May 9, 2009

Death-defying fun (if you're over 48" tall...)

Kids of all sizes -- well, at least 48" tall for the good stuff -- were having a wonderful time Saturday at Regency Mall, where a fantastic carnival set up shop for the weekend.

Oh, there were the usual carny games of "skill" -- break so many balloons and win a cheesy prize kind of thing. But the midway was not the place to be; the real excitement was on the death-defying rides like the Cliff Hanger and Pharaoh's Fury and the horrifying Freak Out, which swung its standing riders in a huge arc that left them everything but upright. Luckily, they were too high for those of us on the ground to hear their screams.

The carnival continues on Sunday, until about 6 p.m.

Shrugging off the rain, farmers' market opens

Jane Witt hands her selection to Carol Gresk

It was cold and raining at 7 this morning, when Jerry and Carol Gresk pulled their truck into the Case parking lot Downtown, and set up their table of flowers and fresh eggs at the farmers' market.

It did not look like an auspicious start for the summer's fresh produce sellers. Farmers were huddled in raincoats and sweaters; customers at first were few and far between.

One of Jerry's first customers said to him, "You gotta be crazy to be out here." Jerry replied, "You gotta be even crazier."

But then the spitting rain let up, the sun came out ... and so did more customers. They found limited offerings on this first Saturday: I saw rhubarb, winter onions and parsnips on display, plus lots of plants and a few bright flowers at the half-dozen stands. Oh, and some homemade muffins and hot coffee.

"Actually, it turned into a pretty good day," said Jerry's wife, Carol, as they noted that all 24 dozen jumbo eggs had been sold, and Mother's Day customers were choosing the more colorful of their flowers.

Jerry and Carol have been doing this for quite a while. They farm 140 acres in Raymond with Jerry's brother. "He raises cash crops like corn and soybeans and beef cattle," said Jerry. "We raise the veggies," Carol chimed in. Jerry, 68, is a retired railroader -- a section foreman for the Canadian Pacific railroad, later the Milwaukee Road, for 43 years in Sturtevant -- and they're both lifelong farmers. Carol was born on a pumpkin farm.

"We started selling Downtown in 1975," Carol said, "When the farmer's market was on Main Street." "Where the Johnson Building is now," Jerry explained. "It's where the movie theatres were," Carol added. She remembered the first movie she'd ever seen at the Rialto: "Giant" with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean.

Then came another wave of customers, buying more flowers. Seven-year-old Caden McCormick, right, carefully showed his dad, Kevin, which ones to get for his mother.

"Definitely worth coming," Carol said as the market wound down. "But that rocking chair will feel good when we get home."

May 8, 2009

My name is Hector. Wanna make something of it?

Pictures are deceiving: This is a male dog!

Hector is a four- to five-year-old male poodle who was a tangled mess when he arrived as a stray at Countryside Humane Society. He had to be groomed short -- but groomers left a little puff on the top of his head.

Why, Countryside, why? Have you no shame? Hector looks in a mirror and he's soooo confused!

Hector is a quiet dog, and does not make a fuss in the kennel. When taken out to play, he enjoys being petted, and likes to sit at the feet of his keepers. He does get excited when he meets new people -- yes, and jumps up on them -- but that can be trained away. (Well, not with my terrier, but surely with your dogs!)

Hector is available for adoption now; the fee of $120 covers his neutering, distemper, bordetella and rabies shots, microchipping, heartworm testing, a 30-day flea treatment and a healthy checkup visit at Racine Vet clinic.

To meet Hector, call or visit the Countryside Humane Society at 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

Postscript: Countryside's recent adopt-a-thon weekend went very well: 20 animals found new homes!

Countryside is looking for volunteers to work in the shelter and for foster homes. Children 13 and up can volunteer inside the shelter for the first time but they must be accompanied by an adult. Foster homes help with kittens or or puppies that are too young to be at the shelter. They can also provide a place for ill animals to recover so they can return healthy and be adopted.

And finally: Meow! What about me, says Missy, the cat with extra toes whose story we posted here a while ago. She's still waiting for a new home. If you haven't seen her, take a look.

SC Johnson's response

SC Johnson responded by email this evening to our stories about the company's Administration Building and Research Tower being tax exempt. Spokeswoman Kelly Semrau clarified some numbers and noted SC Johnson's new buildings will contribute $166,942 to Uptown's TIF district. Here's Semerau's response:
Thanks for contacting us. Governor Doyle did grant a State tax exemption for the Administration Building and the Tower. There is a state law which provides tax exemptions for architecturally significant historic buildings in Wisconsin. The tax exemption is estimated to be $40,000 for the Administration Building and the Tower. However, and very importantly, the new building that we are constructing will provide an estimated $166, 942 in incremental taxes for Racine.

Annually, more than 4,500 visitors from around the world visit our campus and these buildings to tour them and the amount of visitors is expected to grow with our new building. (Please note this number is just the people who take tours and not the people from companies who may call on SCJ for business purposes.) SCJ since the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings were constructed, have painstakingly kept these buildings in pristine condition which is a challenging job. The company spends more than $3.2 million each year for upkeep (new roof, new facades, etc.) This figure does not include maintenance which would be significantly more.

The upkeep on these buildings is done so that the public and our employees can enjoy the beauty and splendor of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings as well as project a wonderful image of Racine to the world. It’s also important to note that the upkeep is contracted out to local businesses that in turn employ people in our community.

Where there may be confusion which is unfortunate, is that prior to SCJ applying for this state tax exemption, Mayor Becker had notified SCJ about his vision for the redevelopment of Uptown and his desire for a TIF to help fund the redevelopment. The state tax exemption and the city’s Uptown TIF are two separate issues with two separate governmental entities – for example the Mayor doesn't rule on a state tax exemption.

As a matter of fact, the incremental taxes for the new building of $166,942 will be assigned to the Uptown TIF for 14 years. And, Fisk, after hearing about the Mayor’s vision for the redevelopment of Uptown gave a donation of $500,000 from the company towards the Uptown redevelopment effort. This TIF donation is very consistent with our donations in many, many parts of this community.

I hope you can set the record straight.

Walden student's essay could win hybrid school bus

Walden student Bria Kaufman's entry in America's Greenest School contest is one of the top ten finalists out of 2,000 essays submitted. The winner will receive a $5,000 scholarship, and his or her school will get a hybrid school bus. The essay was written as an ecology class assignment.

Starting on Monday, May 11, the essays will be posted on America's Greenest School website, and the winner will be determined by public vote. Each person can vote once per email address between May 11 and May 17.

Positively Racine: HALO offers a place of hope and connection

By Bill Griffiths

No one wants to live at a homeless shelter if they have other choices.

Most people don’t even want to contemplate living at a shelter. People will do everything they can, including calling in every favor from anyone and everyone they ever knew, before they seek out a shelter. Often, people who desperately need help don’t ask for it, don’t know who to ask, or densely woven pride and shame won’t permit them to ask.

There are people who’ve made a lifetime of bad decisions in short lives, some choices they aren’t even aware of or capable of understanding. Others carry with them problems that were part of a flawed or failed upbringing. Even more have encountered circumstances beyond their control that have been compounded by a non-existent or diminished network of family and friends. For these people, there often isn’t further to fall, and with luck or Providence they find shelter and caring, and perhaps some tough love.

The Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization (HALO), on DeKoven Avenue, has two separate shelters under one roof. It has room for 60 men in one and 60 women and children in the other, and over the last year has cared for about 115 people per night. In one calendar year, that is nearly 42,000 nights of shelter and care.
HALO has evolved from the substantial earlier efforts of Homeward Bound and the Racine Emergency Shelter Task force (REST). Those programs exhausted well-meaning churches and volunteers providing shelter in different churches on different nights. There was also some significant frustration that those efforts alone couldn’t change the peoples’ circumstances. It’s obvious that the caring community of Racine and the talented people who operate HALO have learned many lessons and put a great deal of thought, effort and dollars into creating the programs in place today.

A tour of HALO quickly dispels any preconceived image of a dark and dirty place that reeks of hopelessness, filled with drunks and derelicts. Among the most surprising things one finds is not just a clean and welcoming space (which is a genuine surprise), but a program. It’s not just a shelter, and because of the thought that went into it and the efforts that sustain it, it helps create positive outcomes.
When a person in need first arrives at HALO, often they need a place to rest …warmth, meals and a place to sleep…a place to gather their thoughts on what to do next. Beyond a short initial period, idleness is not the norm. HALO doesn’t have residents, or guests, or clients. It has "participants." Every one of the participants develops an individual success plan to pursue, and meets regularly with a caseworker who monitors that progress is being made.

Executive Director Cheryl Buckley describes a full daily schedule where the participants must be active and involved…not just staying, not just taking up space.

"We don’t have a limit on how much time a person can spend here. The first 30 days are probationary. Case managers are tough. If you don’t stick with our program, if you don’t behave the way you say you will, you’re out. Sometimes it’s about getting the right help, medications that can lead back to better decision making, or access to government programs that may take a long time to act. It’s very self-defeating and hopeless to give people a set time. A lot of things don’t happen fast."

Some of the participants who have been helped by HALO serve on an advisory council that helps the oversight boards in Racine learn from personal experiences at HALO and offers feedback on potential changes. To talk with people who have moved on with their lives after a stint at HALO is to learn about caring, shelter and food provided, but also about a myriad of services with which they have been connected.

"This is one of the few shelters that offers any program…most give you some food, a place to sleep, and tell you where to get help, but don’t themselves offer help. People who come to a shelter constantly want changes to make it more comfortable for them, but HALO doesn’t want to make it too comfortable, they want you to correct the things that brought you there and get on with your life."

Among the programs HALO connects people with are: addiction counseling and treatment, psychological services (and associated pharmaceutical treatments), immunizations, child development assessments, parent education classes, GED classes, job training, conflict resolution training, and many others…all aimed at breaking the cycles that resulted in these broken lives.

In a society that is much about lots of activity that passes for action, HALO distinguishes itself by being real assistance. It is about collaboration among several organizations and about putting people and their lives back together. Ms. Buckley has marshaled Racine’s good hearts and largess, federal funding, corporate funding, local programs, and helped open peoples’ eyes to new solutions.

HALO has an important mission: a commitment to preventing chronic homelessness in Racine County by meeting shelter needs and coordinating supportive services. Racine has plenty of reasons to be proud. HALO’s existence and program quality are unlikely reasons, but definitely among the best.

To contact HALO, phone 262-633-3235,

If you know of anyone whose lives and self-esteem are on the verge of crumbling, see what you can do yourself to reach out. Beyond that, put them in touch with "211," Racine County’s centralized human services information line and lifeline to assistance.

To find out about other resources in Racine County, click here.

May 7, 2009

SC Johnson, Becker traded tax-exempt status for Uptown cash

SC Johnson's response to RacinePost's stories.

So what's the big deal about SC Johnson getting two of its signature buildings taken off the tax rolls?

Commenters have pointed out SCJ is a valuable corporate citizen that provides millions of dollars directly and indirectly into the local economy. A minor tax break for two buildings designed by the great Frank Lloyd Wright doesn't seem like much of an issue.

But there's more to the story.

SC Johnson received the tax-exempt status by swinging a deal with former Mayor Gary Becker. Becker agreed to support SCJ's request to Gov. Jim Doyle, and SCJ agreed to donate $100,000 a year for five years to the city's Uptown program.

The deal was in place by late 2007 and went into affect when Doyle issued an executive order on Jan. 10, 2008 naming SCJ's Administration Building and Research Tower historic landmarks, according to our sources. The executive order, which made the buildings exempt from property taxes, also included the two new buildings being built as part of Project Honor.

City Development Director Brian O'Connell said in an interview Friday that he was involved in part of the agreement. First, SC Johnson officials told the city in 2007 it was pursuing a property-tax exemption from the state for its Wright-designed buildings. State law specifically allows Wright buildings to go tax free with an executive order from the governor.

"It could have been done without city consent," O'Connell said.

The city wrote a letter to the governor saying it would not oppose SCJ's request to make the buildings tax exempt, O'Connell said.

According to a second source, who requested anonymity, Becker supported SC Johnson's request because the company offered the five-year, $500,000 grant for Uptown. By Becker's reasoning, the source said, the deal was OK because SC Johnson was getting less in return than it was giving - for five years. SCJ will save at least $25,000 a year in property taxes (a lot more once Project Honor is complete), but it's paying $100,000 to the city.

Under the deal, the Racine Unified School District, Racine County, Gateway Technical College and the state (who all receive a portion of local property taxes) receive nothing despite losing SCJ's buildings from their tax rolls, as well.

O'Connell said SC Johnson has yet to make its first $100,000 payment to the city. The final details on the five-year grant are being worked out, he said. The first payment will go toward renovating the facade of 1418 Washington Ave., he said.

1418 Washington Ave. is the building on the right

O'Connell said he was not part of any talks between Becker and SC Johnson about the tax-exempt status, and couldn't comment on whether there was an explicit deal to trade the city's support for the governor's executive order for the $500,000 Uptown grant.

But our second source said there was an agreement between Becker and SCJ to swap the tax-exempt status and the Uptown money. Becker felt he had to offer SCJ something in exchange for the money needed to kickstart the Uptown artist program, our source said. So he agreed to support the company's request to the governor.

"He was looking for a quid pro quo on this one because of the money he wanted for Uptown," the source said.

O'Connell said he didn't know if Becker ever considered bringing the city's support of SC Johnson's historic status to the City Council. But the SC Johnson grant was brought before the city's Redevelopment Authority on Oct. 1, 2008. The money can be used to improve public safety, to renovate facades on RDA-owned buildings, to conduct design services, to renovate the residential neighborhood and to market the artist relocation program.

While Becker may not technically have had to bring the deal with SCJ before the council, our source said the deal may not pass the "smell test" for ethical government.

Becker was the type of mayor who got things done and worried about the repercussions later, they said. In this case, he needed seed money for the Uptown project so he made a deal with SCJ.

Under this scenario, SC Johnson actually went out of its way to help the city. The company, which has spent millions maintaining its Wright buildings, likely could have gotten its buildings exempted from property taxes without paying any money to Uptown. Instead, the company engaged the city and worked out an agreement.

But the deal will cost the city, Racine Unified, Racine County and Gateway in the long run. SCJ may pay around $25,000 in taxes on its current buildings, but its new Project Honor buildings will be worth upward of $20 million - millions that are now off the tax rolls forever.


Five different people, on separate occasions, have brought up how annoying they find the JT's "Alice in Wonderland" ad running on the front of their website. Anyone over there: The ad revenue isn't worth it.

National Prayer Day outside of City Hall

Bill Schalk said he knew when it rained Wednesday night it'd be a beautiful day on Thursday. As he stood on the City Hall steps for National Prayer Day, a gorgeous blue sky proved him right.

Schalk led a prayer for a crowd of about 100 people as part of the annual event, which took place in cities across the country.

Cheryl McCrary organized Racine's National Prayer Day and sang patriotic and religious songs for the audience. Here are photos from the event:

Cheryl McCrary singing, "God Bless the USA"

The audience sang along to McCrary's songs.

Several servicemen and women attended.

McCrary outside of City Hall.

Bill Schalk

Alderman Jim Kaplan reading a proclamation declaring Thursday National Prayer Day.

City Hall flag

Some in the audience

Free BUS rides for city's bicyclists all week

Mayor Tom Friedel has proclaimed Friday, May 15, as Ride Your Bike to Work Day, and the Belle Urban System (BUS) has extended that concept all week -- from May 10 - 16 -- by declaring the week as Ride the Bus Free With Your Bike Week.

Friedel said the twin proclamations are aimed at recognizing the importance of bicycling for recreation, health and the preservation of the environment -- and to demonstrate how city transportation supports this cause.

Starting Sunday, May 10, riders with a bicycle will pay no fare; just stow their bike and board the bus.

The BUS promotion coincides with two national events sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists: National Bike month in May and National Ride Your Bike to Work Week.

There are four purposes of the week of free rides for passengers with bikes. The first is to increase the use of bike racks which were installed over a year ago; second is to get families and individuals to realize the BUS can extend their riding area by connecting them to various local off-road bike trails; third, to promote increased recreational use of the city’s two main bike pathways which were created specifically for biking a few years ago; and last, to make Racine more eco-friendly by encouraging alternative methods of transportation on city streets.

Curtis Garner, executive director of the BUS, said he hopes "a free ride will encourage bicyclists to give the bus system a try and help them become familiar with the easy-to-use bike racks installed on all buses last year,” and make use of the Lake Michigan and Root River Pathways.

Garner has placed a YouTube video link demonstrating how to place a bike on the bus’ bike rack on the Racine Transit website.

Perry Oksiuta, owner of Racine Cyclery and Fitness, Inc., sees great benefit from the BUS involvement in biking. “Customers have asked me how to use the bus to get to certain biking routes, and I always wished I could help them out.” Now his shop and the area bike club are promoting the week of free bus rides and making available BUS route guides.

BUS route map pamphlets include the location of bicycle trails and show where BUS routes intersect. These maps are available everywhere bus passes are sold, at Racine Cyclery and online.

Mason, 33 other legislators, ask Obama's help
in keeping Kenosha Chrysler plant open

State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, along with a bipartisan group of thirty-three other Wisconsin legislators, today sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concerns about Chrysler’s restructuring plan that would close Kenosha’s engine plant and move operations to Saltillo, Mexico.

"We strongly oppose the inclusion of the Kenosha Engine Plant on Chrysler's list of plants slated for closure," the letter says, "and call on you to act quickly and deliberately to work with Chrysler and Fiat to amend the current bankruptcy plan to ensure that this plant can remain open as part of the company's ongoing operations."

In their letter to the President, legislators praise the union workers who for decades have made "immeasurable" contributions to the Kenosha community and to the automotive industry.

Legislators who signed the letter included Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine; Rep. Bob Turner, D-Racine; Rep. Robin Vos, R-Racine; Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha; and Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha.

As part of federal bailout efforts, Chrysler is receiving $12 billion in loans to help the company survive the economic downturn.

“It is an outrage that Chrysler, using taxpayer dollars to stay afloat, would turn its back on the Kenosha plant and its employees in favor of operations in Mexico,” said Rep. Mason. “My legislative colleagues and I are calling upon President Obama to use his influence to work with Chrysler to amend the company’s current bankruptcy plan to keep the Kenosha facility open.”

“The hardworking, dedicated union employees at the Kenosha facility have already made concessions so that this plant could continue to produce high-quality engines for Chrysler. It is time for Chrysler to hold up its end of the bargain to these workers and to American taxpayers, and ensure that this plant remains open,” he said.

SC Johnson's Administration Building, Research Tower exempt from property taxes

SC Johnson no longer has to pay property taxes on its Administration Building and Research Tower.

Gov. Jim Doyle signed an executive order declaring the buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright historic landmarks on Jan. 10, 2008. That was the first step in getting them a tax exemption.

Doyle's order also exempts SC Johnson's "Project Honor" now under construction on the corporation's Racine campus. (See our previous story on the executive order here.) The exemption will save SC Johnson at least $25,000 a year on its property tax bill, plus it won't have to pay taxes on its Project Honor buildings when they are completed.

The company paid $151,731 in property taxes in 2008 for its Racine campus.

SC Johnson received the exemption shortly after Doyle issued an executive order on Jan. 10, 2008, declaring SC Johnson's Administration Building and the 14-story Research Tower "historic landmarks." Construction of the Administration Building started in 1936 and the Research Tower in 1944; they were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Project Honor, designed by Lord Norman Foster, will house the replica Carna├║ba aircraft that Sam Johnson and his sons, Fisk and Curt flew to Brazil in 1998 to retrace the 1935 flight of H.F. Johnson who was searching for a source of wax. The project's two new buildings -- Fortaleza Hall and the Community Building -- will serve as a tourist and educational center. They total 65,000 square-feet in new construction.

Under a 1997 state law, the executive order makes the historic buildings and Project Honor eligible for a property tax exemption.

The main entrance of the Administration Building

City Assessment

SC Johnson used Doyle's executive order to apply for a property tax exemption from the city, according to Ray Anderson, the interim city assessor. "The tax exemption request came through pretty fast," he said -- just three days after Doyle's executive order.

The city collects taxes from the properties, but doesn't assess the value of the Administration Building or Research Tower, Anderson said. Both are considered manufacturing property (although nothing is manufactured there), and such buildings are assessed by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, "because manufacturing property is unique and they can do it on a uniform basis," Anderson said.

City tax records show the parcel of land that includes the Research Tower and the Administration Building was assessed at $1.615 million in 2008. The land, which is not exempt, was valued at $399,800. Improvements on the land were valued at $1,215,600. The parcel's total tax bill was $35,196.82 plus a $6,354.73 special charge.

To create the exemption, SC Johnson split one of its parcels into two pieces, with one piece including the Administration Building, Research Tower and Project Honor.

Other buildings on the Howe Street property, including the former St. Mary's Hospital, are not exempt from property taxes.

Project Honor, under construction today

State Assessment

SC Johnson may still have to pay some taxes on its Research Tower, Administration Building and Project Honor, Anderson said. The land the buildings sit on is still taxable, he said.

But how much the land is worth is still to be determined by the Department of Revenue, which has yet to report that amount to the city, Anderson said. The Department of Revenue didn't immediately return our calls for this story.

SC Johnson just missed out on its property tax exemption in 2008. Doyle issued his order Jan. 10, 2008, and the the company applied for the exemption on Jan. 13, 2008 -- barely two weeks after the Jan. 1 date the state uses for "setting" the value of property for tax purposes.

Research Tower is vacant, because it's not up to building codes.

Kenosha police involved in another fatality

Kenosha police were involved in another fatality Wednesday. This time a driver fleeing police crashed into a utility pole and died. Two others were injured in the crash.

It sure seems like Kenosha police are involved a lot of violent incidents.

Great Horned Owl photos

A Great Horned Owl perched along Wisconsin Avenue in Racine. Photo/Kim House

Racine resident Kim House sent in some amazing photos of a Great Horned Owl perched in a tree outside of his house on Wisconsin Avenue. Kim saw the nearly 3-foot-tall owl after hearing several squawking crows trying to scare away the predator. One little boy walking past the owl got wide-eyed and exclaimed, "Harry Potter!"

Big thanks to Kim for sending in these photos. If you have photos you'd like to share, send them to:

If you look carefully, you can see the owl in the lower left corner and a squawking crow in the upper right. Photo/Kim House

Another view of the majestic bird. Photo/Kim House

May 6, 2009

Intrigue over Doyle executive order benefitting SC Johnson

An interesting story is brewing (or steeping, if you prefer tea) around this executive order Gov. Jim Doyle issued on Jan. 10, 2008. The order seems innocuous enough. It declares SC Johnson's Administration Building and Research Tower, both in Racine, historic landmarks.

But the award may come with more than a plaque. This state law suggests the designation could remove the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings from the property tax rolls. We offer that suggestion with a caveat: We're not property lawyers and we weren't able to track down the "manual" referenced in the state law.

But there's a lot of chatter about the executive order and possible benefits to SC Johnson. The JT is reportedly working on follow-up story tied to this story by Bridget Thoreson. SCJ is suing former employee Michael DeGuelle over confidential documents DeGuelle allegedly took from the company.

No one is alleging any impropriety by SCJ, but the situation has a lot of people talking.

City Council to consider firing public health administrator

The City Council voted Wednesday night to begin proceedings that could lead to the dismissal of Public Health Administrator Janelle Grammer.

The council voted to direct city staff to schedule a hearing on Grammer's job performance. The hearing, which is held in closed session unless Grammer requests otherwise, is the only way the city can fire an administrative manager.

The city cannot reveal its grounds for the hearing, said Scott Letteney, acting city administrator. Grammer is suspended without pay pending the outcome of the hearing.

Aldermen were mum on their vote to schedule the hearing, referring all questions to Letteny.

Administrative managers, like the public health administrator, are hired by the mayor and approved by the City Council. The mayor cannot fire an administrative manager; only a vote by the City Council can remove them from office.

No date has been scheduled for Grammer's hearing.

Worried about state revenue, the City Council turns away a union contract

Uncertainty over the state budget has city officials worried about local spending next year.

The City Council voted Wednesday night to send a contract with Local 430 AFL-CIO International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers back to a committee that's already approved the contract twice.

But concerns over state revenue coming to the city next year prompted the council to send the contract back for reconsideration. At issue: Whether the city can afford to give any kind of raise at all.

Mayor Tom Friedel and Mayor-elect John Dickert traveled to Madison Wednesday to meet with Gov. Jim Doyle. While no one was talking specifics, the news appears grim on shared revenue for cities this year. Doyle is scheduled to give a speech today on cuts to the program, which coincide with reports Tuesday that the state was another $1 billion in debt.

Friedel said he, Dickert and 14 other mayors from around the state, met with Doyle.

"There's cause for concern," Friedel said about news that came out of the meeting.

The state's declining financial status is bad news for the city's electricians, whose news contract giving between 1 and 1.5 percent raises was already facing opposition from the full council.

"The question is whether we can give any raises," said Alderman Bob Anderson, who sits on the Personnel and Finance Committee and voted for the electricians' contract.

It's all tough news for Dickert, who will step into a job and likely have to cut spending to balance the city's budget. Short of a quick economic turnaround, those cuts could be deeper than anticipated.

County salutes foster parents -- and seeks more

May is National Foster Care Month, and the Racine County Human Services Department is taking the time to salute its current foster parents and to spread the word that more are needed.

Almost half-a million American children live in foster care; right now there are 136 children in foster care in Racine County, living in one of the 115 licensed foster care homes. (Another 19 county children are in treatment foster homes outsides the county.) The average age of the county's foster children is slightly under 9 years, and the average time each spends in a foster home is 386 days -- almost 13 months.

Mary Connolly of the Racine County Human Services Department says it's difficult to state "what age" will most need foster care in the near future, "because it just depends on the youth who come into protective custody, which varies day-to-day."

But the county does have an ongoing need for homes for teenagers, homes that will take sibling groups and homes that will serve children with special needs. "The goal is always reunification with the birth parent, but in some instances this is not possible. Many of our foster parents become adoptive resources for the children they are fostering," she says.

Young people in foster care especially need nurturing adults on their side because their own families are in crisis and unable to care for them. Each May, the county salutes the compassionate people who make a difference by serving as foster parents, relative caregivers, mentors, advocates, social workers, and volunteers. Because of them, many formerly abused or neglected children and teens will either safely reunite with their parents, be cared for by relatives, or be adopted by loving families.

There are an estimated 12 million foster care alumni in the U.S. representing all walks of life, and countless stories of children who grew up to be thriving adults -- while others struggled with life’s challenges all alone.

All Racine County foster parents receive extensive training; truly these families are Racine’s unsung heroes. For more information, contact the Racine County Human Services Department at 638-6356.

Letter to the Editor: Ryan part of the tax problem

By Paulette Garin

Paul Ryan’s recent editorial, We need to move from frustration to revitalization (May 6, 2009, Kenosha News) is just another slick example of how our Congressman supports his corporate cronies while disguising himself as a champion for his constituents here in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District. He proposes eliminating the corporate income tax and replacing it with a business consumption tax. This does not eliminate the tax burden, but simply shifts the tax burden to the end user – the consumer who will pay higher prices. The business will include the consumption tax in its Cost of Goods Sold, increase its sales price, and pay no tax on the profit/net income derived.

Good for Business, Bad for the Average Working American.

While we may have one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, the effective rate (the rate at which the business actually pays) is one of the lowest. How so? The generous loopholes and unfair tax breaks a corporation has access to that the Average Working American does not. Corporate America does not pay its “fair share” of taxes now. Ryan wants to eliminate the corporate tax before the Obama Administration eliminates the tax loopholes.

Ryan blames the Obama Administration as continuing to advance the dangerous precedent set by the Bush Administration. Wait a minute. Didn’t our Congressman support the Bush Administration 94% of the time with his extreme conservative voting record for the past decade? Ryan is correct when he says, “Crony capitalism has never looked uglier and the consequences have never been more painful,” except he fails to acknowledge he is part of that problem and not the solution.

District-by-district breakdown of the mayor's election

Here's a breakdown of the mayor's race by aldermanic district. (Jody Harding's write-in votes were not available through the City Clerk's website.) John Dickert won the election 55-45 percent over Turner. UPDATE: The City Clerk is now reporting that Jody Harding received 417 write-in votes.

District 1 (Alderman Jeff Coe) - Turner

This is roughly the downtown area. Turner won this district 313-218. He carried the district in the primary election, as well. Coe is a Dickert supporter.

District 2 (Alderman Bob Anderson) - Turner

This near south-side district (roughly the "Towerview District") was one of those "battleground" areas for the candidates. They split the district in the primary with Turner beating out Dickert by eight votes. But in the special election, Turner's advantage grew to 75 votes, 404-329. Turner beat Dickert 180-7 in the second district's Ward 4 (he won the same ward 99-8 over Dickert in the primary). It's a sign Dickert has some work to do to win the support of the minority community.

District 3 (Alderman Mike Shields) - Turner

The district includes Uptown and neighborhoods to the south. Turner won here 367-134, nearly doubling the total from the primary.

District 4 (Alderman Jim Kaplan) - Turner

This district jumps to the near northside, running from the Root River to English Street, with some lakefront property mixed in. Again, Dickert struggled in a predominantly minority ward. Our new mayor pulled just eight votes in Ward 11, compared to 94 for Turner.

District 5 (Alderman David Maack) - Dickert

This district includes the Racine Zoo on the city's northside. Dickert again carried this district easily, 519-287. As we'll see throughout the results, Turner didn't have much appeal outside of Racine's core.

District 6 (Alderman Sandy Weidner) - Dickert

Dickert won this northwest side district bounded by Rapids Drive, Northwestern Avenue and Eaton Avenue by 168 votes, 464-296.

District 7 (Alderman Ray DeHahn) - Dickert

Just like the primary, Dickert easily won this district on the northside near 3 Mile Road and Green Bay Road. He won the district 482-196.

District 8 (Alderman Q.A. Shakoor) - Turner

Turner owned this central city district, 320-54. Neither candidate was able to dent the other's core areas of support from the primary to general election. That was good news for Dickert, who won the primary election.

District 9 (Alderman Terry McCarthy) - Dickert

Dickert carried this West Racine district by 202 votes, 447-245. He ran strong here in the primary and carried that momentum into the special election. McCarthy, a Dickert supporter, seems in sync with the new mayor.

District 10 (Alderman Tom Friedel) - Dickert

Dickert extended his advantage over Turner in Mayor Tom Friedel's district from the primary to the special election. Dickert received 39 more votes than Turner in the primary, and 152 more on Tuesday. He won the district 544-392. Dickert seemed to pick up Kim Plache's supporters; Plache finished second here in the primary.

District 11 (Alderman Greg Helding) - Dickert

This Rubberville district was one of two close districts in the special election. Dickert won by 12 votes over Turner, 320-308. It was a nice pickup for Dickert, who finished fourth in this district in the primary election. Helding's endorsement likely helped him here.

District 12 (Alderman Aron Wisneski) - Dickert

If you're looking for a reason Dickert won, you can find it in the 12th District. Dickert dominated Turner here, 848-416. It's not a big surprise, Turner finished seventh in the district in the primary, but the 432-vote differential is roughly a third of Dickert's winning margin.

District 13 (Alderman Jim Spangenberg) - Dickert

Here's another sign that Dickert picked up Spangenberg's supporters. This West Racine district (Spangenberg's district) backed Dickert 381-255. Dickert had outpaced Turner here in the primary by just 17 votes.

District 14 (Alderman Ron Hart) - Turner

The other close district. Turner won this far west side district 347-317. Turner received nine more votes than Dickert in the primary, but wasn't able to extend that differential to remain competitive in the special election.

District 15 (Alderman Bob Mozol) - Dickert

Here's a good lesson for future mayoral candidates: You have to take the 15th District seriously. This north side district turns out to vote in force. The district gave Dickert a 463-vote margin over Turner, 793-330. Add that to Dickert's dominance in the 12th District, and it's clear Turner simply didn't do enough in these areas to sway voters. Or, quite possibly, Dickert's team did a great job of building huge advantages in its strongest areas.

Notes from the post-election parties ...

We were out at the post-election parties last night. Here's a few observations:

* Bob Turner was classy in defeat. He called the Dickert campaign and offered congratulations, and said he'd work for Racine in the Assembly. "If Racine wins, I win," Turner said.

* Not surprisingly, his party at Park 6 on Sixth Street was subdued. Alderman Michael Shields, Mayor Tom Friedel, Bev Hicks, Jameel Ghuari, Jim Spoddick (who owns the Park 6 building) and Pete Karas were all there when I got there at 9 p.m. WRJN's Jan Hoff was covering the party live.

* It was another rough night for Karas, who's been campaigning non-stop for several months. He helped a candidate in New Orleans run for Congress and a state superintendent candidate, then ran his own campaign for mayor and finally threw in for Turner in the last month. While a little disheartened (he lost all of the races) Karas promised he had more plans in the works.

* Friedel, who will step down as mayor in two weeks, said in an interview that he wasn't personally conflicted by the special election. He said he knew he was serving in interim role and looked forward to returning to the City Council.

But he also said there were a few times during the candidate forums when he got the itch to jump into the race. "Listening to the candidates, I thought a few times, 'I have better answers than these,'" Friedel admitted.

But he wouldn't touch the idea of whether he planned to run for mayor in 2011. "I'm not going there," Friedel said.

* On policy, Mayor Dickert will face an immediate challenge with the budget, Friedel said. The state may cut shared revenue this year, which would force the city to cut spending.

He added the big difference between being mayor and being an alderman was the broad scope of items that come across the mayor's desk. "It can be anything from honorariums to life-and-death issues and everything in between," Friedel said.

"The mayor serves everyone every day," he said.

* The Dickert party was - surprise, surprise - lively. Hundreds of people packed Salute's on Main Street to congratulate (and, in a few cases, suck up) to the new mayor.

* Frank and Sandra Tingle attended Dickert's party. Frank boasted that he traveled the greatest distance - 4,000 mile from London - to vote for Dickert.

* Here's a question: Now that Dickert is mayor, will Tingle's lawsuit against the city go away?

* Community for Change leaders were at Salute and talked about their next project: a communitywide forum on health care reform this summer before Congress votes on the issue. Organizers are hoping to put together a nonpartisan forum to discuss the issue and call for needed reforms. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and other big-name politicians will be on the invitee list.

* Aldermen Terry McCarthy is now, officially, a Canadian citizen. He received his dual citizenship on April 27.

* City Council members McCarthy, Jeff Coe, Aron Wisneski, Greg Helding and David Maack were all at the party.

May 5, 2009

Racine police officer arrested

Update: The charges are incest.

Update, May 6, 10:26 a.m.:
The Racine Police Department just released the following statement:
Damen Lowe, a ten-year veteran of the Racine Police Department has been placed on Paid Administrative Leave as a result of his arrest by the Racine County Sheriff's Department. The Sheriffs' Department notified the Racine Police Department late last week that they were conducting an investigation into some allegations involving Officer Lowe.

He was arrested by the Racine County Sheriffs' Department on Monday evening, and is currently being held in the Kenosha County Jail in lieu of cash bond. Damen Lowe is a 3rd Shift Patrol Officer with 10 years on the Department.

For the duration of the investigation and trial process, he will be on Paid Administrative Leave pending both the outcome of the court process and an internal review of his actions. It is customary for officers of the Department that are accused of crimes, to be placed on leave until the internal review of their actions is complete and/or the trial process results are known.
Original post:

Fred Dooley over at Real Debate Wisconsin broke a big story tonight. A Racine police officer was arrested for inappropriate sexual conduct with a 15 year old, Dooley reports.

We confirmed the arrest, including the third-shift officer's name. Damen Lowe, of Racine, is being held for sex offenses tonight in Kenosha's Pre-Trial Facility.

Dickert wins special election

John Dickert will be the next mayor of Racine.

The real estate agent and former lobbyist defeated state Rep. Bob Turner, D-Racine, in Tuesday's special election. Dickert walked into his campaign's party at 9:05 p.m. to declare victory. Turner conceded the race.

"We won," Dickert said in his first interview after learning of the results.

Preliminary results from the 34 precincts showed Dickert with 6,027 compared to Turner's 4,841. No total was given for write-in Jody Harding, since those votes have to be counted by hand.
At right, a victory kiss
for his wife, Teresa.

Turnout -- despite the importance of the election and the 11 candidates in the primary -- was awful. Voters cast 10,127 votes in the primary; so far the City Clerk shows just 10,868 cast for the two candidates on the ballot. The city had prepared 45,000 ballots, enough for 70% of the electorate.

"I'm so proud of the people who have worked together to get this done," Dickert said. "That's what the campaign is about tonight; I represent them. This was a movement for change. I truly believe that."

Dickert said his first act of mayor would be to call businesses and start working on bringing jobs to Racine.

Dickert pulled off an election that appeared close early on. He led after the first districts reported results, reaching a 300-vote lead after just six precincts had reported. But it kept getting closer, and when the 13th precinct was counted -- keep in mind, we don't know which precints these are, just the totals -- Turner led for the first time, by 27 votes, and then 75 votes... and then 52 .... But in the end, it was Dickert's night.

At his victory party at Salute's on Main Street -- a raucous affair marked by cheering supporters and even a bagpiper -- Dickert thanked his wife, Teresa, for telling him early on "to get off your butt and get to work." Then he saw his mother in the crowd and gave her a shout-out: "Hi, Mom, we did it!"

He praised Turner as "an honorable man," and said he looked forward to working with him in the Legislature. "This is not about me," he said, as he has during the campaign. "It's about us, and we've got to get to work." And he gave his supporters their first marching order: "Pick up those yard signs."

Turner's "party" was a gloomier affair, at Park Six, where the former candidate was standing alone near the window, right, face lighted successively by green and red disco balls, as he conducted a radio interview, seemingly with himself.

Turner said he wasn't disappointed by the results and offered a simple explanation of the election.

"The people decided they wanted John Dickert as mayor instead of me," he said.

Turner said his only regret was not winning the election for his supporters. He'll head back to the Assembly now after spending the last three months splitting time between his job in Madison and the mayoral campaign in Racine.

You can get the final results here, though they're lagging behind the campaign's numbers.

The new mayor will be sworn in in two weeks. Mayor -- interim mayor in actuality, though not in title -- Tom Friedel was at City Hall watching the early results come in, as poll workers arrived with their red two-wheeled suitcases full of ballots and totals to present them to the City Clerk. Asked what he will do for the next two weeks, Friedel said, "Whatever comes across the desk. That's what the job is in the short-term."

Dickert gets congratulations from his mother

RCEDC wants your ideas about shopping

Thinking back to the mayoral campaign, to how very often the words RCEDC were brought up by one candidate or another -- in favorable context only -- we have to wonder about this ... um, shopping survey.

Yes, the Racine County Economic Development Corporation wants you to tell it about your shopping habits: "If you have some ideas about improving downtown Union Grove, downtown Waterford, Douglas Avenue in the Village of Caledonia or West Racine, your opportunity to share them has arrived," Kristin Niemiec, RCEDC's community development manager writes.

"For the next two weeks" -- not even; only until May 15 actually -- "the Racine County Economic Development Corporation will be conducting an online survey to learn more about how and where county residents shop -- and about how they would like to improve these specific commercial districts in the county. The survey is part of a study to identify strategies to strengthen the county's commercial districts and develop new, complementary businesses."

"Everyone is invited to complete the survey for the area in which you live and/or shop," the press release adds. So quick, go online at the following websites and take the survey.
For Union Grove
For Waterford
For Douglas Avenue/Caledonia
For West Racine
The one-page online surveys are all the same: demographic data like where do you live, how much do you earn ("$150,000 and over," anyone?); where do you shop for a list of products like clothing, hardware, antiques, gifts, fine dining and video rentals; how do you rate your commercial district's cleanliness, merchant helpfulness, safety, sidewalks, shopping hours and the like; and three open-ended questions seeking what you like best and least about your shopping district, and what kinds of new businesses you'd like. (No mention of a Sixth Street liquor store... wrong geographic area, no doubt.)

Only one retail chain is mentioned on all of the various surveys: Wal-Mart/Sam's Club. We're not sure what that means.

The survey is being conducted by the CLUE Group, of Arlington, VA, whose website says that stands for Community Land Use and Economics, and defines itself as "a specialized consulting firm that helps communities create vibrant, dynamic downtowns and neighborhoods. We help local and state governments, developers and nonprofits design innovative downtown economic development strategies, cultivate independent businesses, recycle historic buildings, attract young talent, strengthen downtown management programs, and craft planning and land use tools that mitigate sprawl and stimulate town center development."

Each page of its website is headed by an enigmatic quote. Like:
"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see."
-- Winston Churchill
"Any town that doesn't have sidewalks doesn't love its children."
-- Margaret Mead
Actually, there are two quotes by Churchill, and two promoting sidewalks. But nothing else about Wal-Mart. Or about Racine's Sam's Club, which you do know is moving to Pleasant Prairie, right?

In any case, let's end this with a famous quote by Cynthia Nelms: "If men liked shopping, they'd call it research." Anyone up for a trip to Sam's Club? (After you fill out your survey, of course!)

Kohl presses Kenosha's case to auto advisor

A day after Kenosha autoworkers rallied to save their Chrysler engine plant, Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, met met with Steven Rattner, the U.S. Treasury Department’s lead advisor charged with restructuring the U.S. auto industry.

Kohl met with Rattner during a closed meeting of the Senate Banking Committee. Rattner is a member of the interagency task force established by the administration to restructure the auto industry and oversee the bailout loans to save the car manufacturers.

“It’s galling that a company that came here, hat in hand, to plead for taxpayer money to survive would turn around and move jobs out of the country," Kohl said. "There is no place that Chrysler will find better skilled workers than they have in Wisconsin, and it’s important for the people making these decisions to understand that. It makes no sense to shutter the Kenosha facility and spend money to expand production elsewhere with unproven workers."

The closed committee meeting was off-the-record, but Kohl said he conveyed a similar message to Rattner on behalf of Chrysler’s Kenosha employees.

May 4, 2009

Kenosha sends a plea to Obama and Marchionne

Kenosha's autoworkers rallied tonight to save their endangered Chrysler manufacturing plant. More than 350 members of UAW Local 72 crowded into the union hall on Washington Road to make the case for keeping their engine plant operating.

But the two most important people -- the two who arguably will make the final decision -- were not in the room: President Barack Obama and Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne. Were they even listening?

The message sent loud and clear to Obama was this, as expressed by many, including Glenn Stark, union president: "We feel only anger and betrayal." How can Obama, they ask, put $12 billion of taxpayer dollars into a company that will simultaneously eliminate American jobs while opening a similar plant in Mexico.

The message to Marchionne was equally clear: "We want Chrysler to emerge from bankruptcy as a strong company, and we want Kenosha to be a part of it."

Stark called the Kenosha closure -- due to take place in 2010, according to Chrysler officials, although the real decisions first have to be made in the bankruptcy court from which Fiat is hoping to pick up the automaker -- "a betrayal of Wisconsin taxpayers. Kenosha is the last auto manufacturing plant in the state," he said, referring to GM's just-shuttered Janesville truck factory. "Wisconsin deserves better."

"American dollars for American jobs," shouted someone in the crowd, to enthusiastic applause.

Applause for Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman from Jim Kreuser,
Cory Mason, Bob Turner, Barbara Lawton (from left)

The room was filled with autoworkers and their supporters. On the stage behind the speakers people held dozens of hand-made signs with messages like "American jobs are worth fighting for," "Save our jobs," and "We gave. Now it's your turn. Don't ship our jobs." Below them were union officials and local politicians. Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman, former Congressman, now Assembly Rep. Peter Barca, Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, Racine Assemblymen Bob Turner -- running for mayor tomorrow -- and Cory Mason. On the table in front of them: quality and productivity awards won by the plant in years past.

Bosman said, "I'm not about to give up until they turn out the lights and put a lock on the door." County Executive Jim Kreuser said, "I'm here with a heavy heart. We are down, but we are not out." Gov. Jim Doyle has sent a letter to Obama -- with many co-signers -- stating that Chrysler should amend its bankruptcy plan, and give priority to its U.S. plants over foreign factories.

Kreuser said the governor, who has met with Obama on a number of occasions, must get to the president "so in some way,shape and form we keep the plant open." He noted that each of the plant's 800 jobs supports another 1 1/2 jobs elsewhere in Wisconsin. So the impact on the state is really 2,046 jobs -- some $94 million in wages, and $450,000 a year in property taxes to Kenosha.

The crowd booed whenever a speaker mentioned Kenosha's closing in the same sentence with a reference to the Saltillo, Mexico, plant in which Chrysler plans to build the Phoenix V6 engine that had been promised to Kenosha in 2006, after the union agreed to streamline work rules.

"There is no better stimulus package than jobs, and we want them here," Kreuser said.

"I think we have no choice but to fight," said John Drew, former Local 72 president. Asked by a reporter how much leverage the state has, he said, "It's not how much leverage we have, it's how hard we fight."

"I believe we will prevail," said Barca, adding, "The Chrysler officials who made this decision are -- fortunately for us -- out the door. We will prevail."

Neither Bob Turner nor Cory Mason spoke at the rally, but afterwards both emphasized the impact the Kenosha plant has on Racine. "There are hundreds of Local 72 members in Racine," Turner said. Mason agreed, adding, "The idea of them keeping the Mexican plants open and closing American plants is an outrage. I'm here to support jobs, period. We can't ship jobs out of the country at taxpayer expense." Said Turner, "We'll probably be next."

Postscript: For those keeping track, neither former Vice President Al Gore nor 1st District Congressman Paul Ryan appeared at the half-hour rally, advance billing notwithstanding.

The long and winding road ... to City Hall

Our two candidates.

One-hundred-twelve days ago, Gary Becker logged on to Yahoo Instant Messenger as WISC_GARY and struck up a not-so innocent conversation with Hope_Ulikeme14.

As we all know, Hope turned out to be Department of Criminal Investigations Agent Eric Szatkowski and Becker's chat led to his arrest at Brookfield Square Mall. Six days later, Becker resigned and a political free-for-all ensued. John Dickert and Rep. Bob Turner emerged from an 11-candidate primary field to compete in Tuesday's special election. Jody Harding (lower right) also stuck around as a write-in candidate.

The reason this story exists.

It's been a long four months for the city; incredulous, sad, stirring, confusing and even exciting four months, but mostly just long. I saw it Saturday with Dickert and Turner during a radio interview for WGTD (listen here). Both candidates are so well rehearsed at this point the answers roll of their tongues without thought. They've participated in about 10 forums in three months, banged on countless doors and together spent more than $50,000 trying to convince city residents they should be the next mayor.

Turner and Dickert have given city residents a choice (click here to see where you vote). Turner ran as the seasoned veteran. He repeatedly touted his state and local government experience, and painted the more aggressive, but less experienced, Dickert as naive. Turner has the strong backing of local unions and would be Racine's first African-American mayor (and the second elected African-American mayor in the state).

Dickert ran as the change candidate. He touted an ambitious "10-year plan" to make Racine a "Top 10" city, and ran a high-energy campaign that outraised Turner by at least $8,000. While Turner talked about rolling city government back to the pre-Becker era, Dickert pushed for a post-Becker era. Dickert has support from much of the business and real estate community.

But neither candidate pulled away in the last month. Both come from a Democratic background and both were smart enough to tailor their campaigns around the city's key issues: jobs and crime. That left the race a battle of personalities: the youthful Dickert vs. the reliable Turner.

The good news for voters is there's not a bad choice tomorrow. Both candidates are capable of being an effective mayor. Dickert brings his real estate and lobbying skills to the job, and Turner brings a wealth of experience. We can't go wrong, but we have to choose. If you're undecided, here are three questions to consider for each candidate:

1. Do you trust him as the city's chief executive?
2. Do his business and real estate ties help or hurt him as mayor?
3. Does the city need "change"?

1. How valuable is his experience?
2. Do his union ties help or hurt him as mayor?
3. Will he be aggressive enough as mayor?

Have your answers? OK, now get out vote!

Al Gore at Chrysler plant rally in Kenosha today?

A rally against closing Kenosha's Chrysler plant is planned for 5 p.m. today at UAW Headquarters Local 72, 3615 Washington Road in Kenosha.

An email from Racine's Community for Change organization suggested former Vice President Al Gore will be at the protest. We haven't been able to confirm Gore's appearance. No one answered calls to the UAW. An employee with the Racine/Kenosha Labor Paper couldn't confirm or deny if Gore would attend.

Chrysler filed for bankruptcy last week and all of the automaker's plants closed Monday while the company restructures. Kenosha's plant is one of eight expected to close by 2010. It employs about 800 people, including about 200 from Racine County.

Postscript: We still don't know where Community for Change got its information about Al Gore coming to the protest, but we do know when we first heard it: In an email Sunday night announcing the event from Jennifer Jackson, Kenosha County Supervisor from District 20. But her email said: "Humor has it Al Gore will be there." So take this with a grain of salt, folks -- at least until 5 p.m. when we see who walks out onto the speaker's platform.

Comics, newspapers bite the hand that feeds 'em...

Ah, the many problems of running a newspaper: Circulation dropping, staff cuts, pages shrinking; then 24-hour cable winning the immediacy battle every damn day. Now even cable loses as the internet takes ownership of the new in news. What's left to tell or sell when even legislators tweet their every thought during budget hearings?

Today, a different problem for the dead tree media, illustrated by the excerpt from Sunday's Pearls before swine comic strip, above: Newspaper editors buy a harmless, although really dumb! syndicated comic strip about zeebas (sic), rats and pigs, and then open their own Sunday paper and find it mocking the newspaper itself! (Portraying newspaper magnates as rats is fairly close to the truth, however.) Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. The full strip is here.

Censoring the strip would only have made bigger news. Damned if you do; damned if you don't.

Dare I say the unthinkable, based not so much on this comic strip but on a lifetime of reading them: The comics stopped being funny ages ago. It was 1945, for Heaven's sake, when New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia read the comics over the radio during a newspaper strike. (Radio?) Remember when Dad used to sit at the family breakfast table on Sunday morning reading the "funnies" to the kids, starting them on a lifelong newspaper-reading habit? Not any more. (Family breakfast table?)

What to do? Simple. Drop the comics. Then take another step: Eliminate "features" like the patently bogus horoscope that demeans the accuracy of any newspaper that carries it. Drop Sudoku, word games, bridge, poker and videogame columns, and Crossword puzzles and all the other filler -- Dr. Gott's psycho-viral disease-of-the-day? the current Ann Landers sibling wannabe? -- that take up a larger and larger percentage of the space not sold (damn!) to advertisers. Surely, nobody buys a newspaper for this stuff. And who has time for it, anyway?

I haven't measured the newshole in the papers I still read, but it's obviously shrinking. Early in this current newspaper decline, the Chicago Tribune very publicly cut its newshole to no more than 50 percent of total space. (Buy an ad; make room for another story!) Others do it by stealth. Meanwhile, all those "features" continue to hang on. Unlike the daily stock tables, which finally disappeared years after their utility had passed, the daily TV grid has doubled in size despite its content being handier on the tube itself. Meanwhile, the space for "real" news is shrinking; even the Wall Street Journal -- the only gainer in the most recent ABC circulation reports -- is roiled by a dictum to shorten stories.

Of course, I could be totally missing the point here. Perhaps those features are meant to fill that remaining space, now that local news staffs have been cut, and cut again at newspaper after newspaper. And in some ways they are comfort food as the world goes to Hell: Nothing about your miserable existence in this Word Game here! Never mind the fact that their elimination would free up money and newshole that could be devoted to ...oh, I don't know, another reporter, more details? Daily coverage of schools or state government or our reps in Washington.

Meanwhile, newspapers across the country have discovered another way to bandage their bleeding balance sheets, taking a page from those droll satellite TV commercials (Watch 'em all; they're really funny.). You know the one I mean: The cable TV boss says, "DIRECTV is doing very well in customer satisfaction. What do we do?" and an executive responds, "We can't improve our service, but we can improve the price. We can make it higher!"

Newspapers don't get the joke. The New York Times is about to raise the price of its daily paper to $2; its Sunday edition, already at $5, will soon climb to $6, nearly the price of a cheap paperback novel but without nearly as much suspense, or romance. (The Times costs more than that for home delivery here, and no comics!) The weekday-only Wall Street Journal is $2; the Financial Times is $2.50. Just last week, some major newspapers reported circulation declines of 20% last year... is this really the time for price hikes?

The already-endangered Boston Globe, which went from 50 cents to 75 cents last year, was due to raise its daily price again, to a buck. But now it appears that price increase may not take place -- for the worst of reasons: the Globe's owner, the New York Times, said Sunday night it is notifying federal authorities of its plans to close down the Globe -- because negotiations with the Globe's unions didn't produce the $20 million in savings the Times wanted (to help reduce some $85 million a year in losses).

No Globe in Boston? The mind boggles. It would be like tearing the Liberty Bell from Philadelphia, the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, Babe Ruth from the Red Sox ... oh, yes, let's not forget the Curse of the Bambino. But this time, the Curse of the Globe would be visited on New York.

And on newspaper readers everywhere.