June 13, 2009

Treasures at the Monument Square Art Fair

McKenzie Burns, 6, of Racine finds a print she likes

As usual, Mother Nature toyed with us Saturday, stating the morning off with rain, and scaring the pants off the 120 artists scheduled to be at the 16th Annual Monument Square Art Fair (which hasn't been held on Monument Square for years.)

But she took pity on them -- and on hordes of art lovers -- by bringing out the sunshine early in the afternoon, making Festival Park a lovely place to spend a few hours admiring incredible local talent, and perhaps buying a thing or two or three.

For me, the fun lies in talking to the artists: learning, for example, how Sam Carter makes his lovely elliptical wooden furniture (CNC machine, carefully matched veneer flitches, hand-forged metalwork), or how LaMont Kraft, a retired history teacher, takes his gorgeous nature photographs (Nikon, tripod, long lens, patience).

The art fair will continue on Sunday -- from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

'It's going right over the bathtub,' she said.
Hand-framed photo on canvas by Shirley and Jimmy Longfellow.

Kimball Hardin and Michael Rudin couldn't choose;
bought both glass panels from Mark Wilson

Bill Reid with 'Halo Watermelion' (Yours for just $4,000.) More here.

Kim Johnson explains husband Herb's metal sculptures to a customer,
while his creatures, like the big fish in the foreground, keep watch

Chris Wawro takes these incredible aerial photos while piloting his plane

Ice cream and art; what could be better?

Colorful hats by Pam Siehr

Bird by Diana Sullivan

Mermaid by Donna Ziegler. More here.

The Colin Powell Rule takes effect: You break it, you buy it.

June 12, 2009

Relay for Life: Remembering ... and raising funds

Mitch and Jill Nowik of Racine carried Izzy, 3, around the track

They came on foot, some with canes and walkers. A few were in wheelchairs. Kids came in baby buggies, wagons and in their parents' arms or on Daddy's broad shoulders.

By early evening, hundreds were making their way around the outdoor track of Case High School, participating in the American Cancer Society's 16th Relay for Life. The first lap around the track was reserved for 250 cancer survivors. They were followed by the members of 85 fund-raising teams, many of whom will walk all night -- until 10 a.m. Saturday -- fulfilling pledges to help fight the deadly disease.

Many of the teams had pitched tents and a few had started their campfires, as the first of their walkers started around the track, to walk for an hour, two, or longer.

As if the walking weren't enough, scores participated in an enthusiastic Zumba exhibition in the center of the field, led by Team Zumba experts. The Latin version of jazzercise is an appropriate companion to the relay, since exercise of any kind is good for health.

Relay co-chair John Nielsen said hopes the event raises about $250,000. A disc jockey will play music all night, and there's a pancake breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. Saturday morning.

Dan Hernandez of Racine dressed like this 'just for fun'

Zumba participants were nothing if not enthusiastic

Track city road projects online

The city has a nifty page on its website that updates summer road projects. Click here for the latest reports on roadwork in your neighborhood and throughout the city.

For example, we looked up the roadwork near 16th Street and Taylor Ave. The site said work is on pace to be done by July 31.

Another good example was this report on roadwork on LaSalle Street from Augusta to Melvin. The report gives a detailed explanation of the project and lists the completion date as July 6 - a month ahead of schedule.

Update on the Uptown sculpture

We did some more checking on the cost of the Uptown sculpture. The city Finance Department said it wrote two checks to artist Nick Poupore (aka Nic Noblique) in February for the sculpture.

The first was on Feb. 4 for $1,970 and was for metal. The second was on Feb. 6 for $18,104.36 and was for the sculpture itself. That totals $20,074.36 - about half of the $40,000 purchase price.

The Finance Department employee who helped me said the payments came with a note saying $30,000 of the $40,000 payment was due in advance. But, according to this employee, there was no obvious record of $30,000 or $40,000 in payments.

We're still checking with the City Development Department on payments for the sculptures and will report back when our calls to the department are returned.

Also, a second Noblique sculpture may be installed in the Uptown area. A privately owned piece, significantly smaller than the red sculpture already in place, is expected to be installed between Uptown's mosaics walls.

And, another Noblique statue can be seen in the window of 1301 Washington Ave. in Uptown. That sculpture is also privately owned.

Lastly, we should note Noblique is a Wisconsin native. The 33-year-old was born in Appleton and now lives in Galveston Island, Texas. He's had dozens of sculptures displayed around the country, including one on Navy Pier in Chicago.

In this article, the successful Noblique says his credo is: "Art is whatever you can get away with."

June 11, 2009

A hug from the President (and a picture to prove it)

Ten state community organizers representing Organizing for America in Wisconsin were invited to meet with the President prior to the Town Hall meeting today in Green Bay. Kelly Gallaher of Racine was one of the participants representing southeast Wisconsin and the 1st Congressional District.

Gallaher is a member and coordinator of Community for Change, an organization of volunteers and organizers from the Obama Presidential Campaign in Racine County. Community for Change is a partner of Organizing for America.

The President was in Green Bay to discuss the need for health care reform and took questions from the audience to explain his agenda.

We asked Gallaher for her impressions, and how it felt to get a hug from the President of the United States:
"We were asked to step downstairs and wait as a group in the weight room. They had set up a curtain and flags and let us know a White House photographer would take individual pictures of us with the President. A few minutes later the President came in with some staffers and Secret Service. He was very friendly and relaxed and we talked a few minutes and then he invited us to take some pictures.

"He greeted each of us, asked us who we were and where we were from. After the pictures, we stood around very casually for a few minutes. He thanked us for our hard work and let us know he really appreciated it. He talked about the importance of reforming the health care system and we talked about the work to be done this summer in order to be successful. He was very present in the moment and listened to each of us. Then he said he had some work to do upstairs and I wished him good luck with the speech. We laughed; after all, he's a pretty good speaker.

"We came upstairs and we were sitting in a section with Gov. Doyle, Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and many other officials. When we sat down, Gov. Doyle asked if we had met the President and we said we had. He then asked if we got pictures with him. I said yes and showed him my camera; he and the Lt. Governor passed my camera around to see the photos. That was pretty surreal.

"President Obama's speech was, of course, very good. Town Halls are always great because people get to actually ask questions and talk about what is on their mind. The one thing he said that really stuck with me is he is open to all good ideas. He doesn't care where they come from as long as they're good and help get the job done.

"It was a great honor and pleasure to be a special part of today's events. I think it will take a few days to get over the excitement. In the meantime, I've got a great picture to remember it!"
Community for Change is organizing a Community Health Care Community Forum and Expo later this summer. More information is here.

Bocce ball at Lake Oaks

Members of the Lake Oaks Bocce Ball League play the game on the Lake Oaks Bocce court. (Top and middle) Taking their turn is Bette Annis, Gean Wente and Marillis Dougard. Bocce ball is a game of skill and it's fun to play. (Bottom) Tom Organ,Bob Peterson and Jim Hawes Use a tape measure to see witch ball is closer to the target ball. Photos submitted by Kevin Barz

Ryan responds to Obama: The false choice

President Obama delivered a major address on health care reform in Green Bay today. Here is Rep. Paul Ryan's reaction:

The False Choice versus The Patients’ Choice
I applaud President Obama for bringing national attention to two things I’m passionate about: health care reform and Wisconsin. I am eager to work with the President and Democrats toward a bipartisan solution to health care. However, the Majority has chosen to exclude such collaboration. After reviewing the President’s remarks in Green Bay today, I have one basic observation to make: the difference between the President’s rhetoric and the substance of his plans is nothing short of astounding. In fact, non-partisan experts continue to claim that the President’s “public plan option” will cause as much as 120 million of Americans to lose the health insurance they already have and like. This makes it difficult to keep the insurance they like, underscoring the growing divide between the President’s promises and his policies.

The President reiterated a false choice that is damaging the open, honest health care debate that we deserve. The President frames the debate as: The government must take over the management of health care OR continue with the failed status-quo of today. He continues to challenge his critics by asking, “What is the alternative?” He knows that there are alternatives – better alternatives where the patient, not the government, is at the center of health care in America. He knows that we have introduced the Patients’ Choice Act of 2009. He knows this, and is simply hoping that the American people don’t know it. It should be noted that Democrats haven’t yet introduced a bill – we have. The Patients’ Choice Act is a real proposal with actual legislative text, demonstrating that we can have universal health insurance in this country without the government taking it over.

Another favorite refrain of the President is that entitlement reform is health care reform. With health security threatened by the unsustainable growth of Medicare and Medicaid, serious reform of these programs is no longer an option. Last year, I introduced comprehensive reforms of both programs, and yet again – nothing but rhetoric from Washington. What’s worse, the Administration’s current strategy to fixing our entitlement crisis is to add yet another entitlement program to an already unsustainable fiscal future. You can't create new government entitlements, impose trillions of dollars of new taxes, and call this cost containment. We already spend over two-and-a-half times any other country on health care. The problem is not that we don't spend enough money, but that we don't spend it efficiently or effectively.

The President highlighted innovative reforms in Wisconsin by providers and patients alike, and used these market-driven reforms to argue that the federal government should take it from there. It takes an uncomfortable faith in Washington to believe that bureaucratic waste will be replaced by innovation and efficiency if only we gave government more control. Again, there is a better path forward on health care reform, and pretending there are not alternatives is a weak argument against our proposals.

What is at stake in this health care debate is nothing short of our definition of America. The outcome of this debate will reshape, in deep and enduring ways, our nation's historic sensibilities. Will we reaffirm our first principles where the government is purposefully limited and the individual is purposefully empowered, or will we sacrifice liberty with a sense of passive security and dependence? Do we want to follow the stagnant European welfare state model, or do believe that there is something unique about our founding, something unique about America that still endures today?

President Obama made the case today in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for a government-centric approach to reforming an issue of tremendous economic and personal importance for all Americans. We will continue to make the case for an approach where patients and doctors are the nucleus of health care in America. We will continue to make the case for health care reform rooted in faith in the individual. We stand ready to engage in a serious health care debate, and are hopeful President Obama and Congressional leaders in Washington are willing to give the American people a health care debate they deserve.

Photo scavenger hunt rules now online

The Racine Camera Club has finalized the rules for its Summer Photo Scavenger Hunt.

The club seeks pictures, taken this summer, in 12 categories, and will judge them at its September meeting. Scavenger hunt rules are here. All photos must be submitted by Sept. 6, and sized no bigger than 1024 pixels on the longest edge.

There is no fee for entry; everybody is welcome to submit photos for judging. For more information, check the Racine Camera Club's website.

Some previous Racine Camera Club competition winners are HERE, HERE and HERE.

Dickert floats 'Riverview' as new name for inner city

Dating back to the campaign, Mayor John Dickert has said he doesn't like referring to central city neighborhoods as "Census Tracts 1-5." The term is generally used to mean Racine's inner city and includes about a quarter of the city's total residents. (See an example of its use here.)

Dickert is floating a new title for the inner city: The"Riverview" area. He gives two reasons for rebranding the inner city:

1. The highly technical term creates a "horrible connotation" for the area. If you think about, most suburban subdivisions have a poetic name like "Pheasant Run" or "Campbell Woods." They create a more pleasing feel than the bureaucratic "Census Tracts 1-5" that's come to signify the inner city.

2. It's stuck in the past. Dickert said he's trying to energize the entire city. Part of that, he said, will come from cutting ties with old ways of thinking.

"We have to talk about the positive things Racine offers and not all of the negativity," Dickert said. "We have to start building people's hope in Racine."

Dickert and his wife, Teresa Dickert, are spreading the name with a volunteer work session in Riverside Park on June 27 at 9 a.m. Volunteers will focus on a 30- to 40-foot embankment between the bike path and Kinzie Avenue.

They're recruiting neighborhood residents to help with the work and inviting anyone in the community to help out. If you'd like to sign-up, call the mayor's office at (262) 636-9111.

Dickert has big plans for Racine's Sister City program

Mayor John Dickert meets with the Sister City Committee on Tuesday.
Committee Chairman Al Guetzlaff sits in the left corner.

Mayor John Dickert may be looking outside of Racine – way outside of Racine – for business opportunities.

The new mayor told the city’s Sister City Committee this week that he’s hoping to expand the program and broaden its focus from cultural exchanges to business relationships.

Dickert suggested the committee study grant opportunities through the U.S. Department of Commerce to help investigate business opportunities. He’s particularly interested in connecting with cities in China, Costa Rica and Canada. Grants and business sponsorships could help pay for expanding the program, Dickert said.

But, he added he intended to consider the Sister City program in the city's upcoming budget. Dickert told committee members he wanted to make Racine’s Sister City Program “bigger and more grandiose for everybody.”

“I think there’s nothing but opportunity here,” Dickert said.

A first step for the Sister City Committee will be filling three vacancies on the 18-member board. Just six people showed up to their meeting this week.

Long-time Chairman Al Guetzlaff – he’s worked with five mayors as head of the Sister City committee – said it’s not unusual for the committee to have lulls, particularly when there are no events in the near future.

Racine was preparing to host a group of students from Oiso, Japan this summer, but the trip fell through because of concerns over the H1N1 flu.

The committee recently helped host a group of students from Montelimar, France. The students visited The Prairie School, toured Racine and spent a day in Chicago.

Guetzlaff said he hopes to find “workers” not “bench” players to fill the three vacancies. In other words, the committee needs people who are really interested in working on the program.

Racine has Sister City relationships with Oiso, Montelimar, Aalborg, Denmark, and Zapotlanejo, Mexico.

Members of the Sister City Committee include: Martine Albritton, Alderman Bob Anderson, Jay Christie, Dick Ehlert, Jerry Greenfield, Guetzlaff, Tom Kennedy, Pedro Lopez, Amy Maack, Linda O’Connell, Dwayne Olsen, Bill Pucci, Keiko Skow and Rachel Westergren.

Anyone interested in joining the Sister City Committee can contact Al Guetzlaff at: guetzlaffrev@sbcglobal.net.

June 10, 2009

New Neighborhood Walk Program set to launch on June 17th

Alderman Greg Helding and two local organizations are working together to start a "Neighborhood Walk" program to help people interested in living healthier and connecting with the community.

Helding is working with Eat Right Racine and Community for Change to start the six-week pilot program on June 17.

Free to the public, Neighborhood Walk will focus on multiple aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Starting on Wednesday, June 17, participants will meet once a week for a presentation followed by a neighborhood walk. Presentations will focus on exercise, nutrition, locally grown food, and health care. People will also be encouraged to form walking teams to keep a regular exercise routine in between meetings.

Ryan Gleason and Sandy Petrykowski of Community for Change and Amanda DeSonia of Eat Right Racine (read about Eat Right Racine here) came up with the idea earlier this year and Amanda contacted Helding to see if he would like to pilot the program in his district. Helding's is roughly bounded by Taylor Avenue, Durand Avenue, Lathrop Avenue, 20th Street and includes all of Georgetown.

“Earlier this Spring, my wife and I embarked on a mission to lead a more healthy lifestyle,” said Helding. “When Ryan and Amanda approached us about Neighborhood Walk, we were happy to help.”

Neighborhood Walk has a strong educational component, the organizers said.

“Most people want to eat healthy and stay fit,” DeSonia said. “In today’s society, that is not always easy to do. We can help people learn to make healthy eating choices and make regular exercise a part of their lives.”

Participants will learn skills such as sorting fact from fiction to find the truly healthy food at their local grocery store.

Neighborhood Walk will get people together to form walking teams and set a regular walking schedule that they will keep in between the weekly meetings and beyond.

“This is not just about education,” Gleason said. “It is about putting what we learn into action. Each meeting will conclude with a walk and we encourage everyone to walk with their neighbors between meetings.”

Helding added, “It is my hope that all of us keep walking and eating healthy long after this program is finished. A healthy lifestyle is not a goal, but a journey. Neighborhood Walk is a great way to get started on that journey.”

The public is invited to attend the first meeting to find out more details.


When: Wednesday, June 17th from 6 pm – 7 pm
Where: Humble Park Community Center, 2200 Blaine Ave., Racine, WI 53405
Cost: This event is free and open to the public. Families are welcome.

Neighborhood Walk Schedule

June 17th - The benefits of walking and cardiovascular exercise

June 24th - Nutrition and grocery shopping tips

July 1st - Field trip to a Farmers Market and discussion about locally grown produce

July 8th - Health and fitness clubs

July 15th - Kids Night

July 22nd - Urban Gardening and Food Tasting at Monument Square

All dates are Wednesdays and all sessions begin at 6pm

About Eat Right Racine

Eat Right Racine partners with community, business, agriculture and schools to develop integrated policy, education, and action for a food system that supports healthy children, communities, economies and environment.

We can be found at www.eatrightracine.org

About Community for Change

Community for Change is a comprehensive coalition of grassroots organizers committed to promoting HOPE, ACTION, and CHANGE in our world and within our community.

The members of Community for Change work together to coordinate information and resources relevant to issues of public policy, grassroots organizing, and electoral politics that directly benefit our community and enhance the lives of its residents.

We can be found at www.communityforchange.com and our online community at www.yeswecanracine.ning.com.

A note on competition

Just a quick note on competition in reporting Racine's news. We're in a really interesting race with the JT to report on the city.

The Uptown sculpture is a good example. We reported on the sculpture June 4 and the JT came back with a story today revealing the sculpture cost $40,000 (we had incorrectly reported it was donated to the city). Now we've responded with the latest story providing some background on the Uptown artist program and reporting at least one alderman is upset at the total cost.

That's the great thing about competition in the news business. Nobody ever gets the whole story the first time around. The back-and-forth of competing stories shakes out new information. It also keeps everyone honest. It's hardly a coincidence that newsroom hiring at the JT is at record highs as RacinePost and other local websites develop into a real threat to their business.

The downside for us is we liberally link to the JT and credit them for work. On the flip side, the JT never acknowledges our work despite liberally stealing our stories. Not that we blame them, but it's an interesting wrinkle in the debate over whether newspapers are fairly compensated for their stories. Newspapers claim their value is deteriorating because outside sites are linking to them (that's why there's all this chatter about charging for online news), but it's our experience that it's newspapers that steal work without so much as a link back to the original story.

Not that any of this matters to readers. Hopefully, the competition between RacinePost and the JT results in better information, coverage and insights into our community. That's certainly our goal, and hopefully that goal rubs off on our local newspaper as well.

Uptown sculpture cost $40,000;
Alderman: 'I'm not happy to hear about this'

Former Mayor Gary Becker spent $40,000 in city money to buy a sculpture from a Texas artist planning to move into Uptown's arts district.

The city used Community Development Block Grant money to purchase the bright red sculpture now placed the corner of 10th Street and Washington Ave, according to Kristin Niemiec, corridor specialist for the Racine County Economic Development Corporation.

The Uptown project received $50,000 in CDBG money in 2007, $100,000 in 2008 and $75,000 in 2009. The money was generally designated for marketing the Uptown Artist Relocation program, which was designed to attract artists to Racine.

The $40,000 figure is a stark contrast to the amount we reported following Monday's Redevelopment Authority meeting. At that meeting, I reported the sculpture was donated to the city, but apparently misunderstood. (One possibility is the sculpture didn't cost the RDA any money. Another is the sculpture was purchased with CDBG money, so it didn't come out of the city budget. In either case, the sculpture cost $40,000 and had already been purchased by the time the RDA reviewed placing it at 10th 13th St. and Washington Ave.)

I wasn't alone. Alderman Greg Helding said he believed the city purchased the sculpture for around $6,000. When told it was $40,000, he said he was upset.

"I'm not happy to hear about this," Helding said. "I assumed marketing dollars were spent on marketing, and I'm going to ask that this be looked into."

That said, Helding said he was happy with the artwork and thought it looked "cool" along Washington Avenue. He just didn't know it cost so much money.

Niemiec said it was Becker's idea to purchase the sculpture, which was created by artist NicNoblique , who considered moving to Racine after Hurricane Ike displaced him from Galveston Island, Texas. Noblique told The Journal Times he backed out of moving to Racine after Becker was arrested in an Internet sex sting.

RacinePost heard a different story from city officials, who said Noblique backed out because he couldn't afford the building. Coincidentally, the $40,000 sale price for the sculpture is 10 percent of the cost of the $400,000 building Noblique had hoped to purchase at 1526 Washington Ave. A lending program for buying buildings in Uptown requires artists to make a 10 percent down payment to qualify for the loan. Noblique told the JT he also backed out of buying the building because the interior didn't have flooring, electricity or plumbing.

Let's chalk this up to the latest questionable move by our former mayor in hopes of igniting the Uptown artist district. Becker decided to spend $40,000 in CDBG money - money that could go for any of dozens of worthy programs in the city - on a sculpture created by an out-of-town artist with no connection to Racine. (That said, Noblique has an impressive resume and could have been a strong fit for Becker's Uptown vision.)

Sadly, if the former mayor wanted to spend $40,000 on public art for Uptown he certainly could have commissioned an artist to create a piece or held a contest and attracted designs and ideas from around the country. It could have actually galvanized interest in the district instead of serving as another symbol of Becker's reckless drive to "create Uptown."

p.s. Nice work by the JT on tracking down the actual cost of the sculpture. On a minor detail, the pedestal for the sculpture cost about $3,700, and work fixing curbs and landscaping the triangle-shaped park along Washington Ave., including the pedestal, cost a total of about $15,000.

June 9, 2009

Former public health administrator criticized for delaying progress on infant mortality program

Attorney Matthew Mac Kelly (left) with Janelle Grammer (right) at Grammer's
hearing before the City Council Tuesday evening.

Embattled Public Health Administrator Janelle Grammer's trial before the City Council continued Tuesday night with bruising testimony that portrayed the department head as a nonexistent leader who gave half-hearted support to a program to prevent baby deaths.

The entire trial is playing out in public at Grammer's request. It's a stunning move given the barrage of negative testimony that's coming her way from former employees and her former boss. But the highly personal case is open to the public, including the media.

The bulk of Tuesday evening was spent on testimony from former City Administrator Ben Hughes, who Grammer accused of intimidating her for taking Family Medical Leave. A state investigator dismissed Grammer's claim.

Hughes testified that when he was hired former Administrator Steve Nenonen described Grammer as an underperforming city employee who was "in over her head." Hughes said he drew the same conclusion after working as her boss. (The JT's story from the first day of the trial also reported criticism of Grammer's job performance.)

Grammer's attorney Matthew Mac Kelly, of Milwaukee, attempted to pick apart Hughes' testimony during a two-hour cross examination. A key point was that Hughes sent Grammer a performance evaluation while Grammer was on medical leave in December 2008.

Hughes said it was only a follow-up to previous performance evaluations and was not in any way a retaliation against Grammer.

Infant Mortality Program

Regardless of the outcome of Grammer's trial, unfortunate details were released about the lack of progress in establishing a program to reduce Racine's infant mortality rate.

Dr. Teresa Johnson, of UW-Milwaukee, testified Grammer's leadership was "nonexistent" on creating the program, despite the city receiving $500,000 from the state to run the program. Johnson worked from the beginning to establish a program to review and prevent infant deaths in Racine.

"She provided no leadership whatsoever," Johnson said of Grammer.

Johnson added Grammer "slowed down" city efforts to implement the program.

Grammer's attorney entered a RacinePost article into the record as evidence that the infant mortality program was making progress under Grammer's leadership. Our article from February 2009 quotes state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, as saying the program is "moving forward" and that he's "happy" with its progress.

As background to that story, we'd been hearing that Mason wasn't happy with the progress and that he'd been working with city officials to get the infant mortality prevention program going. That was supported by a memo from Hughes stating Grammer hadn't hired nurses for the program seven months after she was first asked to make the hires.

I've been following the infant mortality committee's work in Racine because the city has the highest infant mortality rate in the state. Mason's $500,000 grant was designed to help reduce the mortality rate (aka keeping babies alive), but there seems to be relatively minor progress for a program established over a year ago.

Fortunately, the city's Health Department is now making progress, according to monthly reports to the Board of Health. At last month's meeting, Healthy Birth Outcomes Coordinator Ana Stier reported hiring two nurses to make home visits to pregnant moms, and this month the program reported 47 home visits this year and 18 total cases.

But the program is still behind schedule, Johnson testified. The city was supposed to take over data collection responsibilities by the end of 2008, but wasn't ready to take on the job, Johnson said. Instead, UW-Milwaukee retained control of the collection and then stopped altogether, because the money ran out, she said.

Acting Public Health Administrator Marcia Fernholz said Tuesday night that the city intended to resume collecting data. She added that she's seeing progress in the infant mortality program, a fact Johnson reiterated during her testimony. Johnson said the program began moving forward once Fernholz was named acting head of the Health Department.

"She was able to provide leadership," Johnson testified about Fernholz.

But Johnson said the program has been embarrassment for the city of Racine.

"I can't tell you how many times I've had to apologize in public to state leaders," she testified.

Hearing extended

To get an idea of the unusual circumstances of Grammer's hearing, no one on the City Council can remember ever holding a similar proceeding. (Usually, departing department heads reach some kind of settlement with the city and leave without demanding a trial.)

The case comes down to the city serving as prosecutor and making the case to remove Grammer, Grammer's attorney serving as the defense, the City Council is the jury and Mayor John Dickert and City Attorney Bob Weber act as judge.

The trial began Monday night and ran three hours before continuing Tuesday night for another nearly three hours. It's hardly close to finished.

The attorney representing the city said Tuesday he had six more witnesses to call and Grammer's attorney said he intended to have Grammer testify. The City Council also needs to deliberate before making a ruling.

The trial is expected to continue Thursday evening and probably extend into Friday. Alderman Aron Wisneski suggested it should continue into Saturday, if needed.

Dickert initially suggested to the council that the trial continue on June 24th and 25th, but Alderman Bob Mozol objected, saying the case should be finished as quickly as possible. Aldermen Terry McCarthy and Wisneski backed up Mozol, the lawyers got together and agreed to push on this week. (They couldn't continue Wednesday because a meeting could not be legally posted 24 hours in advance.)

Thursday's session is expected to start earlier - probably around 5:30 p.m. - to allow more testimony to be squeezed into the evening. The trial will resume with Mac Kelly's cross examination of Dr. Johnson, followed by the city's witnesses.

21st Century Prep promotes its latest 8th graders

For just the third time ever, Racine's 21st Century Preparatory School held a promotion ceremony.

On Tuesday, the charter school that began life as a K-4 school in 2002, adding a grade a year until it became K-8, sent its third class of eighth graders off to high school. There were 28 in all, about half of whom entered the school as second graders when it opened. The promotion ceremony was held in the Communication Arts Theatre at UW-Parkside; the school's charter was issued by UW-P.

Above, proud father Stephen Ogungbe, takes a picture of his daughter, Faith, alongside 8th grade Social Studies teacher Brian Gaudio, who began his teaching career two years ago, with this year's class. Faith was an honor graduate who received the President's Award for Educational Excellence, having earned a perfect 4.0 record. She moved here from Nigeria in 1998, and entered 21st Century Prep in the third grade. Now she's off to Prairie School.

As the promotion ceremony ended, graduates and guests were treated to a short film incorporating pictures of the students when they were young (er) ... and as they are today. Here are a few examples:

Police asking help in locating missing young woman

Police are asking for help in locating an 18-year-old woman of diminished capacity who has been missing since May 26.

Missing is Carrie M. Mack, who goes by the nickname "MeMe." She is an African American, 5'4" tall, weighing about 180. Her last known address is 4121 13th St.; she was last seen on the near south side and Jacato Drive areas.

She is described as non-violent, but may or may not be taking her required medications, which contributes to her endangered status, according to her mother, Carol Brown.

Anyone seeing her is asked to call the Racine Police Department Investigations Unit at 635-7756, or Crimestoppers at 636-9330, or by texting to CRIMES (274637) and referring to Tipsoft I.D.# TIP417 with your text message.

Last chance for GM's Janesville plant?

U.S. Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold and Reps. Tammy Baldwin and Paul Ryan will meet with executives from General Motors Wednesday, to discuss the automaker's recently-closed plant in Janesville.

Troy Clarke, head of GM’s North American Division, and Tim Lee, vice president of manufacturing, will attend the meeting, in Kohl's office at 1:15 p.m. Last week it was announced that the Janesville plant was one of three GM facilities under consideration for retooling to make small cars.

The meeting will give members of Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation an opportunity to make the case for GM’s Janesville plant and its workers. The 90-year-old truck assembly plant, with 1,300 workers, shut down in April.

No tornado siren outages reported Monday, officials say

Severe weather approaching Monday. Photo/Pete Selkowe

A RacinePost reader sent us an email saying she didn't hear a tornado siren Monday during the severe storms in the county. She lives on the north side near the Racine Zoo. I can attest the alarms went off Monday on the south side, so we checked with city and county officials to see if any sirens were out.

The answer: probably not.

David Maack, Racine County emergency management coordinator, said he received no reports of sirens out on Monday. Maack, a Racine alderman whose district is on the city's north side, said it's not surprising someone didn't hear a siren. They're not designed to be heard inside of homes, and the storm could have masked the alarm. Also, Maack noted all sirens in Racine County are triggered by the Sheriff's Department at the same time. So, a severe storm on the west end can result in sirens going off on the east end of the county, even if there's no severe weather on the east end.

I suspect that's what happened Monday. We heard the tornado alarm go off Monday while it was still sunny outside. When we turned the TV on, severe weather was reported on the northwest end of the county.

Maack said Racine County's sirens were turned off Monday prior to severe weather alerts on TV.

Tom Eeg, assistant commissioner of public works for the city of Racine, said the tornado sirens in the city were tested and repaired last week. A few sirens had to have batteries replaced, he said.

Eeg said he received no reports of siren outages Monday.

Uptown photos: Progress on arts district, sculpture placed and Brantner's exterior

Arts District coming along

Work is progressing on the city-owned building at 1526 Washington Ave. The new second-story windows look great and Katt Construction is well on its way to transforming the building into an attractive store front. (See the building pre-construction here.) Next up is exterior work on 1418 Washington Ave. down the street.

Sculpture placed
Uptown's new sculpture was placed on Tuesday. The 9 1/2-foot tall sculpture, donated to the city by artist Nic Noblique, sits on a 2-foot-8-inch pedestal at the corner of Washington Ave and 13th St. (See our post here.)

We're overdue on this, but Brantner's new storefront at 10th and Washington Ave. looks great.

Showing Progress: Four Unified schools improve scores to avoid state rebuke

Racine Unified showed encouraging results Tuesday on a state test designed to measure "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) for public schools around the state.

But even though four Unified schools showed improvement this year after falling short in 2007-08, Superintendent James Shaw said the district still had work to do.

"The district is not currently where it needs to be in terms of academic progress, but I believe that the district is poised to develop a comprehensive strategy to improve mathematics achievement at all schools," Shaw said in a prepared statement. "The development of our North Star vision has given the district the framework to ensure that all students graduate career and/or college ready."

Here's a breakdown of Unified's results:

The Good

Racine Unified as a whole received "satisfactory status" from the state Department of Public Instruction. The district had missed AYP the year before.

Goodland and Wadewitz Elementary Schools and Mitchell Middle School missed AYP in the prior year but met AYP this year. They're designated to be in satisfactory status.

McKinley Middle School also met AYP and is designated as Improved. However, the school must meet AYP for two years in a row to be removed from the "Schools Identified for Improvement" (SIFI) list.

Criteria for "satisfactory status" include:
  • 95 percent of enrolled students must take the state's standardized test
  • Elementary and middle schools must have an attendance rate of 85 percent
  • High schools must have a graduation rate of 80 percent
  • Schools must have a reading proficiency index score of 74 percent
  • Schools must have a math proficiency index score of 58 percent

The four schools that made AYP this year after missing it in the prior year all took part in Unified's "Data Retreat" during August 2008. Knapp, which missed AYP in one category, and Gilmore also participated in the retreat, which will be expanded to all of Unified's schools this year, according to the district.

The data-driven model is part of Superintendent James Shaw's plan to create a "data warehouse" for teachers, parents, students and the public to access Unified student data to evaluate public education in our community. The hope is putting data in people's hands will help them identify and solve problems, leading to better results.

Shaw talked about this on his blog. We reported on plans for a data warehouse here. A district-wide "data retreat" is scheduled for August where school districts from around the country will present the strategies they used to dramatically improve student achievement and close achievement gaps.

The Not-So Good

Two schools missed AYP this year in one or more areas for the first time. Jerstad-Agerholm Middle School missed AYP in reading and Gilmore Middle School missed in reading and math. These schools are designated satisfactory because they missed these areas for only one year.

Four schools continue in SIFI status. Case and Horlick High Schools missed in three areas, reading, math, and graduation rate. Park High School missed in math, graduation rate, and test participation.

Knapp Elementary was designated as a SIFI this year after missing AYP in math for two years in a row. Since Knapp is a Title I school, sanctions will apply and the school must meet AYP for two years in a row to be removed from the SIFI list. Sanctions include development of a school improvement plan (which is already a district requirement for all schools) and providing Knapp students with the option to transfer to another public school within Racine Unified.

Unified noted about Knapp's scores: "Knapp missed AYP for only one demographic group in math. The school did in fact make AYP across the other twenty-eight categories of the Wisconsin formula for determining AYP."

Unified said in a prepared statement plans are already underway to improve Knapp.
District administration will assist and support Knapp Elementary students and staff through a three-step process. Administrators began planning with central office staff last Friday and will conduct an Administrative Services Center (ASC) Data Retreat this week to create a school assistance plan for Knapp.

ASC staff will meet with Knapp staff next week to explain and discuss next steps. A meeting with Knapp parents will take place within two weeks. Further strategies which may be employed will include developing a more rigorous math curriculum, providing student tutors and teacher coaches, smaller class sizes, extended time for instruction, and best practices regarding parent engagement.
What else is being done

Unified officials saw hope for all of the district's schools in the results achieved by McKinley and Mitchell Middle Schools and Goodland and Wadewitz Elementary schools.

The district is also working on implementing a more rigorous reading and math curriculum for first and second-grade special education students. The inclusive practices will be expanded to more grades in future years.

And, the district is also rolling out a new research-based math program for sixth- to eighth-graders next year.

New fire station proposed for Durand Ave and Memorial Drive

Racine Fire Chief Steve Hansen hopes to use federal stimulus money to build a new fire station near Durand Avenue and Memorial Drive.

The chief proposed the idea Monday night while seeking permission from the City Council's Personnel and Finance Committee to apply for $2.5 million in stimulus money to build the new station. It would cost the city about $500,000, Hansen said.

If the money comes together, the Fire Department would move Station 6, 2101 16th St., to the south side location, Hansen said. There is plenty of land - including city-owned land - available near Durand and Memorial for use, he said.

The current Station 6 was built in 1973 as a temporary building in anticipation of the city growing to the south, Hansen said. The station was actually built as a residence with a garage for fire trucks. If a new station is built, the old station could be converted into a home or possibly a community-oriented policing (COP) house, he said.

Hansen said the major reason for moving the station is concern about coal trains rolling through the city. We Energies' two new coal-fired generators are set to go online this year and next. Both will require longer trains that will have the potential to block intersections and delay emergency response times from Station 6, Hansen said.

Moving the station south will add 30 seconds to response times in the neighborhoods along 16th, 17th and 18th streets, Hansen said. But it will give fire and rescue workers direct a route under the railroad tracks on Durand Avenue to Racine Street. As it stands, if a train is running, fire trucks and ambulances would have to drive from 16th Street south to Durand to get around the train.

Hansen added that the train companies use the tracks through Racine to stage their cars heading toward the power plant. That means the long trains slow down and take even longer to clear intersections.

"They do that at 2-3 a.m.," Hansen said, "but we have fire and rescue calls at 2-3 a.m."

Committee members approved Hansen's request to apply for the grant, but were noncommittal about using the money if it comes through.

Alderman Mike Shields asked Hansen if he'd considered what would happen to the old fire station if the city built a new one.

"If we're going to spend $500,000 we don't want to see that neighborhood deteriorate," Shields said. "If we spend $500,000 we want to see everything come up together."

The grant for the new fire station isn't a guarantee, Hansen said. Racine would compete with communities around the country for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Assistance to Fire Fighters Fire Station Construction Grant. The money would be available through the Department of Homeland Security.

The grant requires a 20 percent match from the city. Hansen suggested the money could be borrowed as part of the city's capital improvement program. He said city officials should know if they will receive the federal grant in time to include the matching dollars in next year's budget.

"We can always turn down the grant," Hansen said. "I'm not asking to accept, just to apply."

Alderman Tom Friedel made a motion to allow Hansen to apply. The committee voted unanimously in favor of the proposal, which still needs approval from the full City Council.

June 8, 2009

Journalist starts Union Grove-area news website

Another local news website has stuck its toe into the Southeastern Wisconsin cybersphere. RacinePost is no longer alone!

The new arrival is Know More, and its proprietor, Denise Lockwood of Racine, focuses on Union Grove, Yorkville and Raymond. Her site is full of photo slide shows and local reporting -- and newsfeed links from the Journal Sentinel and Journal Times.

A sample of Know More's photography; more here.

A journalist for 10 years, her most recent job was at the Kenosha News. She was laid off last October during a 20 percent newsroom reduction. Lockwood has covered news in a lot of area communities: Kenosha, West Allis, Franklin, Muskego, Cedarburg and Union Grove. She's now freelancing for Milwaukee Magazine, Southern Lakes Newspapers, Conley Publishing, and Prime Magazine (a new magazine from the Kenosha News).

After being laid off, Lockwood went to the Poynter Institute in Florida, a journalism think-tank and training center, to learn how to do multimedia reporting. "Since then," she says, "I've discovered a number of traditional smaller news organizations have been reluctant to do two things... larger enterprise reporting stories and web-based stuff. So I started my own site, but I also still have many freelance gigs actively going on.

"My old job at the Westine is actually open, but because of the economy and my availability they've decided to use me as a freelancer and I'm writing five stories a week. There are four communities and five school districts, so there's a hole there that needs to be filled. This is actually an experiment of sorts. I'm wondering if a community like Union Grove, Yorkville and Raymond can support a site like this. If so, great; if not, I have other ideas.

"I might also start one for West Allis because I know Community Newspapers used to have 23 papers and 100 in staff, then they went to 16 papers and 50 staff and now they are three papers and 20 staff.This breaks my heart"

In an early post she laments that the discussion about newspapers' economic woes mostly revolves around their declining ad revenues. "The discussion surrounding newspapers needs to move beyond academia and industry circles because if it does not move into a community discussion, there are some very real consequences as those sources of knowledge disappear.

"What price do we pay when no one is covering local issues? ...I wonder how many other journalists have ever been the only one at the school board meeting, the plan commission meeting, the city council or the county board meeting besides the elected officials. What price will our businesses and our community member pay if we don't demand strong journalism?"

Lockwood hopes to support her site with advertising. To place an ad, or continue the discussion, you can email her here.

Lehman wants teen drivers off their cell phones

State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, proposes to take a baby-step forward, adding his support to a bill that would ban cell phone use by "minors driving with a probationary license or instructional permit." First offense carries a $20 - $40 fine.

HELLO? Could this be any less effective? What about all the distracted adults who drive while talking on cell phones? How dangerous are they?

We've sent a query to Lehman, asking him why the bill doesn't go further -- banning all cell phone use by anyone driving any moving vehicle would make sense to us -- and will print his response as soon as we hear from him. In the meantime, here's his press release:
Madison – Senator John Lehman (D-Racine) joined Representative Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay) and Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) in introducing legislation to restrict cellular phone use by minors who are driving with a probationary license or instructional permit.

“Drivers under the age of 20 account for 7% of the driving population but are involved in 14% of fatal accidents,” Lehman said. “There are enough distractions for inexperienced teen drivers without having phone conversations behind the wheel.”

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that the risk of an accident quadruples during a cell phone call. Another study, conducted by the University of Utah, concludes that driving while talking on a cell phone can be as bad as driving drunk.

The legislation (LRB-0978/2) would provide an exemption for emergency calls and would impose a $20 to $40 fine for the first offense. The bill is currently being circulated for cosponsorship.

Life after SCJ is souper for William Perez

Life after SC Johnson is turning out souper for William Perez, after all. He's just been elected to the board of directors of the Campbell Soup Co.

The former SCJ chief executive officer left here in 2004 to become CEO of Nike -- a job that lasted only 13 months but earned him an $11 million severance payment (and stock options). Then in 2006 he became CEO of gum maker Wrigley -- which soon was sold to candy maker Mars. That, too, produced a big payday: at least $28 million, according to Corporate Dealmaker.

Was Pledge ever this lucrative?

Car vs. motorcycle accident on North Main Street

Local photographer Kevin J. Barz was on the scene Sunday of a car vs. motorcycle accident on North Main Street by the Racine Zoo. One woman was injured and taken to the hospital. Both people on the motorcycle were wearing their helmets. Here are the photos:

June 7, 2009

Signs and license plates add the personal touch

Sometimes, a car lacks just a pinch of customization ... that a decal, or maybe a personalized license plate, can provide. Here are some of the ways Hot Rod Power Tour owners sent another message about themselves...