June 20, 2009

Lighthouse Run 2009

After a few days of rain, the weather turned perfect (OK, maybe it was a little warm for the runners) Saturday morning for the 2009 Lighthouse Run in Downtown Racine. Here are photos taken before, during and after the race, which featured four-mile and 10-mile competitive runs and tw0- and four-mile fun runs and walks. (These photos were taken during the four-mile fun run.)

A huge crowd mills around the starting line waiting for the cannon to announce the start of the 10-mile race.

And they're off!

Hundreds (thousands?) packed Lake Street for the fun run and walk.

Team ORZC starts the fun run. The Zen meditation center's motto was, "When we're not running, we sit."

A runner cross the Root River ...

Leaders in the four-mile competitive race were coming back while the fun-runners turned the corner onto Main St.

Another four-miler ...

One of the youngest competitors gets a cool down from volunteers spraying a hose near the Racine Zoo.

A few costumed characters took part ...

... that's a giant bee!

Here's a 10-miler cruisin' with about two miles to go.

Working hard ...

Ah, the finish is in sight!

The crowd cheered for the 10-milers crossing the finish line.

Afterward, people milled the streets and enjoyed a brilliant summer day! See The Journal Times' for stories about race winners. We were too far behind to keep track of them!

June 19, 2009

Dickert plans a fundraiser for June 25

Mayor John Dickert is wasting no time in gearing up for the 2011 election.

His campaign is holding a fundraiser on Thursday, June 25 from 5-7 p.m. at Infusino's, 3201 Rapids Drive.

An invitation to the event lists "Host - $500," "Sponsor - $250," and "Supporter - $100." It also says, "All contributions are appreciated."

Dickert, elected mayor on May 5, is serving out former Mayor Gary Becker's four-year term. He has less than two years to build an advantage over potential challengers, including several sitting aldermen and candidates who ran in this spring's special election. Building up a sizable campaign warchest is one way to discourage opponents from entering the race.

SC Johnson cancels profit-sharing

SC Johnson canceled its June and December profit-sharing bonuses for employees. The announcement amounts to significant pay cuts for employees, who have received the twice-yearly bonuses for decades.

SC Johnson started its profit-sharing program in 1917. Fortune magazine reported in 2006 that profit-sharing added 19 percent to employees' salaries at all levels of the company. (One story that may be more local legend than fact is that car dealerships stayed open late on SCJ's profit-sharing days because employees would show up and pay cash for new cars.) It's unclear if SCJ has ever canceled profit sharing. The company did famously start its pension program in the teeth of the Great Depression.

The news was not necessarily a surprise for SCJ employees. Company executives had previously warned employees that the economy threatened profit-sharing this year.

Here's a statement from SC Johnson Spokesperson Jennifer Taylor about the company's financial health:
As a privately held company, we don't typically discuss financial matters. We are fortunate however that during this difficult and unpredictable economic time, unlike many companies, SC Johnson remains financially healthy. We continue to invest in the business to remain strong for the long term. In the end, that is what is best for the people of SC Johnson and for our community.

In fact, SC Johnson’s profitability and our balance sheet are such that we still have an A- long term debt rating, which is considered very strong. This debt rating information is publicly available so I figured I would provide it to you. Bottom line, SC Johnson remains profitable, and this is a year where we’re investing in our business.

June 18, 2009

Is NOT too cold for the beach!

OK, it barely hit the 60s Thursday, and lifeguards said Lake Michigan was in the 50s: too cold for adults to enjoy swimming. But that was plenty warm enough for kids to have lots of fun at North Beach.

There was some swimming and splashing, of course, and lots of running, digging and all the other sand- and beach-based activities that we've been missing for so many months, as summer took its time arriving. But, for these lucky kids anyway, it's here!

Kayli Rossman, 8 1/2, helps Brian Wakefield, 8,
bury his sister, Brittany, 13, in the sand

And then there was dunking...

...and dancing...

...and digging.

RUSD, REA announce school calendar changes

The big news from Racine Unified Wednesday was the addition of a school holiday to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. But, it turns out, there was a lot more to the school calendar changes. RUSD sent out a release Thursday afternoon -- in conjunction with the Racine Education Association, the teachers' union, whose agreement was required for other changes.

Here's the complete scoop on the next two years' school calendar.
The Racine Education Association (REA) and the Racine Unified School District (RUSD) are proud to announce an agreement has been reached between the two organizations regarding the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school year calendars. Negotiations between the teachers’ union and the district are still ongoing, and the School Board will hold a ratification vote on the final contract that will include the mutually agreed upon calendar upon the completion of contract negotiations.

Some of the important notable points regarding the agreed upon calendar for the 2009-2010 school year are:
  • Open houses for elementary and middle school families will be held on the evening of Monday, Aug.. 31, to allow students and parents/guardians to meet teachers prior to the start of school. Open houses had previously been held at the end of September or beginning of October.
  • The first day of school will be Sept. 1 which is before the Labor Day holiday. School will not be in session on Monday, Sept. 7 so staff and students can celebrate the Labor Day holiday.
  • There will be no school on Monday, Jan. 18, in celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. School will be in session on Monday, Jan. 25, which had been a Records Day in which school was not in session.
  • A winter break day has been scheduled for Feb. 26. This day could be used to make up any inclement weather days.
  • Schools will now have early release days for staff professional development instead of late start. On the following days all schools will release students two hours early: Sept. 18, Oct. 16, Nov. 13, Jan. 15, March 19 and May 14. In addition, elementary school students will be released three hours early on: Dec. 11 and Feb. 12 to allow for staff professional development.
  • Parent teacher conferences will be held as has been past practice in November before Thanksgiving Recess, and schools will add 2nd semester parent teacher conferences in March. Parent teacher conferences for families with students in grades 4K-5 will be held on March 4 and March 5. Elementary students will be dismissed two hours early on March 4 and will not have school on March 5. Middle and high school students will have a two hour early release on March 4 to allow for parent teacher conferences.

  • Nicholas Whitman, executive director of the REA, stated, “The completion of the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 calendars is a significant milestone. These calendars address many issues of considerable concern to REA’s leaders and members. The increased number of parent-teacher conferences should allow more parents to become involved in their children’s education. The early release days will allow employees access to the professional development and common planning time that are necessary to fully access the opportunities reflected in the jointly created North Star vision statement. And, the calendars provide an opportunity for REA to honor Dr. King, a legendary civil rights leader and employee rights advocate.”

    Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jim Shaw said “the calendar was developed cooperatively between the REA and district representatives. The calendar is designed to improve education by increasing professional development time for staff, honoring diversity, and by responding to families’ requests to build in inclement weather days and return to early release days.”

Backtrack: Senate budget endangers KRM,
cuts bus funding for Racine

KRM commuter rail's prospects dimmed Thursday with passage of the Senate's budget.

The Democratic-led body made a series of potentially fatal changes to the version passed by the State Assembly (which is also controlled by Democrats), decisions that place the state at odds with the Federal Transit Authority, which would provide the bulk of the money needed to extend the commuter rail line from Kenosha to Milwaukee with stops in Racine and Caledonia.

In fact, Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, told us, "The Senate version won't be approved by the federal government and will stop KRM in its tracks."

The Senate's budget calls for a $16 rental car tax to pay for commuter rail and a 1 per cent increase in Milwaukee County's sales tax to pay for the county's buses and parks. The Assembly had raised the $16 rental tax approved by the Legislature's Joint Finance committee to $18 and agreed to a 0.65 per cent sales tax for Milwaukee County.

But the Senate took out a key provision that required half of the Milwaukee sales tax increase to be dedicated to mass transit and rejected the Assembly's call for $1 of the rental car tax to help pay for Racine's and Kenosha's buses. (Read the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's comparison of the Senate and Assembly budgets here. The section on transportation begins on Page 90.)

In addition, says Mason, "They literally prohibited Milwaukee County from participating in a southeast county RTA, which the Federal Transit Authority says is absolutely necessary."

The moves could kill KRM because they defy requirements laid out by the FTA. There's a consensus that the Assembly version of the KRM plan, which was based on the Joint Finance version, was acceptable to the federal government, but changes like the ones approved the Senate would be unacceptable. In essence, the Senate is trying to kill KRM with its budget.

The Senate KRM proposal specifically hurts Racine because the city would have benefited from having a portion of the rental car tax supporting the city's bus system, thus helping the city's budget. Bus systems are an important part of commuter rail because trains do little good without solid mass transit to get people to and from the train station.

We called Sen. John Lehman's office Thursday afternoon for comment, but a legislative aide said he was still reviewing the comparison between the Senate and Assembly budgets.

Kerry Thomas, executive director of Transit NOW, said the Senate version "really diminishes the KRM project. If you put in commuter rail you have to have interconnected buses. The Assembly version offered a solid foundation; what the Senate did is take away some of the things that really worked for Racine and Kenosha. removing the interconnectedness."

She pointed out that Lehman "was very much behind the Assembly version, but there are many more senators in Milwaukee." Still, she offered one bit of optimism: "It's not like the Senate version is what we're stuck with; there's still got to be a conference committee..."

Here's the Fiscal Bureau's comparison of the Senate and Assembly provisions:
Assembly: Rename the KRM Authority, in the Joint Finance substitute amendment, the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SERTA). Specify that SERTA is the only entity in Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Racine counties that could apply to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for federal transit funding assistance. Also, specify that the Milwaukee Transit Authority and operators of any transit system in Kenosha or Racine counties that is eligible to receive state mass transit operating assistance and develops a plan for a transit project that requires FTA approval, would be required to submit such plans and federal funding applications to SERTA, rather than directly to the FTA.

Increase the vehicle rental fee from $16 to $18 per rental transaction (the vehicle rental fee could continue to be indexed annually as under Joint Finance). Specify that revenues equal to the amount derived from $1 of the vehicle rental fee would be provided both to the City of Kenosha and the City of Racine for their respective transit systems if each city generates new funds to match the vehicle rental tax revenues. Specify that SERTA would only be allowed to provide Kenosha and Racine revenues from the vehicle rental fee if the cities have demonstrated that they have established a new funding source to produce matching funds for those revenues. Allow for revenues equivalent to up to $2 of the vehicle rental fee to be used for SERTA administration. Specify that the remaining revenues from the vehicle rental fee could be used for costs related to the KRM commuter rail project, including the planning, engineering, construction, maintenance, and operation of the project.

Specify that no municipality within Kenosha or Racine counties, other than the cities of Kenosha and Racine, would be allowed to have a stop on the KRM commuter rail line unless the municipality provides a sustainable funding mechanism to contribute to the existing Kenosha or Racine transit systems.

Modify the appointments to the SERTA board by specifying that the Kenosha County board chair, rather than the Kenosha County Executive, would appoint the Kenosha County member to the board.

Specify that SERTA would be an eligible applicant for the southeastern Wisconsin transit capital assistance program that would be created under the Joint Finance substitute amendment.

Require that the KRM commuter rail project include a stop in the City of Milwaukee at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Bay Street.
Here's the Senate budget:
Senate: Rename the KRM Authority, as proposed in the Joint Finance substitute amendment, the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SERTA). Modify the appointments to the SERTA board by specifying that the Kenosha County board chair, rather than the Kenosha County Executive, would appoint the Kenosha County member to the board. Specify that SERTA would be an eligible applicant for the southeastern Wisconsin transit capital assistance program that would be created under the Joint Finance substitute amendment. Require that the KRM commuter rail project include a stop in the City of Milwaukee at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Bay Street.

Kohl: r texting fees a 4cast of costs yet 2 cum?

Last September, Sen. Herb Kohl raised Cain with the four largest cellphone companies, writing them a letter complaining about the rising cost of text messaging. He also wondered whether any collusion might be afoot, in that as soon as one company raised its price, why a few days later the others followed suit. Imagine that!

That was then, this is now. Gas prices are back over $3 a gallon, and rising; cigarettes cost $6 a pack; Wisconsin may raise the tax on beer; millions of Americans have lost their jobs and retirement savings -- and Kohl, D-Wisconsin, is still banging the high-cost-of-text-messaging drum. In fact, he just held a congressional hearing on the issue; it's that important to him.

No doubt, if I had a cellphone and well-trained thumbs, I'd care more about this. Frankly, I'm still trying to get my head around the image of the 74-year-old Kohl -- a multi-millionaire -- himself texting and worrying about the cost. OMG!

Anyway, here's his latest screed on the subject:
By Senator Herb Kohl

With more than 270 million subscribers, cell phones are a vital means of communications for the vast majority of Americans. The enormous growth in the use of cell phones means that maintaining competition in this industry is more important than ever.

Cell phones enable instantaneous communications for millions wherever they are located, whether at work, at home, away from home, in their car, or anywhere in between. Many Americans – over 20% -- have now discarded traditional land line phones and depend entirely on cell phones. The ease, convenience, and universal nature of today’s cell phone service would have been unimaginable just two decades ago.

For many years as this industry developed, it was a competition success story – with many rivals and vigorous price competition. In recent years, however, the picture has changed. Consolidation has left this industry highly concentrated. Four national carriers now control over 90% of the cell phone market. AT&T and Verizon combine to have a market share of 60%. Consumers’ choices have become quite limited, and price wars seem to be a thing of the past. American consumers pay more for wireless phone service than most other developed nations – an average of $506 per year in 2007.

Nowhere is the changed market for cell phones more noticeable than in text message service. These short, instant messages delivered via cell phones have become enormously popular. In 2008, more than one trillion text messages were sent, more than triple the number just two years before. As their popularity has grown, so has the price charged on a per message basis.

From 2006 to 2008, the price of sending and receiving a text message among the four largest cell phone carriers increased by 100% -- from 10 to 20 cents per message. The four companies increased their text messaging prices in two steps -- first from 10 to 15 cents, and then from 15 to 20 cents -- within months or weeks of each other. These lockstep price increases occurred despite the fact that the cost to the phone companies to carry text messages is minimal – estimated to be less than a penny per message – and has not increased.

I convened a hearing on this issue at the Antitrust Subcommittee a few days ago to try get to the bottom of this. At the hearing, the phone companies defended these price increases by asserting that they have not been coordinated in any respect. They also pointed out that the majority of cell phone customers do not pay for text messages on a per message basis, but instead buy plans for “buckets” of text messages, typically starting at $5 for 200 messages. But is this simply a method to force consumers into expensive plans they would not have needed if the per message rate hadn’t gone up?

Nonetheless, these sharp price increases raise concerns. Are these price increases the result of a lack of competition in a highly concentrated market? Will consumers continue to see similar price increases for this and many other wireless services that they have come to increasingly depend on, such as internet connections and basic voice service? Do text message price increases represent a canary in the coal mine for the state of competition in the cell phone industry as a whole?

The concentrated nature of today’s cell phone market should make us wary of other challenges to competition in this industry. It is imperative that we work to remove undue barriers to competition to ensure consumers the best rates and services.

As Grammer trial drags on, questions about her hopeful outcome

One question looms over Janelle Grammer’s show trial before the City Council: What does the city’s public health administrator hope to accomplish?

Grammer’s increasingly bizarre trial rolled through its third day Wednesday minus an attorney. Grammer dismissed her counsel and pushed ahead representing herself. The decision dismantled any pretense of a formal hearing and created the sad display of a disgraced manager trying to settle personal scores while the city’s attorney laid out serious, systematic problems with the agency responsible for protecting Racine’s public health.

The bombshell of the night came from Jeff Schmidt, an epidemiologist in charge of the city’s STD clinic. Schmidt laid out a series of problems that undermined local resources to test and treat people for sexually transmitted diseases over the past two years. Schmidt attributed the clinic’s decline to Grammer’s poor leadership.

Problems began in mid-2006 when the nurse practitioner who worked at the STD clinic asked for her first raise in three years, Schmidt said. Grammer didn’t respond to the request for a couple of months, and then the nurse-practitioner left after the eventual offer was too low, he said.

That left the STD clinic understaffed, but Grammer failed to move at finding a replacement, Schmidt said. The position remained unfilled a year later – Grammer scheduled one interview in eight months – and the city outsourced the clinic to the Racine Family Health Clinic at St. Luke’s Hospital.

But once RFHC took over the clinic it didn’t follow federal standards for treating people with STDs or signs of STDs, Schmidt said. For example, people showing signs of an STD are supposed to be treated under federal guidelines. While the city followed those guidelines, the RFHC sent some home without treatment, increasing the risk of STDs spreading in the community. In one case, a patient went in with genital warts but wasn’t tested or treated for other STDs, again increasing the risk of spreading the diseases. In one email cited during testimony Schmidt wrote: “This is horrible public health.”

The issue is particularly acute for Racine because the city has the second highest number of STDs in Wisconsin behind only Milwaukee.

Schmidt testified he raised dozens concerns about how RFHC was running the clinic, but was ignored by Grammer and doctors who said he was upset the clinic was taken away from the city. He described Grammer’s leadership and communication skills as poor.

It was also pointed out that the STD clinic – formally known as the Sexually Transmitted Infection Clinic - was brought back under city control during Grammer’s absence as public health administrator. The clinic, which returned to the city in May, is now open Mondays and Wednesdays (call 262-636-9498 for times). Marcia Fernholz is serving as interim director pending the outcome of Grammer’s trial.

Grammer tried to refute Schmidt’s allegations by claiming he was unaware of a series of conversations she had with top city officials, including former Mayor Gary Becker, that tied her hands. The exchange seemed to summarize a major part of Grammer’s defense. She’s alleging her bosses placed her in an impossible position to run her department.

Grammer also gave a glimpse of personal strife she’s endured in recent years. In a series of odd questions, she asked Schmidt if he knew her father was critically ill, if he knew she had power of attorney in the matter and if he knew she had to make the decision to resuscitate her father.

“Do you think there might have been more on my plate?” Grammer asked Schmidt.

Visibly confused by the questions, Schmidt responded: “I don’t know how to respond to that.”

At 8:58 p.m., nearly four hours into Wednesday’s hearing, Grammer heavily sighed into the microphone. Her frustration echoed through the silent City Council chambers and did well to summarize the general feeling in the room.

The city’s attorney, Michael Cohen of Meissner Tierney Fisher & Nichols in Milwaukee, has four more witnesses to call before handing the hearing over to Grammer, who can then call her own witnesses. That all means a long trial will drag on at least another day, if not more.

City Clerk Janice Johnson-Martin brought sandwiches, snacks and sodas Wednesday for the City Council, which is serving as the jury in determining Grammer’s fate. The council has already met at least 11 hours on the matter and still has to spend time debating the case’s merits.

It’s not helping that Grammer admitted on her own that she’s not much of an attorney. She started dozens of questions with the phrase, “Are you aware …” and struggled to cross-examine witnesses that spent much of their testimony trashing her reputation. The fact that the whole proceeding is occurring in public – at Grammer’s request – adds a circus atmosphere to the event.

No matter the outcome – the city needs 12 votes from the City Council and the mayor – to remove Grammer as a department head. It’s highly likely that they’ll vote to fire her, but as a member of Racine’s Board of Health wondered, if Grammer does keep her job, how will she ever be able to lead the department?

June 17, 2009

Congressmen will meet with Chrysler exec

In my old age, I've become pretty cynical about ... well, about most everything.

But especially about government. So when I see an obvious problem -- oh, the closing of Chrysler's Kenosha engine plant, for example -- and then see my elected representatives' efforts to solve it -- oh, writing a letter of protest to the company, for example -- I usually just mutter something unprintable and turn the page.

Well, now our Representatives are going to meet with Chrysler executives. That'll solve everything.

Um, didn't they just meet last week with GM about keeping the Janesville truck plant open? Yes.

None of this venting is meant to imply there's an easy answer. On the one hand, these are businesses that ought to operate profitably. On the other, government has been known to throw a few crumbs in their direction, to sweeten the pot, provide jobs and economic development. Which is why Gov. Doyle today slipped an envelope into GM execs' pockets, hoping to out-bid at least two other states wanting an operating car factory. As yet, no word what was in the envelope, but bidding was thought to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Here's the press release on our reps' Chrysler sit-down. Don't stop looking for work.
WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold and Representatives Paul Ryan and Gwen Moore will meet with Chrysler Group LLC Deputy CEO Jim Press in Washington on Thursday, June 18th, at 2 pm eastern time regarding the future of the engine plant in Kenosha. The meeting will take place in Kohl’s Senate office in room 330 of the Hart Senate Building.

The Kenosha plant is scheduled to shut down in October of 2010. This meeting will give the delegation the opportunity to talk to Chrysler and make the case for keeping the Kenosha plant open.

Last month, Wisconsin Congressional delegation members called on the Chair of the Automotive Task Force at the Treasury Department to employ a Department of Energy (DoE) technology program to keep the Kenosha Chrysler plant open. The DoE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program provides grants and low-interest loans to help U.S. automakers retool existing factories to produce fuel efficient engines and parts. Last year, Congress appropriated $25 billion for this program.

The letter our reps wrote them is here.

Sixth St's Blueberries temporarily closed

Blueberries Eatery on Sixth St. is temporarily closed pending the restaurant's move across the street.

Owner Lauren Bell gave Downtown business owners the news on Tuesday during their monthly Downtown Connections meeting. The cafe, which opened in 2008, closed over problems with the utility bills at the former Century Market Building.

Bell said she paid her share, but gas was turned off to the building due to problems with other tenants. A now defunct night club and La Terraza, Mexican restaurant, are also in the building.

Bell said Blueberries (read a review here) is moving across Sixth St. to the former Wilbur's BBQ at 515 Sixth St. She also warned the business owners that she's petitioning for an existing liquor license, but only to sell bloody mary's and mimosas, drinks she described as "breakfast booze."

"I'm not interested in running a third-shift bar," Bell said.

Look for Blueberries to re-open in the fall around the time work on Sixth Street is finished.

What was Gary Becker hiding?
$10,274.28 will provide some answers

What else was Gary Becker hiding?

Our former mayor quietly (if not secretly) negotiated a deal with SC Johnson to save the company hundreds of thousand of dollars per year and net the city hundreds of thousands of dollars for Becker's Uptown Artist Relocation program.

He also bought a $40,000 sculpture from an artist he was trying to lure to Uptown ($40,000 conveniently happened to be the amount the artist needed for a down payment on his building).

Then, setting aside his alleged Internet habits, there are series of other allegedly questionable deals and relationships he engaged in during his six years as mayor - many we may never know about. But we can still ask the question: What was Gary Becker hiding?

One existing glimpse into Becker's legacy as mayor exists on city computers, or more specifically, on city-owned data tapes. Every email Becker sent as Racine's chief executive is stored away as a public record, legally available to the public.

But while the records are open to the public, they're not necessarily available.

RacinePost filed a records request for Becker's emails and was quoted a price of $10,274.28 to fulfill the records request. Here's the explanation of the cost from Assistant City Attorney Nicole Loop:
I relayed your request ("all of Gary Becker's emails from his time as mayor (2003-2009)") to MIS Director Paul Ancona and he provided me with information on the process and costs.  Per Mr. Ancona, the retrieval will be done from backup tapes using DAT tapes.  As to the retrieval process, the department would first need to retrieve the offsite tapes and load them (1.5 hours of time).  Then, they would need to go to each year-end tape, retrieve the mailboxes, go through them and retrieve Becker's mailbox.  This process would take about three hours per tape (7 years x 3 hours = 21 hours).  Then, they would need to read through the restored mailboxes and retrieve his e-mails, process them into a form that can be read outside of exchange, and save it to electronic format.  This process would take approximately 2 hours per tape (7 years x 2 hours = 14 hours).

I would need to review all of the e-mails to prevent the release of information that may be confidential or otherwise protected by law, which is even more time-consuming than the above processes. On an estimate of 100 e-mails per day sent and received, that's about 26,100 e-mails per year (using 261 work days-subtracting the weekends). Assuming I can get through 8,700 e-mails in an 8-hour work day, I would estimate that it would take me 3 days per tape (8 hours x 3 days = 24 hours x 7 years = 168 hours). This is an extremely conservative estimate.

The cost to the city to locate this information would be $51.35 per hour for the MIS Department's time, and $50.00 per hour for the City Attorney Office's time. Wis. Stat. 19.35(3)(c) permits the city to charge the "actual, necessary and direct cost" of locating the materials if the fee is $50 or more. In this case, I estimate the actual, necessary and direct cost of locating the materials you requested to be $10,274.28 (36.5 hours x $51.35 = $1874.28; 168 hours x $50.00 = $8400.00). If it took less time, you would receive a refund; if it took more time, you would be required to pay the additional costs. If you wish to proceed with the request, we would require pre-payment of the entire estimated amount.
I believe it's within the public's interest to make these emails available to the public. If we're going to learn from Becker's mistakes, we have to bring them to light. These emails are a step toward fulfilling this critical task.

Legal or not, such a review shouldn't cost $10,274.28. It shouldn't cost a penny to review the actions of an elected official, particularly an elected official who left in a cloud of suspicion. We're asking the City Council to direct the release of these emails to the citizens of Racine at no cost. We believe it is their duty as overseers of the executive branch to undertake this exercise in the name of good and open government.

No doubt the emails will contain uncomfortable truths for powerful city leaders. Many people reading these words may have the thought: "What did I ever write to the mayor? Do I want that public? Probably not."

Others will argue that it's time to move on and leave the past as past. We have a new mayor and local officials are settling in to work on balancing the budget, reducing crime and attracting jobs and development. Looking back only promises to resurrect old wounds.

Both thoughts are misguided. Wounds fester when covered in the darkness and heal when brought into the open. But more simply, the public has a right to know. Enough question marks have been raised about our previous mayor to demand a full review of his actions. Releasing these emails to the public would be a good start.

Council votes to bring back one outsourced IT employee

The City Council back-tracked on a previous decision to outsource an information system employee, voting Tuesday to return the jobs to city employ. The move is expected to save about $14,000 next year.

The council voted 8-5 to remove the infrastructure manager from its contract with Velocity Partners to provide technical support for the city. Aldermen Jeff Coe, Michael Shields, Jim Kaplan, David Maack and Robert Mozol voted against the motion.

Coe had proposed reinstating a programmer position along with the infrastructure manager, but after a flury of procedural questions, the council voted against the idea.

The vote adjusted a contract the city signed with Velocity Partners in 2007 (Read our previous story here). At the time, the idea was a technology company would do a better job managing the city's computer systems than city employees because it would have more flexibility and a better grasp of emerging trends. Money was not a consideration because the city didn't expect savings from the five outsourced positions.

But the decision to outsource was made when the city didn't have a director for its information systems department. Once Paul Ancona was hired to lead the department - called Management Information Systems - a review of MIS suggested the city should have a dedicated employee to manage sensitive data systems, particularly police and fire systems.

The council's vote Tuesday night creates the dedicated position while retaining the city's relationship with Velocity Partners.

Aldermen Bob Anderson, Sandy Weidner, Terry McCarthy, Ray DeHahn, Greg Helding, Aron Wisneski, Jim Spangenberg and Tom Friedel voted for returning the infrastructure managemement position to the city.

Alderman Ron Hart was excused from the meeting and City Council President QA Shakoor II, who ran the meeting, was a non-voting member.

Sebastian's wins praise from OnMilwaukee.com

Patrice and Scott Sebastian in their restaurant's kitchen

Sebastian's in Caledonia received a big shout-out this week from OnMilwaukee.com -- a glowing restaurant review that may force us locals to make reservations earlier, or be shut out by interlopers from the big city.

"Dive into something ethereal," suggests food writer Amy Schubert, after recounting the restaurant's history, decor and menu. She says Sebastian's is an "enticing reason" to visit Caledonia, for a "surprisingly comfortable, casual, yet high-end dining experience in one of the more beautiful restaurant spaces in our area."

Scott and Patrice Sebastian are understandably pleased with the good review (by no means their first), but they're equally eager to discuss the garden Patrice is growing behind the restaurant -- visible from the dining room's picture window -- on a portion of their five-acre site. OnMilwaukee.com calls it an herb garden, but the raised beds house just as many vegetables. The garden is mostly Patrice's domain -- it is she who has a degree in horticulture, after all -- but Scott says it's also turning into his hobby.

"It's very fulfilling," he says, "planting it, tending it, harvesting and cooking it." He also keeps track of the downside, noting that "three bean plants are missing," presumably becoming dinner for local rabbits.

Growing fresh vegetables fits perfectly with the Sebastians' desire to serve fresh, healthful food. They shop at the farmers' market each week, and buy as much locally grown food as possible: pork, lamb and poultry from organic farms in Racine County. Of course, the seafood that makes up a large part of their menu comes from farther away...

The restaurant is approaching its ten-year anniversary; they opened on Jan. 19, 2000, and are already thinking of ways to celebrate. This was not their first restaurant -- as OnMilwaukee.com notes, they have a long history in Milwaukee, where Patrice was a community organizer and Scott a fireman when they opened their first place -- a lunch and catering-only cafe. (They also ran the Yellow Rose in downtown Racine, at the corner of Main and Fourth Streets, for five years, closing it last summer when the building's owner needed the space for his own business.)

As OnMilwaukee.com notes, Sebastian's is "high end," more expensive than the neighborhood pizza places Milwaukeeans usually seek out in Racine. So how has the economic decline affected it? "The effect is noticeable," Scott says, "especially when you try to serve the quality of food we serve." Still, they appear to have weathered the initial storm; "Things are more or less back where they were," he says, although instead of an $80 bottle of wine, diners are choosing a $40 bottle. "I thought it would be a lot worse." They've reacted by adding a specially priced dinner on Friday nights: For $19.95 diners get soup or salad, a choice from two entrees and dessert.

Sebastian's, located at 6025 Douglas Ave., is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

June 16, 2009

Local urban gardeners meet movement's godfather

Will Allen speaking at Wingspread Tuesday

It was just a month ago that the healthy food / urban gardening movement sprouted here, with a meeting at DP Wigley, followed a week later by the first public meeting of Eat Right Racine.

On Tuesday afternoon, the godfather of that movement -- Will Allen, founder of Milwaukee's Growing Power, Inc. and the winner of a $500,000 MacArthur Grant in 2008 -- spoke to a full house at Wingspread, defining the problem in no uncertain terms and laying out the solution he's developed over 16 years in Milwaukee -- producing jobs, teaching life skills to youths and, above all, raising healthy food sustainably.

How bad are things right now? Pretty bad, Allen said:
  • "Our food system is broken."
  • "More disease is related to food; young people are obese; we deliver really bad food to schools."
  • "In the '30s and '40s, people grew food in their backyards. Now we've industrialized the system; we grow food that actually kills people."
  • "All our soil is contaminated."
  • "Since the 1950s, our food has 50 per cent less nutrients."
" I'm probably preaching to the choir," Allen said, laying out some of the successes Growing Power has had, and giving his audience ample (healthy, organic, sustainable) food for thought -- a growing plan for the future.

Growing Power began in 1993 when Allen -- son of a Southern sharecropper ("We had no money or car, but we had the riches of plenty of food.") -- bought the last farm in Milwaukee, two acres that he has turned into the nexus of an international movement ("This is a mainstream movement," Allen said. "It's not hippies and tree-huggers.") with 14 growing sites in Milwaukee, public gardens in Chicago, conferences at The Hague, Netherlands, workshops, farmers' markets and co-ops, and on and on. (Click summary at right to enlarge.)

Tomorrow Growing Power will host the mayor of Milwaukee ("He'll probably be wearing a suit, but we'll kick some dirt on it."). Allen is grateful for "politicos... interested in the food system." In Chicago's Grant Park, it has a $50,000 annual contract to produce urban gardens -- the same cost of traditional landscapers. On top of City Hall there, he says, there are bee hives ... an idea he plans to run by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Growing Power has been successful working with large corporations: It picks up food waste from Kohl's corporate headquarters, where 3,900 people are fed each day; from Rockwell, where 2,000 are fed (and now have access to a farmers' market); it now supplies vegetables to 10 Milwaukee schools; it composts 24 million pounds of food waste a year -- mostly from food wholesalers whose shipments arrive unsalable, or moldy hay bought from farmers.

Growing Power manages to raise roughly $5 worth of food annually from every square foot of its land, some $200,000 per acre. That compares, Allen said, to the typical roadside farmer's yield of about $500 per acre. It does that with intensive "vertical" planting in its greenhouses, aquaponics (raising fish in barrels), and intensive composting.

Allen's audience learned more about worms than they might have bargained for. He is a big proponent of vermiculture -- the raising of worms to turn waste into compost. "Worms live over 50 years; did you know that?" he asked the audience. (Most, it's safe to say, did not.) "We have to treat them as urban livestock." Warming to his subject, Allen said "there are 5,000 people in Seattle now engaged in raising worms for composting." Good news, too: 10 pounds of worms will become 40 pounds in four months, and so on...

More importantly, if contaminated soil is the problem -- and it is -- worms are the solution. "Remediation happens; worms actually digest lead dust and e-coli." Furthermore, Growing Power sells bags of "Black Gold" -- um, worm "casings."

"It's all about the soil," he says. "It's not about whether you have a green thumb, or any other color thumb."

Allen also raises Black Soldier Flies -- food for fish and chickens -- and goats for artisan cheese; laying chickens, ducks, heirloom turkeys that sell for $30 apiece, and bees for honey.

Intensive production, is the answer, he says. "This is the future of agriculture."

What will grow here from the ground Allen fertilized? Well, we already have the Racine Urban Garden Network, which appears to have poked through the soil after the initial city garden meetings. So far, it has a website under development and a growing list of interested organizations. DP Wigley offers "market basket" shares of locally grown produce. Eat Right Racine co-founder Heidi Fannin is working on a "Food Miles" initiative, to tell consumers how far away their food was grown. Growing Power, which does not sell at any of Racine's farmers' markets, appears willing to do so. "We have plenty of product," Allen said; "All we need is a sales person." Looking around the room, it appeared many were willing to step forward.

The SC Johnson Foundation, which sponsored Allen's appearance, got his sustainability message loud and clear. Lois Berg, who opened the session, noted that this Wingspread Briefing was different in some respects from previous ones: 46 per cent of the invitations were sent by email, she said; the after-meeting survey would be conducted without paper, again by email; there were none of the usual 3x5 cards for audience questions -- wireless microphones were used instead; and 90 per cent of the food served at the after-session reception was locally sourced.

Allen gave one final suggestion to participants. Noting that less than 1 percent of the food consumed in most cities is grown locally, Allen said, "We need 50 million people like you who will grow food. Till up some of your lawn; grow it in pots; or on your fire escape."

"This movement is not a movement any more," Allen said. "It's a revolution."

Housing Authority 'surprised' by negative reaction to Sixth Street plan

314 Sixth St., built in 1886

It's clear where Downtown business owners stand on the Housing Authority of Racine County's proposal to convert an historic Sixth Street building into low-income apartments.

"Who's in favor of this thing?" Monte Osterman asked a group of about 30 business owners Tuesday during a Downtown Connections meeting.

No one said a word.

Linda Ring Weber, executive director of the Housing Authority, said she was stunned by the reaction to the idea of renovating the former YMCA and Red Cross Building at 314-324 Sixth St.

"Surprised is such an understatement," Weber said. "There has to be some misunderstanding."

At issue is the need, or desire, for low-income housing on Sixth Street. Devin Sutherland, executive director of Downtown Racine Corp., is leading the opposition to the proposal. He said Sixth Street, or really anywhere Downtown, isn't a good site for additional low-income housing.

"It's market-rate apartments we don't have enough of," Sutherland said.

But Weber said she has a five-year waiting list for people seeking affordable housing from her agency. People who qualify for her program pay 30 percent of their income for rent - well under the low-income housing rates in places like the Arcade Apartments or Belle Harbor Apartments in Downtown.

Weber said the Housing Authority has received an overwhelmingly negative reaction to the proposal. "Had we known, this would not have been a place I would have pursued," she said.

But the Housing Authority has an option to purchase the building for $425,000 and an architect is drawing up plans, she said.

Money is a concern. The 1886 Queen Anne-style building was built as the Racine branch of the YMCA. Its ground floor is now home to the Sixth Street Theatre, but its second and third floors have been vacant for years. Renovating the upper floors into apartments and offices for the Housing Authority, now located at 837 Main St., could be too expensive.

But Weber was optimistic. Her agency's plan is to revive an historic building that's been largely ignored over the years. The Housing Authority even intends to retain a large, open ballroom on the second floor to serve as their offices.

"Many private developers would divide (the ballroom) into offices," she said.

Weber and the Downtown business owners had a missed connection on Tuesday morning. The Downtown Connections group had scheduled Weber to speak, but Weber said she'd only offered to address the group when she had information to share. Since they're still waiting for the architect's report, she didn't feel she had much to say about the project. She said she hopes to meet with the business owners in a few weeks.

It'll be a tough crowd.

The group is already lobbying city officials, with some success, to oppose the project.

"I don't feel any support for this at City Hall," Sutherland said.

But the opposition may not matter. Since city zoning is set up to favor residential developments there's little the city can do to oppose the development. The major obstacle for the project could be the Housing Authority's own charter, which requires city approval for low-income housing developments.

But what city approval means, and how much of an obstacle the requirement is, remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is the Housing Authority's plans to breathe life into a dormant -- aside from the Sixth Street Theatre -- building in need of restoration.

"This should be so welcome," Weber said. "We're preserving an historic building."

Foreclosure notices and property transfers

The JT is doing strong business these days in foreclosure notices. Our daily paper had no fewer than 57 foreclosure notices in today's paper. The number jumped over 60 if you included notices for sheriff's sales.

This week's property transfers were equally bleak. At least five, likely more, homes sold in the county between June 1 and June 5 were bought through foreclosure.

Also, no commercial properties sold in the first week of June. The highest priced sale was a Waterford home on Pleasant Road that sold for $437,000.

The highest priced Racine home sold the first week in June was on Canada Goose Crossing for $326,100. It was assessed in 2007 for $396,400.

Papa John's closes

Racine has one less pizza chain in town. Papa John's at 6116 Regency West Drive is closed. The restaurant took down its sign Tuesday and its phone is disconnected. The strip mall where Papa John's was located sold in May for $1.8 million.

Best Buy moving into Circuit City building

Racine's Best Buy is likely moving next door to the site of the former Circuit City. A reliable reader sent us in this tip:
Best Buy is moving into the old Circuit City. It’s a smaller area, which means less rent. They’re going to scale down significantly on the amount of CDs they carry. They’re in the process of clearing out Circuit City as we speak. Just wanted to relay that on. Get it out there before the “newspaper” does.
We called Best Buy and were told the move is "99.9 percent done," but it hasn't been officially decided. Employees were clearing out the Circuit City store -- they tell us they have until the end of the month to remove everything, including offices and bathrooms -- and the store's general manager is now waiting for approval on high to make the move.

The move is expected before Best Buy's "busy season," which begins before Thanksgiving.

The two buildings are managed by Nifong Realty of Green Bay. The Circuit City building, which became vacant in January, is about one-third smaller than the Best Buy building.

The interior of the Circuit City building this morning

Peregrine falcons spotted north of Racine

A RacinePost reader sent in these pictures of parent and child peregrine falcons north of Racine in, as the reader wrote, "an undisclosed location, with Vice President Cheney."

The photographer wrote: I am guessing, based on feathers, that the two “Eating” pictures (they were of the same bird) are the adult, and that “Immature” (below) is a young bird that is learning to eat from its mother.

Immature falcon

June 15, 2009

$250,000 brownfield grant for Union Grove

RCEDC announced the following grant today:
The Village of Union Grove’s Downtown Revitalization received an a $250,000 Blight Elimination and Brownfield Redevelopment (BEBR) grant awarded by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

In 2008, the Village of Union Grove Community Development Authority (CDA) purchased several properties at the intersection of Main and Tenth Streets as the site of the first redevelopment project under the Downtown Redevelopment Plan that was created in 2005. With this grant assistance, the Village will be able to clean-up a long vacant and contaminated property, returning the site to a higher value upon completion.

Upon remediation of the site, a developer plans to construct a mixed used building that would provide ground floor retail with office space on the second floor with a second residential building to the East consisting of four apartment units.

This grant marks another significant milestone for the revitalization of Downtown Union Grove.

RCEDC plays a significant role with the Village of Union Grove in its redevelopment efforts, as well as provides financing options to businesses and developers for redevelopment projects.

Turner defends Assembly Dems' budget

State Rep. Robert Turner, D-Racine, defended Monday the budget passed by the Assembly on Saturday, insisting the "challenging process" yielded results "safeguarding Wisconsin's taxpayers from an overall tax increase."

The Assembly is controlled by Democrats 52-46, and the $62 billion budget's passage came without any Republican support. The State Senate will debate the budget Tuesday or Wednesday; it, too, is Democrat-controlled, 18-15.

Republicans have criticized the roughly $2 billion in tax and fee increases -- including increased gasoline and cigarette taxes -- contained in the budget.

Here's the statement issued by Turner Monday:
“This budget that began with a $6.6 billion deficit was balanced with cuts of $3.2 billion in spending cuts, the deepest in Wisconsin history,” said Turner. Turner added that despite criticisms leveled at certain fee increases in the budget, Wisconsin’s income tax rate has remained stable at approximately 11 to 12 % over the past 40 years. “If you make less than $300,000, your income taxes are not going up. If you make more than $300,000, your taxes are still less than those in Iowa and Minnesota,” Turner stated.

Despite criticisms by Assembly Republicans that the budget contained too many tax increases in the form of fees, Turner pointed out that this budget features 2.3% in cuts in spending of state tax dollars. “During their tenure, the Assembly Republicans increased spending of state money by 74% during the 14-year Thompson administration,” Turner emphasized.

“I was somewhat surprised that many higher income people contacted me repeatedly to complain about various budget provisions, especially the language the Governor offered changing the joint and several liability law,” noted Turner. “But the bottom line is that this budget contains no general sales tax increase, no payroll tax increase, and no income tax increase for 99% of all Wisconsin residents.” Due to the many complaints that were received on the joint and several liability issue, Assembly Democrats voted to remove it from the budget. Turner said he expected that the liability issue may be reintroduced as separate legislation sometime in the future.

“I was especially proud of the passage of the KRM project in the budget,” said Turner. The plan is funded by an $18 car rental tax in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha Counties. Under the plan, the passenger rail will only make stops in Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee. Other communities in the tri-county area created by the Regional Transit Authority must develop their own funding mechanisms in order to have a stop in their town or city. “I think this is a workable solution and hope that some of Racine County’s mid-size communities decide to eventually approve plans to offer rail service to their residents,” he added.

“I look forward to seeing the budget pass without too many changes in the State Senate,” said Turner. “Not everyone is going to like everything in this budget, but we protected our core Democratic values of education, job creation, public safety, and support for local communities through the shared revenue program. I believe that the Assembly put forth a very good effort in the face of immense financial distress due to the national economic collapse,” Turner concluded.

Former COP house sold for $128,000

1009 Davis Place

The former COP House at 1009 Davis Place sold June 2 for $128,000.

Racine Community Outpost, a nonprofit, sold the house after the Racine Police Department moved its community policing officer to a new home at 1146 Villa St. last summer.

The Davis Place house was built in 1998. The city sold the land to Racine Community Outpost for $1. In return, Community Outpost built the home and rented it to the city for $1, before converting it into a home and selling it on the market.

Community Outpost has been in existence since 1993.

Local group wants to expand underground railroad memorial

A local group is looking to expand a monument to Racine's role in the underground railroad.

The Professional Women's Network for Service Inc. wants to develop the area around the city's Underground Railroad/Maritime Monument on Gaslight Pointe near the Chauncery Restaurant.

Pauline Mitchell, PWNS' arts committee chair, wrote the city on June 6 laying out plans to place a new sign, light the monument and create a walkway around it. The new sign would honor Racine resident Achas Dutton, who provided shelter for fugitive slave Joshua Glover in 1854 before Glover escaped to Canada. Dutton provide shelter for over 100 fugitives over 20 years.

Mitchell and PWNS hope further developing the monument will make it an attractive destination for local and visiting history buffs. The monument was Racine's second historical site approved by the U.S. National Parks Service and its Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. Racine is one of three cities in the country to have two such markers.

"Our City of Racine took a bold stand more than a century ago to preserve human dignity and assist in offering slaves a route to freedom on the shores of Lake Michigan," Mitchell wrote in her letter about PWNS' project. "We ask that the City of Racine take a bold stand today and assist us in our efforts to enhance an historical site on this same shore for citizens and tourists to behold for centuries to come."

The PWNS request will be taken up the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Board after being introduced to the City Council Tuesday night.

(Right-top: The Underground Railroad/Maritime at Gaslight Pointe in Racine. Right-bottom: Text on the monument.)

Can you get this to work?

I'm a big fan of the county's online database of property records. We use it to comb through property transfers and look for interesting property sales in Racine County. But in recent months I haven't been able to get the search to work. I reported the problem to the county in March and April and was told, yes, there are problems but some searches do work. I can't get any to work.

So if you have a minute, visit: http://www.racineco.com/rodtax and let me know if you get any results. Try searching for your home address or any other property you're interested in Racine. Post a yea or nay in the comments, or send an email to: racinepost@gmail.com

Thanks much!

OIC receives $687,000 YouthBuild grant

The Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) of Racine County has received a $687,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for the 2009 YouthBuild Racine GreenTech Program. This amount is an initial increment for two years of grant operations; more may be awarded pending the availability of additional funding. OIC requested $1.1 million.

YouthBuild is a program that helps low-income, unemployed youth who have dropped out of school to complete their high school education, train for high-wage home construction job skills and gain work experience. And while rebuilding their lives, these young people will help rebuild their community too, by building high quality, energy-efficient homes.

The Racine program will recruit and train 32 young adults ages 18 to 24, and employ up to 8 professional educators and building instructors. “I am always excited when we have opportunities like this to make a positive difference in the lives of the young people in Racine,” said Claudius Adebayo, OIC executive director.

“Everybody wins because young people gain a good education, learn to be disciplined and become economically self-sufficient. The community gains responsible, productive new citizens who pay taxes instead of draining it. Neighborhood and property values improve. Low-income people own beautiful homes and build up equity really fast. Stable neighborhoods, stable families and higher tax base for the city. That is what OIC does best,” he said.

YouthBuild Racine's GreenTech Project is supported by the S.C. Johnson Fund, Racine Community Foundation, Gateway Technical College, Wisconsin Fresh Start and a real estate donation from Seater Construction Company. In 2007, the Racine program was selected by the YouthBuild USA National Directors’ Association for best performance in GED and High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) graduation rate.

For more information about the YouthBuild Racine GreenTech Project, contact OIC of Racine County (262) 636-3818 or email Adebayo.

20 years later, a former business owner wants to give the city back its land

(Top) 930 10th St. (Bottom-right) 901 9th St. The two properties are connected
by a driveway between 9th and 10th streets.

Twenty years ago the city gave Neil and Ramona Thorpe a piece of land on Ninth Street. Now the couple from Somers wants to give it back.

The Thorpes are trying to donate a vacant lot at 901 Ninth St. back to the city. The donation comes six years after they sold their business, Belle City Heating and Sheet Metal, at 930 10th St. (The company is listed as A&N Enterprises.) They assumed the Ninth Street property was included with the sale, but found out they still owe property taxes on the land.

In an interview Monday, Neil Thorpe said he took the land in 1989 as a favor to the city. Garbage was piling up on the property and Thorpe agreed to keep up the lot in exchange for using the land for his business.

"It was a total nothing," he said.

But despite getting rid of their building at 930 10th St. in 2003, the couple is still being charged taxes for the land, which is valued at $7,800. They owe $2,874 in taxes. Thorpe said he's never paid taxes on the property.

The City Council's Public Works Committee, Redevelopment Authority and Water and Wastewater Commission will consider the Thorpes' donation after its introduced to the council at Tuesday night's meeting.

Thorpe said he wasn't concerned about the decision.

"They'll do what they do," he said about the City Council.

Main page is down

The main page at www.racinepost.com is down right now due to a technical problem with our web host, StartLogic. We'll let you know when the site is back up.

June 14, 2009

Greek Fest: OPA!

Are we having fun yet?

What is it that makes Greek Fest such fun?

Is it the food? Gyros , shish-kabobs, flaming cheese, fried honeypuffs, rotisserie chicken and lamb, Greek coffee and pastries...

Is it the dancing? An Olympic Dance Troupe, lots of enthusiastic Greek music...

Is it the carnival? Rides and games for all ages...

The answer is yes. All of that, and more, comprise the Kimissis Greek Orthodox Church's annual Greek Fest. That and perfect weather, at least on Sunday. What a party.


Subsisting on stewed squirrel ... in Racine

Barbara Ehrenreich, a journalist who wrote the book on subsistence existence a few years ago -- "Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" -- is back this weekend, writing an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled "Too Poor to Make the News."

She writes not about the Nouveau Poor, those Americans now forced to give up vacations, or dinners out, but rather about the already poor, "the estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population who struggle to get by in the best of times."

One of the examples she cites is an unnamed Racinian: "In Racine, WI, a 51-year-old laid-off mechanic told me he’s supplementing his diet by 'shooting squirrels and rabbits and eating them stewed, baked and grilled.' "

Not a pretty picture in a city whose priorities favor spending $55,000 on a piece of public art. Read her entire article here.

Bank robbed Saturday afternoon

Racine Police reported a bank robbery on Saturday.

Police said they responded to an alarm at 3:32 p.m. to Wells Fargo Bank at 1700 Martin Luther King Drive.

They said "a lone African-American male entered the bank and demanded money. As the teller attempted to fulfill his request, the male became upset, reached over the counter, grabbed an undetermined amount of cash and fled. No weapon was displayed during the robbery."