February 21, 2009

Camera Club competition yields winning photos

Power Plant at Night by Ken Larson

Members of the Racine Camera Club (RCC) presented their choicest images Feb. 12, as they competed for awards in digital and print categories. Judges were photographers Doug Sorenson, Gene Dodd and Jerry Cross.

Sam Johnson Parkway by Rigo Alcala

In the digital category, awards were given to Rigo Alcala for a black & white night photo of "Sam Johnson Parkway," and to Ken Larson for "Power Plant At Night." Honorable mention winners were Rigo Alcala for "Far Away," Nancy Burke for "Long Drive," Jason Madson for "Colorfly," and Kathy Brand for "Autumn Leaves" and "Serendipity."

In the print category, members receiving awards were Jim Charnon for "In Motion," and Kathy Brand for "Pastoral Scene." Earning honorable mentions were Jason Madson for "Reflections of the Brooklyn Bridge," and Kathy Brand for "Birdhouses."

Members may submit the same image for competition up to three times, if it is not selected for an award or honorable mention. The next RCC photo competition this year will be on April 9.

Meetings are held the second Tuesday of the month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Racine Arts Council, 316 Sixth St.

For information, call (262) 681-3219.

Colorfly by Jason Madson

Long Drive by Nancy Burke

In Motion by Jim Charnon

Pastoral Scene by Kathy Brand

February 20, 2009

Fisk Johnson sells 'gold coast' condo for $1 million

A Chicago real estate website reports that H.Fisk Johnson sold a two-bedroom condo "in the gold coast" for a cool $1.075 million. The condo is right off North Michigan Avenue, near Loyola University and Water Tower Place.

Hmmm, maybe there's something to this "recession" after all.

Glenda Smith wrote Friday that "Johnson, the fifth generation of his family to lead S.C. Johnson & Son," sold his condo at 161 E. Chicago Ave. to First Midwest Cap. Partners LLC. Unit #51B is in the Olympia Center condominium building, which was built in 1987 and has 63 floors.

"Sales at Olympia Center were unchanged from 2006-2007. The median sales price jumped 42.9 percent during that same time period. There were 1,125 condo sales in the Gold Coast in 2008, with a median sales price of $355,000."

No word whether Fisk will have to crash on the couch at one of his siblings'...

Mason joins call for audit of Wisconsin Shares

State Rep Cory Mason, D-Racine, joined the call for an audit of the Wisconsin Shares childcare program, in testimony today to the Joint Committee on Audit.

Mason said he has heard from several constituents concerned about reports of alleged fraud in the program. "I share their concerns.”

The Wisconsin Shares child care tuition program is designed to provide assistance to hard-working, low-income families who need childcare for their young children. In a typical month, more than 60,000 children are served by Wisconsin Shares. However, the program has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel uncovered possible provider fraud and inappropriate use of funds.

“The Wisconsin Shares program should be a program worthy of integrity,” Mason continued. “But the program has been wrought with problems, not the least of which appears to be abhorrent abuse of taxpayer dollars by some providers who are under investigation by the District Attorney’s office.”

Mason encouraged the Committee to conduct an audit before the budget is finished, and provide a review of the proposals to modify Wisconsin Shares in the state stimulus bill and the Governor’s proposed 2009-11 budget. Proposed changes to the program include: a tracking system to reduce errant or inaccurate reporting; a program integrity unit to investigate concerns about fraud, and a quality rating system to assess each providers’ quality of care.

“I know that investing in quality early childhood care is good for our community because I’ve seen the difference the Early Childhood Lab at Gateway Technical College and Next Generation Now in Racine have made in the lives of children who live in my district,” Mason said. “Conducting a swift and thorough audit of the Wisconsin Shares program is the first step toward ensuring taxpayer dollars support programs that provide high-quality care to children of honest, hardworking parents.”

Q.A. Shakoor joins the Mayoral race

Q.A. Shakoor, II, District 8 alderman for the past four years, and a county supervisor for the past twelve years, today made official what many have suspected for weeks: he's a candidate for Mayor.

He released the following statement:
It is my intent to run for the office of Mayor for the wonderful city of Racine, Wisconsin.

Born and raised in Racine, I have lived here all 55 years of my life and, also, have been committed to serving our community.

Serve as an elected official, 12 years' experience as a Racine County Board Supervisor, 4 years as an Alderman of the city of Racine. Currently, I serve in both capacities. Committee assignments: Finance & Human Resources, Economic Development & Land Use, CDBG, Public Safety & Licensing – Chairman, Executive Committee, and Sustainable Neighborhood Listening Committee.

Have in the past, and continue to volunteer all my adult life, working with Neighborhood Associations on many occasions. In addition to the great effort of Boy Scout Troop & Pack 181, of Wayman AME Church, serving as Chairman and Charter Representative.

Also, employed by Twin Disc Incorporated for 36 years. Currently working as the Small Business Liaison Officer and Buyer.

I will continue to serve to the best of my ability and encourage citizen involvement so together we can have a brighter, safer future!

Mayoral candidate supports taking away welfare recipients' right to vote

Racine Mayoral Candidate Jody Harding supports taking away people's right to vote if they're on welfare or receiving other forms of government subsidies.

Harding first shared her opinion in February 2008 on her blog, "The World According to Jody." (Read the post here.) She writes:
In American hearts, the vote is probably our most sacred right, so what I am about to say may shock you.

I believe that any individual who is receiving a government subsidy should lose his/her right to vote for as long as s/he receives that subsidy.

This right would be reinstated as soon as the government subsidies ceased; however, no vote could be cast as long government “aid” was received. By “aid” I mean any form of payment from the government, whether it be cash or voucher, food stamps, housing allowance, aid to dependent children or farm subsidies. Any payment or reduced expense funded by the government should cause its recipient to lose his/her right to vote.

The only exceptions would be

* Payments for work that would receive a wage in the private sector
* Social security retirement benefits
* Short term unemployment benefits
* Any benefit that improves the community at large, such as the provisions for police, public schools, public roads, etc.
* Any other government benefit would cause the loss of the right to vote.
Harding confirmed her stance in an email to RacinePost on Thursday night.
I think my blog post was very clear, and concisely stated my opinion and, equally important, my reasoning. I would compare the vote of people living on government subsidies approximately equivalent to politicians voting on whether or not to give themselves a raise.
According to state data, 209 Racine County residents participated in the state's W-2 program in January. Another 1,500 people received housing vouchers from the Housing Authority of Racine County and 29,058 Racine County residents received food stamps in 2008.

Harding believes as long as these people receive government assistance, they shouldn't be allowed to vote. The same appears to go for anyone who receives disability payments, the 597 pregnant women in Racine County and the 5,907 adult caretakers in Racine County who participate in BadgerCare.

February 19, 2009

Six formally enter April 7 primary for mayor

The municipal drama Gary Becker set into motion on Jan. 13 with his arrest in an internet sex sting, followed a week later by his resignation as Racine's mayor, began its second act today. Six candidates filed for the special election that will put someone into the mayor's office for the next two years.

Those who filed today are:
Jody Harding, a CPA
Alderman Gregory T. Helding, District 11
Former 9th District Alderman Pete Karas
Kim Plache, former state senator
Robert Salbreiter, 1130 Wisconsin Ave.
Alderman James T. Spangenberg, District 13
Others who have indicated interest in the race include:
Lesia Hill-Driver, director of the Dr. John Bryant Community Center
State Rep. Robert Turner
Alderman Q.A. Shakoor, II, District 8
Raymond P. Fay, of 1523 Main St.
Austin Rodriguez, 21, a cellphone salesman at Regency Mall
Gregory Klema
If I've forgotten any -- which is likely -- we'll hear from them by March 11, the deadline for filing 200-400 signatures and other forms.

Community for Change has scheduled a candidate forum on March 23 at Gateway Technical College (moved from an earlier date).

The primary is April 7, along with other spring elections. The two leaders will face off one month later, in a special election on May. 5. (The next day the race for 2011 will begin...)

CNH board recommends suspending stock dividend

Despite having a good year in 2008, in terms of both sales and profitability, the board of directors of CNH have recommended that the company suspend payment of its annual cash dividend in 2009.

The 50-cent dividend is usually paid to stockholders in April or May.

The board said it believes "that in these times of economic turbulence the Company should conserve cash, while maintaining a prudent level of industrial investment." The Board's recommendation is subject to the approval of shareholders at their annual general meeting scheduled for March 20, 2009. With 237 million shares of stock, the suspension would conserve $118 million.

If the company ignores the directive, the 50-cent payment would be especially rich -- a yield of 6.6% at the stock's currently depressed price per share of $7.49. Last year's 50-cent dividend came when the stock was selling north of $50 per share, producing a yield of .95%. The 25-cent dividend in 2007 represented a yield of .67% at the stock's then-price of $36 per share. After the market's close today, after the Board's recommendation was released, the stock gained 34 cents, a few cents more than it had lost in Thursday's trading.

CNH Global N.V. makes agricultural and construction equipment and has 11,500 dealers in 160 countries. It is a majority-owned subsidiary of Fiat S.p.A. More information about CNH and its Case and New Holland products can be found online.

Lee refinances its $306 million debt payment

Lee Enterprises, parent of the Racine Journal Times, has wiggled out from under the most onerous of its debt covenants and appears likely to survive until another day.

The company paid off $120 million of the $306 million due this April from its 2005 purchase of Pulitzer newspapers, and refinanced the remaining $186 million until April 2012. The company will make $4 million payments quarterly, up to another $4.5 million payment in October 2010, and agreed to an interest rate increase from 8.05% to 9.05% until April 2010, and another .5% after that.

Lee also significantly reduced its annual payments on the rest of its $1.1 billion bank debt -- at least until the debt matures in 2012. At that point, "Payments at maturity will increase to $502.5 million from $83.1 million." Yikes! The cost of reaching this agreement -- financing costs, professional and advisory fees and what have you -- are listed at $20 million, and will be added to what Lee already owes. (I'm guessing that $20 million would nicely cover the JT's newsroom salaries for well more than a decade...)

Mary Junck, Lee chairman and chief executive officer, said, "Although significant economic challenges continue, we have stayed focused on protecting our long-term growth. Even in this unprecedented downturn, we remain, by far, the leading provider of local news, information and advertising in our markets. Our strength in print continues to be vast and stable, and our online reach continues to grow."

Lee's stock price jumped 13.7% today (OK, that's only a gain of 4 cents), closing at 33 cents per share. Most of the increase came before the debt agreement announcement. Hmmm...

All the bloody details here.

Lee has taken other action this year as well, including layoffs, mandatory employee furloughs, a pay freeze, benefit cuts and a shrinking page. On March 10 the company is expected to adopt a reverse stock split, in an effort to get its stock price back over $1, a necessity if it is to remain listed on the New York Stock Exchange. NYSE also requires a market cap of $25 million (reduced through April to $15 million). At 33 cents a share, Lee still falls a bit short of the temporary market cap total, but the real target has to be $25 million -- a large jump in price indeed. After the close Thursday, as the impact of its debt agreement spread, Lee climbed another 6 cents per share.

Karas files for Mayor, opens office, sets kickoff event

Former Ninth District Alderman Pete Karas today filed his declaration of candidacy for the Racine mayoral election. Karas is the first of the announced candidates for mayor to open an office and a campaign website, what he calls the first steps in what will be "an active, professional, and ambitious campaign." His campaign kickoff event is scheduled Sunday.

His campaign statement said:
“I am running for mayor because I care deeply about the Racine community. Since the special election was announced, I have been moved by the outpouring of support from my neighbors, colleagues, and friends. With their encouragement and their input, I am prepared to run a campaign committed to local jobs, safe streets, responsive government, and essential services.”

Karas emphasized the importance of community involvement in his campaign, and reaffirmed his belief that the best way to become a good mayor is to reach out, listen to, and work with the people of Racine. Karas also vowed to respond to all questions and suggestions posted through his website and he invites any community member to call or stop by his campaign office with feedback and input.

The People for Pete Karas office is at 521 6th St., and will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. “I want to be the most accessible candidate running for Mayor, and the outstanding volunteers who will be staffing our office and operations will make that possible,” he said.

Those who wish to learn more or support the campaign are invited to his kickoff event Sunday, Feb. 22, at Park Six, 500 6th St. The event, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. will also serve as Pete’s 50th birthday celebration.

“I couldn’t be more proud to have spent my 50 years as a resident of Racine and I hope to have the chance to work with the people our community by serving as their Mayor,” he said.

Caledonia / RUSD meeting to be rescheduled

The Caledonia School District Steering Committee feels it is being ignored by most members of the Racine Unified School Board.

Only two members of the RUSD board -- Dennis Wiser and Julie McKenna -- expressed interest in meeting with Caledonia residents after the Caledonia group that is working break away from Racine Unified, invited the board to its Feb. 23 meeting. Two other RUSD members -- Sue Kutz and William Van Atta -- said they were disinterested in the process, and the other five "ignored the invitation outright," according to a statement from the Steering Committee.

But Wiser and McKenna have a schedule conflict (an RUSD school board forum at the Golden Rondelle was set up after the CSD invitation was made), so the Caledonia School District Steering Committee will reschedule its meeting with them. The committee will still meet on Feb. 23 to provide information about the creation of the new district at the Caledonia Eastside Community Center, 6156 Douglas Ave., at 7:30 p.m. Petitions for the new district will be available to sign on Saturday, Feb. 21, at the center between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and on Sunday, Feb. 22, at the Caledonia-Mt. Pleasant Memorial Park, 9700 Northwestern Ave., between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The Caledonia School District Steering Committee is made up of residents of the Village of Caledonia who are working to create a new school district within the village. Members believe that a new district will benefit Caledonia and surrounding communities. They are circulating petitions throughout the Racine Unified School District to obtain the 9,600 signatures necessary to push the issue to a public referendum. More information about the group can be found at its website.

The steering committee has produced a fact sheet, Why Create a Caledonia School District. Some of its points are below, after the break:

  • Local Control: Not a single member of the Racine Unified school board is a resident of Caledonia. With our own district, all of the board members will be from our community and will be accountable to us. No more referendums will be imposed on Caledonia unless we vote for it.
  • Property Taxes: Caledonia currently pays 24% of the RUSD tax bill, and yet our students only receive 10% of the spending. With our own school district all of our tax money is spent right here in our community. That means a Caledonia district would be able to continually lower taxes once it is established. RUSD, on the other hand, will be facing large budget deficits in the coming years and will either have to raise taxes or make severe cuts.
  • Growth: In order to attract new residents and businesses, we need to provide an excellent public educational system. Caledonia students are already among the best in the state, but they are averaged in with the rest of RUSD. With our own district, our students will receive the recognition they deserve and everyone will see why Caledonia is a great place to live, work and visit.
How will this affect my property taxes? Most of the extra cost for Caledonia is the building of a new high school. New school districts also require start-up costs and are not fully funded by the state of Wisconsin until the 3rd year. The first year’s mill rate will be established at more than if Caledonia had remained with RUSD. After that, the mill rates would decline. The estimated school tax increase for a $100,000 home (with 2% property value growth and no new RUSD referendum) would be $112 the first year, $69 the second and $64 the third.

I want my child to continue in RUSD? Is this possible? Yes, Wisconsin is an Open Enrollment State. This means you can enroll your child in any school district you wish, as long as the district has space. 12th graders have the right to finish at the high school they attended regardless of space.

What happens to the school buildings located within Caledonia? The new Caledonia school district would receive all the schools in Caledonia: Olympia Brown, North Park, Caddy Vista and Gifford School. In addition, a large parcel of land near 5 ½ and Charles would be included in the asset/liability split with RUSD.

How much will a new school district cost Caledonia residents? According to the June 2008 WisTax study, the new Caledonia district would net approximately $44 million after the asset/liability split with RUSD. However, a new high school would be needed. The average cost of a new high school is $65 million; this amount can be bonded over several years.

Who are you and where can I get more information? We are a group of concerned citizens who would like to see Caledonia thrive and continue to attract new residents and businesses. In order for this to happen, we need strong schools and involved citizens that want ownership in their community schools.

Police ask for help locating capture wanted man

UPDATE: Racine Police captured Juan Servantez Thursday night at 7:20 p.m. near 700B Yout St.

Police said a citizen responding to media reports called and provided information to the Crimestoppers hotline, telling where he could be found. A team effort including members of SIU, COP, and 2nd Shift Patrol was monitoring the suspect location at 823 Hagerer St when Servantez was observed leaving the home and entering a vehicle.

The vehicle was stopped by officers, and Servantez fled on foot and was captured. Servantez was arrested for the original outstanding warrants as well as fresh charges that include possession of cocaine with intent to deliver within 1000 feet of a school, possession of THC and resisting/obstructing

Original story:

The Racine Police Department is asking for help locating Juan A. Servantez, 36, who is accused of assaulting and stalking his estranged wife.

Police also say he has threatened the life of a Racine Police Officer as well as the investigator following up on recent incidents.

Servantez is Hispanic, approximately 5’9”, 215 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. Servantez is allegedly a cocaine dealer, a member of the Latin Kings gang and known to carry a handgun. His record includes weapons violations, criminal trespass, battery, resisting/obstructing officers, recklessly endangering safety and narcotics violations. Current warrants for Servantez include felony bail jumping.

Servantez is accused of battering and stalking his wife, threatening to kill her and texting that he "would go out with a bang and make sure nobody forgets." Police say he confronted his estranged wife at Family Video on Lathrop Avenue, and punched her in the face several times in front of witnesses. Police say he has no permanent address and sometimes stays with friends and family members in the city who are aware of his actions and are providing him rides and shelter -- and who could be charged with assisting his criminal activities.

Police say they are looking for assistance, but "we do not expect nor want citizens to approach Servantez directly. Should anybody spot Servantez, immediately call the Racine Police Department at 262-635-7700 and relay where he has been located, so that officers can be sent." Tips can be forwarded through the Crimestoppers website, phone (262-636-9330), or by texting to CRIMES (274637) and referring to Tipsoft I.D.# TIP417 with your text message.

Letter to the Editor: Caledonia not interested in sustainable living

The Caledonia Village Board voted down a proposal Wednesday night to allow residents to keep a small number of chickens in their yards. Patrick Flynn, of Caledonia, was a supporter of the ordinance. Here's his response:

What I observed last night, based on community comments was a division of generations. The older generations were clearly opposed, and the majority of the younger generations clearly supportive. Those that educated themselves and actually read the proposal were in favor. Those that did not, had visions of grand ‘ol chicken farms in their neighbors backyards. They feared everyone in their neighborhoods would want chickens and it would ruin their property values.

We based everything in our proposal on facts and testimonials from other communities that adopted this ordinance. The comments made from the opposition were so far off base that it tainted the entire proposal. Kevin Wanggard made the statement.. “We will not allow outside communities influence what we do in Caledonia, this is our community and that will not change”. The board voted based on emotions, “what ifs” and fear that if we changed this ordinance it would lead to other changes down the road.

Self -sustainability in Caledonia will be difficult. An older gentleman said “the next thing these folks will want is solar panels…. That will really bring down property values”. What is sad, is that I do want to install residential solar and wind to power my home. When I asked board member Kevin Wanggard about residential wind power I was told any attempt to change that ordinance will be futile. It is apparent that this community is just not ready for this new generation and this new era to be self-sustainable. The majority of board members are focused on commercial development rather than the quality of life for the people that live here. I truly believe the residents in Caledonia moved here because they wanted to get away from the city. That it was the rural setting, farm lands and open areas that attracted them here. I would hope that our board would recognize this and focus on ways to preserve our natural resources and find a way to reduce taxes in the process.

Patrick Flynn
4124 Mona Park Road

February 18, 2009

Harding: 'Fixing Racine’s problems will take more than wishing'

Mayoral candidate Jody Harding sent out a fundraising letter today reiterating her own plans to run for office. She writes:
As you may know, I declared my intention to run for Mayor of Racine last August, long before the scandal broke about Gary Becker, and before large numbers of candidates, apparently afraid to run against Becker, suddenly emerged, anxious to show their “concern” for the city. Most of these suddenly concerned citizens either currently hold political office, or have held it in the past. If they had any idea what to do about the problems that plague Racine – problems of economic suffocation, over-regulation of business, increased stress and a pervasive feeling of hopelessness – we would not be in the economically and emotionally depressed state in which we find ourselves today.

Fixing Racine’s problems will take more than wishing. We can’t continue as we have in the past and expect our situation to improve. We need the leadership of a person with the proven financial skills to stop wasteful spending. A person who knows how to achieve MORE with LESS. A person who understands the importance of supporting business in order to provide jobs and encourage our economy. And a person who can work with our community organizations to promote education, personal responsibility and hope for the future.

I am that person.

Plache makes it official: She's running for mayor

Kim Plache made it official today: She's running for mayor.

The former Democratic state senator sent out a press release Wednesday evening announcing her plans to enter the special election. Starting Feb. 27, she's taking an unpaid leave of absence from her job at the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority to campaign.

Plache also intends to drop out of the School Board race. She's not legally allowed take her name off the ballot, but she won't campaign for School Board and will resign if she finishes in the top three.

"If I didn't have to die to get my name off the ballot, I'd take it off," Plache said. "I'm completely focused on running for mayor."

Plache is also addressing her residency situation. She and her family now live in Mount Pleasant, but are in the process of selling their home and buying a new home in the city. Plache is now renting an apartment on Eighth Street near the City Hall Annex. Her 10-year-old daughter will live with her full time, and her husband will take care of their home until it sells.

State law requires Plache to establish residency in the city before taking office. Living in the apartment is one way to establish residency.

Plache said she'll work on her campaign at night until her unpaid leave of absence kicks in. She's hired a campaign manager, is making contact with community leaders and working on fundraising.

Here's her complete press release:
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2009, RACINE, WI – Kim Plache announced today that she will be a candidate for mayor in the upcoming special election. As Mayor, Plache would focus on:

(1) Retaining and creating family supporting jobs,
(2) Holding down taxes by controlling spending and working with people in Madison and Washington to bring more money to Racine,
(3) Reaching out to diverse groups of people to help create and push for effective and new solutions to long term city problems; especially crime, poverty and student performance in our schools.

"We must do everything in our power to retain and create jobs, cut costs in city government, bring in new money and to implement and expand effective solutions to our long term problems," Plache said.

Plache continued, "One thing we know for sure, if we keep doing everything in the same way that it has always been done, we will get the same result. That is not acceptable."

"Many good things that have been done in our City and we can’t afford to lose ground on the progress that has been made in reducing crime in some of our neighborhoods, in downtown revitalization, in improving the quality of life for our citizens through the enjoyment of our natural resources, but now is not the time to rest on our laurels."

"Now is the time to press forward with new leadership."

"We are right in the middle of one of the most dynamic regional economies in the world. If we are going to grow and protect jobs, we need a strong regional transportation system so we can take maximum advantage of that regional economy. If we want more jobs here, we must press forward with rebuilding I 94 and we must get KRM built."

"I am ready to lead this City. Everything I have done in my professional life has prepared me to be mayor of Racine," Plache said.

"My entire professional life has been devoted to working on behalf of Racine residents and area businesses. The work I did in the legislature and since that time on behalf of Racine improved our economy and quality of life."

While serving in the State Legislature, Plache wrote legislation to create the Center for Advanced Technology Innovation (CATI) to help drive innovation and job growth. Plache enabled the Healthcare Network by getting liability insurance for retired healthcare professionals who treat low income patients, and secured funding for the Root River Pathway. For the past five years as Senior Community Relations Officer at Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, Plache has increased home ownership and supported both business expansion and multi-family development for families and senior citizens in Racine.

Plache says the next mayor must be skilled at bringing diverse groups of people together to solve tough challenges.

"No person or group can solve these long term challenges alone. We must bring people together, roll up our sleeves and work together on creative solutions. We must look beyond the city’s borders and work with other municipalities and the state and federal government to strengthen our economy, reduce costs and protect our natural resources. I have a track record of doing just that."

Kim Plache, 48, was born and raised in the City of Racine. She attended Racine public schools and graduated from Horlick High School. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from UW-Parkside and a Masters in Public Administration from UW-Madison. Plache represented Racine in the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1988 to 1996 and the State Senate from 1996 to 2002.

She currently serves on the UW-Parkside School of Business and Technology Advisory Board and the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, Southeast Wisconsin Advisory Board.

Plache is married to Paul Hable and they have one daughter, Eve.

Kids First Fund donates $2,265 to RUSD teachers

Kids First Fund has donated $2,265 this month to Racine Unified teachers for projects improving the lives and learning of students.

Recipients and projects were:
  • Civil War Museum Visit -- $385: 50 Mitchell Middle School students will attend the Civil War Museum in Kenosha to learn how the war impacted the region.
  • Learning Is Fun Together -- $380: 18 at risk students will build reading and mathematical skills.
  • Merit Program Fun Fridays -- $600: Knapp Elementary School has a 15-20 minute Fun Friday with crafts and prizes for students who demonstrated good behavior and those who are working to improve in their studies.
  • Racine County/Racine Unified School District Transition Day -- $500: A day at Gateway Technical College's conference center for the families and students with special needs to obtain information about what agencies and post-secondary schools have to offer.
  • Read to Succeed -- $400: A reading challenge program for first grade students, to get them excited about reading and engage children's interest in books.
The Kids First Fund is an endowment fund within the Racine Community Foundation. RUSD teachers may request grants for special student projects. For information on Kids First Fund or how you can support Kids First Fund programs, contact Stephanie Hayden at (262) 631-7057.

Turner supports Assembly stimulus package

State Rep. Robert Turner, D-Racine, announced support for the state’s economic stimulus package being considered in the State Assembly today. Given the fact that the measure passed through the Joint Finance Committee with 12 Democrats voting in favor, and four Republicans voting nay, Turner's support should surprise no one.

“We are in the worst economic crisis in generations, and it is time to come together and make the tough choices that will help get our state economy moving again. We must pass this plan now to help remedy the unemployment and foreclosures that are affecting our friends, families and neighbors,” Turner said.

Turner stated that the stimulus package directs $300 million into Wisconsin’s transportation system to build and repair bridges and roads, a portion of which would be directed to the Interstate 94 reconstruction between Milwaukee and the state line. According to Turner, “we can put people to work right away to modernize our transit network and make needed improvements to our aging infrastructure.

“By passing the hospital assessment fee supported by Wisconsin hospitals, we can bring $400 million in Medicaid reimbursements back to Wisconsin over the next three years,” he said. Turner said Wisconsin was among the lowest states in the nation in federal spending. “Racine hospitals, in particular, have been hard hit because of the high amount of poor patients they treat. This results in cost shifting to other health care consumers in order to make up for historically low Medicaid reimbursements. We should get our fair share from Washington,” he said.

Turner said another part of the stimulus plan would close a tax loophole that benefits multi-state corporations at the expense of local businesses. Many large corporations hire tax attorneys who use gimmicks and tricks to avoid paying taxes. By closing this loophole, referred to as the “Las Vegas Loophole,” the state will require combined reporting of corporate income. So far, 21 states have closed this corporate loophole, including Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, California and New York. “Closing corporate loopholes will bring tax fairness for working families and local businesses, and help close the budget deficit,” he said.

“I also support the stimulus plan’s requirement to apply the state sales tax to internet sales,” said Turner. “We must level the playing field for Wisconsin businesses in order to grow the economy.”

Vos: No one is safe from tax hikes in Doyle's budget

State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, released the following statement regarding the introduction of Gov. Jim Doyle’s 2009-2011 budget Tuesday:

“Today, as the Joint Finance Committee convened to address the Governor’s current-year budget deficit in his budget bailout bill, and the Legislature convened to learn of his plan to address the $5.7 billion deficit in the upcoming biennium, we learned one thing: No one is safe from tax increases in Governor Doyle’s budget.

“The teenager who downloads music will now be subject to the iPhone tax; the average middle-income family will now face more tuition hikes; the successful small business owner who creates jobs will have to sustain an income tax increase; and the retiring family farmer will have a smaller nest-egg because of an increase in the capital gains tax.

“With unemployment rates nearing double digits, where is Doyle’s plan to create jobs? How will he revitalize the economy during the worst recession of the post-war era?

“From what we’ve seen today, it seems he’ll offer a few tax credits – calling it a stimulus plan, and then increase taxes on a broad cross-section of Wisconsin citizens in order to fix a mess he has spent six years creating.

“Even President Obama has shown that raising taxes in this economy is not the answer to fixing our economic mess. Doyle’s plan is a sure-fire way to take a fiscal mess and turn it into a financial crisis for Wisconsin residents.”

City Recommendation: 'Hughes is an energetic and dedicated professional'

The city released former City Administrator Ben Hughes' Letter of Recommendation today.

The three paragraph letter signed by Mayor Tom Friedel describes Hughes as an "energetic and dedicated professional." It recommends him for any job he applies for.

Here's the full letter:

Randolph Brandt: The Missing Giant

By Randolph D. Brandt

“Poverty pimps,” we called them back then, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when they showed up at local government hearings to speak for better housing, the rights of migrant laborers, the plight of the poor.

There seemed to be something a little shady about them. They were, after all, getting paid to do their community organizing – rather than merely acting from the goodness of their hearts - most often backed up by another generation of government alphabet soup agencies – OEO, HUD, HEW.

Locally, all this money was filtering down from somewhere, distributed through local housing authorities, community development block grants, legal aid money from the state and the feds and the like.

In New Jersey, where I come from, they had such names as the Farm Workers’ Project and the Southwest Citizens Organization for Poverty Elimination, known then in the popular parlance of those acronym-addicted times as SCOPE.

As a young newspaper reporter, I was used to collecting the quotes of locally powerful, the mayor, and councilmen, maybe the congressman when he was back in town.

But how were we to treat these other new ex-officio intruders, community organizers, who claimed a somewhat public purpose and though unelected, hinted at a growing constituency?

After all, they didn’t have any real responsibilities, you know, like a mayor or somebody.

Still, they were good copy, so little by little, we allowed them into the local newspaper, back then the undisputed arbiter of who and what was important.

I think back to a long-ago conversation over coffee with one such “poverty pimp,” then a paralegal for a farm workers rights project targeting conditions in the myriad of migrant labor camps of southern New Jersey.

Back then, Doug Jones helped face down farmers armed with shotguns until they ultimately lost their court case, permitting these new anti-poverty workers access to the camps.

Despite his Anglo name, Doug was an Hispanic who popped up often in community organizing circles in my native Vineland, N. J., and surrounding Cumberland County. Indeed, nearly 40 years later, he’s still fighting the good fight, publishing an alternative newspaper and helping troubled military veterans find their way back into society.

Decade ago, though, I couldn’t quite see the practicality of the social goals he and others espoused, and I frankly told him so that night over coffee. The power structure was too firmly entrenched. They’d never share with come-uppity folks from the neighborhood whose organizing skills were so immature, no matter how many high-falutin acronyms they made up.

That’s when Doug told me that wasn’t entirely the point, at least not right away. Sure, there would be defeats. Nobody expected to win on that particular day, or tomorrow, or next week, or even next year, for that matter, perhaps not even in the next decade or so.

It was the personal experience that mattered most. People shut out from most meaningful roles in politics or power were being given the chance, frequently for the first time, to serve on housing authority boards, community block grant advisory committees, community-based organizations for this and for that – all the while learning the leadership skills to manage the kind of politics and bureaucracies that for so many years had been largely closed off to them.

Ultimately, Doug said, they’d gain the experience to become the actual politicos, the council members, the mayors, the county supervisors, the state senators, the congressmen and, yes, even the presidents that the country would need in the years ahead.

The fount for all this, he said, was the vision of President Lyndon Johnson, whose programs were interwoven with the idea that community-based solutions could best be realized through up-and-coming neighborhood leaders who otherwise were shut out from the normal eddies of politics as usual.

The alphabet soup of community organizations founded and funded through Johnson’s Great Society programs planted that seed.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see the vision as true. Fast-forward to 1985, when a young black college graduate first learned about public policy as a community organizer in Chicago for yet another of those acronym-laced poverty-fighting agencies, the Developing Communities Project, or DCP.

That one-time community organizer, Barack Obama, is now president of the United States.

In the popular mind, Obama has been closely associated with the giants who’ve come before – most often pictured in political cartoons or on T-shirts with the ghostly pantheon of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and, particularly, Abraham Lincoln.

But there’s another giant upon whose shoulders he stands, and perhaps that giant, too, deserves to be remembered in all of this.

I suspect LBJ would have both anticipated and appreciated the prospect of this particular successor to the presidency.

Johnson’s ideal, as expressed by his biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, was an America in which every person shares in the progress and responsibilities of the country, no matter what their background.

It’s an ideal, resonated by and through Barack Obama, which finally has come to pass.

(Randolph D. Brandt is a retired newspaper editor living in Racine, Wis.)

February 17, 2009

Coe, Fair advance in First District primary

Here we go again!

Jeff Coe and Keith Fair advanced through the City Council's First District primary election and will face each other in the April 7 general election.

Coe and Fair are hardly strangers. This will be the fourth time they've run against each other for the First District seat. Coe has won twice and Fair once in their head-to-head matchup over the last eight years, but one of Coe's victories came after Fair's name was left off the ballot because of questions over signatures he collected.

Coe, the incumbent, appears to have a slight advantage over Fair. He won the primary with 117 votes, followed by Fair with 72 votes. Mercedes Dzindzeleta finished third with 38 votes, and Renee Mullen received 10 votes.

Superintendent candidate Fernandez wins in Racine County

Superintendent of School's candidate Rose Fernandez led the field of five candidates in Racine County.

Fernandez, who's an advocate for virtual schools, received 2,859 votes, followed by Tony Evers with 1,909 votes, Van Mobley with 955 votes, Todd Price with 647 votes and Lowell Holtz with 416 votes.

Fernandez and Evers advanced to the April 7 general election in the statewide primary, according to the AP. Evers led the field with 37 percent of the vote, followed by Fernandez with 30 percent.

Evers, who boasts 34 years of education experience, was the only one of the five candidates to run TV ads before the primary election. He was backed by the teacher's union.

Fernandez has no professional education experience, but she's been an outspoken advocate for virtual schools in Wisconsin. She's in favor of merit-based teacher pay and supporting more home-schooling options for parents.

Shawhan wins Chicago snow sculpting competition

A Bug's Life, in Chicago (Photo by Amanda Hobus)

Jeff Shawhan, Racine's premier snow sculptor -- see HERE and HERE -- continued his winning ways this weekend, taking first prize at Snow Days Chicago against 15 teams in Grant Park.

Among the competitors Shawhan and his team -- Jim Malkowski and Brett Tomczak -- beat were the last two U.S. Olympic snow-carving teams, and four national champions. Their first place prize consists of trophies and $1,500.

Shawhan said they started carving last Wednesday, and ended on Saturday. "The weather was a bit too warm to carve during the day, so we carved solely at night."

Their winning sculpture was the same design that won them the state championship in the Wisconsin Dells earlier this winter, "but the details were far more amazing."

Pictures of the other top entrants from Snow Days Chicago are here.

Budget adjustment bill passes on 12-4 partisan vote

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance voted Tuesday afternoon to approve the budget adjustment bill. It was a straight party-line vote; 12 Democrats voted yes and four Republicans voted no.

The bill now goes to the Senate. The Assembly tentatively is scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday afternoon; Democratic leaders want to pass it quickly so Gov. Jim Doyle can sign it on Friday.

State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, a member of Joint Finance, said "The economic and budget crisis demands quick action and new approaches, not the same old political posturing and gridlock. We all know the situation, real people and families are hurting in Racine County and all across Wisconsin. Our action today shows we’re ready to tackle our problems to help Wisconsin families now."

Among the highlights of the bill, according to Lehman, are:
  • Create new jobs by accelerating road construction projects, including I-94 reconstruction in Racine County and invest in expanded worker training programs in high demand areas like welding and emerging green economy professions;
  • Establish legislative oversight to ensure federal economic recovery funds are spent wisely;
  • Encourage private sector job creation and investment by expanding state angel investment and other economic development tax credits;
  • Expand the available pool of capital for new construction of research and development facilities in Wisconsin;
  • Help families victimized by predatory lending schemes keep their homes and enact new consumer protection measures;
  • Make over $700 million in deficit reductions through state spending cuts and closure of corporate tax loopholes - not by increasing income or property taxes;
  • Create additional investigator positions and implement accountability measures to crack down on fraud in the Wisconsin Shares child care assistance program;
  • Capture more federal dollars for Wisconsin to increase reimbursement rates for hospitals and reduce cost shifting on to private pay consumers.
Lehman said the bill will create over 8,300 new jobs and new economic growth, protect homeowners and start the process of balancing our budget "not on the backs of Wisconsin families but by cutting state spending and closing corporate tax loopholes.”

Public Health Administrator puts off return to work

Public Health Administrator Janelle Grammer was supposed to return to work today leading the city's Health Department. Instead, her return was put back to early March.

Grammer took Family Medical Leave in December and has been off of work since then. She filed a complaint against the city and now former City Administrator Ben Hughes on Jan. 26 alleging the city mistreated her request for Family Medical Leave. A city investigation turned up no wrong-doing on Hughes part, and raised questions about Grammer's skill as a department head.

Marcia Fernholz has been filling in as the city's interim public health administrator since Grammer left office.

Just askin' ...

If Hughes is gone and Mayor Friedel's only around for six more weeks, who's running things at City Hall?

Hughes, city make a deal

There are a few items worth noting in Ben Hughes' resignation agreement with the city:

1. The city didn't buy him out. That's interesting because if they would have fired him, Hughes was entitled to nine months salary - or about $80,000.

2. The key to the deal with the Letter of Recommendation. That's Hughes' ticket for his next job - at relatively little expense to the city. So that was the deal: the city says Hughes did a good job, and Hughes walks on the cheap.

3. This all goes back to Monday's closed session meeting with Friedel, the City Council committee chairs, the city attorney and others. For an informational meeting, a lot seems to have happened there.

4. So why now? My guess: Mayor Tom Friedel was sincere when he said he didn't anticipate Hughes leaving. Instead, Hughes got fed up and quit.

City Administrator Ben Hughes resigns

In a two-sentence letter dated Feb. 16, City Administrator Ben Hughes has resigned.

The letter reads:
Dear Mayor Friedel,

I am writing to resign my position as City Administrator effective February 16, 2009. I wish to thank you, the City Council, the City employees, and the residents of Racine for their support during my tenure.


Benjamin M. Hughes
Hughes' tenure has not been without controversy. He has been the subject of two harassment suits, one by the fired administrative secretary Sandra Tingle and the other more recently by Racine Public Health Administrator Janelle Grammer. In both cases, the city filed responses citing poor work performance by disgruntled employees.

Hughes was also tied heavily to former Mayor Gary Becker -- who recommended hiring him in 2007 -- and a number of the candidates for mayor have said they would like to eliminate the position of city administrator. (Hughes, left, at press conference announcing Becker's arrest in January.)

But it's since come out that Becker and Hughes were not as close as reported. Becker, in fact, may have been positioning to fire Hughes this spring.

It's also worth noting that new Mayor Tom Friedel met in closed session with the City Council's department heads Monday night - they met as the Executive Committee - to review two complaints that involve Hughes. Both Sandra Tingle and Janelle Grammer allege Hughes mistreated them.

Everybody is saying the right things, but you have to wonder what went on behind closed doors. Here's Friedel's letter:

From: Mayor Thomas Friedel
Subject: Resignation of City Administrator Benjamin M. Hughes
Date: February 17, 2009

On Monday February 16, 2009 I accepted the resignation of City
Administrator Ben Hughes. Mr. Hughes began his duties with the City of
Racine in October of 2007 and was the second person to occupy the position of
City Administrator that was established in 2003. I was well aware when I
accepted this appointment to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of
former Mayor Gary Becker that there were personnel issues at City Hall that
would need my attention. This is one that I did not anticipate.

City Administrator Hughes did a terrific job for us and his positive
passion for the city was evident in everything he did. Racine is a better
place because of his public service. We are particularly grateful for his
leadership and hard work during the aftermath of Mayor Becker’s
resignation. These have been very difficult and trying times for our
community and especially for Mr. Hughes. He has informed me that he
believes it is in everyone’s best interest that he moves on and I have accepted
his resignation.

We wish Mr. Hughes nothing but the best. Mr. Hughes has authorized me
to release his statement:“I will forever be grateful for my service with the
City of Racine. I depart with the confidence that this City has a bright
future and much for which it should be proud. I realize that when a person
accepts a public leadership appointment such as mine, that unique circumstances and unanticipated events sometimes call for the need for a new page to be turned. I do believe the next administration should have a fresh start and time for assessment of how next to move forward. I sincerely thank the City Council, the City employees, and the citizens for the confidence and support they have consistently shown to me.”
Hughes started work on Oct. 1, 2007, at a salary of $110,000. He replaced Steven Nenonen, the first city administrator, who held the job for 3 1/2 years -- and whose departure was marred when it was discovered that he received a $29,000 payment for unused sick leave, as well as health insurance coverage until he and his wife turn 65.

No such sweetheart deal for Hughes: His resignation agreement specifies that he is to receive pay for 11 accrued vacation days, 1 personal day and 122 hours of sick leave.

February 16, 2009

Yes, there is an election today...

Was it just three months ago that Racine County had 80% turnout in an election? Yup, there were 101,110 votes cast out of 126,228 registered voters in November's historic presidential election.

Today's election -- were you even aware there is one today? -- is highlighted by a five-candidate statewide primary for Wisconsin School Superintendent and a four-candidate primary for Racine's 1st District City Council Seat. To put things mildly, it is not expected to produce long lines at the polls.

The Government Accountability Board, in fact, expects between 6% and 10% turnout statewide. Eight years ago, the last time there was a similar race with no incumbent, the turnout was 6.5%. Racine County Clerk Wendy Christensen is more optimistic than that here, and has printed 24,000 ballots That would work out to 19% turnout if every one of those ballots is used by a voter. Good luck with that.

Still, an election is an election, your civic duty, your inalienable right in a Democracy. Don't blow it.

The school superintendent race pits
Deputy Superintendent Tony Evers against parent advocate Rose Fernandez, Beloit School Superintendent Lowell Holtz, Concordia University professor Van Mobley and National-Louis University professor Todd Alan Price.

Racine's 1st District aldermanic race is between incumbent Jeff Coe, former alderman Keith Fair, Mercedes Dzindzeleta, owner of Circles Weave, and Renee Mullen, owner of a restaurant under construction on Sixth Street, Streetlight Christian cafe.

The top two will advance to the April 7 general election -- also the date of the primary for Racine mayor. Got it? That election will draw crowds.

Burlington, Dover Norway and Rochester are also holding primaries for local government spots.

Not sure where your polling place is? Go here to find out.

Downtown art project named: Sunny & Chair Tour

After sifting through more than 200 entries, the Downtown Racine Corporation has chosen a name for this year's summer art project, which will place dozens of artist-decorated Adirondack chairs throughout downtown.

Welcome to the Sunny & Chair ... Summer '09 Tour!

The winning name was submitted by Regan and Dana Goodsell, owners of Elegant Pauper, who will receive a $50 Downtown gift certificate. A variation was submitted by Lloyd Miller of Racine, who will receive a $25 certificate.

This is the 8th year of public art Downtown. The Adirondack chairs will be displayed from early June through Labor Day. In September, a public auction will be held.

Chair sponsors are being sought; the cost is $375. Information is available at the DRC office at 425 Main St., and online.

Karas opposes library funds in stimulus wish-list

Mayoral candidate and former alderman Pete Karas came out today against the City of Racine's largest request for stimulus dollars -- $36 million for a new library out of a total wish-list of $73.9 million. He called for the city to re-evaluate its request and allocate the money "in a way that does not cause a loss of services and business" to city residents. The library has offered to purchase land north of Spring Street off Green Bay Road for a library to serve residents who live west of downtown. No stimulus funds have yet been awarded.

Karas' statement said:

“I am deeply troubled that city government is proposing to use $36 million of valuable stimulus dollars to relocate the Racine Public Library outside the borders of the City of Racine. The City of Racine government should serve the people of Racine and not spend tax money to move our valued library to a less accessible place.

“This is the wrong thing to do on so many fronts,” Karas notes. “The Library draws city residents and non-residents downtown and these people also frequent downtown businesses. How many already scarce dollars will be lost by our local businesses if these people are now heading to a library in Mount Pleasant?

“The people of Racine elect leaders to represent their interests and not those of our surrounding communities. As mayor, I pledge to put Racine first when making decisions that affect our residents and our local economy. Racine has so many more cultural offerings than our suburbs and we need to expand, not reduce them, if we are to continue to grow as an urban center of choice.”

Karas applauded the request for Racine Promise, a program that would afford a free college education to high school graduates, and several of the environmental initiatives.

“If we are going to be asking for millions of dollars of stimulus money, I would propose that these ‘green’ initiatives be expanded in the proposals,” noted Karas. “I would like to see more infrastructure investment in such things as renewable energy programs and sustainable ecofriendly neighborhood projects.

Karas running on a platform of local jobs, safe streets, responsive government, and essential services.

Kim Plache likely to enter mayor's race

Ken Lumpkin over at the Insider News spills the beans on an increasingly less secretive secret. Former State Sen. Kim Plache is a likely candidate for mayor.

She'll announce this week, probably Tuesday before the City Council calls the May 5 special election to replace Gary Becker on Wednesday. The primary election to narrow the field to two candidates is scheduled for April 7. Mayor Tom Friedel is serving in the office until the May election.

Plache, 48, was elected as a Democrat to the Assembly in 1988 and served until 1996, when she defeated former State Sen. George Petak in a recall election. Petak lost favor after casting the deciding vote for the Milwaukee Brewers' Miller Park stadium.

Plache was reelected to the Senate in 1998, but lost a close election to State Sen. Cathy Stepp, R-Yorkville, in 2002.

Since then, Plache has worked for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, representing a five-county region including Racine County.

She announced late last year she was running for Racine Unified School Board. But she's shifted gears since Gary Becker's swift downfall and is now looking to become the city's first female chief executive. Two other women - Lesia Hill-Driver and Jody Harding - are also expected to run this spring.

One minor problem for Plache is her name is already on the ballot for school board race, and under state law it can only be removed by death. Plache said she won't serve both jobs.

A bigger problem is Plache doesn't live in the City of Racine. She and her family - Plache is married with an 11-year-old daughter - moved to Mount Pleasant a few years ago to have better access to their jobs. They live near Spring Street and South Emmertsen Road.

Plache intends to move into an apartment in the city and put her house up for sale. She also leans heavily on the fact that she served in elected office in Racine for 14 years, grew up in Racine, has lived her whole life in the Racine area and now works on Racine's behalf with WHEDA.

If she runs, Plache will be a formidable opponent in the growing list of candidates. First, she's carried large swathes of the city in previous elections, and likely still has name recognition with voters. Second, she's tied into people who can raise money. The mayoral election is only six weeks long, so candidates don't have much time to build up a campaign fund. Third, she's not Gary Becker. A lot of candidates can claim that, but Plache may be the biggest voice to claim "outsider" status to City Hall.

It helps that she reportedly has some big names lining up behind her campaign. It'll be interesting to see who local state legislators support. It's hardly a secret that State Rep. Bob Turner, D-Racine, wants to run for the mayor's office, setting up a potential showdown with Plache. Where does that leave Democratic State Rep. Cory Mason and State Sen. John Lehman?

February 15, 2009

Donors save Music on the Monument concerts

To paraphrase Mark Twain ("The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."): Ditto Music on the Monument.

A couple of weeks ago at its annual meeting, Downtown Racine Corporation director Devin Sutherland announced the end of the Friday lunchtime summer musical series, due to a loss of its $6,500 sponsor. Well, that was then, this is now.

Yesterday DRC reported the receipt of a number of donations -- enough to support the series in 2009. Donors included:
  • The Osborne and Scekic Family Foundation, which already supports the Summer Nights at the Square Saturday evening concerts.
  • An anonymous donor, in honor of Downtown’s Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church.
  • John Dziekian, owner of Sign Pro, 1415 Layard Ave.
  • Donna DeFatte's husband, Marty, donated in her name -- his Valentine’s Day gift.
  • The Racine Board of Realtors "decided to go out of the box," according to Mike Voss, president.
Music on the Monument, which began in 2003, is a summer-long music series which provides free concerts every Friday during June, July and August. The concerts are held at Monument Square from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

How Keith Fair played the JT ...

There was a bizarre story in the JT over the weekend in the First District race for City Council. Reporter Pete Wicklund breathlessly reports:
A candidate running in Tuesday’s primary for 1st District alderman is alleging possible electioneering and breaking of federal law on the part of incumbent Alderman Jeff Coe.
Sounds pretty serious ... until you find out the alleged violation is once sentence on a brochure that reads:
“The District is really lucky to have Jeff Coe as their alderman.”
That sentence came from Rachel Westergren, a community builder with Neighborhood Housing Services, a nonprofit engaged in rebuilding and improving houses in the First District. Westergren isn't quoted in the story, nor is anyone else from NHS.

But here's the strange part. Fair throws Westergren and NHS under the bus by alleging they violated federal law endorsing Coe in the First District race, but then suggest it's not NHS's fault because Coe strong-armed them into an endorsement.
Fair accuses Coe, alderman from 2001-2005 and since 2007, of “shaking down the nonprofit group” for an endorsement and said he is concerned what might happen to NHS funding if Coe had not received the endorsement.

“We can not allow the Rod Blagojevich Chicago-style ‘pay-to-play’ politics to creep into Racine,” said Fair, who said he is exploring filing a complaint against Coe.
I guess it's theoretically possible that Coe walked into NHS, demanded Westergren (who isn't the head of the nonprofit) write a sentence for his campaign brochure, and then threatened to pull all of NHS's funding if she didn't comply. But that's supposing Coe has a great deal of control over city funding (he doesn't) and that NHS would fold under small-time political pressure (probably not). It's also completely unsupported, aside from Fair's word. Seriously JT, you let an aldermanic candidate compare his opponent to the impeached governor of Illinois?

More likely is the JT got played. Fair drops off a press release late in the day on Friday, the city desk needs a local news story for Saturday, the reporter dashes off a couple of phone calls and an incompete, highly suspect story ends up in print.

JT, you just can't do this sort of thing. It's lousy journalism, unfair to Coe, irrelevant to issues in the First District and harmful to a nonprofit that's doing important work in some of Racine's most depressed neighborhoods. The editors should not have published this story.

West Racine project may not have gotten funding, even if it was approved

Remember the ill-fated affordable housing project in West Racine? Turns out it may have been DOA even with local support.

The controversial 55-unit building at West Boulevard and Washington Avenue may have had a difficult time receiving grants from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), according to a source close to the project. There's just not enough demand for affordable housing in Racine.

Here's the problem for Racine. It has a sizable low-income population, but it also has a sizable number of low-income housing apartments that aren't being rented right now. You can argue many apartments are in lousy shape, but even newer buildings aren't selling out. That makes for a tough argument for developers trying to bring more affordable housing to the city.

One argument that's out there is the need for three-bedroom apartments to accommodate families. But even that's been a tough sell, considering the fate of the 27-unit Corinne Owens affordable housing project on State Street.

So what's all this mean?

First, developer Heather Hammond may have misread the Racine market when proposing her West Racine plan. (See this story I did for The Daily Reporter on Hammond ripping Racine for turning down her proposal.)

Second, Racine may not be in the market for WHEDA grants in the near future. The city could probably use some assisted senior living, and possibly a well-designed project with three-bedroom apartments in a family friendly area. But straight-up low-income apartments? Probably not.

Third, West Racine residents may have saved the city from a bad project on a prime piece of property. City staff recommended Hammond's proposal and the Plan Commission was leaning in favor of it until hundreds of people voiced their opposition. Setting aside worries about low-income housing (which is important to have in any community), the project may simply have not worked. Nice apartments or not, they're useful if no one rents them.

In that case, a vacant lot - even one with $2 million in debt on it - is more valuable.

Wheaton-Franciscan closing its dermatology clinic

Wheaton-Franciscan is shutting down its dermatology department in Racine and replacing it with a new partnership and three skin care clinics.

The clinic, at 3811 Spring St., will close in March. Dr. Ronald Smits is retiring, and his partner, Dr. Melinda McCord, is leaving Wheaton-Franciscan to pursue opportunities on the east coast. Smits' last day is March 13. McCord's last day is March 20.

Wheaton-Franciscan is partnership with Great Lakes Dermatology, which is accepting new patients at its offices in Racine and Pleasant Prairie. Doctors at the clinic include: Dr. Steven Armus, Dr. James Lynott and Dr. Martha Arroyo.

The hospital system also announced three new specialized clinics, including:
  • Acne Care Clinic, 3801 Spring St. The clinic is a partnership with family Dr. Rudy Byron. Physician Assistant Kelly Schneider will address adult and teen acne issues. She's available on Wednesdays.
  • Psoriasis Care, 3811 Spring St., Suite 301. This clinic is a partnership with rheumatologist Dr. Thomas Murphy. Physican Assistant Tracy Nelson will continue her work with psoriasis patients. Phototherapy treatment will be available at this location.
  • Physician Assistant Kelly Schneider will work with Dr. Michael Sweet to provide skin cancer and lesion care. Schneider is available Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Her office is in Wheaton-Franciscan's Atrium building.