February 28, 2009

Blame to share, or just Dem's... or GOP's?

Wisconsin has agreed to repay the federal government $10 million it recovered years ago from mistakenly overpaid welfare recipients, along with $5 million in interest accrued over the six years the Doyle administration fought the case.

That's all the setup you need to appreciate the Robin Vos Selective Memory Quote of the Day.

Vos, R-Caledonia, a member of the Legislature's budget committee, said: "It's unfortunate that Governor Doyle attempted to fight it so long that we have huge amounts of interest we have to pay. I've got people in my office every day looking for increases for very worthwhile programs. At the same time, we have to pay this out because of a mistake that Doyle has taken six years to admit."

Vos, a Republican, is absolutely correct that the interest accumulated while Doyle, a Democrat, has been in office. But make up your own mind whether this is a worthy kick, or a cheap shot.

Says the AP story in today's Chicago Tribune:
A federal audit in 2002 found Wisconsin officials had recovered $17.4 million in overpayments in the state-federal program but failed to repay the federal government its share of $10.7 million.

Auditors recommended the state pay up. The federal government formally ordered repayment in 2005 and interest of 12 percent started running at that point. The state continued to dispute that it owed the money.
What Vos doesn't mention -- or at least is not quoted in the Tribune as mentioning -- is that the "mistake that Doyle has taken six years to admit" actually took place in the 1990s, and was made by ... wait for it ... his predecessors in the Governor's office. Um, a couple of Republicans named Tommy Thompson and that other governor whose name you have to really search the memory banks for...oh, yeah, Scott McCallum.

So maybe there's enough blame to go around, if this is really an issue worthy of finger-pointing.

1,500 attend 26th annual Black History Youth Achievement Awards at Festival Hall

Over 1,500 people, including hundreds of kids, attended an awards banquet Saturday at the 26th Annual Black History Youth Achievement Awards.

The ceremony was organized by the Black History Youth Achievement Awards Committee. Members included: Donnie Snow, Maggie Cobb, James Wilson, Bettie Poole, Mary Day and Duane Windham.

Founding members of the ceremony include: Snow, Cobb and Cecilia Edmond.

Co-sponsors include: The Racine Park, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, the MLK Community Center, Racine Unified, UW-Parkside Precollege and Gateway Technical College.

Horlick basketball star Jamil Wilson (right) was master of ceremonies for the event.

Festival Hall was packed with families. Bettie Poole gave the opening and Wilson read the history of the Negro National Anthem. Makayla Chambliss and the Kiwanis Youth Symphony performed the anthem.

Children received a certificate for their accomplishments. Award-winners were nominated by teachers at their schools.

Racine Unified Superintendent James Shaw with guest speaker Qadira Oliver.

James Wilson, director of the city's MLK Community Center, read the names of award winners.

Mayoral candidate forum on March 23 at Gateway

Community for Change, the organization formed by President Obama's supporters in Racine, is holding a forum for mayoral candidates on March 23 from 6-10 p.m. at Gateway Technical College. All eleven candidates have confirmed that they will attend.

This event will feature a panel of Community Organizers, including a representative from RacinePost, who will moderate questions for the candidates on the subjects of the Economy, Environment, Safety & Quality of Life, and Personal Vision & Management Style.

Community Organizations from the Racine area have been invited to submit questions for the candidates in the Feb. 7 primary for mayor.

The event will also feature a Community Organization Expo prior to the forum. Dozens of organizations will be represented to meet the public and candidates and share their work and goals.

The Expo will begin 6pm and the Candidate Forum will follow at 7 p.m. sharp in the Great Lakes Room. Attendees are asked to bring a non-perishable item of food to benefit the Racine County Food Bank.

For more information please see the Mayoral Candidate Forum page on the C4C website here.

Update: John Dickert's campaign backed Community for Change's plans for a food drive by reminding attendees to bring a non-perishable food item. In a press release, Dickert said:
“One of the main points of my campaign is creating partnerships to rebuild Racine’s neighborhoods. This event is an excellent opportunity for individuals to express their personal dedication through a concerted effort to fill Racine’s food pantries. Racine’s food pantries are being used now more than ever, and this effort is just the beginning of bringing a sense of community back."
Organizations participating in the Expo, as of March 22, are:
Ophelia Project
Volunteer Center of Racine County
Racine/Kenosha Community Action Agency
Racine Interfaith Coalition
Peace Learning Circles
Racine Arts Council
Transit Now
Voces de la Frontera
Crime Stoppers
Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice
Young Professionals of Racine
Racine Literacy Council
Sierra Club
Racine Taxpayers Association
Racine County Food Bank
Racine Family Literacy
YWCA-Girls Inc.
United Way
Racine Hispanic & Business Association
Habitat Restore

Well, if you have to go to a meeting on a Friday night...

The meeting will please come to order...

It was Friday night, and I had -- unquestionably -- the best seat in the house.

To my right was the food table. People kept bringing it in -- cheese, bread, warming trays of whatever, a couple of pizzas, kringles. I lost track. I hadn't come for the food.

In front of me, on the bar, two open cases of beer and an unending flow of random bottles of home brew. "Here, try this," someone would say. "And this." "And..." I lost track. That's why I was here.

Covering local government has its appeal (for the moment I can't remember what it is), but it doesn't hold a candle to the biweekly meeting of the Belle City Homebrewers and Vintners Club, in the basement of DP Wigley. Well, it's not really the basement: when the building was built this room with a bar and the back room with a cast iron stove was the first floor, but then the city came along and raised up Wisconsin Avenue -- ah, but that will have to be a story for another day. Today, let's talk about the important stuff.

Alcohol abuse. Yes, there was alcohol abuse. The words came out of the mouth of one of the chief perpetrators. Jim Olen, one of the brewmasters at Sprecher Brewing Co. -- better known for its root beer -- was talking about the dizzying variety of seasonal beers that comes from Sprecher. And then he made a startling admission to me: "I ran out of ideas of what to put into the beer."

And so -- Your Honor, it's an open and shut case; you must convict! -- he made (please, remove the women and children from the courtroom) ... pizza beer!

Let the words sink in: Pizza beer.

Granted, it was made on contract, for a couple from Chicago (probably Cubs fans!) who don't know any better, but still: Beer brewed with Roma tomatoes, garlic, basil, oregano. "But no meat!" Olen said, as though that would lessen the offense.

He made 40 barrels of it, and for some reason, even though it was early in the evening, we had trouble doing the math, until finally figuring out 2 1/2 cases per quarter-barrel, 5 cases per half-barrel... 400 cases of pizza beer! The mind boggles. "It doesn't taste bad if it's supposed to taste that way," Jim offered in his own defense.

Still, I was willing to let it slide; it was for Chicagoans, after all, so what's the harm? But Jim, having started confessing, had to go on about his latest product: beer soap.

Clearly, a career criminal. His accessory in this crime, Christina Ward, said she'd been making soap at her grandmother's knee in Osseo, up near Eau Claire. "She taught us all the old ways: oils and ashes and..." Ward puts soapmaking in contemporary context: "There's a movement in the U.S., a return to quality and hand crafts. We're looking for products that reconnect us with our roots, with quality."

Well, when you put it that way... why not beer soap? I'll tell you why: Christina reveals the most common question she hears about their beer soap: "Can we eat it?" Her answer? "Sure, but it tastes like soap!"

Ward and Olen mix creativity with soap's two basic ingredients: oil and water. Instead of water, some stout, weiss or pale ale. (Ah the inhumanity!) And then you see what comes out, maybe add some fragrance. "Weiss beer made me smell like a banana," Jim said, moving on. "Oatmeal soap smells like a cookie." That works better Then came the fun part: coming up with names like Hop in the Shower, which actually does have hops in the brew, and Clean and Sober, a peppermint blend.

Chris Flynn, co-owner of DP Wigley, said of the Oatmeal soap, "I actually licked it." She made a face. "I don't recommend it." The tasting, she means; it works fine as a soap. It's a hard soap -- lagered, even -- so it won't melt away in the shower. But enough of these distractions: Neither soap nor beer pizza is what the 40 or 50 members of the homebrew club came to hear about.

Somehow, Jim Olen held their attention...

Olen held court in front of the roaring fire, cases of beer in front of him. He'd reach in, hold up a bottle of amber something-or-other, describe it briefly and say, "This is one of my favorites." Then he'd pick up a bottle of a Weiss something-or-other, describe it briefly and say, "This is one of my favorites." Then something-or-other aged in Russian bourbon barrels. (I kid you not.) Another of his favorites. There was even a Triple XXX root beer. I lost track after a while, but the crowd was rapt. Someone told me later Olen had named about ten beers as his favorites, but most were too busy tasting to keep count.

When he was done, it was time for questions ... and the first question from these homebrewers hung in the air, like a group of Little Leaguers meeting Mickey Mantle for the first time: "How'd you go pro?" Olen had been a home-brewer, while working in an employment agency. But then he lost his job. "I had nothing to lose," he said, so he enrolled in the brewmaster course at the Siebel Institute of Technology "& world brewing academy" -- the Harvard / MIT / Stanford all rolled into one of this crowd, with tuition to match: the 10-week master brewer course costs $20,000.

Two weeks after graduating, Olen got a job at Grey's Microbrewery in Janesville. He followed that with one at Titletown Brewery, then the Milwaukee Alehouse and now Sprecher where root beer
pays the bills, but beer feeds the soul. Despite the economics, "It's not called the Sprecher Soda Company," he said.

And so -- just to be hospitable -- I held out my glass. Someone at the bar poured in an amber liquid. Delicious. Empty glass.

Jennifer Zygmunt poured me some homemade liqueur, made with oranges and coffee beans. "Of course it's good for you," she said. "It's made with herbs." Lovely, but try as I would, I couldn't taste the coffee. So I tried again.

Dan Demers poured me some tangerine wheat beer he insisted he'd made for his wife. As in, "Happy birthday, honey. I bought you a shotgun." Dan said he'd used 15 tangerines. "Probably coulda used less," he said.

Jeff Norton was explaining how he made sake, a Japanese wine whose creation involves moldy rice. "The key is knowing when the mold is just right; get the timing wrong and ..." I got the picture. Norton brought three sailors from the Great Lakes Naval Station to the meeting: He'd met them on the train coming to Racine to get tattoos, and convinced them -- I'm sure it was very difficult -- that they'd have a better time with the homebrewers.

Ooops, my glass was empty again... Ahhhh!

DP Wigley, perhaps better known as a grain mill since 1849, is now the heart of the homebrewing movement in the area, with its Hop to It brewing and winemaking supplies threatening to catch up with traditional items like grass seed, concrete and ice melt. The homebrewers meet there twice a month. I was having too much fun to nail down the dates: call Chris or Mark Flynn for details: 633-8239. Bring home a bar of beer soap for the wife; it's just $5.

And if you see me there, and my glass is empty ... well, you know what to do.

And these are a few of my favorite things...

Harding reverses position on taking away right to vote

Mayoral candidate Jody Harding has reversed her position on wanting to take away the right to vote from people who receive government aid. Harding credited bloggers with changing her mind on the issue. (As well she might; our story on her position garnered 84 comments, mostly negative.)

She has removed her original post, entitled "Henny Penny and the Right to Vote," and writes:
I discovered it no longer represents my beliefs. The fact of the matter is that it never truly represented my beliefs, as I had not fully thought through the consequences of such an action as I suggested.
Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin picked up the original story Friday on his blog, Waxing America. He pointed out that Harding's initial position signaled "a return to 1790s when only white male property owners would have the right to vote."

Soglin listed "all of the glorious groups of Americans" that would be disenfranchised:
  • All of the executives and of the banks and insurance companies that were part of the first $800 million bailout will lose the right to vote.
  • They will be joined by all of the automobile manufacturers and capitalists who benefited form the second bailout.
  • Anyone who has unpaid parking tickets, since that debt to the government is really a free loan so long as it is unpaid.
  • Of course, any property owner who owes real estate taxes loses the right to vote along with those who fail to pay their income taxes - another form of government subsidization.
  • Recipients of tax incremental financing (TIF) along with any form of development tax break clearly qualifies as a subsidy and would lead to disenfranchisement.
  • I suppose Jody might argue about this next one, but anyone who gets a bloated, fat, government contract without a bidding process like Blackwater should also lose the right to vote.

February 27, 2009

Shakoor meets with Olympia Brown to discuss vote against LGBT Center

Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II apppears to be trying to shore up support for his mayoral run.

Shakoor met with Rev. Tony Larsen and the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church tonight to discuss his vote against the gay community center in Uptown.

Shakoor was one of three City Council members to vote against granting a conditional-use permit for the LGBT Center. He said at the meeting more discussion was needed on the issue.

The LGBT Community Center appears to be doing well. It recently received a $10,000 grant from the Cream City Foundation to help with the start-up.

We weren't at the meeting. If anyone can report what happened, please post in the comments.

City gets $1.3 million in stimulus funds from HUD

Racine will receive $1.3 million in stimulus funds from the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development -- money to create jobs, probably highway improvements, and money to help homeowners fend off foreclosure.

All of the funds allocated today are based on federal formulas relating to the city's low-income housing pool, said Mayor Tom Friedel; "mathematical formulas that consider population size and other community characteristics," according to the city's press release. The HUD money was expected -- although nobody knew exactly how much there would be -- and it has little or nothing to do with the $72 million "wish-list" the city prepared a couple of weeks ago.

According to city officials, Racine will receive:
  • $534,384 under the Community Development Block Grant program. The funds can be used for a wide range of activities related to housing and economic opportunities for persons of low and moderate income. The Recovery Act requires that priority be given to projects that can be started within 120 days of a grant agreement.
  • $817,554 under the Homeless Prevention Grant program. The funds can be used for activities that keep individuals, both home-owners and renters, from losing their current housing.
"I hope we can use these funds to address foreclosures," Friedel said. "Other programs exist to deal with buildings after foreclosure. We need help reducing the number of foreclosures and keeping people in their homes."

Friedel said it appears the foreclosure money is targeted to agencies that help homeowners forestall or prevent foreclosures with counseling to help them buy time. "That's our first take on it," he said, adding, "But it seems to us that's maybe a lot of money for that purpose."

The CDBG money is an increase over what the city normally receives -- about $3 million. "Eighty-five percent of that goes to bricks and mortar," Friedel said, the rest into programs. He expects most to go to Public Works, roads. "It all has to be allocated by Labor Day," he said. "If they're road and street projects, then it's easy."

Nothing will be allocated or spent until the grant goes through the City Council, after review by the city's Community Development Committee. "Every year, we get about double the amount of requests than the amount we can fund," he said.

"What's really disappointing to me is that there's nothing in here to put the average guy to work. There are jobs for road crews and public works, but nothing for the guy who just lost his job," Friedel said.

As for the city's wish-list, headed by a $36 million library... "We keep mining," Friedel said. "That's the buzzword; you 'mine' the bill, drill down to see what we can find." He's still wishing for a new library.

Is this $1.3 million just a small piece of what the city actually will receive from the American Recovery and reinvestment Act? "I hope so," he said. "But after this, it's more competitive."

I asked Friedel about a story I'd seen yesterday noting that Madison has a full-time lobbyist in Washington to deal with matters of this sort. Is that something we should have? "No," he said, "But I think where we missed it was not having someone there at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting with Obama, while the bill was being written. If we missed anything, that's where we missed it. " Former Mayor Gary Becker -- who had been scheduled to attend the Washington meeting -- was instead dealing with his sordid arrest...
"It is remarkable that the Department of Housing and Urban Development is able to provide this notification less than 10 days after the law was signed," Fridel said in the city's press release. "It shows how quickly the department is responding to the economy's ills. The city promises to keep pace with HUD in this effort.

"I want to thank the Obama administration for its faith in cities like Racine to use these funds effectively. We will live up to that faith," said Friedel. "And I want to thank our representatives in Congress, especially Sen. Kohl and Sen. Feingold for keeping this funding in the Recovery Act.

"Additional funding is available to the city under other provisions of the Recovery Act. Some of it will be awarded based on grant applications -- not formulas like the HUD funding. City departments are preparing application materials now, so we can submit them as soon as the federal agencies allow," said Friedel. "I am optimistic that we will win additional funding for the city."

Property Transfers, Feb. 16-20

Here are the county's most recent property transfers.

Property Transfers, Feb. 16-20

Legislative Week in Review: Seniors get a new lease; McAuliffe opening banquet facility

Senior Center

The Finance and Personnel Committee voted to extend the Friends of Seniors lease at the former Lakeview Committee center. The Friends lease the space from the city for $20,000 per year. There had been talk of giving the community center to the zoo, but that's apparently put off for at least a year. The city is also forgoing the 4.4 percent increase - $880 in this case - on leases it's charging its other tenants.


Former Alderman Bob Morrison continues to fight for tighter restrictions on fireworks in the city. He met with the Public Safety and Licensing Committee on Monday to advocate for language in city ordinances that clearly limits fireworks to sparklers and snakes. The police chief, fire chief and a fire captain joined Morrison at the meeting to back the change. They also suggested Racine join with other communities in filing a public nuisance lawsuit against the Town of Raymond for its fireworks shops along the Interstate. Morrison is a long-time advocate for cracking down on fireworks.

Convenience store

Rapids Drive Convenience Store owner Stephen Grebe was back before the licensing committee on Monday. Grebe lost his request for a liquor license on Dec. 16 when former Mayor Gary Becker cast the deciding vote against his bid to sell alcohol at the new convenience store. His new plan is the same as the old, minus the liquor license. The committee approved the plan.

McAuliffe opening new space

J.J. McAuliffe won approval for a liquor license for a new banquet facility at 211 6th St. McAuliffe owns McAuliffe's on the Square on Sixth Street, as well as McAuliffee's Pub at 3700 Meacham Road.

Tavern reviews

A few bar owners appeared before the licensing committee this week. The owners of Infusino All Sport bar on Rapids Drive appeared for the second meeting in a row. They brought a list of changes they'll make to control fights and other incidents at the bar. The committee accepted the changes.

The owners of the Warning Track at 3458 Washington Ave. were ordered to work with the city attorney's office to clean up incidents at or near their place. The owners of El Coterreo, 1224 16th St., are doing the same.

Waterworks Commission

The commission noted at its Wednesday meeting it was working to transfer land it owns to the library. It appears plans are moving ahead to move the library.

The city's utilities are also working on a new lease agreement with the Racine Yacht Club, and a pedestrian ran into the side of one of the utility's trailers while it was in motion. The pedestrian was injured.

February 26, 2009

Madison columnist flames Rep. Vos...

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, was flamed today by Madison columnist Bill Lueders in The Isthmus for his reaction to one aspect of Gov. Doyle's budget:
Dear Rep. Robin Vos: You told the State Journal that Gov. Jim Doyle's plan to modestly raise income taxes on the wealthiest 1% of the state's residents constitutes "resorting to class warfare" and will undermine investment in the economy.

Wrong, ditto-head! First of all, we already have full- blown class warfare. It's called capitalism. But the side that routinely sustains the greatest casualties rarely fights back.

You want jobs? Investment in the economy? The dumbest thing you can possibly do is let the wealthy keep more of the loot, no strings attached. In fact, giving anyone money with no strings attached does nothing except ensure that they have more money.
Lueders' other targets are here, in the rest of his column.

Police seek Puerto Rican burglar who targets illegals

Racine's Hispanic community is being warned about a Puerto Rican man allegedly burglarizing the homes of illegal immigrants in the Geneva and Hamilton neighborhood, according to Racine Police Sgt. Jessie Nethery.

He said the burglaries usually occur during the day; the suspect "comes by the day before banging on all the doors and hollering to see if anyone answers…if no one does he kicks in a door or punches out a window and steals whatever he can carry and easily sell."

Sgt. Nethery said the man sought is named Ivan Rivera, but said police do not have probable cause to arrest him, despite strongly believing he is the burglar. "Many of the victims recall a 'Puerto Rican accented man' coming around the day before or shortly before the burglary asking questions, banging on their doors etc.

"We have many burglaries that were reported but believe there are many more that are unreported. We believe he targets the illegals thinking that they won’t call the police for fear we will find out their status. We are NOT concerned with their legal status. They are victims and we would appreciate anyone’s help in prosecuting Ivan. He is also known to walk around selling items to illegals for cheap prices," Sgt.Nethery said. Several warrants have been issued for Rivera, he said, encouraging the Hispanic community to call police with his whereabouts. He is said to be a heroin addict and may be dangerous. He has been known to stay on Reeds Court and ML King, and usually is on foot or on a bike.

Nethery says he has spread the word around the community. "Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to know it's him and know what he is doing, yet he is still getting away with it."

Ground-breaking for new crypt at Mound Cemetery

A ground-breaking ceremony will be conducted Monday, March 2, at 3 p.m. at Mound Cemetery for Phase 1 of its new crypt complex.

The original crypt is nearing capacity and the new ones will offer a wide array of burial options. This new design will have 60 single crypts, 55 double crypts and 240 cremation niches. Along with these new additions will be the restoration of the original fountain, gifted to the city by William Wadewitz in memory of his wife. Surrounding the fountain will be new benches, a flower and shrub garden and a new ramp providing access.

Invited attendees will include Mayor Tom Friedel, Cemetery Commissioners, crypt designer Chris Mekus, the contractor Bane & Nelson, Donnie Snow, director of Park and Recreations, and others. The public is invited.

Mound Cemetery is owned and operated by the City of Racine.

Racine police make arrest in 10-year-old case

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but this looks like good police work:
On Tuesday, February 24, 2009, investigators arrested Michael E Westman, 35, on a charge of Reckless Homicide. It was determined that Mr Westman was responsible for causing the injuries resulting in the death of his child (Morgan M Westman, born Nov. 3, 1998) while under his care in the home. Morgan died on March 31, 1999.

Follow-up investigation into this matter was initiated during the course of an active case involving sexual abuse, where Mr Westman was identified as a possible offender. In examining his relationship with the victim in the current case, the investigator put forth extraordinary efforts in examining the past case involving members of the same family.

During the course of the follow-up investigation into this matter, the lead investigator was able to re-contact medical professionals (including those that were now out of state) and Human Services Department workers involved in the original suspicious death incident. As a result, the investigator was able to provide enough information to support the Reckless Homicide charge.

In the original case, it is believed that the young child suffered irreversible injuries as a result of actions known to be symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome. That child (within days after Mr Westman was caring for her) died at Childrens’ Hospital of Wisconsin when the mother made the difficult choice to remove the baby from life support systems. At this time, no other information will be made available.

February 25, 2009

Josie and her siblings are waiting for you

Meet Josie. She's a beagle mix who is just eight weeks old. Her mother came to the Countryside Humane Society and delivered four puppies. So if Josie isn't quite right for you, then maybe you should take a look at her brother, Patrick, or her sisters Phylis and Blanche.

And while you're at the shelter, look around. There's a lot that's new: the lobby and cat room have been painted, the parking lot's been black-topped, there's a new roof and new stencils on the front window. Lots to see while you're trying out a new pet.

Take Josie for a cuddle at Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

County Board less sure about commuter rail...

When it comes down to other-people's-money, the Racine County Board votes enthusiastically one way. But when the hand is reaching into our own wallets ... well, it's a different story entirely.

According to the Journal Times, the board voted 13-10 Tuesday night in favor of the creation of a Regional Transit Authority -- as long as the state doesn't impose a county sales tax to support it. Such a tax is the latest proposed funding source to pay for the commuter rail project known as KRM, that would connect Milwaukee and Chicago -- and run through Racine.

But just two years ago, the same board voted 19-4 when the funding platform for KRM was gonna be a $13 tax on car rentals.

Car rental fees, of course, are presumably collected mostly from out-of-towners, donchaknow; but a sales tax would be collected from .... ahem, local voters! (Like the Brewers' stadium tax, and we all know how well that worked out!) Not to mention that the overall economic landscape has changed dramatically in the past couple of years; it depends on which side you're on whether that makes a stronger case for commuter rail or a weaker one.

February 24, 2009

Countryside Humane Society creating Memorial Courtyard

The Countryside Humane Society is creating a Memorial Courtyard with a dual purpose:
  • It will allow pet owners to create a permanent memorial to their pet, family member or company by purchasing an engraved gift brick for the outdoor courtyard entryway and waiting area
  • And the money raised will allow Countryside to continue helping our furry, feathered and scaled friends.
Courtyard bricks are available in two sizes: 4" by 8" for $50, and 8" by 8" for $100. The smaller one can be engraved with three lines of 14 characters, and the larger with five lines. Also available are memorial benches for $2,500 and landscape markers for $1,500.

Anyone with questions, or ready to make a purchase, should contact DJ at Countryside, 262-554-6699.

Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Rd., is a non-profit organization, is in need of many updates and supplies to continue its service to the community and its pets.

Kohl: 'Solutions equal to our time... bold action'

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, sent this reaction to President Obama's speech:
“The President laid out a sweeping plan to get our country back on its feet. He has proposed solutions equal to our time, with plenty of oversight and accountability to protect taxpayers. While not everyone may agree with the precise course the President has set, everyone agrees that we must take bold action.”

Ryan faults Obama (even before he finishes speech)

President Obama was still delivering his address to Congress tonight when my email program dinged with this critical reaction from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District. It was mailed at 8:45 p.m.; Obama's speeh didn't end until... (he's still talking as I input this) 9:08 p.m..
“President Obama provided an accurate, sober assessment of today’s challenges: the ongoing financial crisis, mounting job losses, a broken health care system, and an unsustainable fiscal path from an explosion of government spending. Step one in digging ourselves out of the fiscal mess we’re in is to admit that we have a problem. I applaud Obama’s efforts to push for a bipartisan consensus in moving forward to address this dire fiscal reality.

“While heartened by President Obama’s call to action on our greatest challenges, I was troubled by the substance of his specific policy proposals. President Obama touted his trillion dollar spending bill, under the mistaken belief that we can borrow and spend our way to prosperity. He remains committed to raising taxes in the midst of the most painful recession in generations. He continues to push a housing plan that rewards those who borrowed more than they can afford at the expense of those who followed the rules. President Obama echoed his campaign promises to push for legislation that places the government – not the patient or the provider – at the center of health care decisions.

“Alternative solutions are critical if we are to have a legitimate debate on our most pressing issues. I will continue to put forth alternatives applying our timeless principles of individual liberty and limited government. I take President Obama at his word in his commitment to reach out to Republicans, acknowledging that no individual has the monopoly on wisdom. The shrill partisanship in recent weeks has been troubling, producing unfortunate acrimony and poor public policy. True bipartisanship requires collaboration, and constructive efforts by all elected officials to address our American problems with American solutions.”

Racine Arts Council accepting grant applications

The Racine Arts Council (RAC) is accepting applications for 2009 Project Grants.

The money for these grants comes from RUAF (Racine United Arts Fund), the WAB (Wisconsin Arts Board) and individual donors to the RAC. Non-profit organizations and artist sponsoring projects serving the people of Racine County east of I-94 are eligible. RAC Project Grants do not fund scholarships, fundraising projects, projects not based in Racine County or rent or operating expenses. The deadline for submission of applications is Friday, April 3, and grant recipients will be announced on May 15.

Applications may be downloaded or picked up at the RAC office at 316 Sixth St. Office hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 635-0261.

Hard times force Racine Symphony to cut back

The Racine Symphony Orchestra has cancelled three programs from its Spring concert schedule, because of current economic challenges.

Cancelled are the classical concert scheduled for May 9, a chamber concert with the Choral Arts Society on March 21 and a series of third grade concerts.

RSO Board President Nancy DeKraay said income halfway through the symphony's fiscal year is "not meeting budget expectations in all areas: grants, patron donations, concert revenue, underwriting and sponsorship."

DeKraay sent a letter to more than 300 RSO patrons, advertisers and sponsors on Saturday, saying, “Like other arts organizations, we are facing economic struggles and find ourselves with two choices: wait and see what happens or take bold steps to protect our future. We have decided on the latter.”

Rather than incur debt that would put the symphony’s future in serious jeopardy, DeKraay said “the board made some very difficult decisions affecting this spring’s program schedules. We are holding RSO’s traditional concert for the fifth graders, as well as the Youth Artist Competition, both in March. But, we have had to cancel the third grade concerts, the chamber concert with the Choral Arts Society on March 21 and the classical concert on May 9.” The Choral Arts Society does intend to hold their concert on March 21. The RSO’s flex pass tickets will be honored at the door.

DeKraay explained that when the budget for the current fiscal year was established by the board, “we had every reason to believe that income projections were reasonable and attainable.” By the middle of the fiscal year, January 2009, however, expenses were on target but income was not meeting budget expectations in all areas: grants, patron donations, concert revenue, underwriting and sponsorship.

DeKraay discussed the organization’s commitment to the future, emphasizing its strong history. The Racine Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1932, is the oldest symphony orchestra in Wisconsin. She said the board is now “leading an extensive strategic planning process designed to address the changed economic climate in which we find ourselves today.

“We will look at programming to accommodate the needs of the community,” she continued, “while fulfilling the organization’s mission of ‘being dedicated to preserving our musical heritage by entertaining, educating and enriching audiences and musicians in our community.’ ”

DeKraay concluded, “Above all, the board will do all it can to continue the rich tradition of the 77-year history of the Racine Symphony Orchestra, while operating within the critical constraints of today’s economic challenges.”

Vote, so Root-Pike WIN rain garden can win $10,000

The Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network of Racine is one of eight national finalists for $10,000 rain garden grants funded by the River Network and Miller/Coors.

The winner will be decided by votes from the public at the River Network's website. OK, let's be perfectly clear: GO HERE AND VOTE NOW! Summaries of all eight contenders are listed, along with "vote now" links. The top four vote getters will receive $10,000 and the other four will get $1,000.

You can only vote once.The deadline is March 6. Winners will be announced at www.rivernetwork.org on March 10.

The $44,000 in grants were made possible by MillerCoors, which partnered with River Network to support water sustainability initiatives in states where the company has breweries. MillerCoors is committed to improving its water efficiency and has designated water conservation and water quality as sustainable development priorities.

River Network believes that strong community-based groups are our best opportunity to protect and restore our rivers, lakes and watersheds.

Caledonia committee collects 5% of needed signatures

Despite Saturday's snowstorm, the Caledonia School District Steering Committee collected 5 percent of the required 9,700 signatures for its petition on a referendum to create a new school district and break away from the Racine Unified School District.

Last week was the kickoff of its campaign, which led up to a Monday evening meeting that discussed the reasoning behind the movement and the process to be followed, according to Brian Dey, president of the steering committee.

The CSDSC will hold more events throughout RUSD and will be seeking signatures from now through the June 30 deadline. The group's next meeting is March 9, at the Caledonia Eastside Community Center to discuss next steps.

More information about the effort can be found at CSDSC's website.

Becker off to Pennsylvania treatment facility

Pat Cafferty and Gary Becker at today's hearing

Gary Becker's defense attorney, Pat Cafferty, carried the day Tuesday morning, as Racine's former mayor was given permission to leave the state to attend a six-week residential treatment program for sexual compulsivity.

Judge Stephen Simanek accepted Cafferty's arguments, stating, "I think he poses no additional risk."

District Attorney Michael Nieskes had argued for increased cash bail, and said "I believe there's adequate treatment in this area" for the impulses that led to his arrest on child sexual enticement charges in January. Pointing out that Becker "leaped right into it" when a DCI investigator, posing as a 14-year-old girl, offered to meet him for sex, Nieskes noted that none of the 16 prior cases cited by Cafferty Monday in his motion to revise Becker's bond restrictions covered the same range of accusations.

"No one else misappropriated government funds," he said, referring to the charge that Becker asked a city employee to fix his personal computer. Noting that some of the cases Cafferty listed carried cash bonds of $30,000 to $50,000, Nieskes said of Becker, "I think he's a greater flight risk." He also said Becker was more likely to adhere to bond requirements if kept in Racine County because "there are thousands of eyes in the community" watching him.

Cafferty said the KeyStone Center in Chester, PA, had conditionally approved taking Becker as a patient, pending only financial arrangements and the court's consent. Current bond restrictions against alcohol consumption, contact with minors and a prohibition against the use of computers would remain in effect. (A call to KeyStone this morning revealed the cost of the treatment: $450 per day, or $18,900 for six weeks.)

Cafferty said others accused of crimes similar to those pending against Becker have been allowed to attend out-of-state treatment, and he argued that Becker "shouldn't be treated any worse than anyone else. The reality is, he isn't going anywhere but for treatment."

Judge Simanek agreed, noting that Becker "operates a business, has family here, has a residence." It wasn't clear whether he was referring to Becker's wife, Julie, who filed for divorce on Jan. 20, the same day Becker resigned as mayor, or to his mother. Becker's cash bond of $10,000 was left unchanged.

Simanek said Becker has been "compliant" with drug and alcohol monitoring, and that the KeyStone Center "is legitimate, not fly-by-night; it's not the Betty Ford Clinic."

Becker is required to notify the court as soon as he leaves the treatment facility. His previously scheduled April 3 pretrial hearing was reset to April 24, at 8:45 a.m.

You can only sign once

As more candidates file into the field of prospective mayors, there's an election rule that affects you and me. Under state law, you can only sign one candidate's nomination papers.

You won't get punished for signing more than one candidate's papers, but only your first signature will count. For example, if you sign Q.A. Shakoor's papers today and Jody Harding's papers tomorrow, only your signature for Shakoor will count.

Simple as it seems, this could be a challenge for candidates. Since each of the 10 people running for mayor needs a minimum of 200 signatures, that's 2,000 people the candidates have to collectively reach before the March 11 filing deadline. Even in a city of 80,000, that's not an easy task in late winter. (Candidates can collect up to 400 signatures just in case some signers are stricken.)

So in essence, there's a primary to the primary. Who can collect enough signatures just to appear on the ballot? We'll find out March 11.

Fay makes it an even 10; Former County Board supervisor running for mayor

Former Racine County Board Supervisor Raymond Fay is the latest candidate to declare he's running for mayor. Fay, who lives at 1523 N. Main St., said he will provide a "moral compass" at city hall, and invoked the name of the late Racine County Executive Dennis Kornwolf.

Here's Fay's full release:
I am running for mayor of Racine because I feel I can offer our citizens an effective and honest city leader. Right now we are at a crossroad - the spot between the down hill road that we have been on and the opportunity to reinvigorate our city with a new administration. This special election for mayor has proven to be a call for change.

I have declared my candidacy for mayor because I see Racine as a community with a rich past and a great future. However, our former administration has shown that they did not have the moral fiber to lead our city in the direction or manner that we deserve.

Racine needs a moral compass at city hall. I will put the city’s needs above my own. My first priority will be to run Racine’s city government fairly and efficiently.

As a former County Board Supervisor representing the 4th District, and as the former County Executive Assistant, under the leadership of Dennis Kornwolf, I helped run an effective and efficient county government. I am running for mayor because I have the experience, the drive and the ability to lead this city in the right direction.

And his background:
Lifelong resident of the city of Racine
Graduated from St. Catherine’s High School
Graduated with B.A. from U.W. – Parkside
Army Veteran – Military Intelligence Analyst

Served On:

RCEDC – Board of Directors
National Emergency Food & Shelter Program (Chairman)
American Red Cross, Local Chapter Board & Executive Director
Racine County Veterans Memorial Project – Board of Directors
Racine’s Columbus Quincentenary Commission
Coordinated Racine County’s legislative outreach to state & federal representatives
Spearheaded Racine County’s successful 9-1-1 program
Racine Public Library – Board of Directors

Currently Involved:

AMVET’s Post 120 – Past Commander –
presently 2nd Vice Commander & Post AdjutantAmerican Legion Post 310

February 23, 2009

Karas on YouTube

Pete Karas is the first mayoral campaign to release a video on YouTube. Here he advocates for public power and Racinians supporting Racine-owned businesses.

Becker seeking gets OK for out-of-state treatment

UPDATE: The court on Tuesday morning, after a half-hour hearing, gave Gary Becker approval to attend in-patient treatment at the KeyStone Center near Philadelphia. Efforts by District Atty. Michael Nieskes to instead have him receive treatment here, or to raise his cash bond, were rejected by Judge Stephen Simanek. Becker is expected to check in to the residential facility for the six-week treatment regimen later this week. To accommodate the treatment, Becker's April 3 pre-trial hearing was moved to April 24. More later...

Original post:

Former Mayor Gary Becker, who faces a 9 a.m. bail/bond hearing tomorrow in front of Judge Stephen Simanek, has filed a motion that appears to seek permission to obtain treatment out of state.

The motion filed by Becker's attorney cites the cases of 16 defendants who, as Atty. Patrick Cafferty spells out, were facing "similar charges to the charges filed against Defendant" but who "have not been restricted by the conditions of their bonds from leaving Racine County or the State of Wisconsin while their cases were pending in Racine County." The cases cited ranged from 1999 to 2002, and required bonds between $5,000 and $50,000.

Becker's present $10,000 bond restricts him to Racine County, except for trips to Milwaukee for medical treatment.

Cafferty filed an attachment with his motion containing the address and a description of an inpatient treatment program at the KeyStone Center, 2001 Providence Ave., Chester, PA, 16 miles from Philadelphia. KeyStone's website describes it as "a residential center for healing from Sexual Compulsivity and Trauma."

The 16-bed sexual extended care unit, part of a larger 116-bed residential facility for treatment of addictions like gambling and alcoholism, is for persons who "have a primary problem with sexually compulsive behavior, sex addiction and/or trauma. Persons with love addiction and co-dependency behaviors are also considered and encouraged to apply. Clients must be physically and cognitively able to participate in the program."

At Becker's last court appearance, on Feb. 10, he stood mute and the court entered not guilty pleas on his behalf to eight charges stemming from a state Department of Criminal Investigation sting that brought him to Brookfield Square Mall in January expecting to meet a 14-year-old girl for sex, but instead finding criminal investigators. The sting was initiated after a city IT worker found inappropriate pictures on a computer Becker gave him to repair. The former mayor is charged with eight felonies relating to child enticement, attempted sexual assualt of a child and possession of child pornography.

Free pancakes at IHOP on Fat Tuesday

The free food bandwagon rolls on, with IHOP getting into the act tomorrow.

As with free pancakes!

The International House of Pancakes, located in Racine at 5800 Durand Ave., at Regency Mall, will give away a free short stack of three buttermilk pancakes in honor of Fat Tuesday (the last day before the Catholic observance of Lent), in return for a donation for children's hospitals through the Children's Miracle Network. The free stack will be offered from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. More details here.

Since the IHOP fund-raiser began in 2006, the company has raised almost $2 million for children’s charities. In 2008, IHOP served 1.5 million free pancakes, equal to a stack 12 miles high.

In January, Starbucks gave away free coffee to customers willing to join one of President Barack Obama's community service corps; earlier this month Denny's gave away free breakfasts as a marketing effort.

Dr. Rosenberg added to downtown BID district board

Mayor Tom Friedel has appointed Dr. Dean Rosenberg of Racine Optical Company to the board of Downtown Racine’s Business Improvement District (BID) #1. He will serve a three-year term.

The BID Board elected the following as officers:
  • Brian Lucareli, senior vice president-managing director wealth advisory services for Johnson Bank, has been re-elected chairman. He joined the board in 2001 and has been chairman since then.
  • Mark Levine, a Downtown property owner, has been re-elected secretary. He joined the board in 2008.
  • Thom Bowen, also a Downtown property owner, has been re-elected treasurer. He has been on the board since 2006.
The BID district was created in 2001 by property owners to redevelop the downtown.

John Dickert running for mayor

John Dickert addresses supporters Monday evening at his campaign kick-off event.

Add John Dickert's name to the packed field for mayoral candidates. The First Weber Realtor and former state Assembly candidate launched his campaign Monday in the former drug house on Villa Street he helped restore. Part of the building is now used as the St. Catherine's Alumni Building.

Dickert gave an emotional speech to a crowd of about 70 people. He said the city needs a long-term plan focused on the city's positives.

"We have assets people dream about," Dickert said.

Dickert is perhaps best known as one of backers / developers of the Riverbend lofts at 730 Marquette St. The $15.3 million project turned the old Badger Uniform building into 51 condos. But he focused his announcement on the former drug house - and three other homes that now have families living in them - he helped restore as an example of the work that needs to be done to help the city.

Red "Dickert" signs hung on the walls of the building. The signs were remnants of Dickert's 2002 attempt to unseat State Rep. Bob Turner in a Democratic primary for the state Assembly. Turner won the race 52-48 percent. The two will have another chance to run against each other this spring. Both Turner and Dickert are running for mayor.

Dickert's announcement Monday increases the field to at least nine candidates. The field will be narrowed to two candidates on April 7, and a new mayor will be elected on May 5. (Right: Dickert talks with Alderman Ray DeHahn.)

With such a large field, it will be interesting to see how the campaigns develop. This is obviously a sprint to the primary (it's seven weeks away), and money could play a big role in determining who gets their name out to the public.

But with so many candidates poised to split voters into so many camps, it really could be anyone's race. If anyone knows a political science professor, you may want to tip them off to what's happening in Racine this spring. It's shaping out to be one of the more unusual elections in recent history.

For a glimpse at how Racine's election may play out, watch the news from Detroit on Tuesday night. Fifteen candidates are running to replace disgraced former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who pleaded guilty in a corruption probe.

The current mayor - who took over for Kilpatrick - and a former Detroit Pistons basketball player are the expected winners. Name recognition, more than policies, may win the day in a crowded primary.
Dickert looks out the window with his children.

Friends of Seniors want another year in community center

The Friends of Seniors are hoping to stay another year in the former Lakeview Community Center on Main Street.

The organization is asking the city to extend its lease one year for $20,000. The lease expires on May 31.

There'd been some talk of the group leaving the space to make way for the Racine Zoo, which is located across the street. The seniors have been looking for a new space, but so far have been unsuccessful, according to a letter Dick Hinsman wrote to the city.

During a recent visit to the senior center, an organizer said the space was adequate but not ideal. The group would like a center that's a little bigger and is all on one level. Now, the center has a half-flight of stairs dividing the place roughly in half.

When looking for a new center, parking is a significant concern. The seniors need an abundance of parking near the front door for easy access.

Last May Racine Zoo CEO Jay Christie appeared before the Finance and Personnel Committee and asked the city to give the former Lakeview Community center to the zoo.

He argued, along with zoo chairman David Easley, that thousands of people would use the zoo. Now, hundreds of people use the building as a senior center.

February 22, 2009

And the winner of Snowdance is ...

Barbara Akey, Rich Smith, Rick Ditter
and John Adams
in Dressed Up Like a Douche

The Snowdance 10-Minute Comedy Festival wrapped up Sunday afternoon with the awarding of the coveted "Best in Snow" Award, as voted on by audiences during the three-week run. Here's how the voting shook out:

3. "Love is a Battlefield," by W. Patrick Fogarty. This was Racine's lone finalist in the festival, and it was a crowd favorite.

2. "Here to Serve You," by Barbara Lindsay of Seattle, Wash. Not a big surprise about the top two plays. Ask anyone who's been to Snowdance and there's a good chance this play about a lost shoe in an airport terminal this was in their top three.

And the big winner ...

"Dressed up Like a Douche" by Rick Park of Boston, Mass. There's been great buzz about this play, based on the Bruce Springsteen/Manfred Mann song, since opening night. Looks like that buzz carried Park to the $300 top prize.

Big winner No. 2 ...

The Over Our Head Players. The ensemble cast led by Rich Smith kept the Snowdance magic rolling this year with sold-out performances and a move to the larger Memorial Hall for the last weekend. Here's looking forward to Snowdance 2010!

Sea Daniel, Brad Kostreva, Jenny Kostreva
and Joseph Piirto in Love is a Battlefield

Turner in mayor's race; would quit Legislature

State Rep. Robert Turner, D-Racine, became the eighth candidate for Racine Mayor, by amending his filing papers and joining the scrum for the April 7 primary.

Turner also answered the first question raised when word of his candidacy arose: would he attempt to hold both the mayor's job and his seat in the State Assembly. The answer is no -- he will resign from the Legislature if elected mayor. He also will do away with the city administrator's position -- now vacant since Ben Hughes' resignation last week.

Turner issued a statement Sunday afternoon saying:

“I am committed to the job of mayor. If the people of Racine choose me to serve as their mayor, I will resign my position in the state assembly as soon as the state budget is passed.

“We are in extremely tough economic times. All of us have had to tighten our belts, and city government should be no exception. This is not the time to retain management positions that we can do without. With my years of experience as alderman and finance chair and my experience in state government, I will be able to serve as mayor without a city administrator.

“I am ready and dedicated to continue to serve Racine and help restore credibility and integrity to the mayor’s office”, he said.

Turner, 61, was elected to the 61st State Assembly District in 1990. He is a Vietnam Veteran, a 33rd degree Mason, and was a member of Racine’s City Council from 1976 to 2004. He graduated from UWParkside with a B.S. in business administration. Turner and his Gloria have three children.