate Democrats rejected it in a show of partisan politics,” said Vos. “Now they are bringing this bill back in the name of ‘economic stimulus’. This mandate won’t stimulate the economy, but it will automatically raise insurance premiums for every family across the state.”

Vos expressed particular concern for Senator Lehman’s proposal, coined the “Employee Wage Protection Act”. The bill seeks to overturn current law in an effort to make it more difficult for banks to collect on loans made after businesses shut their doors.

“We have already seen a major credit crunch,” said Vos. “The community bankers I have spoken with are fearful of this proposal because it will ensure that banks take fewer risks on new businesses. Growing our economy means we need more available capital, not less.”

Vos remarked that he looks forward to seeing proposals from Assembly Democrats and hoped Speaker Sheridan would follow through on comments made Monday, in which he stated the priority will be on “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

“I hope the Assembly Democrats will work with us to come up with better ideas than these,” continued Vos. “If they don’t, Wisconsin is in for a tough climb out of a very bad recession.”

Feds investigating massive fraud in municipal bond market

The NY Times has an article today about fraud in the municipal bond market around the country. Wisconsin or Racine aren't mentioned in the story, but the piece raises questions about how local governments (cities, villages, towns, school boards, etc.) borrow money. We're checking with local leaders on potential local impacts.

The fraud involves price-fixing among financial institutions that are supposed to be competitively bidding for municipal loans. According to the article, institutions decided in advance who would win the bid and the others would submit intentionally higher bids to assure the winner. The article estimates it cost local governments $4 billion a year.

Several school boards and communities around the country have sued financial institutions for fraud, according to the NY Times. If anyone out there has insight on whether Racine is, or is not, involved in this, please get in touch.

January 8, 2009

Need a job? The city is hiring

The city looking to fill a few jobs and commission openings in the near future. Here's what's available:

* The Health Department needs a secretary. They must be bilingual and be able to type 50 words per minute. The position interacts with several Hispanic clients and requires a great deal of data entry. Some applicants have applied, but failed the typing component. Applicants can practice their typing skills at the Workforce Development Center before applying for the job. The position has been open for nearly a year, so if you're qualified, the department is ready to hire. Apply through the Human Resources department.

* The city needs police and fire dispatchers. Testing begins Jan. 15, so get your resumes into the city's Human Resources Department. The city has 3-4 openings for full-time dispatchers. You need a bachelor's degree to apply.

* The city's Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission needs to fill two appointments. The commission is required to have an attorney who is a member, and is recruiting to fill that spot. It also needs an at-large member. Given the changes coming to the commission, this could be an important, and powerful, position to take on. If you're interested in applying, or for more information, contact Affirmative Action Officer Jerry Scott at: (262) 636-9175.

New law threatens thrift shops

Lisa Glover, owner of Too Good To Be Through

UPDATE, Jan.9, 2009: Reprieve! The Consumer Product Safety Commission must have been listening to all the howls from thrift shops and their customers -- and has backtracked, exempting resellers.

The CPSC put up a release on its website this morning, stating " CPSC clarifies requirements of new children's product safety laws taking effect in February; Guidance intended for resellers of children's products, thrift and consignment stores."

Gist of the change:
The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.
The full statement is HERE.

Original story:

Buying clothes for your kids is about to get harder. And more expensive.

You mothers who depend upon yard sales and thrift shops to keep up with your kids' growth spurts and changing tastes in clothes -- well, you may be out of luck.

The news is just getting out: Unless Congress acts very quickly, a law passed overwhelmingly last year threatens to put thousands of U.S. consignment shops out of business -- including two in Racine that exclusively sell children's clothing and toys.

Even Goodwill is worried.

It was a well-intentioned law, called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Its aim: keep lead-filled merchandise, primarily toys and clothing, away from children. It passed the House 407 to 0 on Dec. 19, 2007; all Wisconsin lawmakers voted for it, including Rep. Paul Ryan. It passed the Senate on March 6, 2008, 79 to 13. Both of our senators, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, voted aye. It was signed into law by President Bush on Aug. 14, 2008.

The law mandates testing for lead and phthalates (chemicals that make plastics more pliable) of all products for children aged 12 and younger. New and used products. Any product not tested is assumed to be hazardous, regardless whether it contains any lead.

The law takes effect on Feb. 10.

That's the day Lisa Glover, owner of Too Good To Be Through, a children's consignment shop at 720 High Street, expects she'll have to go out of business. "There's no way we can test everything," she said.

Glover, who has run her store for three years -- it used to be on Sixth Street -- said she hadn't heard of the new law until yesterday. "A customer emailed me a link. I was pretty surprised." Actually, she was very surprised, especially because she's on the Consumer Product Safety Commission's email notification list, which provides immediate notice of any product recalls.

"I'm honestly not sure what we're going to do," she said Thursday. "All I know is that we can be fined $100 for each and every item." She looked around her store, as if counting each of the thousands of shirts and skirts and jeans and toys. "One shop I talked to said they could be fined $100,000," she said finally.

Glover doesn't look at the problem as a business problem; although business is improving as the economy has gone to hell, consignment shops aren't very profitable. Rather, she worries how her customers will dress their kids. She speaks from experience, as the mother of two daughters, ages 5 and 6. Too Good To Be Through has had 730 consignors in its six-year history -- the number grows by about 25 each month. Those who consign outgrown clothing to be sold in the shop -- they receive 45% of the sale price when items sell -- generally use the money earned to buy more clothes for their kids.

"What are they going to do?" she asks.

And then there's another issue Glover worries about: the environment: "What is the government telling you to do: Throw everything away when your kids outgrow it? So many people are shopping re-sale," she said. "I hate the idea of these things going into a landfill."

She looked around her shop at the toys and said, "Children's stuff is really, really expensive. The kids play with it for a couple of months and then they stop playing with it." She says, "The mindset is changing; a year ago at Christmas, there was a stigma to giving used toys, but not this year. Blame the economy. The only difference is the used stuff comes without a box."

Glover says day care centers "are devastated" with the new difficulty they will have keeping kids well dressed.

Robin Floyd, who runs Children's Cupboard at 3034 Lathrop Avenue in Elmwood Plaza, worried about foster parents, who do not receive very much money from the state for taking care of children, and depend upon used clothing.

Both shops sell clothing that could pass for new; in many cases it practically is new. It's clean and well presented. Floyd and Glover say they accept only some of what consignors bring in to sell -- maybe just half. The rest is returned to the consignor or, if they don't want it back, is donated to charity. Glover donates clothing to Teen Mom, a Sixth Street program for single mothers run by local churches. The young mothers earn points for going to class, or working and use the points to "buy" things for their kids. Floyd said Dr. Veronica Carver, a local doctor, pays to clean clothing rejected by Children's Cupboard and then sends it at her own expense to charities in Liberia.

A check with Goodwill's offices in Wisconsin Thursday provided the information that the organization is aware of the new law and looking into it ... but still unsure of its ultimate impact. Goodwill shops, of course, sell more than just children's clothes and toys.

Glover said she and her husband have contacted the offices of Ryan, Kohl and Feingold, but they aren't very optimistic. "Ryan's staff said they are looking into it," she said. "Kohl's and Feingold's said they hadn't heard of the issue." And yet... they all voted for the law.

There's an effort to reduce the law's impact. On Tuesday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission's tentatively voted to exempt items with lead parts that a child cannot get to, clothing made of natural materials like cotton and wool, wood toys and electronics that cannot be made without lead.

It's doubtful that would solve thrift shops' problem, however. Glover said, for example, that even if a garment is all wool, appliques and buttons aren't all natural, and even cotton is often mixed with polyester, or has chemical dyes.

Which leads to the question of enforcement: who's going to monitor thousands of secondhand stores, and all those yard sales? "The CPSC is an agency with limited resources and tremendous responsibility to protect the safety of families," said Scott Wolfson, a CPSC spokesman. "Our focus will be on those areas we can have the biggest impact and address the most dangerous products."

For now, just one thing is clear: Children's clothing that is legal to sell on Feb. 9 will become illegal on Feb. 10.

If you want to submit comments or receive notifications from the CPSC, register her at www.cpsc.gov .

17 years in waiting, Affirmative Action Commission ready for new power

After 17 years, you can't blame Ron Thomas for being impatient.

The chair of the city's Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission has been waiting since he joined the commission in 1992 for the body to gain real power to address housing discrimination in Racine. He'll have to wait at least another month.

The commission learned Thursday afternoon the federal government is still reviewing a proposed Fair Housing ordinance that empower the commission to handle discrimination complaints in the city. Now, those complaints are sent to a federal agency in Chicago or to state agencies in Madison.

Complaints range from lenders not following their own policies in lending to minorities to landlords doubling the rent from a published rate when a minority renter applies for an apartment, Thomas said.

Racine has 31 discrimination cases pending with four state or federal agencies, according to a monthly report from Morris Reece, director of Fair Housing in Racine. Twenty of those cases are before the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in Chicago, five are before the US Equal Rights Division, four are before the state's Department of Financial Institutions and two are before the Department of Regulation and Licensing.

Several of these cases have been pending for more than a year; some have been out there for two-plus years, Reece said.

All of those cases could be handled by the commission with approval of the new ordinance, Thomas said.

"Our current ordinance is extremely weak," he said. "It has no teeth. With the new we'll have powers. No complaints will be down in Chicago."

The city needs federal approve to take over discrimination complaints. The government's initial review passed Racine ordinance, Assistant City Attorney Scott Letteney told the commission. But a second review, one step up the change, is turning up problems with the proposal, he said. The scope of those problems is unknown.

Letteney said it's likely there would be no key changes to city's proposal because it passed the initial review, which tends to be tougher. He's hoping any requests from the Feds will not significantly change the ordinance.

If all goes well - which it hasn't for years, according to Thomas - the city will get the proposal back from the Feds within two weeks. That will give the commission time to review it at its February meeting and get it approved shortly after.

"I'm hoping for March," said Thomas, who sounded skeptical. "At first it was November, then January. Maybe we'll have something in February. You never know ... it's always something."

Further delays wouldn't be a surprise, he added. After all, the commission started talking about bringing the complaints under city control during Bill Clinton's first year in office. But a combination of federal delays, paired with delays in city government, prevented the ordinance from moving forward.

The new one took hold when Letteney and the commission made it a strong priority. Commission members Ray DeHahn and Thomas both complimented Letteney on his efforts at Thursday's meeting.

Now, they're hoping to move from words on paper to concrete action. Thomas is preparing to train the commission to handle complaints, and he and Reece both expect a stronger ordinance will help renters and home buyers in Racine.

It'd be a big change for a commission that had nothing listed under "New Business" on its latest agenda.

"We'll be a very busy commission" once the ordinance passes, Thomas said. "We're looking to make a big jump."

UW-Parkside donates 25 computers to Park HS

The University of Wisconsin-Parkside has donated 25 computers to Washington Park High School, for use in the school's library computer lab.

The 25 Dell tower computers, with 17-inch flat panel monitors, will replace equipment that is out of date. District math and science supervisor John Esser said, "The equipment will be used primarily to help improve student achievement in math by providing access to software such as Geometer's Sketchpad. It will be a benefit to many other students and classes as well."

Dr. James Shaw, superintendent of Racine Unified, said UW-Parkside educators "are tireless supporters of the Racine community in our collective goal of student achievement. This donation will help bring better instructional technology to the students of Park High School."

Newcomers join race for City Council's First District seat

We learned a bit more today about two unknowns looking to pull an upset for a seat on the City Council this spring.

Mercedes Dzindzeleta and Renee Mullen are both looking to win a two-year term representing the city's First District, which includes Downtown Racine. They're joining a crowded field that includes on-again, off-again, on-again incumbent Jeff Coe and his long-time rival Keith Fair. Fair beat Coe four years ago, and Coe returned the favor in 2007.

All four will run in a primary election Feb. 17. The top two vote-getters will move on to the April 7 general election.

Dzindzeleta is the owner of Circles Weave, 611 7th St. From her business message, Circles Weave is available to rent out for events, and hosts local events. Dzindzeleta's Linked In profile lists her as a message therapist and educator who does structure and energy work and education. She's also president/treasurer of the Energy and Environmental Management, Inc.

Mullen is the owner of the slowly evolving Streetlight Christian cafe on Sixth Street. Mullen and her mom, who live upstairs from the future restaurant at 221 Sixth St., have been working to open the restaurant for several months. Mullen said they've run into some problems obtaining city licenses, but have to the details worked out soon.

Among the changes they've had to made: reverse the door so opens out, instead of in; redo its sign to be more "artistic" and install an expensive, and time-consuming, hood to ventilate the kitchen.

Mullen described her and her mom as average people trying to make a restaurant go. She decided to run for council after her experiences dealing with the city. She hopes to release her political stances in the next week.

Property Transfers: Former Alloy Metal building sells for $525K

The former Alloy Metal building at 1014 S. Memorial Drive sold Dec. 30 for $525,000. The 32,000 square-foot warehouse or manufacturing building was built in 1950. It was sold to a non-descript buyer named 1014 Memorial Drive Inc.

Click below for the latest Racine County property transfers

Property Transfers, Dec. 29-Jan. 2

Racine Unified hosting listening sessions on Special Education

The Racine Unified School District continues to hit the right notes in repairing the district's frayed relationship with the community.

The School Board announced two "Listening and Linking Sessions" for parents and guardians of special education students on Jan. 13 and 20. The sessions are limited to 30 people.

Participants will be able to talk with the board about their concerns, and the School Board will do its best to explain current policies to the participants. The district's hope is the session gives parents and guardians a role in the district's Special Education program.

Reservations to attend the sessions are required and may be made by calling Darlene Gallup at (262) 664-8715.

Visit http://www.racine.k12.wi.us for more information.

January 7, 2009

Snowdance to hold three performances at Memorial Hall

The Snowdance 10-Minute Comedy Festival is growing up.

The smash-hit theater competition, which features 10 original plays from writers around the world, will hold its final three performances this year at Racine's Memorial Hall, 72 Seventh St. That's a big step in venue size for the festival, which typically squeezes sell-out audiences of about 100 people into the Sixth Street Theatre. Memorial Hall holds 1,500 seats.

The festival's first 16 performances run from Jan. 30 to Feb. 20 at the Sixth Street Theatre, 318 Sixth St. The Memorial Hall performances are on Feb. 21 and 22.

The 10 finalists for the fifth annual festival were chosen from 240 entrants around the world. Audience members vote on their three favorite plays; the final tallies determine which playwrights win cash prizes.

Wednesday shows start at 7 p.m. Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays are at 5:30 and 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m.

Reservations are available through the box office, (262)632-6802. Tickets are $15 on Fridays and Saturdays and $12 on Sundays and Wednesdays.

Youth as Resources grant deadline nears

Do you know youth in your church or neighborhood who are interested in community service projects?

Youth As Resources (YAR) is a grant-giving program which funds youth-designed, youth-led community service projects in Racine County. The next grant application deadline is Jan. 30. Click here for guidelines and an application.

Youth groups may apply to YAR for grants of up to $1,000 although larger grants may be awarded depending upon the impact the project could have in the community. Some past YAR projects include Covering Families in Transition - quilts for homeless children, Help Others Read - encouraging kids to read more books, and Flossy - hygiene care packages for low-income families.

To be considered for funding, youth groups must design a project that meets a community need, complete a grant application, design a budget and present the proposal to the YAR board.

For more information, contact Jessica Safransky, YAR program coordinator, or check the YAR website.

After January, the next YAR grant deadline will be May 1, with funds available May 28 for summer projects.
Jan. 30 - Grant deadline, funds available Feb. 26
May 1 - Grant deadline, funds available May 28

Ryan, skeptical of stimulus plan, pushes tax cuts

NY Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman recently tore apart the stimulus plan Democrats are putting together in Congress. His concern: Dems were relying too much on tax cuts to win Republican support.

Count U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, among those Republicans skeptical of the proposed stimulus plan. Ryan appears ready to try and crash Democratic efforts to defibrillate the economy in pursuit of tax cuts and what he calls "tax certainty." Of course, these cuts and certainties benefit the wealthy because you can't cut taxes on people who don't pay taxes.

What's interesting about Ryan's strategy is: 1.) Economists believe increased government spending is the only way to pull the entire economy out of a looming Depression. 2.) More traditional methods, like massaging interest rates, have failed. 3.) People need jobs now. They don't have a year or two to wait for tax cuts to possibly create jobs down the line. 4.) Ryan voted for the $750 billion bank bailout, which passed, and the $14 billion auto bailout, which failed.

Here's a summary of Ryan's thinking on the stimulus plan:

"We're talking about a nearly $1 trillion plan we haven't even seen yet that they're suggesting we pass in the next few weeks. I'm worried that in the stampede to pass something, we will have pushed through Congress hundreds of billions of dollars that may not help stimulate the economy."
-Jan. 7, Milwaukee J-S

“A much higher level of government spending and increased deficits is going to sharply raise our debt service costs and weaken the dollar. Although the long-run costs of the proposed stimulus are real, the long-run benefits are highly suspect. In fact, we have seen time and time again that these temporary fiscal spending packages simply provide one or two quarters of ‘pop’ before the economy simply reverts back to its pre-stimulus trend. That is because they do nothing to change the main factors driving our long-term growth trajectory. If higher government spending led to robust economic growth, our economy would be soaring along right now instead of entering a recession."
-Oct. 20, House Budget Committee meeting

"I don't think the evidence is very good that massive federal government spending actually grows the economy."
-Jan. 6, Dow Jones news service

January 6, 2009

Tingle resigns from Plan Commission

Lost in Sandra Tingle's ongoing fight with the city over her dismissal was the fact that her husband, Frank Tingle, serves on the Racine Plan Commission. Make that served.

Frank Tingle, a former City Council member, resigned from the commission on Dec. 19 in an email to City Planning Director Brian O'Connell. Here's the email:
It is with a bit of remorse that I must tender my resignation from the City of Racine Plan Commission. Work responsibilities are forcing me to have to make this difficult decision.

It has been a pleasure working with you, your staff and the other members of the Plan Commission. I believe we have made a significant, positive, impact on the City of Racine, and this committee will continue to do so in the future.

Mayor Gary Becker will name a replacement to serve out the rest of Tingle's term, which is scheduled to end in May. O'Connell said he has not talked to the mayor about candidates for the position.

Members of the Plan Commission, which reviews all building projects in the city, serve three-year terms. Along with Tingle, Brent Oglesby, Elaine Ekes and Alderman Greg Helding all have terms expiring in May.

Other members of the Plan Commission include Judley Wyant and Vincent Esqueda. Becker is chairman of the commission.

Sandra Tingle was fired from her city job earlier this year. She filed a discrimination suit against the city on Aug. 1. The state dismissed her complaint on Nov. 26.

Kohl introduces his 'priority' bills as Senate convenes

Sure, the U.S. Senate convened this morning, but all you saw on the teevee was its refusal to seat Burris (Roland, not Plaxico!) as the junior senator from Illinois. And jabber about the comedian Al Franken, elected -- if the recount holds -- from Minnesota. We're not kidding. Or laughing.

Not a single word passed the CNN anchors' lips about the bills introduced by Sen. Herb Kohl. Curse you, Mainstream Media!

Anyway, Wisconsin's senior senator (by four years) announced plans to immediately introduce bills related to his "priorities" for the new session of Congress, its 111th. Herb surprises us sometimes with his priorities; I mean, "protecting homeowners in foreclosure from financial predators" is important, sure, but a priority? Financial predators got them into this position in the first place, and Congress did nothing for decades -- until finally spending bailout billions that didn't give a penny to the homeowners at all. And then he's got something or other relating to freight railroads? What's wrong with FedEx?

In any case, here are Herb Kohl's priority bills, as enumerated in his press release:

Student Credit Card Protection Act: Kohl’s legislation will help curb abusive lending practices to our nation’s college student population. Credit card companies aggressively target credit cards to college students, often extending them open-ended lines of credit at high interest rates without considering their ability to repay. The legislation will require credit card companies to verify income of a college student prior to approving a line of credit and also prohibits companies from issuing multiple credit cards to students. If enacted, this will limit the amount of credit card debt a student can amass prior to graduation. (But will do nothing about the huge loans many college students have to take out to pay for tuition...)

Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Act: Kohl’s legislation will help protect homeowners in foreclosure from financial predators. These scams are becoming more prevalent as foreclosure rates rise across the country. Wisconsin’s foreclosure rate is up 22 percent from last year and the Federal Reserve is estimating that 2.5 million homeowners will file for foreclosure in 2009.

Generics First Act: Kohl’s bill requires the use of available generic drugs under the Medicare part D prescription drug program, unless the brand name drug is determined to be medically necessary by a physician. Modeled after similar provisions in many state-administered Medicaid programs, this measure would help reduce the high costs of the new prescription drug program and keep seniors from reaching the current “donut hole” in coverage by guiding beneficiaries toward cost-saving generic drug alternatives.

Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act: Kohl's bill will abolish the antitrust exemptions protecting freight railroads from obeying the same rules of fair competition as almost all other industries. These obsolete antitrust exemptions unfairly insulate railroads from competition and lead to railroad shippers -- vital industries such as power utilities relying on shipments of coal, farmers shipping grain, and chemical companies and other manufacturers -- paying higher prices for degraded service. These higher prices are passed on to consumers in the form of higher electricity rates, higher food prices, and higher prices for manufactured goods. This bill passed both the Senate Judiciary Committee without dissent last year, and the House counterpart passed the House Judiciary Committee.

Fast Track to College Act: Kohl’s bill will establish a grant initiative for “dual enrollment” programs and “early college high schools” to reduce high school dropout rates throughout Wisconsin and improve access to college for low-income students. These are programs in which high schools partner with a college to allow low-income students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and up to two years of college credit, including an associate’s degree –tuition free. The legislation is based on a model established by the Gates Foundation’s Early College High School Initiative, which since 2002 has started or redesigned almost 160 schools in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

Discount Pricing Consumer Protection Act: Kohl's bill will restore the ban under antitrust law against manufacturers setting a minimum retail price. This nearly century-old ban was overturned by a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court in the Leegin case in 2007. Permitting manufacturers to set minimum retail price significantly harms the ability of retailers to discount, leads to higher prices for consumer goods, and damages retail competition.

Retooling the Health Care Workforce for an Aging America Act: Kohl’s legislation will expand education and training opportunities in geriatrics and long-term care for licensed health professionals, direct care workers and family caregivers by incorporating major recommendations put forth in a 2008 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, titled “Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Healthcare Workforce.” The bill increases funding for grants in geriatrics at health professions schools and establishes a national demonstration to evaluate a set of training requirements for personal and home care aides. It also includes online training and information and referral services to family caregivers.

Weekend Voting Act: Kohl's bill will move federal elections to the first weekend in November. Having federal elections on a Tuesday -- a day inconvenient to most voters as it interferes with millions of citizens' work, school, or child care responsibilities -- is a historical anachronism that substantially depresses voter participation. Moving federal elections to both days of the weekend will remove this needless obstacle to voting and citizen participation in our democracy.

Four City Council incumbents face challengers

The deadline to run for City Council is less than two hours away. Here's a rundown of the candidates, so far:

First District

Always a competitive race, incumbent Jeff Coe has three challengers this spring. Long-time nemesis Keith Fair and newcomers Renee Mullen and Mercedes Dzindzeleta (that's a great name for yard signs!) are also running to represent the Downtown district.

Third District
Michael Shields has a challenger for the third straight election. Shields lost to Tim Hermes four years ago, but reclaimed the seat in 2007. He'll take on newcomer Michael Guion this spring.

Fifth District
Save a last-minute challenger, David Maack will win another two-year term. He represents the Racine Zoo district.

Seventh District
Ray DeHahn also looks to be safe. No one has filed to run against him as of 3 p.m. on Tuesday.

Ninth District
First-term Alderman Terry McCarthy has another election on his hands. He's challenged this year by Christian Dejong. This is Pete Karas' old district in west Racine.

11th District
Greg Helding, who offers the occassional comment on RacinePost, has no challenger at the moment. He should be around for at least two more years.

13th District

Jim Spangenberg is running unopposed so far and looks to be a lock for two more years.

15th District

Incumbent Bob Mozol is facing an eager opponent. Newcomer William Leverson declared his candidacy on Aug. 8 and turned in his campaign papers on Dec. 3, a month before the deadline.

Five candidates running for three seats on the Racine Unified School Board

Update 2: John Leiber just filed to run for School Board. That makes five candidates for three slots. Two more and Unified may have a primary! Leiber, 31, ran for School Board last year. He made it through the primary, but finished in the bottom tier during the general election.

Update: Stella Young, of Racine, a former member of the RUSD school board, filed her papers today to run for the board again. That makes fourcandidates for three seats on the board, and ensures a healthy debate leading up the April election. Young sought an appointment to the School Board in 2007 that went to Pastor Melvin Hargrove.

Original post: There are no contested seats for the Racine Unified School Board with less than two hours to go before the filing deadline.

Incumbents Gretchen Warner and Don Nielsen are running again, and former State Sen. Kim Plache has filed papers. Since Tony Baumgardt is not running for re-election, there now are three candidates for three open seats on the board.

January 5, 2009

DRC seeking achievement award nominations

The Downtown Racine Corporation is seeking nominations for its 2008 Downtown Racine Annual Achievement Awards, recognizing individuals, businesses and organizations who have contributed to the vitality of downtown during the past year. The awards will be presented at DRC's annual meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

Nominations are now being accepted in the following categories:
Downtown Showcase Award for an exciting event or organization that has helped attract visitors or residents and helped to improve the overall image of downtown as an exciting, dynamic, happening place.

Downtown Champion Award for an individual who has been a catalyst in improving downtown; has provided service to the downtown community and has worked tirelessly to promote downtown.

Corporate Citizenship Award for a business or organization that is the ultimate citizen, supporting downtown through employment, facilities and sponsorship.

CPR Award for the redevelopment of a downtown building or property that has helped enhance the overall downtown neighborhood and revitalize the area.

Best New Small Business Award for a new retail shop, gallery or restaurant that has captured the attention of the marketplace and helped enhance downtown.
Nomination forms are available at the DRC office at 425 Main St. or online. Nominations should be submitted to the Downtown Racine Corporation by 5 p.m. on Jan. 15.

Discrepancy in city records over Shields' vote on LGBT center

A reader tipped us off to an odd discrepancy in the public record of the City Council's Dec. 16 meeting.

The record states on page 27 that Alderman Mike Shields voted against granting a conditional-use permit to the proposed LGBT Center at 1456 Junction Ave. But on page 46, the record states Shields voted for the permit.

RacinePost was at the meeting and reported Shields voted against the proposal. We checked with the city and the City Clerk's office is reviewing the tape from the meeting to determine Shields' vote.

It's worth noting Shields has not objected to reports by RacinePost and The Journal Times that he voted against the proposal.

Update: The city record may be right, according to a city observer. Shields voted to send the LGBT Center proposal back to committee and voted against the proposal in the committee report. But in a third vote at the end of the Dec. 16 meeting, he supported a resolution to grant the center the conditional-use permit. The rationale for the vote would be Shields wanted more discussion of the LGBT proposal and voted against the committee report, according to the observer. But once it was clear the proposal would pass the council, he voted in support of the ordinance. If true, Shields could argue he supported the proposal all along, but wanted more discussion on it.

Lee is 'more profitable than Exxon' ... but still broke

Is the cup half full, or half empty? Both; it's all in how you look at things.

And so, for balance, here's another view of Lee Enterprises, parent corporation of the Journal Times. As we've reported ad nauseam, the financial woes are piling up, the Devil is at the door. But along comes blogger Alan Mutter, writing in his news media blog Reflections of a Newsosaur, with a different perspective.

Mutter points out that Lee is more profitable than Exxon!
Its operating margin of 20.1% surpasses that of Exxon Mobil Corp., which generated a 19.1% margin in the last 12 months. And Lee’s profitability positively blows away Wal-Mart, the largest Fortune 500 company, whose margins were only 7.4% in the prior 12 months.
True, but small consolation to stockholders who've lost 99% of their investment. For all its operating profit, Mutter writes, Lee is still in hock up to its ears, but "let’s not forget that there is a reasonably robust business here."

RUSD board president won't seek re-election

Tony Baumgardt is stepping down from the Racine Unified School Board.

Baumgardt, elected to the board in 2006 and its president since 2007, released a statement today declaring that he will not run for re-election in April. He also said that due to an illness in his family, he will not be available for further comment. His statement said:
"I have decided not to run for re-election to the Racine Unified School District Board. I have had a very rewarding experience over the past three years, but it is necessary that I concentrate on other facets of my life at this point. I believe that I am leaving the Board with the district in the position of moving forward, and I urge the community to join RUSD in its mission to 'Educate Every Student to Succeed' by getting all of our students college or career ready upon graduation from high school."
Local elections are on April 7; if a primary is needed, it will be on Feb. 17. The terms of two other RUSD board members are up this year: Don J. Nielsen, Gretchen L. Warner.

January 4, 2009

Bargain hunters pick Steve and Barry's clean

In some areas, only the hangers are left. (They're 5 for $1.)

Steve and Barry's, the university-town apparel store with everything under $10, has now reached a new price-point.

A day or so ago, it was "Five for $10." But the shelves that formerly held $10...um, $2 tees, are empty. Totally empty. Now there are half-empty racks of tees with an even lower sale price, and tables (and the floor) piled with a mixture of this and that.

Much of it priced at "Ten for $10." The woman at right guessed she had $15 worth in her arms. Good luck finding something specific, but there's still plenty in your size. Maybe. At these prices, it's not too tight, is it? Or perhaps you'll grow into it?

Some jackets, sweaters, sweatshirts and crewnecks are three for $10... but just wait a day or so.

On second thought: better not wait. The bones of this retail store in Regency Mall were pretty much picked clean by Sunday afternoon. Tables are for sale, and were being carried out alongside the merchandise.

Employees say the store will be open until Jan. 15, but I wouldn't bet on there being much clothing left by then, unless they're bringing it in from somewhere else.

"Who?" she said.

Shoppers were standing in line Sunday afternoon with armloads of clothing, and getting change from a sawbuck. And yet, as they pawed through the remaining merchandise, they appeared as picky as ever. Those Denison t-shirts? Hofstra sweats? Racks of "Is it Hot in here or is it just YOU?" tees? Nah. But there still was enough to choose from, including wooden hangers at five for a dollar, jackets at three for $10 and fixtures for your next retail adventure.

Steve and Barry's collapse in this market has been rather quick. It opened here just four years ago, in November 2004, in a premiere position at Regency Mall: 80,000 sq. ft. once occupied by Bergner's, then Prange, then Younkers then Boston Home Store. (A pattern begins to emerge, eh, Watson?). Steve and Barry's moved last summer to a smaller corner next to JC Penney, to make room for Burlington Coat Factory. Once a fast-growing chain of 270 stores across the country, Steve and Barry's earned much of its profits, according to the Wall Street Journal, from up-front payments made by mall operators seeking to fill vacant big-box spaces. "After those payments, many of the stores are only marginally profitable," wrote a business journal in June, when Steve and Barry's went public seeking $30 million to stave off bankruptcy. Clearly, it didn't find any financing.

Shoppers left with bulging bags full of bargains.

Nor is Steve and Barry's alone. Across the corridor at Regency Mall is a huge space -- occupied until a few months ago by Linens and Things -- which is now a here-today, gone-tomorrow, cardboard-box-tables discount book store that will be gone by March. Retail analysts, looking at the disappointing holiday season just past, have predicted that as many as 14,000 retail stores may close in 2009. When I last talked to Curt Pruitt, manager of Regency Mall, in October, he said 18 retail chains had recently closed or announced they were in trouble, "and we have eight of them." The International Council of Shopping Centers said 3,000 individual stores could shutter by mid-year. KB Toys, Ann Tay­lor, Sears, Talbots and Circuit City have already announced the closures of some stores.