May 15, 2009

New group takes first step toward 'eating right'

By Paula Rowland

On Thursday evening Eat Right Racine held an informational meeting at Hopes Center at 507 6th Street. This was the first meeting for the group. Approximately 25 people gathered to show their support and learn more about the plans for the organization. (Read our interview with the organizers of ERR here.)

The meeting began with introductions where people described what they hoped ERR might offer the Racine Community. Several attendees were interested in learning about healthy eating, how to shop for healthy food, how to feed their children and how to change the way the community thinks about food.

Heidi Fannin presented some facts about the state of health in the United States, such as the rise of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. She further explained the importance of reducing food miles, which means looking at ways that people in Racine can eat food that grows in Racine County and other surrounding communities.

Amanda DeSonia then discussed Food Policy Councils and how they can help link important community stake holders, and to facilitate keeping locally grown food in Racine County.

Future directions for EER will focus on developing a Food Policy Council; creating cooking classes that demonstrate quick, healthy meals; classes that teach about ingredients in packaged food, reading labels and grocery shopping; as well as showing movies that explore the relationship between food, health and the community.

The public is invited to attend the next meeting on May 27th, at 6:30pm at DP Wigley. A documentary film will be shown and further discussion to follow. Please RSVP by emailing your name to: eatrightracine@gmail.com

Want to get a jump on healthy eating? Check out our report from this year's first West Racine Farmer's Market, and learn how to buy directly from local farmers.

Veggies, and chickens made from gourds, oh boy!

Scott Piper with a healthy portion of parsnips

Another day, another farmers' market. If we keep meeting like this, we might get healthy!

The West Racine Farmers' Market opened its summer season this morning -- yes it was cold but at least the threatened thunderstorms held off. Nine farmers had made the trek and were selling a variety of early-season produce: rhubarb, parsnips, chive, green onions, asparagus. And jumbo eggs, dried goods, honey and flowers.

It was an auspicious start, as the community now has the opportunity to purchase morning-picked produce four days a week: Tuesday and Friday mornings in West Racine, Saturday mornings downtown, and Wednesday afternoon back in West Racine.

Scott Piper, of Piper Farms south of Chicory Road on Lathrop, was teaching a customer Parsnips 101 when I arrived. "Are the greens good for anything?" she asked. "Just compost," he replied.

Piper comes from a farm family -- his great-grandfather assembled the 150 acres his family once owned. They're down to 10 acres now, having sold most of the land for housing developments that have not yet taken place. "My dad is 75 and didn't want to farm anymore." But, in fact, some of the land -- not yet paid for -- may come back to the family; which Piper indicated would be a good thing. In any case, he's put Dad back to work again.

For now he farms the land that's left, having foresaken a career doing architectural home design ... a business that's not exactly sprouting in this economy. Scott lives in Madison, but "migrates here" for the summer. The Pipers also farm a few acres borrowed from a neighbor, Dell Bredeman, who admits to being only a "hobby farmer." But Scott is serious about it, and is in the third year of the three-year organic certification process.

This morning was a "good day," he said, especially considering that he's still planting most of the crops he hopes to sell this summer; the green beans, wax beans and yellow golden beets that won't start coming to market before mid-June.


Another stand that caught my eye belonged to Pine Hill Farm in Sturtevant. I passed on their last bunch of asparagus, but stopped to admire a couple of chickens on the counter -- made from gourds! Hub Braun, 85, makes them, along with other sculptures -- Agourdian music, anyone? -- from discarded vegetable parts. The chickens were just $6.

If you go: the West Racine Farmers' Market is located in the 3100 block of Washington Ave. The Downtown market is in the Case parking lot off State Street.

Tax-exempt deal will save SC Johnson at least $190,000 per year

The cover page of the 'Project Honor' plans SCJ filed with the city.

Former Mayor Gary Becker traded away at least $190,000 a year in local property tax payments for money to pay for his vision of an arts district in Uptown.

The city issued SC Johnson a $39 million building permit on May 12, 2008, to build the 60,345-square-foot "Project Honor" on its Racine campus. The project is made up of two buildings: Fortaleza Hall, designed to honor Sam Johnson, and the Community Building, which will include a cafeteria, company store and other employee amenities.

Under an executive order Gov. Jim Doyle signed Jan. 10, 2008, Fortaleza Hall will be exempt from property taxes as an educational and tourist center. The same goes for SCJ's Administration Building and Research Tower, which paid about $40,000 in property taxes last year. (To get an idea of how rare the executive order was, Doyle's order was the only executive order signed by a Wisconsin governor between January 1965 and Dec. 12, 2008 to involve Racine. It was also only the second time a governor made a building tax-exempt for architectural significance.)

But the new Community Building will not be exempt from taxes. Instead, it will be included in the Uptown Tax Incremental District, and property taxes collected on the new building will be used to pay for property and street improvements in the Uptown area. (Read our initial story on Becker's deal with SCJ here.)

So how much money are we talking about?

SCJ's building permit was for $39 million for Fortaleza Hall and the Community Building combined. The Community Building is listed at 44,000 square feet, according to company press release. Fortaleza Hall is about 16,000 square feet.

Dividing the $39 million project strictly by square feet would result in a 75-25 percent split between the two new buildings. The Community Building would then cost about $29.25 million and Fortaleza Hall would come in just under $10 million.

But SCJ's numbers suggest the buildings are closer to equal in value. The company's response to an earlier story said they would pay $166,924 in incremental tax to the Uptown TID district for the Community Building. Assuming that's per year (it's not clear from the statement), and assuming a property tax rate of $21.81 per $1,000 of assessed property value (last year's amount), it appears SCJ is estimating the Community Building's assessed value at closer to $7.7 million.

Our own reporting suggests Fortaleza Hall may be the more expensive, and valuable, of the two new buildings. SCJ doesn't have to break down how much they're spending on the tribute to Sam Johnson, but the company is reportedly sparing no expense. A world-class architect, curved Italian class and the hanging display of the Carna├║ba aircraft (the one that launched SCJ's fortune) are all included. (Click here for SC Johnson's response to our initial stories revealing that the Administration Building and Research Tower are now tax exempt.)

SC Johnson Spokeswoman Kelly Semrau said the company estimates Fortaleza Hall, once complete, will be tax exempt from $150,000 and $200,000 in property taxes. An assessment will be conducted after the project is completed, she said. (That runs counter to one of our sources, who said the building won't be assessed because it's already tax exempt.)

Based on current tax rates, that would place Fortaleza Hall's estimated assessment at between $6.8 million and $9 million.

Semrau noted the construction amount and the assessed amount are not the same. She added SCJ officials reduced the square footage of Fortaleza Hall since the company applied for the building permit.

Blueprints for Project Honor taken from the plans SCJ filed with the city. Fortaleza Hall, which will honor Sam Johnson, is on the left. The Community Building, for SCJ employees, is on the right.

So let's put together some pieces.

We've reported in the past (and now have a third source confirming it) that Becker and SCJ made a deal. SCJ would receive the city's support in pursuing tax-exempt status for its Administration Building, Research Tower and Fortaleza Hall, and Becker would receive $500,000 over five years for Uptown. SCJ also agreed to include its new Community Building in the Uptown TID to help pay for street and building improvements in the area.

In other, simpler words, Becker traded away a minimum of $190,000 in annual property tax payments (and probably more) for $500,000 over five years to improve Uptown.

What's incredible about the deal is the disregard Becker showed for other local governments in making the deal. Based on the 2008 tax rate, and assuming $190,000 in annual tax payments:
  • Racine Unified lost $59,000 in annual property tax payments.
  • Gateway Technical College lost $10,000 in taxes.
  • Racine County lost $25,000 in taxes.
  • And, the city lost $93,000 in taxes.
We attempted to reach Racine Mayor Tom Friedel and Mayor-elect John Dickert Friday for comment. We'll report their reaction when we get it.

Dave Hazen, Racine Unified's finance director, didn't know specifics about SCJ's tax-exempt properties, but he said the arrangement sounded similar to the tax incremental finance districts local governments setup to attract development. New developments in TIDs pay taxes, but all of the tax money goes to pay off the loans used to build roads, utilities and other infrastructure needed to attract business in the first place. Unified only benefits once the TID's loans are paid off, usually around 15 years after the development is finished.

Case in point, the city created an Uptown TID and will capture all of the property tax from SCJ's new Community Building for the next 14 years. Instead of supporting schools, the county or the city's general fund (ie. police, fire, parks, etc.), the property tax payments will only go toward streets and buildings in Uptown. The result: SCJ is building a $39 million structure, and Racine Unified won't see a dime for 14 years.

Despite being left out, Hazen said it's hard for school officials to oppose TIDs. "It's good for development, it's how the community is going to grow," he said.

He added a key point about TIDs: They never take away tax base from local governments.

The wild card in all of this is whether SC Johnson could have gotten the property tax exemption from the state on its own. If SCJ could have, then Becker swung a deal to at least get something in return.

But two sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations told us Becker and SCJ traded support for the tax exemption for the Uptown money. Maybe SCJ doesn't build Project Honor without the deal, or maybe a great local employer simply deserves the tax break, but it's increasingly clear our former mayor gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual payments to support his vision for Uptown, and he did it without telling the City Council or making the deal public.

This map shows Project Honor's outline, just north of the existing Administration Building.

SCJ: DeGuelle is not a 'whistleblower'

SC Johnson responded to our story this week about a former SCJ employee who claims he was fired for reporting alleged corporate misconduct to the U.S. Department of Labor.

SCJ is suing Michael DeGuelle, the company's former state tax manager, for stealing company materials. DeGuelle says the lawsuit is in response to a "whistleblower" report he sent to the Labor Department.

SCJ Spokeswoman Kelly Semrau said the company did not retaliate against DeGuelle and filed the lawsuit to force DeGuelle to return the materials he took from the company (her full statement is printed below). DeGuelle said in an interview with RacinePost that he doesn't have any SCJ materials.

Here's Semrau's statement:
"We’re very disappointed with the allegations and are sorry that Mr. DeGuelle chose to bring this to the press," SC Johnson Spokeswoman Kelly Semrau wrote.

I can confirm that Mr. DeGuelle is no longer employed by S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. and that we have filed suit requesting return of SC Johnson materials. We believe, in this circumstance, we needed to take legal action to protect our rights.

SC Johnson adamantly denies that Mr. DeGuelle was a whistle blower and that he was retaliated against. When he complained in fall 2008 that he had been retaliated against, we reviewed his claim and concluded that retaliation had not occurred.

We welcome every opportunity to respond to Mr. DeGuelle in court but will refrain from answering any further questions related to Mr. DeGuelle in the press, pending the ongoing court proceedings. Once again, we are disappointed with the allegations. We look forward to our day in court and intend to vigorously defend ourselves.

May 14, 2009

LiberTEA Racine erects its blog outpost

The tea-baggers are not going away.

Just as other local political groups have taken to the Internet, the conservatives who were led by Jody Harding in the recent mayoral primary and election, have created a new blog, promised a website and are planning more political action.

Their manifesto was posted Thursday night on a new blog called LiberTEA Racine. The power behind the blog identifies himself as Downtown Brown, who was one of Harding's staunchest supporters during the mayoral race. And, yes, we know who he is... but if he wants to maintain the fiction of a nom de plume, well that's his business. His profile on Blogger provides only one clue to his identity: his favorite book is Atlas Shrugged. Blogger says 58,000 list the Ayn Rand classic among their favorites. (I preferred The Fountainhead and Anthem, but that's just me.)

Downtown Brown begins:
"It is the goal of all us at LiberTEA Racine to raise awareness to the disease that is killing freedom everyday in Racine, America and around the world. Our liberties are being attacked one by one as the government grows at all levels."
Some of the examples he cites:
  • The Common Council rejecting a small liquor store and pantry that wanted to open on Sixth Street. "A vacant building is better?"
  • The state of Wisconsin imposing a smoking ban, "crushing the liberty of a business to decide whether its customers should have the freedom to smoke or not smoke."
  • President Obama firing the president of GM "while turning the majority stock holdings to the unions that created the demise of Chrysler."
LiberTEA Racine "doesn't believe we can stop all of the fights against government and nanny state intervention, but we can be a forum for discussion and a group that advocates change," Downtown Brown writes. "LiberTEA Racine is a group of concerned Racine area citizens dedicated to preserving and recovering our liberties from the near constant encroachment by government. We are an issue driven, active and non-partisan organization focusing on local issues that concern our liberties."

Downtown Brown thanks the "tea party" tax protest at City Hall on April 18 for his inspiration, but promises that LiberTEA Racine will not be "a 'Rent-a-Mob' that shows up around a statue every week shouting Jesse Jackson chants. But we do believe our voices are being ignored, and maybe it's our own fault. To change that we will have about every two weeks an 'Action Call.' No, you don't have to ride on horseback thru the city at night... but instead we'll post the issue, and the appropriate contact people....It is our goal to make it so easy you can 'Do Something' in five minutes... you don't even have to get out of your jammies!! A phone call or a quick e-mail."

Downtown writes that six regular contributors have been lined up for the blog. Five of LiberTEA Racine's members will participate on a podcast by Blog Talk Radio Storm Racine on Saturday from 8:30 to 10 a.m., on the State of the City.

------

Postscript: So far, this is the third local blog / web presence we've seen spring up in reaction to recent political events. The most active website and organization belongs to Yes We Can Racine, run by Community for Change, the remnants of the Obama presidential campaign. And on May 2, the day after the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee crafted its KRM compromise-that-pleases-nobody, a blog called Recall Lehman appeared. Its purpose is self-evident, but it has had no activity since one inital rant and two quick comments.

Rig the sails

Thursday's perfect weather gave boat owners a chance to rig their sails at Pugh Marina in Racine. Photos/Dustin Block

City considers jet ski, kayak rentals on North Beach

Pier 29's offices at Pugh Marina. Photo/Dustin Block


A year after he floated the idea, Brett Kaydo is ready to start renting jet skis and kayaks on North Beach.

Kaydo, who owns a lawn service and landscaping company, appeared before the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Board Wednesday to present his plans for Pier 29 Water Sports Rentals. He proposed the idea last year, but hadn't worked out many details on the business. This year he returned with a detailed plan and signs of progress.

His business already has an office at Pugh Marina, equipment to rent and $1 million in insurance.

"There were a lot of 'what-ifs' last year," Kaydo said in an interview Thursday. "This year everything is set and ready to go."

Kaydo now just needs city permission to rent the equipment on North Beach. He's working with the City Attorney's office to establish guidelines for the business, which would operate away from the beach's main swimming area, Kaydo said. He then needs approval from the parks board and the full City Council.

Prices are still be worked out, but Kaydo estimated jet skis would rent for $90 per hour and kayaks for $25-$30 per hour. Only people 18 and over would be allowed to drive the jet skis, but children could ride with an adult, Kaydo said.

Day, half-day and half-hour rentals also will be available, he said.

Pier 29 would add another fun, family activity to North Beach, Kaydo said. With no comparable businesses in southeastern Wisconsin, Kaydo said he hopes people travel from Milwaukee and northern Illinois to hang out on North Beach and rent the equipment.

"It's another way to utilize North Beach," Kaydo said. "(The beach) is a great asset to the community."

The business itself is set up at Pugh Marina, but Kaydo and his employees would rent the equipment from a tent on North Beach, likely on the north end away from the main crowds. A wireless credit card reader would take payment on site. He estimated it would take 10 minutes for people to pay and be in the water.

If all goes well, Kaydo said he hopes to add equipment over time. He's already looking into renting small boats and other types of water recreation vehicles.

"This is trial-and-error year," Kaydo said. "We're open to any ideas."

Library buys 35 acres for ... ?

The Racine Public Library Board of Trustees has announced the purchase of approximately 35 acres of land north of Spring Street and Newman Road, from the Racine Water and Wastewater Utility, to be used for the future construction of a second library. The $1,199,056.99 price was paid for with library trust funds.

The board said it will now begin the process of "creating a funding structure to provide library service to the residents of Caledonia, Elmwood Park, Mount Pleasant, North Bay, Racine, Sturtevant, and Wind Point, all current users of the Racine Public Library’s downtown facility and mobile library."

Library officials have long wanted a library closer to where the population is moving. Library director Jessica MacPhail said the library serves a population of 139,000 in a geographic area similar to the Racine Unified School District, extending to the Interstate from Kenosha County to Milwaukee County. "Residents who live closer to Highway 31 have requested a second, more convenient location for years, like Kenosha’s four branch libraries. This has been a top priority of the Library Board for the past two Strategic Plans. The center of population for the library’s service area has been moving westward for years."

In February, when the city released its stimulus wish list
-- sort of a what-are-they-smoking? list -- half of the $73.9 million sought was directed toward a new library. "Our chances are slim," said Mayor Tom Friedel, who is a member of the Library Board of Trustees. The $36 million requested could build a 120,000 sq. ft. library -- twice the size of the existing one.

For now, we have the land...

Area Chrysler dealers survive franchise axe

First, it was Chrysler's Kenosha engine plant.

Now it's 789 Chrysler dealers across the country who are getting the axe.

The troubled automaker announced Thursday that it wil shut 789 Chrysler dealerships, revoking the franchise of one-quarter of the 3,200 "stores" that sell its cars.

Half of them, according to the company's filing in Bankruptcy Court, sell fewer than 100 cars a year.

None of the rejected dealerships is in Racine; the closest on the closure list are Boucher Imports in Greenfield, and Dodge City of Milwaukee. A searchable list of all the dealers Chrysler wants to close is here.

More bad news is coming Friday, when 1,200 General Motors dealerships are expected to receive similar notices that their franchises are being cut.

Civil War soldier's grave finally gets its headstone

For 94 years, Thomas Rowe's grave was unmarked...

This year’s Memorial Day has taken on a new meaning for Racine resident Jeff Alderson. Between 11 a.m. and noon, at Yorkville Cemetery, he and several other Civil War reenactors will conduct a small service to dedicate a newly placed headstone over the grave of civil war veteran Thomas J. Rowe. Rowe’s grave has gone unmarked most likely since his death in 1915.

“I found a reference to Thomas being buried at Yorkville at the Racine County Historical Society.” said Alderson. That listing started a search that took over a year to confirm where Rowe was buried. The first effort was a visit to the cemetery on a delightful summer day. The Rowe family plot was located but no marker for Thomas Rowe was found.

Numerous trips to the Racine Library, Racine County Historical Society, and the Register of Deeds office yielded little help. “The thought of obtaining a marker for Thomas had crossed my mind right from the first time I stood near the family plot. But my biggest fear was that I would be placing a stone over an empty grave,” said Alderson. It seemed possible that the cemetery reference was based on purchasing the plot rather than a burial being performed.

Realizing that obituary records near the turn of the century were less than promptly printed in the paper, Alderson returned to the Racine Library and expanded his search of newspaper records. The Jan. 29, 1915, issue of the Racine Journal News put everything together. Rowe’s obituary confirmed his death two weeks earlier, at the home of his brother in Maquoketa, Iowa. That explained why no death record was in Racine’s Register of Deed’s office. The body was escorted back to Yorkville by Rowe’s brother and a sister who lived in Racine. The grave went unmarked most likely because of Thomas' being poor at the time of his death.

On the same day the obituary was found, Alderson began the effort to place a veteran’s marker over Rowe’s grave. “As a veteran, I was moved to do this. Also, my reenactment group does preservation work at Antietam and Gettysburg. This was my chance to do similar preservation work here in Racine County,” he said.

The application form was obtained from the Veterans Administration website. Copies of Rowe’s military records were secured from the National Archives. Signatures were obtained from a cemetery official and a local monument company that agreed to assist. “My military experience, interest in history, and genealogical skills were all necessary to put the application together,” claims Alderson. The complete application was mailed in November 2008 and the stone was delivered before the end of the year.

The marker was placed after the ground had thawed. Its dedication service will be held on Memorial Day: Monday, May 25.

Gravestone ready for dedication

Thomas J. Rowe

Thomas J. Rowe was born in 1844 in Wisconsin, the son of English immigrants. His father was Matthew Rowe. Born in 1815, he settled down as a farmer in Yorkville Township from 1850 to 1880. Matthew’s wife was named Ann and she was born in 1817 in England. The children of Matthew and Ann included Mathew Rowe who is buried just to the east of Thomas along with another of Mathew’s wives, Grace Vyvyan.

Thomas enlisted on April 23, 1861. He was mustered into Federal Service as part of the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on June 11, 1861 in Madison for a three year term. Thomas fought with the company at First Bull Run. He was absent, sick in the hospital in Baltimore from Aug. 20, 1862, through Dec. 1863. Admission to the hospital most likely saved his life in more than one way: Just eight days after he entered the hospital, Thomas’ brigade was in one of its bloodiest battles of the war. Other major battles followed while he remained in the hospital.

A special muster dated April 10, 1863, lists Thomas as on duty at the General Hospital in Philadelphia. He was either performing light duty while recuperating or had remained at the hospital as a worker. The muster roll for April lists him as sick in the hospital in Baltimore. Thomas was transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps (an organization of soldiers not fit for the front line) on Dec. 12, 1863. The final muster sheet lists his transfer on Jan. 17, 1864. One record indicates he was mustered out on June 11, 1864, in Baltimore, due to expiration of his three year term of service.

Thomas was residing in Walworth County when he re-enlisted in Battery E 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery on Sept. 1, 1864. He became a sergeant and was promoted to Regimental Commissary Sergeant on April 1, 1865. Thomas was mustered out on June 26, 1865.

In 1880, Thomas was age 36 and unmarried. He was still living with his father in Yorkville Township. Thomas’ mother passed away on November 14, 1884. Thomas married a lady named Bena who was born in Norway on Oct. 14, 1851. Thomas and Bena had no children. Thomas’ father died on April 12, 1900.

Thomas died on Jan. 15, 1915. The January 29, 1915, Racine Journal News printed the following obituary:
“Thomas Rowe, an old resident of Racine county, died Jan. 15, at the home of his brother, William Rowe at Maquoketa, Ia. The brother and sister, Mrs. Mary Burns, of Racine accompanied the remains to Wisconsin for interment at Yorkville, the old home. Funeral services were held in the Iowa town.”
Thomas was buried in Lot 183, Block 16 with no stone marking his grave.

Bena Rowe died on March 13, 1940. Her obituary in the March 14, 1940, Racine Journal Times said:
“Mrs. Bena Rowe, who died Wednesday night, was born in Norway, Oct. 14, 1851 and came to Racine in 1910. Survivors are a niece, Mrs. Isadore LaFave of Racine, and a nephew, Bernt Peterson of Chicago. Funeral services will be held at 1 p. m. Saturday in Beffel’s mortuary with Rev. E. R. Andersen in charge. Burial will be held in Yorkville cemetery. Friends may call at the mortuary Friday afternoon and evening and until the time of the services.”
Bena is buried beside Thomas also with no marker.

May 13, 2009

Park High's community garden

Below are pictures from Tuesday at the Washington Park H.I.P. (Health Initiatives Program) garden. The Lighted Schoolhouse program from Knapp Elementary School, run by Shelli Tippett, brought the first students to plant at the new garden. They planted onions, potatoes, and garlic. The garden is being run by Park High School staff including Assistant Principal Daniel Bieser. (Thanks, Carina!)



Eat Right Racine to advocate for healthier food supply

New organization holding its first public meeting tonight

Something’s changing.

We saw it last week when 75 people turned out for a meeting on urban gardens. We see it in Milwaukee where a man is honored as a “genius” for growing vegetables that can be distributed in the inner city. And we see it in the increasingly loud warnings that our sugar-based diets are causing irreparable harm in our public health, particularly among children.

We’re growing increasingly aware that our eating habits are out of balance, and a new local group is organizing to do something about it.

Eat Right Racine is holding its first meeting tonight to gather local residents and organizations interested in taking a deep look at our local food supplies and what we’re collectively eating.

“We’re attempting to make cultural change,” said Amanda DeSonia, one of three organizers behind Eat Right Racine.

It sounds outlandish until you hear numbers like one in four children will grow up to have diabetes, or simply walk through a grocery store reading product labels that too often include high-fructose corn syrup or unpronounceable chemicals. Simply watching our children after school unveils increases in childhood obesity and future health problems, including heart disease.

“The food we’re eating is bringing on the diseases,” said Paula Rowland, an Eat Right Racine organizer and a teacher at Park High School, where she sees major problems with diets. Students are “rotting their insides with what they eat.”

And it’s not just children eating Dorito’s or drinking Mountain Dew, said Heidi Fannin, the third organizer of Eat Right Racine. Parents set a poor example.She told one story where a class of students made healthy smoothies, only to have a parent refuse to try one because it included spinach. Another girl pleaded with her mom to buy spinach at the grocery store, but her mother refused.

“Our country is in a health care crisis,” Fannin said “There’s such an urgency to do this work.”

The goal of Eat Right Racine, according to its organizers, is to answer a basic question: Where does our food come from?

From that question come a series of ethical quandaries for the community, like, how can we feed our children unhealthy food in our schools? Or, how much of the food grown in Racine County stays in Racine County?

Too often the answer comes down to money. It’s either cheaper to eat a lousy diet (there’s a reason McDonald’s makes a killing on its value meals) or the corporations are slick at misleading the public into believing sugary products like Cheerios are actually a health food.

Then there’s the disconnect. Quite simply, we don’t produce our own food anymore. Grocery stores and corporations provide a steady supply of calories, so there’s little need to realize the source of our diets. We just eat – and eat – and eat …

“There are 40,000 items in our grocery stores, and most is junk,” Fannin said. “We’re very misled by companies that choose profits over people.”

Eat Right Racine was germinated two months ago at a city meeting. Rowland appeared before the city’s Parks and Recreation Board two months ago seeking permission to start a community garden at Park High School.

Her passion for the garden, which was easily approved, caught the attention of board member Amanda DeSonia. They met after the meeting and discovered they shared an interest in healthy eating as a means for societal change.

Rowland then introduced DeSonia to an equally passionate friend, Fannin, and Eat Right Racine sprouted. The organizers are holding their first public meeting from 5:30-6:30 p.m. tonight at the HOPE Center, 507 Sixth St.

The organizers hope to pull together a gathering of people interested in collectively improving the offerings we have to eat. How can we increase the frequency and availability of farmer’s markets? What can be done to improve school breakfasts and lunches? What policy changes are needed to improve the local food supply?

Organizers of Eat Right Racine hope a coalition of people, groups and businesses will answer those questions and bring about needed solutions. They expect obstacles.

Rowland said she tried to convince Racine Unified to switch iceberg lettuce with the healthier Romaine lettuce. Chartwell’s, the district’s food supplier, refused.

“It’s baby steps,” Fannin said.

The great hope, according to Eat Right Racine’s organizers, is the growing tide of people interested in healthy diets. While many people still think nothing of giving their kids Twinkies and sodas, at least some people are ready to explore alternatives, they said.

Now’s the time to bring people together and work for lasting improvements to how Racine thinks about food and nutrition.

“We want to find out who’s out there so we can learn from each other,” DeSonia said. “We’ll support existing programs and start new ones that are needed.”

Interested in attending tonight’s meeting? Just show up at HOPES Center, 507 Sixth St., at 5:30 p.m. to learn more about Eat Right Racine.

Vos only local lawmaker to oppose smoking ban

Here are links to the roll calls in both the Senate and the Assembly on Wednesday's votes imposing a smoking ban on public places in Wisconsin.

The law will take effect on July 5, 2010, if signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle -- who made the issue priority and pledged to sign it.

Southeastern Wisconsin lawmakers all voted for the bill -- with one exception. Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, voted against the ban.

The full story is HERE.

When art and theatre combine...

Fewer than half the mural's squares are shown above

Art and theater combine for a month at the Racine Theatre Guild's production of the musical Godspell, which opens Friday, May 15, and runs through June 7.

Hanging in the RTG's lobby is a colorful ... um, mural?... comprised of one hundred 6" by 6" ...um, paintings? ... each by a different local artist.

The project, called Art Squared, is a fund-raiser for both the Racine Art Guild, which put it together, and the Racine Theatre Guild, which is displaying it. But its fund-raising purpose is far less interesting than its reality: a beautiful mural of incredible originality, with each square representing the Godspell theme in some way.

Yes, there are paintings on canvas. But there are also collages, three-dimensional sculptures, mosaics and what-have-you. The variety is stunning; while it's possible to pick a few that you don't like, it's almost impossible to pick a favorite.

Which makes the Art Guild's sales plan for the mural squares especially clever: Godspell theatre-goers will have the opportunity to buy a square; the price is a very reasonable $20. But there's a catch: Buyers won't know which canvas they've bought until the end of the exhibition when a random drawing matches buyers with the specific artwork they may take home.

The project was put together by Janet Mrazek and James Chaplin of the Art Guild, who saw a similar program in Door County. Artists and Art Guild members were "sold" a blank six-inch canvas for $10, and told to complete it in any medium, even three-dimensional. The goal of the project is to encourage community-wide awareness of the arts in Racine -- and to raise a little money for Art Guild scholarships and the Theatre Guild.

Each artist also submitted a brief explanation about the submitted artwork, which will be given to the buyer when canvases are distributed.

Theatre-goers have a second chance to participate in the project as well; everyone attending the play is encouraged to select their favorite canvas and write its number on their ticket stub, which can be deposited in a ballot box in the RTG's lobby. On June 11, at the Racine Art Guild's Pot Luck Dinner at the Wustum Museum, prizes will be awarded to the winners: $250 for first place, $125 for second and $75 for third.

There's also a reception for the 100 artists at the Theatre Guild on Saturday morning, May 16, from 10 - 11 a.m.

Poster shows all the participating artists

Virtual schools an alternative for Racine Unified students

Virtual schools are becoming a legitimate alternative to Racine Unified's public schools, according to open enrollment applications.

Racine Unified reported district residents submitted 921 applications to attend other school districts around the state, according to district numbers. In all, 38 percent of the applications - 352 total - went to free virtual academies that replace traditional schools with online classes.

Sixty-eight Racine Unified students applied to attend Waukesha's iQ Academy, an online public school for students in grades six to 12. Along with free tuition and state-certified teachers, students can even receive a computer to participate in the program.

Similar models exist around the state - and Racine Unified students appear to be interested. Sixty-seven students applied to McFarland's online K-12 school, the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, 63 applied for Appleton's Wisconsin Connections Academy, 61 applied to Ozaukee's Wisconsin Virtual Academy, 46 applied to Grantsburg's Insight School of Wisconsin, 28 applied to Kenosha's eSchool, nine to Monroe's Virtual School, four to Janesville's eSchool, two to Kiel's eSchool and one to Cambridge's eSchool.

The success of online academies is likely what has Racine Unified Superintendent James Shaw thinking creating Racine's own online academy for the 2010-11 school year.

While interest in virtual schools appears to be growing, most residents interested in leaving Unified applied to traditional schools.

Here's a breakdown of where students applied:

Yorkville - 109
Union Grove Elementary - 97
Oak Creek - 96
Union Grove High School - 77
Raymond - 76
Kenosha - 47
Franklin - 9
South Milwaukee - 7
Milwaukee Public - 7
Waterford Elementary - 6
Burlington - 5
Greendale - 5
Kohler - 4
Paris - 3
Muskego-Norway - 3
North Cape - 2
Waterford High School - 2
Wilmot High School - 2
Cudahy - 2
Wausau - 1
Whitnall - 1
Wilmot Grade School - 1
St. Francis - 1
Pewaukee - 1
Kickapoo - 1
Greenfield - 1
Elkhorn - 1
Dover - 1
Central/Westosha - 1

Racine Unified also had 26 applications from residents of other districts interested in sending students to Racine's public schools. Here's the breakdown of where the applications came from:

Kenosha - 15
Milwaukee Public - 3
Oak Creek - 2
West Allis - 2
Central/Westosha High School - 1
Norway - 1
Palmyra-Eagle - 1
South Milwaukee - 1

One note on the numbers: The 921 applications do not represent 921 students looking to leave Unified. Each student can file three open enrollment applications. It also doesn't mean the students are leaving. They have to be accepted by the school and then make the decision to actually attend the school. It's safe to say fewer than 300 students will leave Racine Unified through open enrollment next year.

May 12, 2009

Bacteria outbreaks reported in eastern Racine County schools, day cares

Local health officials are dealing with an outbreak of two types of bacteria in day care centers and schools.

Michele Breheim, epidemiologist, told the Board of Health Wednesday there are 19 cases of shigella and 10 cases of campylobacter in eastern Racine County since mid-April.

The cases have been discovered at three day care centers and two schools, all in Mount Pleasant and Caledonia, Breheim said. The Racine Health Department is involved because several of the cases involve Racine residents.

Both bacterias spread through oral-fecal contamination, Breheim said. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting, she said.

There are typically cases of shigella and campylobacter reported in eastern Racine County every year, Breheim said. But 29 cases of the bacteria in less than a month is unusual, she said.

Campylobacter is typically spread through contact with uncooked poultry, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's rarely spread person to person, though can spread through stool to oral contamination.

Shigella is typically spread from person to person, according to the CDC. The bacteria is passed fom stool to oral contamination.

Wisconsin's H1N1 surge a testing anomaly, health official says

The surge in Wisconsin's H1N1 cases in recent days is likely due to advanced testing methods in the state, according to a Racine health official.

There are 496 confirmed cases of the flu in Wisconsin, which amounts to 16 percent of the 3,009 confirmed cases across the country. Racine County has three confirmed cases of H1N1, all in the western part of the county.

But Michele Breheim, epidemiologist for the Racine Health Department, said Wisconsin's inflated numbers are likely because the state has three labs approved to test suspected cases of H1N1. Other states send their samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Breheim said while addressing Racine's Board of Health Wednesday.

The result is Wisconsin is confirming its cases faster than other states - and making up a majority of the cases nationally, she said.

While that explains Wisconsin's increase - based mostly in Milwaukee - it also suggests an increase in national cases is likely as more tests are completed.

"They won't be able to test everyone," Breheim said. "Eventually, they'll need to (conduct) surveillance and monitor people's symptoms."

Ex-SC Johnson employee claims he's a 'whistleblower'

The Caledonia resident SC Johnson is suing for taking company property is planning to fight back.

Michael DeGuelle, SCJ's former state tax manager, said in an interview Tuesday he was fired on April 10 for reporting confidential company information to the U.S. Department of Labor.

DeGuelle, who worked for SCJ for 12 years, says he was acting as a "whistleblower," who reported potential corporate fraud to federal investigators. He believes his actions are protected under the laws put in place after corruption was uncovered at Enron and other major corporations.

He said he intends to lay out his case in court as early as June 1.

"I would suggest people stay tuned," DeGuelle said in a phone interview. "It's going to get a lot more interesting."

SC Johnson Spokeswoman Kelly Semrau did not respond to our attempt to contact her Tuesday. But she told The Journal Times in a May 5 article that DeGuelle's allegations of fraud are "completely and patently false."

SC Johnson is suing DeGuelle for allegedly trying to shake down the company. A lawsuit filed April 28 alleges DeGuelle attempted to trade confidential company documents for money and other benefits.

DeGuelle denied the charges. He said he routinely emailed documents home to work after business hours. He also said he deleted all company documents in his possession.

"I regularly sent work home to work on them," DeGuelle said. "We were allowed to send them from work to home."

"When they terminated me," he added, "I didn’t have anything at home. I certainly had documents on work computer. I worked on all kinds of confidential things there."

DeGuelle said he took the confidential information to the Department of Labor presuming he would be protected by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed in 2002 to prevent corporate fraud.

He also said he brought his allegations, which he declined to reveal in detail, to company officials prior to being fired.

"I have no SCJ documents," DeGuelle said. "The only knowledge I have is in my head."

United Way, Caron Butler offer youths' essay contest

The United Way of Racine County is partnering with NBA star Caron Butler in an essay contest for local youths.

Butler, a forward for the Washington Wizards and a two-time NBA All-Star, overcame struggles while growing up in Racine with what he calls the 3Ds: Dedication, Determination and Discipline. The essay contests asks local youths to tell which of the 3Ds they used to succeed.

Winners in two age categories -- 14 and under, and 15 - 18 -- will receive $300, an autographed basketball and recognition and the opportunity to meet Caron at a celebrity basketball event on June 12.

Contest details are HERE; entries must be submitted by May 29.

The City of Racine has proclaimed June 8 as Caron Butler Day. Check here for our report on the activities last year, when Caron gave away 500 bicycles to local kids, and was the star of our Juneteenth Day celebration..

Feingold, Congressmen press Geithner on Chrysler

Last week, it was 34 state legislators who wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, seeking his help in keeping Kenosha's Chrysler plant open.

Today it's U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and Illinois Congressmen Paul Ryan, Gwen Moore and Tom Petri who are writing to the powers-behind-the-throne, Timothy Geithner, Treasury Secretary, and Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, calling for the same result.

Here's their letter:
As Members of Congress representing the State of Wisconsin, we write to express our strong concern with the Chrysler restructuring plans, approved by the Administration in good faith, and submitted as part of the company’s April 30, 2009, bankruptcy filing. These restructuring plans, if approved, use taxpayer funds to consolidate and relocate existing U.S. operations to foreign countries and undermine the federal government’s duty as a faithful steward of taxpayer dollars.

Last month, we urged you to give full and fair consideration to auto industry restructuring plans that prioritized retention of domestic manufacturing jobs. Our specific concern was centered on the future of the approximately 800 workers employed at Chrysler’s Kenosha Engine Plant, after representatives of the plant’s workforce informed us that Chrysler was reevaluating its commitment to build the Phoenix V6 engine there. According to documents accompanying Chrysler’s bankruptcy filing, it appears that Chrysler intends to cease operations at the Kenosha Engine Plant, while shifting new engine production to a facility in Saltillo, Mexico. A public statement released by Chrysler this week confirms that the company intends to idle the Kenosha plant at the end of 2010. Given that Chrysler is seeking an additional $8 billion in taxpayer money to implement this plan, bringing total U.S. taxpayer investment in Chrysler to $12 billion, we are seeking further clarification on why production is being shifted to foreign countries when adequate capacity already exists to produce these engines within the United States.

As you work with representatives of Chrysler during bankruptcy proceedings, we again urge you to work with all interested parties to curtail the impact any bankruptcy restructuring plan will have on manufacturing jobs in the United States.

We thank you for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to your prompt response.

It's the economy, stupid!

Why must everything turn into partisanship?

The worldwide economy has tanked; the U.S. economy has tanked; the state's economy has tanked -- but Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, blames Gov. Jim Doyle.

Doyle, not coincidentally, is a Democrat.

As the Legislative Fiscal Bureau yesterday issued its latest dire prediction of future state revenue -- another drop of $1.45 billion over the next three years -- Vos wasted no time issuing the following statement:
“We heard last week that the increased deficit would be bad and today the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has confirmed that it is even worse than we had originally thought. This incredible revenue decline and subsequent major increase in the deficit should finally signal to taxpayers that Governor Doyle has been overreaching in his claims that our budget woes are solely due to the national economy. There are very few states in the country facing a worse fiscal situation than Wisconsin.

“Because most small business owners file their business taxes as individuals, the decline in individual income tax collections indicates that employers throughout Wisconsin are suffering the tremendous burden of Governor Doyle’s reckless tax-and-spend policies instituted over the last six years. The only thing Democrats can do to improve this terrible hardship on employers and families is stop taxing people to death and start cutting the size of government.”
Aw, c'mon, Robin. Give Doyle a break. He didn't cause the economy to tank. Whatever his "reckless tax-and-spend policies" may have done on the state level, they're incidental to what's happened to our 401k's, the stock market, and the millions of jobs nationally that have disappeared. Working together through this mess would be more beneficial than lobbing more knee-jerk partisan attacks.

Then, after we're all back at work, let the political games begin again.

Committee Notes: A closed session, $4,700 for furniture, legal listings and the Racine Yacht Club's lease

Here are notes from Monday night's Personnel and Finance Committee meeting:

Closed Session

The committee met in closed session to consider converting two outsourced information systems positions back to city employees. The proposal would remove the infrastructure manager and programmer positions from the city's contract with Velocity Partners Inc., Brookfield, and bring them back to the city. The city contracts with Velocity Partners to handle much of its computer needs.

The move would save an estimated $28,981, according to the meeting's notice.

Here's our story on the city's decision to outsource its MIS department in 2007.

City administrator’s furniture

The committee reluctantly approved spending $4,700 for new office furniture for the city administrator’s office. Money budgeted for the furniture was used for asbestos removal in City Hall. Instead, the committee used money set aside to pay the city administrator’s salary – none has been paid since Ben Hughes resigned in February – to buy a U-shaped desk, credenza and chair.

Alderman Michael Shields and Q.A. Shakoor II questioned the need for the furniture. Shakoor asked if there were any old desks that could be reused, and Shields asked if the office needed “something that fancy.”

But the price quote came from the city’s regular furniture supplier and was similar to setups used in other offices, said acting City Administrator Scott Letteney.

“Surprisingly, it’s not that fancy,” he said. (Letteney also noted the new furniture was not his request. Money for the desk, credenza and chair was included in the City Hall remodeling project, which started long before he was named interim administrator.)

Alderman Jim Spangenberg, chairman of the Personnel and Finance Committee, hinted at a coming debate over the city administrator’s position when he asked: “Can we still use it (the furniture) even if we don’t have a new city administrator?”

The answer was yes.

Spangenberg, the owner of Johnson's Home Furnishings and Gift Gallery, 3219 Washington Ave., took some ribbing over the purchase.

“Those furniture salesmen have to make a living,” said Alderman Bob Anderson.

Shields added: “Go to Johnson Furniture get a good deal … put that in the minutes (of the meeting).”

Spangenberg replied: “No, no don’t put that in the minutes.”
Anderson half-heartedly agreed to spend the money. “It’s a new office, you need some furniture to go with it, I guess,” he said.

Shields ended the conversation with a poignant remark. If the city can find money for office furniture, he said, hopefully it can find money for things it really needs.

Legal announcements

The committee approved the JT as its newspaper of record. State law requires communities to publish their legal notices in a printed daily newspaper. The Journal Times is the only publication that fits the required definition in Racine.

What’s comedic about the state law is the JT, and other newspapers, do an inept job of publishing their legal notices. The listings run in hard-to-read six-point font in the paper with no real context of what readers are looking at. The JT also runs the notices online, but good luck deciphering the search engine that supposedly displays the results.

Meanwhile, the city publishes all of its agendas and meeting minutes online in a highly searchable and easy-to-use format with links to supporting documents. As someone who uses the city’s website on a daily basis, it’d sure be nice if the tens of thousands of dollars they pay the JT for doing a poor job could be spent on further upgrading the city’s document library.

Racine Yacht Club lease

The Racine Yacht Club’s annual lease will jump from $400 to $7,500 next year. The club had paid the Racine water utility $400 a year since 1997 to use land on Hubbard Street. A new contract will escalate the club’s lease to $7,500, paid to the city, over the next three years. The committee agreed to rescind the $400 fee, which was written into an ordinance, to make room for the new lease.

Ohio Street

The city owes the state an extra $500,000 for work down on Ohio Street between 16th and 21st streets last year. Workers had to dig out sandy soil under the street and replace it with clay soil that makes for a better foundation. The unbudgeted work cost the city between $500,000 and $600,000, according to Finance Director Dave Braun.

The city has the money to pay the bill for the roadwork, which came to $960,000, Braun said.

May 11, 2009

Urban garden meeting ...

We found out today 75 people attended the meeting Friday night at DP Wigley on urban gardening in Racine. We obviously missed out! If anyone who was there is willing, post a write-up of the meeting in the comments. We'll try to follow-up with organizers this week on the take-aways from the meeting.

Here's some photos:




Rollover accident damages alderman's car during committee meeting

A young man walked away from a rollover accident outside of City Hall Monday after he plowed into Alderman Aron Wisneski's parked car.

Wisneski, who was chairing a Public Safety and Licensing Committee at the time of the accident, was called out of the meeting to see his massively damaged Honda Civic.

The accident apparently occurred after the driver crossed the center line while driving west on Sixth Street and crashed into Wisneski's car, which was parked on the south side of Sixth Street facing east.

Paramedics were checking the driver out at the scene, but initial reports were he was uninjured.

Here are photos from the accidents:

The driver sits on the curb beside his overturned car.

Wisneski's car in the foreground and the overturned car in the background.

Wineski shortly after walking out of his committee meeting.

Alderman QA Shakoor II looks over his car shortly after the accident. Shakoor said he'd parked in Wisneski's spot, but then backed into the space behind it. His car was unscathed.

Paramedics at the scene.

The driver was OK.

A parking meter knocked to the ground in the crash.

KRM proponents unwilling to settle for half a loaf

When it comes to regional transit, is half a loaf better than none?

That's the dilemma KRM and BUS advocates discussed this afternoon. Transit NOW and a panoply of local officials -- both Mayor Tom Friedel and Mayor-elect John Dickert were present -- examined their options in the wake of last week's decision by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to fund Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail with a $16 fee on rental cars --
while providing nothing to aid the city's Belle Urban System bus.

Kerry Thomas, executive director of Transit NOW, laid out the dilemma in a few words. "We're lucky to have something to build on... but what we have is probably not workable in the state it's in."

The good news is that the KRM measure produced by the JFC near 3 a.m. doesn't require any opt-in: no public referenda or local government decisions to participate. On the other hand, "the funding source could compromise the project" for two reasons: the feds have rejected it in the past, and there are questions about whether it will produce enough revenue.

Chip Brewer quoting from a Wisconsin State Journal editorial, noted, "nothing good happens after midnight." Brewer, SC Johnson director of worldwide governmental relations, sat through the marathon JFC session alongside Thomas and said, "KRM still has a pulse; it's still breathing, but it needs some work." Referring to local legislators' unwillingness to impose a sales tax to fund both KRM and regional bus systems, he said: "If in fact a sales tax is not sellable in Kenosha and Racine Counties, we need to reassure ourselves that the rental car fee is sustainable." The lawmakers did allow a sales tax for regional transit -- buses and rail -- in Milwaukee County.

Mayor-elect John Dickert and Jim Eastman of Merchants Moving

"There's cause for optimism and for concern. Nobody wanted to get up from the table, as wobbly as it was," he said. Brewer maintains that the rental car tax will produce about $5 million a year, enough to fund all the capital and operating costs needed for KRM ... and that federal authorities who once rejected such funding will approve it now that Milwaukee's bus system has been separated from commuter rail, and will be supported by its own county sales tax.

That's not a position universally held. Ryan Gleason of Community for Change, said, "I don't think a rental car fee will work. The airline industry is not known for its stability, and the first thing companies cut is travel." Some 75% of the funds expected from the three-county rental car fee would be generated by rentals at Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport.

Curtis Garner, executive director of Racine's BUS, built on the afternoon's good news/bad news theme. He is "heartened that we have something; disappointed that funds for the BUS were excluded." He noted that BUS funding has been something of a "shell game going on the past few years," as federal funding goes up a fraction of a percent, while state funding goes down a similar amount. Even with a 1% annual increase in city funding, "costs are rapidly exceeding funding." The BUS provides 1.5 million rides a year, but service cuts and fare increases are "inevitable" by 2011. "I know for sure I'm going to have to make service cuts," he said.

Garner also made the case for something more than just additional buses. The city needs sidewalks, curb cuts, bus shelters, "an entire transit infrastructure," he said, to make itself "pedestrian-friendly."

"If we're going to get a sales tax, we've got to be sure it's an amount that will allow us to build a real transit system in Racine."
Mayor Tom Friedel makes a point for Dustin Block

Hence, the group's dilemma: "We've got to not lose what was passed," Thomas said pointedly. "All the opportunities for us are also opportunities for critics to take out what we've gotten," as the measure passes through both houses of the legislature.

Transit NOW decided to form a steering committee to "shore up" relationships with local and state legislators, and try to convince them of public support -- 67% in favor, Dickert estimated -- while realizing there's not much time. Suggestions of holding referenda, or doing polling were well received -- except that they could not be accomplished in the timeline that remains: the state budget is due to be voted on in June, and the federal application for KRM funding must be filed by September.

Racine's last movie theater to be demolished

The glory days of the Venetian Theatre are long gone in Racine ...

Racine's last movie theater will have one final show within the next month.

The Racine Fire Department, pending approval of the City Council, will use the shuttered Regency Theater, 5230 Durand Ave., for practice drills before the building is demolished, according to Chief Steve Hansen. (The Public Safety and Licensing Committee approved the training Monday night.)

Firefighters will use the old theater, which shutdown last month, to practice forcible entry drills, to cut holes in the building's roof and to bust through walls to simulate rescuing a trapped victim, Hansen said.

The theater will not be set on fire during the training, he said.

"It's rare that the (abandoned buildings) come available," Hansen said. "We try to take advantage of them as quickly as possible."

Marcus Theatres closed the Regency theater, which had been serving as a budget theater since 2006, at the end of April. The company had announced plans to close the theater in January.

The move shut the door on movie theaters in Racine. Marcus closed the Westgate movie theater in 2006 after opening the 12-screen Renaissance theater on Washington Avenue in Sturtevant. Racine no longer has a theater that shows movies.

Prior to Regency closing, Racine had an active movie theater until at least 1928, when the Venetian Theatre opened Downtown (I couldn't find the date the Rialto opened).

No date has been set for the Regency theater's demolition, Hansen said.

Hansen will appear before the Common Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee tonight to gain permission for the training. If all goes as expected, the Common Council will give final approval next week and the training, which will involve every member of the department at different times, will occur within four weeks, Hansen said.

There's no cost for the training, he said.

May 10, 2009

Missing kayaker's body found in Eagle Lake

The week-long search for a missing kayaker in Eagle Lake ended Sunday morning with the discovery of his body.

Racine County Sheriff's officials began searching Monday after recovering a kayak, jacket and cell phone belonging to a Town of Dover man in the lake.

At approximately 10:21 a.m. Sunday morning, police recovered the body of John O. Houdek floating in the lake.