June 27, 2009

60 join The Arc's Walk 'N Roll for Independence

Walk 'N Roll was led by Britta and Maya Thostrup,
Miss Teen Racine County and Little Miss Teen, and Rich Gerardo

The 5th annual Walk 'N Roll for Independence was held Saturday, with about 60 walkers and eight volunteers participating.

Walkers and rollers ranged in age from under 2 to 83 years old. The purpose of the walk is to raise funds for The Arc of Racine and also to bring about disability awareness. Signs with information and messages were posted along the 1.5-mile route, from Michigan and Goold to 6th and Main.

Richard Gerardo has joined the walk for all five years and brings in the highest pledges, raising more than $1,000 for The Arc. Sponsors for this year's walk include SC Johnson, The Eye Clinic of Racine, Community Care, InSinkerator, Educators Credit Union, Palmen Automotive Group, Mound Avenue Associates, Disability Rights Wisconsin and Brossmans's Meat Market and Catering. Individual sponsors were Mike and Alice Garoukian, Julie and Art Petersen, Faye Miller, Sandy and John Engel, Darlene Duncan, Dave Popoff, Gerry and Gary Lipor, and Diane Lange.

The Arc is an advocacy organization that works to improve the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, which includes but is not limited to disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, cognitive disabilities and genetic disabilities such as Down syndrome. The organization is celebrating 55 years of service to the Racine community, and is a partner provider with United Way of Racine County.

The Arc of Racine provides information and referral, special education advocacy to parents of students with disabilities, education and training programs to parents and professionals and also works with others in the community to bring about positive change in policies and practices relating to disability services. For more information, contact, The Arc of Racine at 634-6303.

'It's not just talk,' the mayor said, wielding a chainsaw

Mayor John Dickert and his son, Riley

It was John Dickert as we haven't seen him before. The usual suit and tie uniform of the real estate broker / mayoral candidate were replaced with bluejeans, t-shirt, baseball cap worn backwards and work gloves.

In his hands, a growling chainsaw.

Dickert and Melissa Warner. Her shirt says,
'Green is the new red, white and blue.'

But first he needed a short lesson from Melissa Warner of Weed Out! Racine. "This one?" the mayor asked, holding a tree's branch for Warner to see. Patiently, she replied, "No, it has seeds; that's a cherry tree..."

"And put your safety glasses over your eyes. They're not for protecting your forehead!"

And so, Racine's new mayor led -- and was led -- as he provided sweat equity and inspiration for the first of his Renew Racine efforts, this one aimed at cleaning out the buckthorn and other invasive species from Riverside Park along the Root River. There was a lot of symbolism in today's project, but also a lot of hard work and progress.

Jesus Lopez, 10, hauling off a tree three times his size

Starting at 9 a.m., some four dozen volunteers manned chainsaws, shovels, clippers and what-have-you, making substantial progress near the Sixth Street bridge alongside the riverbank. Large piles of buckthorn and black locust were hauled out, and ground up.

What does Dickert hope to accomplish? A better-looking park is just the start, but the greater goal is community awareness that "this is a gem." During a short break, Dickert told the volunteers of his experience at the National Mayors' Conference, where other mayors enviously heard him talk of two of Racine's assets: Lake Michigan and the Root River. They had neither, he said.

"I refuse to call this area 'census tracts' " he said. "It's Riverview. We hope and desire that more and more neighbors will come and help. The goal is 50-100 people; we've got a pretty good start."
Administrator-to-be Tom Friedel, doing some of the heavy lifting ...

Melissa Warner and volunteers from Weed Out! Racine provided some of the labor force, and a lot of the knowledge. Riverside, she noted, was either the first or second of the city's parks, dating from 1904. And there also were a few folks from the neighborhood, including Jhon Freddy Correa, a priest from Emmaus Lutheran Church, and some local kids. I counted three aldermen: Tom Friedel, Dickert's choice to be city administrator; Jeff Coe and Greg Helding. Parks director Donnie Snow even limped in, testing his new hip.

Alderman Jeff Coe bested this black locust

There was some good-natured kidding. The idea of the mayor with a chainsaw caused Friedel to worry about the potential for "the massacre on Kinzie." On the other hand, a chainsaw might come in handy during the next budget debate.

Kelly Graham, from the city attorney's office was digging up buckthorn, huckleberry and black locust shoots. She lives in Caledonia, but said, "I'm just here to help." Bob Oertel, one of Warner's early recruits into Weed Out! Racine, has been doing this chore at Riverbend. "Just call me Bob," he said, "not Buckthorn Bob."

Jay Warner gave me a quick lesson in black locust, showing me the little shoots in the grass that appear vulnerable to a lawn mower. But they're not; they'll grow back, and become a tree in a year or two... a tree with wicked thorns. "Cutting them down is not enough; they start spreading. John is right," he said. "This is something we can do."

As Dickert wielded his chainsaw, his son, Riley, hauled out the branches, then went back to dab a few drops of pesticide on the stump, "to keep it from growing back," he explained. The mayor's wife, Teresa, and daughter, Eleanor, were also helping. "It's not just talk," Dickert said. "The mayor, his family, his kids are out there working too."

As volunteers rehydrated themselves with cold drinks and cake provided by McDonald's and O&H Bakery during a short break in the shade of a spreading maple tree, Dickert told them how much he appreciated their hard work ... while warning them, "We're just getting started. We're going to come back every six weeks, or until Melissa tells me to stop."

Melissa Warner looked over at what the group had accomplished in just two hours. "Look over there; you can see the tree trunks," she said. "That's what it should look like." She told the workers, "If you know somebody who would like the lumber and will take it down, I'd like to hear from them." Lots of people will gladly take the free firewood once it's cut and stacked, she said, but she wants more than that.

"We're making a dent," the mayor said, leading the troops back into the forest after giving me the opportunity to take a "class photo," below.

June 26, 2009

Mason: Budget is balanced and on-time

A 51-46 Assembly majority voted Friday to approve the legislative conference committee report on the 2009-2011 state budget, sending the budget to Gov. Doyle for signature. The majority consisted of 50 Democrats and independent Rep. Jeff Wood of Chippewa Falls.

State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said, the budget makes significant spending cuts to close the record $6.6 billion state budget shortfall.

“No one would argue that this budget is perfect. But in the face of a record-breaking deficit caused by a national economic crisis, we have succeeded in producing a balanced, on-time budget that protects Wisconsin’s priorities of education, job creation, economic development, the environment and public safety,” Mason said.

The budget includes $3.2 billion in spending cuts and 6.1% in across-the-board state agency cuts. It also includes more than $2.1 billion in tax and fee increases, like a reduction in the capital gains tax exemption, an income tax increase for the wealthy and a 75-cent per pack increase in cigarette taxes.

Mason highlighted several items:
• Keeps the KRM commuter rail line on track to be approved by the federal government and to bring $250 million in investment and jobs to the region;
• Provides relief to property taxpayers by increasing funding for the First Dollar Credit and increasing funding for county-owned nursing homes;
• Reinstates tax deductible college savings accounts;
• Eliminates the proposed gas tax increase;
• Increases municipal recycling grants by $5 million to help local governments recycle and keep down property taxes;
• Maintains the safety net for county human services to assist those seeking work and assistance during these tough times;
• Indexes the Homestead Tax Credit for renters and homeowners to keep pace with inflation; and
• Requires that all drivers on the road to carry auto insurance.

The band isn't coming... but the show must go on

IROCK Z at Festival Hall Park

The show must go on!

A funny thing happened on the way to Friday night's scheduled performance at Festival Hall Park by Permacrush: the Indianapolis-based band had car trouble and never got out of Indiana. What to do?

Rik Edgar, director of Racine's Civic Centre had a dilemma. Who could he get on short notice to provide the music for Friday's Music for the Halibut free concert? A few calls and voila! Milwaukee's IROCK Z band was available, fresh from its performance Thursday at Summerfest before a few thousand fans. Sadly, they didn't have that large an audience here, as Music for the Halibut still has trouble drawing a crowd, but they played enthusiastically anyway.

"Trans Am Dan" (Daniel Shultz Jr.), originally from Racine, was on bass and vocals; "Russell Danger Zone" (Russell Samuel Eaton IV) on drums, and "The L.C." (Lodewijk Mengesha Broekhuizen) on guitar.

Music for the Halibut is more than just a free concert. Hal the Halibut made an appearance, kids played in the playground, folks of all ages enjoyed the fish fry. And families made good use of the grounds, sunshine and marina view.

Raymond Cunningham plays on the grass
with his kids, Gabby, 3; Nate, 6; and Alex, 7.

Where locavores go for organic veggies

Racine's nascent urban gardens movement was meeting in DP Wigley's lower level when I stopped by Friday night, but upstairs the result of organic, home-based farming was already on display.

Up on the loading dock, Chris Flynn was dealing with yet another delivery from Milwaukee's Growing Power -- a dozen stuffed-to-the-brim grocery bags full of mostly organically grown veggies. DP Wigley, 234 Wisconsin Ave. downtown, is the place for CSA these days -- Community Supported Agriculture. It's the place to pick up veggies, and to meet others interested in the movement personified by Will Allen, president of Growing Power, who gave Racine's locavores a shot in the arm two weeks ago with a presentation at Wingspread.

Growing Power began delivering here this winter; it now offers three choices: a "regular basket," a bag of fresh veggies, "enough for a family of four for a week," that costs $16; a "senior basket" with about half as much food for $9; and an "organic basket" -- a bag with just organically grown fruits and veggies from the Rainbow Farmers Co-op and other organic growers for $27.

Above is Scott Brewer of Racine, examining the contents of a regular basket. It contained corn, potatoes, salad greens, broccoli, pears, oranges, apples, a cantaloupe and more. The organic basket contained much of the same, but also had a pineapple and strawberries. (Some of the fruit, it must be explained -- that pineapple, for instance! -- comes from Whole Foods and was not grown locally.)

Want your own regular delivery of regionally grown fruit and veggies? Orders must be placed with Chris at DP Wigley early in the week. Call her by Tuesday for best results: 633-8239. And for those who are wondering: No, she doesn't make any money from this service; it all goes to Growing Power. She's just happy to assist others in living healthfully.

KRM is back on track

Details of the transportation portion of the $62 billion budget bill passed by the Senate at 12:33 a.m. this morning have become clear, and KRM supporters are celebrating.

KRM is back on track! "We're kind of letting out our breath," said Debbie Truckey, community outreach liaison for Transit NOW. It's "another win," said Kerry Thomas, executive director of Transit NOW, in a memo sent to the organization's members.

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, applauded the Senate action. “This maintains a framework for the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority to get a positive review from the Federal Transit Administration and allow southeastern Wisconsin to access at least $250 million in critically important resources for transportation and economic development.” KRM is "critical to the strength and recovery of our community," he said.

The Senate's compromise version of the budget essentially restores the original Assembly version of the KRM and Regional Transit Authority measures. KRM supporters who wanted to lynch Sen. John Lehman when the Senate's original budget appeared to derail KRM will now have to rethink their anger.

The legislation will will become law if the Assembly passes the budget later today, as expected, and Gov. Jim Doyle signs it by Wednesday, July 1, in time for the next two-year spending cycle.

The key KRM / RTA provision in the State Senate's final budget compromise includes an $18 car rental tax that would be spent this way:
  • $1 for Racine to fund the BUS
  • $1 for Kenosha for its transit system
  • $2 to fund SERTA, the South-Eastern Regional Transit Authority
  • $14 for KRM commuter rail
Racine and Kenosha both are required to provide matching funds for the local transit portion.

The Senate's bill also creates a Milwaukee Transit Authority funded by a .65% sales tax, with .5% of that going for transit in Milwaukee County and .15% to police, fire and emergency medical services.

Said Thomas, "Although the plan is not perfect, it gives us a critical regional foundation to build on and gets KRM Commuter Rail back on track....by next Wednesday we should be able to celebrate!" Assuming the Assembly approves the conference committee budget just passed by the Senate, and it is left unchanged by the governor, then the community has until September to submit its KRM application to the Federal Transit Administration.

Here is a summary of the transit portion of the budget, prepared by Transit NOW:

Creation of South-Eastern Regional Transit Authority (SERTA)
• Manage KRM Commuter Rail and provide local share of funding
• Municipal bodies with transit systems could vote by governing body to contract with SERTA to provide transit service.
• 9 member body. A quorum and any action taken would require a majority (5) of members.
• Funded by an $18 car rental fee, $1 of which would go to Racine’s bus system and $1 to Kenosha Area Transit. City of Racine and City of Kenosha would have to provide a local match to receive these funds.
Creation of Milwaukee Transit Authority (MTA)
• Five member body
• The MTA would be authorized to levy a 0.65% sales tax for Milwaukee County.
• 0.5% of which would be mandated to go to the MTA for transit and the remaining 0.15% would be dispersed among Milwaukee County municipalities following a prorated formula based on the number of police and fire employees within each municipality.
• The Milwaukee County Board would be required to adopt, by majority vote, that 0.5% of the sales tax go to the MTA, only if the Milwaukee County Board agrees to be part of the MTA. The county Board would also need to vote to contract with SERTA for transit services.
• Specified as the only entity in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha that can apply for funding from the FTA for KRM Commuter Rail.
• Governance structure is as follows:
• Two appointees of the Milwaukee County Board; Two appointees of the Milwaukee Mayor; One appointee of the Kenosha County Board; One appointee of the Kenosha Mayor; One appointee of the Racine County Board; One appointee of the Racine Mayor; and One appointees of the Governor.

The SERTA would be funded by an $18 rental car tax dispersed in the following manner:
  • $1 will go to the City of Racine for the BUS and $1 will go to the City of Kenosha for Kenosha Area Transit; both the City of Racine and the City of Kenosha would be required to generate new funds to match revenues generated by the $1 car rental tax, to support local transit;
  • $2 will fund SERTA operations; and
  • The remainder will fund KRM commuter rail.
  • In order for municipalities in Racine and Kenosha Counties, outside of the cities of Racine and Kenosha to receive transit stops, they must provide a sustainable mechanism to generate new funding to contribute to their respective transit system.
  • The MTA, Racine Belle Urban System (BUS) and Kenosha Area Transit would each be required to vote to contract with SERTA to provide transit services. Transit systems would be required to share their annual and long-range plans with SERTA.
  • KRM stop must be located in the City of Milwaukee at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Bay Street.
  • As proposed by the Governor, the SERTA would provide $100 million in bonding authority.
The legislative conference committee’s recommendations can be found HERE. The specific Southeastern Regional Transit Authority provisions are on page 107. (It's a large .pdf, so be patient.)

June 25, 2009

City appeals dismissal of charge against teacher

The city is appealing Judge Mark Nielsen dismissal of obstruction charges brought against a Horlick High School teacher who questioned a policeman's right to remove a student from his classroom.

Social Studies teacher Al Levie was given a $455 citation for asking whether a police officer who wanted to question a student had a warrant. Nielsen ruled on May 27 that Levie's question did not constitute obstruction, but he also said officers are allowed to do their job without interference anywhere in the community.

City Attorney Rob Weber said his department has appealed the judgment "because we think the judge was wrong." The city is not asking for a new trial, merely that a Circuit Court judge review Nielsen's ruling.

Asked how the decision to appeal was made, Weber said, "I know the Police Department was upset by the case, but that never plays a part." Weber said Assistant City Attorney Scott Letteney, who handled the case, "convinced me we should appeal."

So far, the city has not had to give any reasons for its appeal, because the trial transcript has not yet been completed. Until it is, neither side will have to present briefs.

Weber also noted the irony that he was attorney for the Racine Education Association for 30 years, a group not happy with the city's appeal.

Levie said "it's unbelieveable" that the city is fighting the decision. "It seems to me, as a taxpayer, they're spending an inordinate amount of time on a ticket worth less than $500." Levie, who spent $5,500 on his defense in the case, said his lawyer said that in his 40 years of practice, he's never seen a city appeal an ordinance violation. "It seems they're trying to bully their way into a different verdict."

Alderman Michael Shields, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, also wonders "why the city would want to appeal this kind of minor case." He spoke to Weber about it -- "I wanted to see why it's important to waste city dollars" -- and said Weber told him "the judge made a terrible mistake." Still, Shields doesn't feel he's gotten a satisfactory answer about what that mistake might be. "If it started as a school issue, why are we taking it so hard?" He says he's brought his reservations to the ear of Mayor Dickert.

Dickert chooses Friedel as city administrator

Tom Friedel, left, with Mayor John Dickert

Mayor John Dickert, barely five weeks into his term, named his choice for city administrator this afternoon: Alderman and former mayor Tom Friedel.

The mayor said he and Friedel "complement each other very well.... We know we have a big job. We have a hurting community."

Dickert said he made his decision only after determining that the city has enough money to fund the position. "We've saved a considerably amount of money," he said. He also said he kept his promise to look locally first "because we have lots of capable people here," and that he talked to people in business, city employees and the people of Racine. "I asked them, 'What are you looking for?'" and the answer was "the people of this city are looking for a new direction; they want someone they can trust."

Neither Dickert nor Friedel would disclose the salary they are negotiating. Both said it would be less than the $115,000 former administrator Ben Hughes was getting when he resigned in February. "Significantly less," said Friedel.

During his three months as "interim" mayor, after the resignation of Gary Becker and during the election process that gave the job to Dickert, Friedel had favored a professional search for a city administrator to replace Hughes, who resigned in the midst of two complaints -- since dismissed -- filed by two female employees he was disciplining.

"I wanted to start the search," he said, "but no work in that direction took place," because "we wouldn't have had a good pool (of applicants) given some of the candidates' positions" (opposed to hiring a new administrator.)

Dickert said his appointment of Friedel -- if his fellow City Council members go along with it at their next meeting, on July 7 -- would save the city the $20,000 a search firm would have cost. In addition, he said, the search would have taken four months, and then the new person would need three months' training. "Seven months was a long time for this process," Dickert said. "As you can see from the desk" he said, looking from the podium to his desk and table, both of which were covered with work papers, "we are working on a lot -- and have 17 1/2% unemployment in the city."

Friedel has worked at Twin Disc since 1972, spending 25 years in manufacturing as a machinist and supervisor and 12 years in management; he is currently a manager in aftermarket operations. He served three terms on the Racine Unified School Board, from 1986 to 1995 and served as its president. He is in his fifth term on the City Council representing District 10. Friedel said he will resign from Twin Disc if the council approves his appointment as city administrator.

If there's a gap in his resume it is this: He is a graduate of St. Catherine's High School but has no college degree. "If this is a litmus test," said Dickert, "then a lot of good people would be left out." Friedel said he "regrets" not going to college; "It took me nine years on the school board to learn about negotiation." But he also said that city administrator is a relatively new position and not everyone who holds the job has -- or needs -- a college degree to be successful.

"I think I'm the right person at the right time," he said.

Dickert said, "Education is one way; experience is just as invaluable. I did not want someone brand new, or in the last two years before retirement."

Other issues touched upon during the mayor's press conference in his office included:
  • Hiring a new health department administrator to replace Janelle Grammer, who was fired by the council this week: "We've already started broaching that subject."
  • The status of the Laurel Clark Fountain, beloved by the city's kids, but threatened with closure or a fence under state regulations: "My kids love the fountain," Dickert said. "We'll talk about it."
  • The Legislature's Regional Transit debate:Dickert urged the Senate and Assembly to "go back to the governor's proposal." He said he is opposed to a wheel tax, and "I will not impose a disproportionate tax on our people for something that should be regional." The mayor said it is important that "our infrastructure is rebuilt" and he favored the plan that took city buses off the property tax rolls. "If the Legislature says no to the RTA, they would be making a catastrophic decision for the infrastructure of Racine. They did that 16 years ago."

Mason urges Gateway board to increase its levy

Just prior to today's 3 p.m. meeting of the Gateway Technical College Board, Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, issued a statement calling on the board to raise the college's tax levy.

Yes, you read this right.

Citing high unemployment figures within the district, and the need to provide training for workers, Mason called upon the board to restore the 5.5% levy request the board appears ready to cut to 4.5%. The difference, he said, would amount to a tax increase of $1.20 on a home assessed at $100,000, while allowing hundreds more students to receive instruction.

This is the "the time for us to do everything possible to connect workers to job skills training and educational advancement," Mason said, noting that Gateway's summer enrollment is up 64% and unemployment is 10% within Racine County and 16% in the city of Racine.

His full statement is below:
I regret that state budget deliberations will keep me in the Capitol today and that I am unable to participate in person in the public hearing and discussion at Gateway. I appreciate all of those who have taken the time to attend this important Board meeting and commend the Board and members of the Gateway staff and administration for their leadership and dedication to the Racine area’s workforce during these challenging economic times.

As part of the state budget deliberations, we fought hard to maintain funding for the Wisconsin technical college system. Facing an unprecedented budget shortfall and an historic economic crisis, we recognized that the best investment we could make as a state is in our workforce. Ensuring that our technical colleges have the resources they need to train our community’s workers is the surest path to economic recovery and prosperity for Wisconsin. I am pleased that the state budget includes the first increase in general state aid for the technical colleges since 2001. Numerous organizations, including the District Boards Association, WEAC, AFT-WI, the GTC Administration and the WTCS State office, worked diligently and persistently to maintain and slightly increase funding for these vital institutions.

However, our efforts at the state level to maintain and provide a modest increase in technical college system funding were not intended to give those at the local level a pass on their own obligations to meet the needs of unemployed workers seeking training and opportunity. As Racine County’s unemployment rate holds steady at over 10% and the City of Racine experiences one of the highest unemployment rates in the state at 16%, it is the time for us to do everything possible to connect workers to job skills training and educational advancement.

As you know, Gateway is experiencing dramatically increased enrollment. Summer enrollment is already 64 percent ahead of last year’s. To fully serve the workers of Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties who are out of work and seeking critically-needed skills and training, we must do all we can to open Gateway’s doors to these workers. A small increase in the levy will open Gateway’s doors to hundreds of local workers who will otherwise find waiting lists, overcapacity courses, or a lack of course offerings.

I appreciate and respect the thoughtfulness with which the Gateway Board has demonstrated in determining its tax levy request. While I understand the stated rationale behind the advancement of a 4.5% levy request, I am disappointed that the Board has backed away from its original request of a 5.5% levy request. Increasing the levy by an additional 1%, from 4.5 to 5.5%, would increase the tax on a $100,000 home by just $1.20 per year – a mere 10 cents per month. For the cost of a large cup of coffee at the corner market, Gateway would be able to enroll hundreds more students this year.

The workers in our community have been hard hit by the economic crisis. With this vote to establish Gateway’s levy rate, we have an opportunity to provide a targeted, vitally important investment in these workers and in their – and our – futures. I urge you to reconsider your levy request and take action to support your original request of 5.5%.

Thank you for all that you do to support and train the Racine-area’s workers.

Mayor's Renew Racine effort begins Saturday

Mayor John Dickert will kick-off the first stage of his Renew Racine Project on Saturday, June 27, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Renew Racine is described as a long-term environmental and neighborhood cleanup project; a volunteer-based effort to make Racine a more sustainable city through environmental and neighborhood projects along the Root River.

The first phase will start Saturday at 9 a.m. in Riverside Park, on Horlick Avenue just south of the Sixth Street Bridge.

Racine residents and volunteers will be cleaning out the invasive plants that threaten the native vegetation and pose a safety hazard when overgrown. Experts will be on hand to teach children how to identify proper methods for removal and disposal of invasive species.

The Mayor’s office and support groups have been contacting the neighborhood to participate on Saturday. All volunteers are welcomed and encouraged. Refreshments will be provided for workers and volunteers.

Last Picture Show is over at Regency Cinema

Update, 7/06: The end came swiftly, starting today, as a two-man wrecking crew began making short work of Regency Cinema, above.

Original post:

There'll be no "Last Picture Show" (Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, 1971) at the Regency Cinema.

After 28 years of operation -- the movie theater opened with Regency Mall in 1981 -- the theater is about to be torn down. Regency Cinema became obsolete in 2006, when its owner, Marcus Theatres Corp., opened the 13-screen Marcus Cinema a few miles away in Sturtevant's Renaissance Business Park. Regency held on for a while as a $1 budget theater, never gaining much traction, and closing for good in April.

Now -- on July 6 -- demolition will begin by Azarian Wrecking Company. It's not expected to take more than a few weeks to level the building and plant grass on the site.

Ron Kimberlain, right, property accounts manager of CBL Associates -- owner of Regency Mall -- said Marcus is sharing in the cost of demolition, in part to make sure that no competitor opens in the building, but also to remove its signage. "Having the building gone also makes the site easier to sell," Kimberlain said. (Ed. note: Wishful thinking in this economy.)

A vacant building is also a magnet for vandalism, Kimberlain noted, looking up at the damaged E in the large CINEMA sign on the front of the building. Inside, the movie theater shows many signs of destruction, but it's not from vandals but rather from the fire department and SWAT team training that has been going on since the theater closed. There are missing ceiling tiles, holes in doors, even holes in walls.

One lesson it is clear the trainees learned is this: It's easy to knock a hole in a sheetrock wall, but if there's cement block behind it -- as there is throughout much of the Regency Cinema -- you're not getting through. Training has been done by the Racine Fire Department, Racine Canine unit, and city and county SWAT teams.

"I told the guys, 'I don't care what you do to the building. Have fun!" Kimberlain said. "Even the SWAT guys got to kick in some doors."

Besides the eight theaters on the first floor, there is a second floor mostly taken up by a maze-like corridor and a projection room that overlooks all of the theaters. Most of the equipment is gone, but there are a couple of huge (and woefully obsolete) CINEMECANIGA projectors from Milan, Italy. Ebay, anyone?

With most of the lights off, and the theaters dark, Regency has a Freddy Krueger or Friday the 13th aura about it, enhanced by the holes in the wall, piles of plaster on the floor and the watermarks at the below-ground end of one of the theaters -- evidence of recent flooding. But Freddy and Jason won't be returning, either.

Gov. Doyle launches own YouTube site

Can't get enough of Gov. Jim Doyle? Well, we have the answer for you!

In a sign of the times -- with new media changing the political landscape from Iran to City Hall -- the governor has just launched his own YouTube "channel." That's right, you can now view Jim Doyle videos in the comfort of your easy chair, 24/7.

Don't all cheer at once...

Sadly, these are not music videos, with choreographed dancers and lively music. Rather what's on the site right now are clips of speeches and press conferences -- that's one in Racine County above at the kick-off of the $20 million Highway G and I-94 highway interchange project.

It'll be fun to watch the viewership stats as this site progresses, along with those of Doyle's opponents. (I'm predicting here.) Right now, the most-watched video on the Gov. Doyle's site has been viewed 92 times ... The governor has a long way to go to catch, say, Susan Boyle, the "Britain's Got Talent" sensation, whose video has been viewed -- at latest count -- 69,282,358 times. Luckily for Big Jim, she's not a candidate here...

June 24, 2009

Worst idea of the year: A fence around the fountain

Let's build a fence around the Laurel Clark Fountain Downtown, to keep the kids out.

Ah, yes, go back in our Time Machine, to last November, when that actual suggestion was reverberating around City Hall. In November, one could have a discussion about doing just that, because of some ambiguous state law requiring an attendant, or is it a lifeguard? at the fountain where the water never gets even 1/4" deep. I'm not making this up.

Or was it state code involving chlorine that would be blamed? Yes, that too.

No matter. It was one of those debates where nothing -- and everything -- was at stake. Nothing, because it was merely hypothetical in November; everything, because summer inevitably would come and somebody would have had to explain to the kids why the fountain was fenced off.

Well, summer came this week. Today the temperature was in the 90s, humidity was over 60 percent; there even was an air quality alert. I'd like to make a suggestion: If the City Council ever does consider putting a fence around the fountain, let's make sure they debate the issue in situ, at the fountain on a day like today, in front of the kids dancing through the sprays, splashing each other, having a great time under the watchful eyes of their parents.

Truth be told, even some parents were dancing through the water today.

Yes, if there ever is a debate, it should take place in summer, with the kids -- every one of them a future voter -- present. This would make more sense than the dismissal hearing the aldermen just wasted a week of their lives on -- a week they'll never get back -- and the result would be just as predictable.

The good news is that Mayor Tom Friedel (Remember him? The "mayor" elected by the City Council to serve in the brief interim between Gary Becker and ...whomever. Chosen, yes, because he's a smart guy and a good alderman but also because he agreed not to run for the post in the May election.) ... but I digress. The good news is that Mayor Tom Friedel had the good sense to put the kibosh on the fence idea, at least for this summer. "I'm not going to put a fence there," he said in April. "Maybe the next mayor will have another idea."

And so, the fence, is now in John Dickert's court. But not for now. For now, it's summer, there's no fence, the kids are using the fountain for just what it was designed for, and it would be churlish to ruin their fun by bringing the subject up.

Business celebrates its anniversary...
with a BBQ for HALO's homeless men

A relatively new insurance agency is celebrating its first year in business by hosting a dinner at HALO, Racine's Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization.

Compass Insurance Group will provide a summer grill-out dinner, including brats, hotdogs, chips, salads and all the trimmings, cooked and served by the agency's employees and friends, for the men at HALO on Wednesday, July 1.

“Summer cookouts are fun for everyone” said John Freeze, president and founder of Compass. “What better way to mark our agency’s anniversary then by giving back to our community.”

Compass is inviting additional volunteers to join the fun by donating their time to cook or serve food at the event. Anyone interested should call Stacy Zwintscher at Compass, 262-456-0566, to sign up to work the cookout and give back to those in need.

One statement in the press release above struck me as strange: That Compass will feed just the men at HALO, who make up about half the homeless shelter's population of 100, which also includes women and children. So I asked Cheryl Buckley, HALO's executive director, about it.

She said this is not unusual at all. About 20 businesses, organizations and churches regularly provide a meal for HALO residents, some for all of them and some for just the men, or the women and children. "Compass is a small insurance company," she said. "Feeding our whole population would be daunting."

For example, once a month Journal Times employees come to HALO to cook and serve a meal for the women and children. Its next dinner will be July 3; sometimes it's reporters who do the work, sometimes other employees, including the publisher, Buckley said.

Three groups from SC Johnson come monthly, also feeding women and children, something they've done for a long time, a practice they began at the now defunct Homeward Bound. Seven churches serve dinner: Searching Together comes in monthly to feed everyone; St. Rita's, which was part of the REST program that HALO replaced, comes in monthly to feed just the men. Grace Baptist and Covenant Presbyterian are two more churches that cook for the residents.

Almost all these volunteer organizations provide dinner, but there used to be one that came in on the fifth Saturday to cook breakfast. Other groups, like All Saints, the Founders Rotary Club, Kiwanis, and various Scout troops come in once in a while, for a one-time meal project, usually for one half of HALO's population.

Nice to know. And maybe a nice project for one of the organizations that you belong to...

June 23, 2009

Green jobs program for young adults gets started with stimulus money

UW-Parkside student Joshua Bradley, second from left, explains rain garden planting techniques to Kara Hamilton while Jesse Perry, Gino Falbo, and Sean Austin work nearby. The Racine students are working this summer in the E3 jobs program.

Two hundred people attended a kickoff this week that will train young adults in "green jobs." The program, started with federal stimulus money, employs 14 to 24-year-olds from low and middle-income families. The program will combine work experience with mentoring and work-skills training to assist youth primarily from low- and middle-income backgrounds, according to a press release from UW-Parkside.

The program's 30 worksites include private sector companies like Kranz, Inc., an industrial packaging and cleaning supply company that wants to install more energy efficient lighting at its DeKoven Ave. location. Other companies include Lavelle Industries, a rubber and plastics manufacturer in Burlington, and Wisconsin Aquaponics.

Nonprofits involvoced include: Habitat Restore, Wheaton Franciscan-All Saints and the Racine/Kenosha Community Action Agency, where youth will conduct home energy audits and weatherization work. Public work sites include UW-Parkside, Gateway, and both the Racine Unified School District and the Burlington Area School District where employees will create and market in-school recycling programs.

The program is called E3, which is short for: "Employing Youth, Engaging Racine, Enriching the Earth."

UW-Parkside is among the 15 community partners involved in the program development. The partners also include Gateway Technical College, the City of Racine, United Way of Racine County, Racine Unified School District, Burlington Area School District, Racine County Cooperative Extension Office, Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Kenosha/Racine Community Action Agency, the Racine County Human Services Department, and the Racine YMCA.

Manpower, Inc., serves as the youths’ employer of record and administers the payroll, while Professional Services Group provides case management services as needed.

June 22, 2009

Becker emails

We've gotten a spirited response to our story reporting the city will charge over $10,000 to provide Gary Becker's emails for public inspection. I believe those emails are important because of a series of stories that RacinePost has unearthed in recent months revealing questionable decisions by our former mayor.

A couple of themes have emerged in the comments and further discussions:

1. The city has the right, and perhaps the obligation, under state law to waive the fees for releasing information that's in the public interest.

2. I've been waiting, but no one from the city has responded to our story. It's a little surprising that not one City Council member is upset enough by the former mayor's efforts to circumvent the council to take up this cause. Then again, it's a risky stance that could make things very lonely for an elected official.

3. A number of people are opposed to releasing the information. Their argument is to leave the past in the past.

4. A number of people are in favor of releasing the information. Some have offered to donate money and make a campaign around this issue. Let's pursue a different course, especially in these tough economic times.

5. We will pursue release of the emails at no expense in the public's interest. If anyone would like to lend support, or advice, please contact us at: racinepost@gmail.com

Silence on KRM

Short of our story on the Senate budget endangering KRM, no one's covered this angle of the budget. Why is that?

The Senate passed the budget 17-16 with Sen. John Lehman voting for a budget that likely will kill the prospect of commuter rail through Racine. State Rep. Cory Mason and Kerry Thomas, of Transit NOW, are both concerned about the Senate budget's impact on KRM, yet the JT, The Journal-Sentinel and the Kenosha News have ignored this issue.

Maybe they're waiting for the outcome of the conference committee between the Senate and the Assembly, where a budget will emerge for Gov. Jim Doyle to sign. But now is the time to examine why one Racine legislator seems to be working to save KRM and another seems OK with killing it, albeit subtly.

21st Century Prep wins $206,000 best practices grant

The 21st Century Preparatory School has been selected by the U.S. Department of Education and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction as one of 16 Reading Best Practices Model Sites for the 2009-2010 school year.

The recognition comes with a $206,000 grant.

21st Century Preparatory School, located at 1220 Mound Ave., was the first Wisconsin recipient of the federal Reading First grant five years ago. With on-going support from the program, 21st Century student reading scores have risen substantially. One of the major criteria required to become a Reading Best Practices Model Site was to demonstrate outstanding reading achievement in kindergarten through third grade. This year, the third grade students at 21st Century Preparatory School scored above the state average on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination which is given to all Wisconsin third grade students.

The purpose of the grant program is to introduce reading instruction best practices to other schools, by offering high-quality, low-cost professional development and classroom observation opportunities in successful Reading First classrooms.

Eight public schools from southern Wisconsin will be able to partner with 21st Century Preparatory School to receive on-site classroom visits, professional development provided by DPI, and professional development materials for classroom teachers.

Carol Barkow, 21st Century Board President, said, ”We are very pleased to have this opportunity to work with other schools in our area. Our teachers have done an exceptional job working with our students and will look forward to working with other teachers as we all strive to enhance our students reading skills.”

21st Century Preparatory School serves 490 Pre-K though 8th grade students in Racine and is a public school chartered by the University of Wisconsin – Parkside.

Kids First Fund gives $3,555 to RUSD teachers

The Kids First Fund is donating $3,555 to Racine Unified School District teachers for projects that improve the lives and learning of students in public schools. The June 2009 funded projects are:

"Creative Writing Support" -- $1,500: Every year, students of SC Johnson and Wadewitz Elementary Schools write a book to showcase beautiful, creative, literate writings. The Kids First Fund Grant will be utilized to publish the students' book, distribute a copy to all contributing students and provide additional copies for the schools' libraries.

The grant will also publish Survivor, a yearly book, written by SC Johnson and Wadewitz fifth grade students for current fourth grade students; it provides information such as a reflection of their last year, projects, advice on how to be successful working with their teachers, and what they have learned.

"Hands-on Activity Materials" -- $560: The grant will purchase materials at Fratt Elementary School.

"Focus on Your Future Conference" -- $500: The conference, for all RUSD high school special education students, is a workshop for students to obtain information about what Racine County agencies and post-secondary schools have to offer. The special education students will also learn and practice how to get a job; how to keep a job; what it takes to live independently.

"Positive Choices Fun Friday Activities" -- $500: SC Johnson Elementary School second and third grade classes established a "Fun Friday" activity every other Friday. Students who follow school and classroom rules participate in a fun activity.

"Science Curriculum Enhancement" -- $345: Fratt Elementary School will provide supportive science materials and services outside of the normal educational parameters. The school will purchase additional science books for a check-out home library system for the students to share the books with their families.

"Pies for People" -- $150: This service project during the Thanksgiving holiday will allow Wind Point Elementary School first grade students to help those in need. Around Thanksgiving time, these students collect food for food baskets for disadvantaged families within the Wind Point School. Pairing first and fifth grade students, the grant will help provide a homemade pumpkin pie with each basket.

The Kids First Fund is an endowment fund within the Racine Community Foundation. Teachers within the Racine Unified School District may request grants for special student projects. For more information,contact Stephanie Hayden, (262) 631-7057.

Phish 2009

Phish wrapped up the first leg of its summer tour Sunday night in Racine's backyard, offering two sonorous sets for the sold out crowd at Alpine Valley. (See the setlist here.) Here are a few camera phone shots from the concert:
The sold out crowd.

Mike Phishman


Light show

Trey on the screen

Organizers push individual, systemic changes to improve health care

We can fix the national health care by reforming the current system or sparking a movement to live healthier. Ryan Gleason and Kelly Gallaher, both from Community for Change in Racine, are working both angles.

Working with the group Eat Right Racine, Gleason and Gallaher met with community residents on June 17 to kick off the Neighborhood Walk Program at the Humble Park Community Center. About 20 people attended the event, which is designed to educate participants on living healthier and then bring people together for a group walk through the neighborhood.

Organizers, who also included Amanda DeSonia of Eat Right Racine, couldn't have picked a better location for the event. The meeting was held in the middle of several youth sports events and Humble Park was teaming with active families and children enjoying outside activities.

It's the type of community-based health care the Neighborhood Walk Program hopes to promote throughout the Racine area. But while organizers promote individual responsibility, they're also looking for Racine to weigh-in on the national debate over health care reform as Congress prepares to consider changes to how our system provides medical coverage.

Community for Change is hosting a "Community Conversation" on health care reform on Sunday, July 26 from 1-4 p.m. at the Masonic Center, 1012 Main St. in Racine.

The volunteer-driven event is designed to educate the public on competing plans for health care reform, gather local input on the debate and then send off a message to Washington D.C. to hopefully influence national discussions.

June 17's Neighborhood Walk Program was the continuation of a growing Racine-wide discussion on healthier living. Eat Right Racine is promoting better nutrition, particularly for children, and that's a prominent part of the six-week program based in Humble Park, which was chosen because of the strong support of Alderman Greg Helding. (Week 2 is Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Humble Park Community Center, 2200 Blaine Ave.)

Week 1 of the Neighborhood Walk Program focused on exercise. Marina Day, health and wellness coordinator at the YMCA, gave a talk on proper ways to get blood pumping and burn calories. Here's a couple of tips from Day:

1. Drink lots of water, but not Gatorade (unless you're doing high-intensity workouts for long periods of time).
2. Eat before exercising. If you workout with food in your stomach, you could end up burning muscle instead of fat.
3. Work in a variety of exercises. Washing and waxing the car, biking, dancing, water aerobics, shoveling and stair walking at home are all examples of exercises that will work the heart and muscles.

Day added that teen girls, in particular, should be encouraged to be active. While boys often are involved in sports, girls' activity tends to wane as they get older, she said.

To bring home the importance of exercise, Day said one in three Americans are overweight, 13.5 million suffer from heart disease and one in four people are not physically active. The message: We all could use some more exercise.

Here are photos from Week 1 of the Neighborhood Walk Program:

Marina Day talks about different levels of exercise. She recommended moderate exercise where you can feel the work, but you're not over-exerting yourself.

Participants walk in place and lift their arms over their heads. If you go out walking, Day said, exaggerate your arm and leg movements to get your blood pumping.

Following Day's session, the group went for a walk. Here they are at the end of the 15-minute walk around Humble Park.

Union Grove wins Frosted Flakes contest

The Village of Union Grove won a national contest to have an athletic field overhauled.

Gordon Svendsen, from the Village of Union Grove, said the village was one of 30 fields selected out 2,800 entries in Kellogg's Frosted Flakes National Athletic Field Makeover Program. He wrote about the win:

Kellogg's email to Union Grove asked for contact information to start working on overhauling the field. Svendsen said the community rallied to help the village win the contest.
It was due to the help of everyone that we were able to compete with Larger communities and win the field.

June 21, 2009

Raiders tame Lions, 34-10

Jennings, Taylor, Miles Star for New Look Raiders

With over half the roster being new, including three of the four quarterbacks, Racine Raiders head coach John Mamerow and his staff are truly looking to see how players perform in the preseason. The icing on the cake is a win.

Despite a slow start, including being down 3-0 at the end of the first quarter and winning 7-3 at halftime, the Raiders were able to pull away from the Leyden Lions in Melrose Park, Ill., Saturday and walk away with a 34-10 victory.

The Lions scored first and scored last, but everything in between was all Racine as they dominated the scoreboard and the stats, holding Leyden to 89 total yards and just five first downs. Leyden nearly had as many penalty yards, 77, as they did total yards.

The Raiders got notable performances out of veteran running backs Bryan Jennings, Jr. (10 rushes for 56 yards and a TD) and J.R. Taylor (10 rushes for 46 yards and two TDs).

Taylor, an undrafted rookie free agent for the Green Bay Packers out of Eastern Illinois University in 2003, came to the Raiders following the announcement that the Kane County Eagles would not field a team this season.

Wide Receiver Justin Miles, another former Eagle who played collegiately at St. Norbert's College, hauled in four passes for 103 yards and a touchdown from quarterback Chris Walsh (3-5, 54 yards). Walsh also had a 15-yard touchdown run in the game.

Punter Mike Morrison, who also handled kicking duties because Ben Aguilar is still playing indoor football, averaged 47 yards per punt and successfully converted four of five extra point attempts.

The Raiders amassed 286 total yards (130 passing, 156 rushing) in the victory.

The Raiders open Historic Horlick Field next week to play the Kilbourn City Hawks, a team out of the Wisconsin Dells area that play in the Mid-States Football League. The Raiders are having a "Recession Buster" special where all adult and senior tickets purchased at the gate will cost just $5. The Kilties Drum and Bugle Corps will perform at halftime. The game begins at 7 p.m. and the gates open at 5:30 p.m. Free parking is available in lots and on city streets around Historic Horlick Field.