July 11, 2009

Arashi takes the trophy at Dragon Boat Festival

The winning paddlers

Update: And the winner is...!

Arashi, in a time of 1:53.40, won the grand prize in the top-rated Diamond division.

Arashi (are-a-she) is Japanese for 'storm.' As members of the Racine Dragon Boat Club, they are a self sponsored, traveling team, also competing this year in Tampa, Lake Superior and Oshkosh. They start the season paddling in the pool in January and move to the boats May through October. The team receives financial support from Bultman Financial of Milwaukee.

Here are the final championship division results, presented by Rotary West's Chris Flynn, right, this year's Dragon Boat Festival chairman:
Diamond Division
1st: Arashi, 1:53.40
2nd: Angelfish, 1:55.43
3rd: Spring Dental Dragon Breath, 1:57.66
4th: Bucky's Concrete Crew, 2:01.55

Pearl Division
1st: Johnson Bank Vikings, 2:08.05
2nd: Nauti Crew, 2:13.81
3rd: City Slickers, 2:16.55
4th: Founders Strokers, 2:20.43

Jade Division
1st: Smile Makers, 1:58.84
2nd:Water Warriors, 1:59.76
3rd: Slippery When Wet, 2:04.03
Also, winners of the T-shirt contest are:
1st: Kenosha Row-tarians
2nd: Team RFD (Racine Fire Dept.)
Special mention: The Pirate team, the Pale Ale Paddlers
Original post:

A photo finish marked this race

The Great Midwest Dragon Boat Festival began on schedule this morning -- races started at 8 a.m. -- despite the thunderstorms that hit Racine during the night. Rotary race officials admitted to some worrisome moments at 4 and 5 a.m., as the worst of the storm brought driving rain -- but by 7 a.m. or so the skies cleared, the sun came out and it turned into a great day for dragon boat racing.

The championship race is scheduled for 5 p.m. today.

Pink Paddling Power team splashes to dry land through an honorary oar arch

Team members check the results board

JT photographer Scott Anderson grabs a great (and cool) vantage point

July 10, 2009

Parade and party open Dragon Boat festival

Whitefish Bay Kung Fu Club opened the festivities

Chinese lions dancing.

Pirate wenches wrestling. (Arghhh!)

Sweet corn, sweet potato pie, cotton candy, ice cream...

Booming bands and beer.

All this before a single Dragon Boat entered the water! What a fine start to Racine's sixth Great Midwest Dragon Boat Festival, which kicked off with a parade and a party Friday night -- a raucous, food-and-music-and-costumes affair enjoyed by hundreds at Samuel Myers Park at the Lakefront.

The event was dedicated by Chris Flynn, chairperson, to the memory of Ken Vetrovec, a member of Rotary West and a former Racine County Board chairman, who was killed this week in a motorcycle accident in Nevada. Mayor John Dickert welcomed the many out-of-town visitors, and urged them to enjoy themselves, spend all their money here and then paddle safely home.

On Saturday, the 45 teams of rowers will take to the water -- rain or shine, in most conditions, says the event website -- from about 8 a.m. until the championship race at about 5 p.m. Best viewing is from Simonsen Park, along the hill on Main Street between Sixteenth and Fourteenth Streets.

UU Paddle Paddle's lion from Olymbia Brown

PaleAle Paddlers fought their way down the parade route

Hope Boat paddlers, from Wheaton Franciscan- All Saints

Camio Camora got the place rockin'

Racine teachers union head resigns; Whitman leaves for job in Tampa

Racine Unified's teachers and educational assistants were already in for tough negotiations this summer with the school district facing an unexpected $8.2 million budget deficit. And now they're heading into negotiations minus an executive director.

REA and REAA Executive Director Nick Whitman (right) announced this week he was resigning after less than two years on the job. Whitman, hired in December 2007, is leaving Unified to lead a teacher's union in Tampa, Fla. He notified the Racine Education UniServ Council (REUC) of his resignation on Wednesday.

In his letter, Whitman said REUC would work toward hiring an interim executive director while a search is conducted for a permanent director. He also said the Wisconsin Education Association Council will support the local teachers and educational assistants unions in the interim period.

Whitman picked a difficult time to leave. Racine Unified needs to bridge an $8.2 million budget deficit this summer and fall by raising property taxes and cutting services. Unified's Board of Education could raise taxes 12 percent to $8.09 per $1,000 of assessed value to offset the deficit, but the district said in a statement this week it was already working with its labor unions to cut costs.

The district's statement said, in part:
Racine Unified is going to face some tough decisions related to that loss in state aid. However the District’s Board of Education does not have to make those tough decisions alone. Instead, the leaders of the unions representing the various District employee groups anticipate having the opportunity to work closely with Administrators and School Board members to ensure that all options are reviewed and that the budgetary focus remains on improving educational quality as outlined in the jointly created and recently adopted North Star Vision.

While the District and Union Leaders began meeting today regarding the budgetary situation, the specifics of those discussions cannot be shared at this time as they may impact contract negotiations.
Whitman is leaving to represent teachers in the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association in Tampa. He'll be executive director of an organization with 15,000 teachers and 8,000 educational assistants. It's the eighth-largest school district in the country.

Friedel will make $95,000; Starts Monday as city administrator

City Administrator Tom Friedel starts work on Monday.

The former mayor, City Council member and vice president at Twin Disc will start out making $95,000 per year, according to Friedel's contract, which was released Friday afternoon.

Here's additional details from the contract (download a copy here):
  • Friedel won't receive a raise in 2010, according to the contract. He'll be eligible for his next salary increase in 2011.
  • He starts with 60 sick days and accrues additional days like any other employee. If he leaves the job, he will not be paid for the 60 days he started with, but can cash out sick days accrued on the job.
  • He'll start with 10 vacation days and accrue additional time at the same rate as an employee with 18 years of experience. He can carry over 10 unused vacation days until June of the following year.
  • He receives a $100 monthly car payment.
  • The city will provide him with a cellphone.
  • If he's terminated, he'll receive a severance of six months salary.
Friedel's starting salary is $15,000 less than what previous City Administrator Ben Hughes made when he was hired. It's $20,000 less than Hughes' salary when he left the city.

A press release from Mayor John Dickert's office specifically noted that Friedel's contract was negotiated by the mayor and City Attorney Rob Weber with input from the City Council's Executive Committee and other aldermen. The Executive Committee is made up of the mayor, the City Council president, committee chairman and an appointment by the mayor.

Friedel has resigned his aldermanic seat representing the city's 10th District on the south side. He also leaves behind Twin Disc, a company where he's worked for 37 years.

Here's the press release from the mayor's office:
Mayor John Dickert hires City Administrator.

RACINE – Mayor John Dickert announced the hiring of Tom Friedel as City Administrator on Friday. Friedel will begin his work with the City of Racine on Monday July 13th, 2009.

Friedel, who accepted the appointment as City Administrator has signed a 6 year contract at $95,000 with no increase for 2010. The contract was negotiated between Mayor Dickert, Mr. Friedel and the City Attorney, along with input from the City Council Executive Committee and Aldermen.

The Common Council approved the appointment 12-1 on Tuesday the 7th. The appointment has met the criteria set by Mayor Dickert during his campaign. “The three goals we discussed were hiring someone locally, saving the city taxpayers money (over $40,000 in year one alone) and hiring someone experienced who can hit the ground running, have all been met as promised.”

Friedel, who worked for Twin Disc for 37 years, resigned as the Manager of Aftermarket Operation. He also resigned from the City Council where he served for 10 years to take the job with the City.

“I would like to thank the residents of the Tenth district for electing me five times to represent them. I would also like to express my gratitude to the members of the Common Council for giving me this opportunity to serve the citizens of Racine on a full-time basis. I look forward to working together with Mayor Dickert as we address the challenges and opportunities facing this city.”

Word of the Day


Marie Black: Focus on new Hispanic Center

Anonymous commenters on RacinePost have recently attacked Marie Black and Rolando Gomez after we reported the two were working with Mayor John Dickert to create a Hispanic Center in Racine. Black asked to respond to the criticisms in hopes of returning focus to the need for the Hispanic Center. We agreed and we're turning off comments on this post because Black invited readers to call her directly with anything they'd like to share. Here's her comments:
First of all as Mr. Gomez pointed out the center will be funded by private contributions. When Mayor Dickert was running for office, he spoke of a much needed Hispanic Center. Mr. Gomez and I thought it was a great idea, an idea that has been talked about for years and years. We decided it was time to get the project started. We approached Mayor Dicker with a business plan for a center. Other Hispanic Community Leaders could have done the same. But we did it, because we are determined and dedicated to creating this center. An advisory Committee has been formed, not yet completed. There are many prominent Hispanic and non-Hispanic individuals that have been approached. The Hispanic Round Table has also been invited to participate and other Hispanic organizations will also be invited. Let me make this very clear, Rolando and I have not been appointed by the Mayor to be in charge of the center. He simply has given us his support to proceed with a plan. I knew all the dirt would come out. I could have said “No Thanks” but because I feel so passionate about a center, I decided the greater goal was more important. I have made many mistakes and business decisions that I am not proud of . This does not take away from the fact that I am very capable of organizing such a project. We have a banker that will be in charge of financing, so no one has to worry about miss-handling of funds. We have a lawyer, Executive Directors of organizations and dedicated community leaders that will be involved in the project.

I chose to be active in the community, I do not expect everyone to support me or like me. The fact is there are many that do. I don’t say this with arrogance but with humility and gratitude. I am contributing to the welfare of the community every single day and have done so for many many years even when I was at my lowest with financial and personal problems. I am sure that most of you that have written in as anonymous cannot match my contributions nor can you say that you have my bad credit record. Consider yourself lucky, sometimes certain problems arise and we deal with them the best we can. No one can be sure how you would deal with the same situations. I’m not making excuses just stating my feelings. I have ONE judge only. I have never looked up anybodies personal information, nor would I. I have better things to do with my time and respect a persons personal life. I am sure there will be some that are going to BLOG under ANONYMOUS after reading this, please have some nerve and call me at 262-637-4520. I will answer any questions you may have.

I’d like to get all this over with and continue on with the MISSION of creating CENTER for not only Hispanics but the entire community and generations to come. Also, the racist comments are so ignorant and uncalled for, put your negative energy towards making Racine a better place for all of us.

Marie Black

July 9, 2009

Wanggaard announces bid for 21st Senate District

Four-term Racine County Board Supervisor Van Wanggaard today announced his candidacy for the 21st District State Senate seat currently held by John Lehman, D-Racine.
“Racine County has one of the worst unemployment situations in the state,” Wanggaard said. “With so many Wisconsinites and Racinians struggling to make ends meet, I am concerned that our state lawmakers are taking us in the wrong direction. We need a senator who will vote ‘no’ on higher taxes and job-killing policies. My campaign will be about giving the people of the 21st Senate District the representation they deserve in the State Senate.

“Citizens of the 21st Senate District are struggling every day to pay their bills and put food on the table. Hard-working people are being laid off, businesses are closing their doors, and families are being forced to tighten their belts like never before. Meanwhile, politicians in Madison are increasing wasteful and unnecessary spending and increasing taxes on everything from fuel to cell phone bills. It’s time for real leadership and real representation for the citizens of the 21st Senate District.

"My priorities will focus on strengthening our remaining businesses and creating a greater potential for job creation and expansion. Also, public safety is a priority that must be addressed. Releasing felons from prisons early for budgetary reasons circumvents the criminal justice process and puts the safety and security of our neighborhoods in jeopardy. To be successful, we have to decrease the individual tax burden, create good-paying jobs, attract new business, ensure public safety, and maintain core services for the hard-working people of the state.”
A former City of Racine police officer, Wanggaard is a member of the Racine Police and Fire Commission. He was first elected to the county board in 2002. His campaign website is HERE.

Lehman issued his own statement in response to Wanggaard's announcement.
“While I now have an announced challenger for State Senate I remain focused on the job the people of Racine County elected me to do. Clearly my opponent is announcing his campaign so early - sixteen months prior to the election -- to start the chase for special interest cash and try to match the $400,000 that was spent against me by my last opponent.

"The voters of the 21st Senate District deserve an honest campaign that’s focused on what needs to be done to meet the challenges we face. When the time is right I’m going to run just that kind of campaign and hope that my opponent feels the same and his campaign would reflect that.

"It’s hard work, leadership, and a willingness to be straight with the people about the choices and the investments we need to make that will get our economy going again. The same old, tired partisan politics and rhetoric doesn’t create jobs, improve schools, keep our streets safe, make health care more affordable or balance a state budget.

"I’ve been working to make our communities stronger as citizen and concerned father, teacher, alderman and now a member of the State Senate. I’ve never shied away from taking on the powerful special interests to stand up for middle class and working families, kids and seniors. I’m proud to stand on my record."
Lehman defeated Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds in 2008.

Career Industries receives state partnership award

Wisconsin’s State Use Board has presented Careers Industries with the 2009 State Use Program Partnership Award for partnering with Heritage Bags to contract with the state for polyethylene trash can liners. The award was presented on Thursday, July 9, in Madison.

“We’re honored to receive this award,” said Gary Goodsell, Careers’ Fulfillment Services director. “This state program is a tremendous example of how Wisconsin taxpayers and persons with disabilities can all benefit. We hope that this program will continue to succeed and grow so that more jobs can be created for people with disabilities, and the reliance on taxpayer funding to support community rehabilitation programs such as ours will be minimized.”

The State Use Program encourages job growth for Wisconsin residents with disabilities through the purchasing power of state agencies. Careers Industries was awarded the contract to manufacture and sell trash can liners in 2005 and has been working to expand commercial and retail sales. Under the terms of the contract, 75 percent of the labor must be provided by people with disabilities. In 2008, Careers Industries manufactured 13.5 million trash can liners.

Careers Industries facilities are at 3502 Douglas Ave. in Racine and 161 Industrial Dr. in Burlington.

Mozol requests outside investigation into City Council email addresses; Sets 'no time limit' on how far back investigators can look

Alderman Robert Mozol made an official request today for an outside investigation into the use of City Council members' email addresses.

Mozol said he made the request after reading a story in RacinePost suggesting a City Council member allowed someone outside of city government to log into their email account on a regular basis. The request went to the entire City Council, Mayor John Dickert and City Attorney Rob Weber.

"We need an outside investigation and let the chips fall where they may," said Mozol, one of at least two aldermen who are taking allegations seriously.

"We shouldn't even consider someone close to the city" looking into the matter, he added.

Mozol said he set no limit on the scope of the investigation.

"I have no time limit," he said. "If it goes back five years than so be it."

He said he called for the outside investigation after being repeatedly surprised by news out of City Hall. The email issue is just the latest in a series of allegations and revelations over the past year.

"I wake up in the morning and wonder what I'm going to read today," Mozol said.

RacinePost has filed a records request with the city as part of its own investigation into City Council members' use of emails. The request is pending with the City Attorney's office.

City Council regresses on public review of administrator's contract

Update: That didn't take long. Shortly after posting this I got a call defending the City Council.

The council's Executive Committee met in closed session before the council's full meeting on July 7 to discuss the terms of Friedel's contract. It was reportedly a "rancorous" debate over issues including: pay, sick leave and how Friedel could be removed as administrator. There was also a great deal of discussion over whether Friedel was being treated differently because he was a City Council member.

About 10 people were in the meeting, which was noticed as a meeting to consider "employment or compensation of a public employee over which the Common Council has jurisdiction or exercises authority." Not sure why they didn't just say: "to discuss the city administrator's contract."

The Executive Committee is made up of Mayor John Dickert and Alderman Sandy Weidner, Greg Helding, Aron Wisneski, QA Shakoor II and Jim Spangenberg. All of the aldermen were invited to the meeting, but some were unable to attend.

"To say we went back to the old way is just wrong," according to the caller, who asked to be unnamed.

They also assured that the City Council could change the final contract if significant changes are made to the agreement reached in closed session.

So to answer the question at the end of the original post: Yes, the contract was important enough to hold a committee meeting over. It's just not important enough to hold that meeting in public for all to see.

Original post:

How quickly we forget.

Just two years ago City Council members chastised themselves for not carefully reviewing a contract that paid outgoing City Administrator Steve Nenonen $29,000 for unused sick days after just three years of service.

"Obviously (the council) didn’t realize what it would amount to," Alderman Jim Spangenberg told The Journal Times in 2007 about Nenonen's contract.

"(The council) made a mistake," he added.

In response, Mayor Gary Becker asked the City Council to review the contract of incoming City Administrator Ben Hughes. Hughes' one-year, renewing contract was sent to the Personnel and Finance Committee (chaired at the time by Alderman Tom Friedel) and every member of the City Council was given a copy before voting Sept. 4, 2007 to approve the contract. Hughes received no settlement when he left his job on Feb. 16.

So what happened this time when the city hired a new administrator? The council reverted to the process it used to hire the guy who got the $29,000 buyout. Council members voted July 7 to authorize Mayor John Dickert and City Attorney Rob Weber to negotiate a six-year contract with Friedel to become the next administrator. Neither the council, nor its Personnel and Finance Committee (chaired by Spangenberg), will review the contract before it's enacted.

Talking off the record, one alderman said council members decided not to review the contract because they trusted city staff and the mayor to handle the details. But while they may trust the mayor and city attorney to negotiate a fair deal with one of their colleagues, the lack of public oversight is troubling.

Dickert and Friedel declined to talk about salary or benefits Friedel will receive as administrator (Friedel simply said he would make "significantly less" than Hughes' $115,000 salary), and there are some important questions about what exactly a six-year contract means. But the public won't know any of these details until they're already locked in place, presumably through 2015.

It's hard to understand why City Council members would accept this deal without at least seeing the paperwork. It's all the more questionable because a former colleague is involved. Think about it: Twelve aldermen just voted to pay another alderman at least $500,000 over six years. Isn't that worth at least a committee meeting?

Gary Becker, in limbo...

Kingston Avenue is a quiet, tree-lined street north of the zoo, bordered on both sides by small, well-kept homes, with neatly trimmed lawns. I pulled up in front of the one with a For Sale By Owner sign in the lawn, a flooring company's van in the driveway and a plumber's van parked by the sidewalk.

I walked toward the open garage, where a man was inside, staining three new closet doors. "Hello," I said. The man stopped his work, took off his gloves and came out to greet me. "Hello," Gary Becker replied, shaking my extended hand.

Racine's former mayor is remaking himself, just as surely as he is remodeling the little house at 1019 Kingston Ave. Barely six months after his resignation from office in disgrace -- a week after his arrest on child sexual enticement and pornography charges -- he appears trim, healthy and in good spirits. He's kept off the weight he lost two years ago, before his last election campaign. He still has the closely trimmed grey beard, the broad smile, a hearty laugh.

He was wearing sneakers, jeans, a baseball cap from Kenny's Bar and Grill and a black-t-shirt commemorating the 61st Festival d'Avignon, a memento from a happier time in 2007, when he led the city's delegation overseas to mark the 50th anniversary of Racine's sister city relationship with Montelimar, France.

Becker's delegation-leading days are gone forever, but he seems none the worse for his change in circumstances. Political opponents, and citizens hoping to hear he's leading a miserable life, wallowing in self-pity as the legal process plays out -- his next court appearance is July 16 on a motion to suppress much of the evidence against him -- will be disappointed. Becker's doing OK.

He's been keeping busy all along -- at first working in the dry cleaning business he built from scratch in 1991 -- "I learned as I went along." -- into a five-store chain. He sold the last of the stores, the one on Durand Avenue, in June. Now he's embarked on another career: refurbishing a home bought in foreclosure. "My brother is my partner," he said, referring to John Becker's role as "banker" in the transaction. But Gary Becker is providing the sweat equity -- 10-12 hours a day, he says -- as the home bought for $75,000 is transformed inside and out.

Becker has no formal training as a home remodeler, but neither does he have an aversion to hard work. "You do everything when you have a small business," he says. "Painting, installing, grunt work. It doesn't take a genius to call a plumber, an electrician or someone to sand the floors."

"I love doing this," he says, ticking off the improvements he's making to the house: new doors, new light fixtures, the floors all sanded, new paint, new basement windows, new sink and toilet in the bathroom. "Every piece of hardware will be brand new." ... on and on he goes. "This home is either looking like a million bucks when I'm done, or I'm not yet done. By next week, it should be looking like a brand new home.

"The nice part of doing this," he says, "is that there's a beginning , a middle and an end. Never had a job like that before."

Becker is comfortable talking about the house project, but understandably unwilling to talk about the events that brought him to this place. "My lawyer would kill me for talking to you," he says, making clear that some subjects are strictly off limits, or off the record: the case against him, his relationship with his family, with city officials and the aldermen he worked with for years.

Still, he allows, "The support from family and friends has been phenomenal."

"I feel good," Becker, 51, says. "People ask how I'm doing and I say, 'I feel good,' and they say, 'No, really, how are you?' When I start feeling bad I think: I'm not a baby in Darfur. I've got a roof over my head and a job and friends. I don't lose a lot of sleep.

"I've learned that what other people think about me is none of my business. Whether it's good, bad or indifferent, it doesn't mean a thing." Nor, he says, will he lose any sleep over the abuse we both expect will be thrown his way because of this article. (I'm here, in fact, because of an anonymous tip that Becker has introduced himself to neighbors and that they are concerned because several teen-aged girls live nearby. Becker says the neighbors he's spoken to have been friendly.)

Becker says he's taking care of himself, keeping off the weight by eating better, "regularly working out at the Y, and meditating." He says he quit smoking "back in October, and through all this I never picked it up again."

The only city issue he's willing to talk about on the record is the somewhat controversial Nic Noblique sculpture bought under his watch for Uptown, and recently installed on Washington Avenue. "The sculpture is fine," he said, "But I don't know when the rest of that corner is going to be done. I hope that's not the end of it." As for critics of the sculpture itself, he shrugs. "Art's art. Some may love it; someone else may hate it. That's the fun."

We talked a bit about the mosaic he had Philadelphia artist Isaiah Zagar install on two Uptown walls last summer -- how they've remained intact despite predictions they'd be vandalized. "You've gotta have faith in people," Becker said. "Look at the Adirondack chairs downtown. They said they'd be gone by now (stolen), but every one of them is still there."

Becker gives me a tour of the house. He points out the tree in front. "I planted that. I threw my back out, doing it. It's a red maple, the biggest I could fit in the trunk of my car." He stoops to pull some weeds from the lawn, and to point out the new landscaping around the house, and the lean-to over the back door that he'll remove. There's nothing wrong with it, except aesthetically it doesn't fit the architecture.

He looks up on the roof and points to an ugly roof vent. "There isn't anything I know (about this house) that isn't right. I'm going to climb up on the roof and spray paint that vent, and take the TV antenna down."

Inside, the newly sanded living room floor awaits its finish coat, the bathroom is still gutted to the studs, but Becker is happy because there's room for a recessed medicine cabinet. In the kitchen, he shows off the new Corian counter and sink; in the bedrooms, the new fans and lighting fixtures, new outlets throughout. He's power washed and painted the basement's walls and floors. The house was built in 1947, he says; he knows this because the date was stamped under the lid of the toilet tank.

Today's plumber is loading up his van, and Becker asks him, "How much do I owe you, young man?" The bill is $128 and Becker writes him a check. "I couldn't leave a slow-running drain for the next owner," Becker says. "I'd rather make a couple grand less than have the young people who buy this cussing me."

Becker realizes that home remodeling may be a short-lived career. "The foreclosure business won't last forever," he says. Still, he and his brother are planning to inspect a few more houses this afternoon, looking for his next project. "Entrepreneurs aren't like gamblers," he says. "SC Johnson can spend a fortune on a start-up, and fail, and survive. But a small start-up business can't. The housing market sucks right now. What am I doing swimming upstream?"

Outside again, Becker stands uncomfortably for a picture. "I haven't posed for a picture in so long," he says. He ticks off the few houses in the neighborhood that are for sale, comparing them to the one he will be selling. One is more expensive than the $129,000 he is asking; another is smaller than his house's 1,285 sq. ft.; anther has only two bedrooms to his house's three; another has "grass that's waist high."

"The only reason I agreed to talk to you," he says, smiling, "is to get free publicity to sell this thing. Send me a buyer!" We watch a woman coming down the street, pushing a carriage with two toddlers; she stops at one of the houses for sale and takes a brochure from the Realtor's box out front.

When she gets close, Becker calls out, "Are you looking for a house?"

"I have a house," she replies. "But this is a better neighborhood. How many bedrooms does yours have?"

Interested in a newly refurbished house? Call 414-651-6538.

Mars or the Moon bring sweetness, grit to Festival Hall Friday

(From left to right) Joe Hart, Lenen Nicola and Lani Williams of the group Mars or the Moon. Hart and Williams formed the Indianapolis-based group and are scheduled to play Friday at Racine's "Music for the Halibut," sponsored by Miller Lite, at Festival Park, 5 Fifth St. in Racine. Gates open at 4 p.m. Show starts at 5 p.m. Admission is FREE.

When you hear acoustic duo, you probably think folk music or at least something with a softer sound.

Throw out that idea before hearing Mars or the Moon, the Indianapolis band that's playing "Music for the Halibut" on Friday at Festival Hall.

The "acoustic duo" of Lani Williams and Joe Hart is really a rock group minus the electric guitars. Their original songs, collected on their first album, "The Price of Love," feature Williams' gorgeous vocals backed by Hart's skillful riffs. And their three-hour show Friday will feature songs by Led Zepplin, the Beatles, the Black Crowes, Tori Amos and possibly Guns N Roses.

"We definitely rock a lot harder than most folk bands," Hart said in an interview this week.

He credited Williams' singing as the key to Mars or the Moon's sound.

"Her voice is the treat," Hart said, noting people have compared Williams to Sarah McLachlan. "She has a beautiful tone and accurate pitch."

"Lani really, really connects with audiences. When she's singing songs she's really digging deep, she tries to take you home. I'm very, very humbled by her singing."

Hart said his role is to bring an edge to the group.

"I'll be there to add grit to her sweetness," he said.

Mars or the Moon formed about five years ago when Williams came to Hart seeking guitar lessons. But at the first lesson she played three songs she'd already written.

"I told her, 'You're already an artist. I'm going to help you make a record,'" Hart recalled.

The two started writing and playing songs together and a musical bond formed. They started playing out and then brought on a percussionist. When it came time to record an album, they wanted a full sound so they hired studio musicians to play along. (Those studio musicians happened to be John Mellancamp's bassist and drummer; both are touring with Mellancamp this summer.)

Along the way, Hart and Williams discovered more than a musical bond. The two began dating about four years ago and recently celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary. Hart said having a musician wife helps deal with the rigors of a performer's life.

"It makes things so much easier," Hart said. "When you're playing music, you don't keep normal business hours. You run a later shift kind of job, so it really is a joy to play and travel together."

The band's title comes from a story Hart shares about growing up in rural northwestern Indiana. He drove an hour to the nearest record store just to order albums he'd read about in magazines. When the albums came in, he described getting them as receiving "transmissions from Mars or the Moon." When Williams heard the story she seized on the phrase for the band's title.

The group has already had regional and national success. They play throughout the Midwest opening for bands like Todd Snider and Jonatha Brooks. They've also traveled a few times to California for "mini-tours" of shows and radio appearances.

Williams and Hart landed the Racine gig through their label, Indie500 Records, which had a connection with Rik Edgar, who heads Racine's Civic Centre. Edgar has brought in a handful of bands off the label, and Mars or the Moon is playing their second show in Racine. Their first was June 19 during a torrential rain. They still drew about 30 people for the show and they're looking for a bigger crowd tomorrow with the free admission and the growing awareness of the "Music for the Halibut" concerts.

Listening to their songs, it's no surprise people are taking notice. One striking track is "Ray," described by the band as a tribute to Ray LaMontagne and Aslan the Lion. The sweet ballad opens with the line, "Look out here comes a ray of sunshine" and floats on from there. Another is the title track, which is a menacingly cool rocker that grabs you from the intro. (Hear both at: www.myspace.com/marsorthemoon)

Hart said he and Williams have big hopes for the band. All of Mars or the Moon's members – which ranges from two to six depending on the show and who's available – have day jobs to support their music careers, at least for now.

"Slowly we're trying to build up to where the day job becomes obsolete," Hart said, though adding the band is about more than money. "Our main goal of playing music is sharing joy with people."

Mars or the Moon play Friday at Racine's "Music for the Halibut," sponsored by Miller Lite, at Festival Park, 5 Fifth St. in Racine. Gates open at 4 p.m. Show starts at 5 p.m. Admission is FREE.

July 8, 2009

Meet more of the Dragon Boat teams...

Last week, we printed some brief biographies of a number of the teams that will compete in this weekend's Great Midwest Dragon Boat festival. Here are a few more:

Flynnigan's Wake: "Move over Gramma... this ain’t no funeral!" The Flynn Family and friends have had a team in the race every year since the first Great Midwest Dragon Boat Festival in 2004. Flynnigan’s Wake is sponsored by DP Wigley, Minuteman Press, AD-vantage Promotions, Sophisticatering, and Hop to It -- all Flynn family-owned businesses. Our matriarch and patriarch, Joan and Larry Flynn, were topnotch paddlers (just ask the naughtier kids.) Their nine children, now in their 40s and 50s, enlisted spouses and friends to join the team to make up the 22 it takes to fill the boat. Look for the younger generation of Flynns to take over, as there are 22 nieces and nephews waiting in line to paddle!

Sentient: Team Sentient is sponsored by George's tavern and Redline Tavern; the name was chosen by one of the sponsors. This will be the team's fourth year participating; most of the team has been on the boat all four years. The team is made up of friends; "some of us didn't know each other until we got together to race the first year. Since then, we have built strong friendships and have gained new friends each year. Our team likes the socializing and competitiveness of the races. We come together to help raise money for Rotary clubs and for a great day of fun together." --Tracey Larrin

Golden Wing Dragons: The team is composed of employees and family members from True Life Homes LLC, its sponsor. True Life provides services to residents with developmental disabilities in a group home environment with 24-hour care. The name was chosen by employees.This is the team's first year competing; team captain Rosie Rodriguez previously competed with Racine county and she thought up the idea of a company team.

Rowing Stones: The dragon boat festival sounded like a good opportunity for the not-necessarily-young-or-buff folks to get out and compete in an athletic sport. Forming a work team -- work being Victory Lakes Continuing Care Center in Lindenhurst, IL -- seemed like better odds than a family team to gather 21 people who must get along before and after the practices and race day. Our team has had the medical director, director of nursing, wound care specialist, numerous occupational and physical and speech therapists, nurses, social workers, secretaries, maintenance, pharmacist, and marketing, along with various dependable family members. The Village at Victory Lakes is a Franciscan Sisters of Chicago Community and is our sponsor. The Rowing Stones name was felt to best describe our athleticism, it could represent our swiftness as rowing stones gather no barnacles or our stiffness as stones with.... guitars? no... paddles attached. Our first year we were almost last, but over the years we've risen to mingle in the algae at the top of the Pearl Division and in the medical field category. Eight to ten of the Stones have remained anchored in the team from the start and helped to recruit others. --Gail Treffinger

Calvary Clippers: The team is co-sponsored by Wilson Funeral Home and Calvary Memorial Church. This year is our sixth year of participation; a special thanks to Wilson Funeral Home for faithfully sponsoring us each year. This team is mostly made up of people who regularly attend the services of Calvary Memorial Church. --Dan Mouw

Wet Kennels: The Wet Kennels are named for the Ukranian Dragon Boat pioneers Irene and Boon Kennel. Most of the paddlers in the boat are direct descendants, spouses or family friends. They have been racing for five years and are self sponsored through a variety of careers, odd jobs and borrowing cash from their underwater mortgages. They enjoy getting together for long weekends practicing in the Root River and the adrenaline rush of the racing start. The Wet Kennel members travel in from many states, including Montana, North Carolina, Florida and even Illinois. --Eric Ohler

Our earlier list of teams is HERE.

Sturtevant saves money by not filling some positions

By Heather Asiyanbi

It's no secret that the tumultuous economic climate is taking its toll on smaller communities when it comes to delivering services. Revenues from building permits have slowed to a trickle; state revenue sharing is being drastically reduced; and state statutes limiting the amount municipalities can collect from property owners mean the struggle to maintain the status quo is even more difficult.

In Sturtevant, the village board and Mark Janiuk, village administrator, are working to save money by not filling a few positions and folding those duties into other departments.

Fred Kobylinski served as the village's building inspector until last May. He made approximately $54,000 a year with $20,000 in benefits like health insurance and paid vacation. The village won't comment on the reasons behind his dismissal beyond saying that as an at-will employee, Kobylinski could be terminated without cause. For now, building inspector duties are being contracted out to the Village of Mount Pleasant on a temporary basis.

"It's unfortunate that we had to let Fred go," said Village President Steve Jansen. "And even though it is a temporary arrangement with Mount Pleasant, it could be a longer term kind of temporary given the economy."

Under the terms of the agreement, Sturtevant will only pay for the hours the Mount Pleasant inspector actually works.

"This is a considerable savings for Sturtevant and with development down so dramatically, we may not need to fill the position for a while yet," Janiuk said.

Mount Pleasant Village Administrator Mike Andreasen confirmed the arrangement.

"Our two villages work together all the time, and this is just another example of inter-governmental cooperation," he said. "We're saving money for taxpayers in both villages and still delivering a needed service."

The assistant building inspector was also let go earlier this year, saving the village about $27,000 in salary.

Roger Fryberger, former village treasurer, retired last year with a salary of about $54,000 and another $20,000 in benefits. Janiuk confirmed that this position remains vacant and there are no plans to fill it any time soon. Instead, Fryberger's responsibilities are being carried out by Janiuk, the village's accounting clerk, and Mary Hanstad, village clerk.

Additionally, Chuck Stachowski, director of public works, has been called to active duty with the Army Reserves. He leaves later this fall for a tour of Iraq and while he's gone, Janiuk and crew leaders will take over his duties. Stachowski also makes about $54,000 per year with $20,000 in benefits. Janiuk stressed that when Stachowski returns, his job will be waiting for him.

"The economy isn't doing smaller communities like ours any favors," Jansen said. "Our challenge for our residents is to make sure we deliver services they've come to expect and work to save money at the same time."

All told, it's estimated that Sturtevant will save over $200,000 in salaries and benefits through the end of 2010.

Heather Asiyanbi covers Sturtevant, Mount Pleasant and Caledonia for RacinePost. She can be reached at: asiyanbi@wi.rr.com

Questions about city council member's email use

Look for news in the near future about a City Council member's email usage.

Everyone's buttoned up at the moment, but there's reportedly evidence of people outside of city government logging into a council member's email account. We've heard rumors of this for months and filed this records request in June:
Pursuant to the state open records law, Wis. Stat. Ann. sec. 19.31 to 19.37, I write to request access to and a copy of the IP addresses used to log into all 15 aldermanic email accounts from Jan. 1, 2008 to June 4, 2009. If your agency does not maintain these public records, please let me know who does and include the proper custodian’s name and address.
Since filing the request, we've worked with Assistant City Attorney Nicole Loop but have yet to receive the records.

On Wednesday, Paul Ancona, head of the city's email system, declined comment on the investigation into the IP addresses and referred us to City Attorney Rob Weber.

We left a message for Weber on Wednesday, but have yet to get a response.

Who takes over the 10th district?

Now that Tom Friedel is the new city administrator he'll have to vacate his seat on the City Council. Who will take over? And how?

The council, which is responsible for addressing the vacancy, has three choices for the 10th District seat:

1.) It can appoint an interim replacement.
2.) It can call a special election.
3.) It can leave the seat vacant until the election next spring.

There's no timetable we know of to replace Friedel.

The 10th District is roughly bounded by 21st Street on the North, the Union Pacific Railroad Line on the East, Taylor Avenue and the Old North Shore Bike Trail on the West, and the city limits on the south.

Cut in state aid means Racine Unified facing steep property tax increase

Get ready for a property tax increase.

Racine Unified, like many school districts around the state, will face the troubling decision this fall of cutting spending or increasing property taxes to cover a $4.8 million decrease in general state aid.

The news came down this week as school officials came to realize the brutal impact the recently passed state budget will have on districts. (The news may be equally grim for local governments, which are also facing state aid cuts.)

Dave Hazen, Unified's finance officer, described the situation in terms of pie. The Legislature had already determined Unified would have a smaller pie next school year by reducing the annual increase in spending per student. (Yeah, yeah, we know this is a case of an increase being called a decrease, but in terms of budgets, it means a cut in services.)

Unified used the state number to pass a preliminary budget on June 15 that assumed a $3.4 million increase in general state aid. But after the Legislature and Gov. Jim Doyle passed the budget, Unified is now facing a $4.8 million decrease in state aid. (In southeastern Wisconsin, only Waukesha faces a larger decrease.)

Hazen explained that the only way to make up that money is to cut services or increase local property taxes. The district was already anticipating an increase of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in its preliminary budget. By our calculations, without any cuts in spending (and remember, the School Board already made cuts in its preliminary budget), the district could be looking at a $1 per $1,000 (13.9%) increase in property taxes (that's $150 on a home valued at $150,000, and doesn't include property tax increases from other governments).

The School Board's job over the summer will be to figure out how much of the lost state revenue to pass on to taxpayers and how much to address through cuts, Hazen said.

"The question is how big is the slice (from the state) going to cover and big are local property taxes going to cover," he said.

School districts all over Wisconsin are facing the same decision. Salem, Madison and Oshkosh are all in near-crisis mode after learning of the reductions in state aid. One in four districts around the state will lose 15 percent of their state aid. (Here's a list of state aid to regional school districts.)

Amazingly, Kenosha Unified is not one of the districts facing a cut in state aid. The district actually will receive a $600,000 increase from the state, Hazen said. State officials explained away the roughly 90 school districts who will receive an increase in state money as the product of a "complex" funding formula.

Hazen is still waiting for a response from the Department of Public Instruction on the discrepancy between Racine and Kenosha.

You may also wonder if any of the federal stimulus money could help offset the lost state aid. In a word, Hazen said: "No."

The federal money was already used to minimize cuts in the preliminary budget, he said. It also can only be used for specific purposes, such as special education or math and reading instruction in schools with low-income students.

So what does all of this mean? Look for an increased tax bill later this year. How big, at least Unified's share, must be determined by Oct. 15. The School Board will hold a public hearing on the budget in August before voting on the final budget for the 2009-2010 school year.

Friedel gets six-year deal to lead city's day-to-day operations

Update: Friedel is meeting with Dickert and City Attorney Rob Weber today to hammer out a contract. He'll likely be on the job Monday.

Some people have asked about the City Council's oversight of the contract. The council gave approval last night for the mayor and city attorney to work out an agreement, and the contract will not come back to the council for further approval.

Friedel said he planned to talk with the press tomorrow morning after the contract is finalized.

Also, below I wondered about Friedel's role in removing the previous administrator. I've been assured the city administrator's job was a total surprise to Friedel and that he had no eye on the job prior to being offered the position.

And an interesting fact: The city administrator is the only person in the city who gets a contract.

Original post:

And just like that, Tom Friedel is Racine's new city administrator. A few notes on the selection:

* Based on knowing Racine and city government, Friedel is highly qualified. You could argue he knows City Hall better than anyone anywhere. He'll start off with instant respect from city officials, a luxury past administrators didn't have.

* Friedel was smart to get a six-year contract. While the dollar amount isn't set, if past administrators are a sign, he'll be making over $100K a year in his new job. (That's quite the upgrade from the $6,900 paid to aldermen.) It provides long-term security for a job that, in any government, can disappear quickly.

* It's always concerning when someone intimately involved with the dismissal of the previous administrator takes over his job. Friedel worked out an agreement for Hughes to resign and now has Hughes' old job. I'm interested to know (and probably never will) who suggested Friedel for the city administrator job.

* This is a big step toward re-election for Dickert. Friedel hadn't ruled out running for mayor in spring 2011 and would have been a formidable candidate. Now he's making more money than he would have as mayor and is in charge of the city's day-to-day operations - without the hassle of an election.

July 7, 2009

New local website focuses on crime...and change

Just what we need, a new website devoted to crime in Racine!

(No, I'm not taking a jab at the Journal Times' website where, as I write this, five of the ten Local story links are to crime stories.)

Rather, let's take an introductory look at Racine Uncovered It's a day old; so far it has three days' worth of Police Blotter headings: just the address and type of police call involved. Like this small snippet, plucked at random:
  • 4000 Marquette Dr – Civil trouble
  • 2000 Superior – Trouble with kids
  • NORTH BEACH OASIS – Vandalism to vehicle
  • 1300 Erie – Graffiti
  • 900 Grand – Civil trouble
  • 2800 Jean Av – Trouble with kids
  • 17th/Howe – Fight
How about a Poll asking, "Are the leaders of Racine addressing the crime problems?" (So far, 2 say yes; 90 say no...)

There are some crime prevention tips, a listing of Police and Fire scanner codes ("10-4, Dan-O!") and a list of phone numbers and email contacts for area Police and Racine aldermen. There's also an Opinion page, which now holds an introductory and earnest piece dated Monday with this explanation about the site's creator and its genesis:
I am not a news agency, I am not a reporter, hell I am just like all of you. I guess I just got so sick of how this city is spiraling down that I wasn’t going to sit back and bury my head in the sand like so many others do. Crime isn’t going to disappear over night, the thugs and criminals that are preying on this city aren’t just going to up and move. We have been in this mess for quite awhile and it’s going to take ALL OF US and I mean every resident, young adult, & child to start making changes to better this city. We have to open our eyes when we see something wrong and not turn away. (I always say don’t put yourself in danger to stop something) but if you see something, do something about it. First and most importantly, get to know your neighbors, watch each others' backs. Keep an eye on the elderly in your area (think of them as your parents and or grandparents). Start being kind to each other, pay it forward a little...

Most importantly I hope somehow this creates change on people’s blocks, right outside their front doors, that they become more aware of what is going on, reporting crimes to the police and working with the police to clean up their streets. This site isn’t going to change Racine overnight but I hope it gets the ball rolling.
The blog's author identifies herself, through a link to a 2006 story by the JT's Mike Moore, as Beth David, a woman whose sister was killed in 2005 by an unlicensed driver who then essentially went unpunished. David fought to get the law changed; it is now a felony in Wisconsin to seriously injure or kill someone while driving without a license.

And so, we have a new website focused on crime -- and on making a difference. It'll be interesting to see what comes of it.

HT to Orbscorbs at JT Irregulars

2,000 and counting ...

Please excuse the self promotion, but RacinePost hit a mini-milestone over the holiday weekend. We posted our 2,000th story on our main blog since it was started on Sept. 29, 2007. That averages out to about three news posts a day (not including Racine Kiosk, Pete's haiku posts, Obituaries, ads and the dozens of links we post weekly.)

Truly, thank you to our readers for your support and comments. You keep us going and push us to keep expanding. Here's to the next 2,000 posts!

Janes School receives best practices grant

Janes Year-Round Elementary School, Wisconsin's first year-round school, is one of 16 state to receive a Reading Best Practices Model Site grant. The 17 schools will draw from a pool of slightly over $3 million for this professional development initiative. In June, 21st Century Preparatory School announced that it had received a similar $216,000 grant.

Starting in 2003, the Reading First program has focused on closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged K-3 students and their peers by helping all students become proficient readers by third grade. Among its strengths was a requirement that all K-3 teachers and principals in the state's 60 participating Reading First schools receive at least 36 hours of reading-related training each year.

Wisconsin's original grant also declared the state's intent to share best practices from Reading First classrooms with non-Reading First schools. Teachers in those schools will attend four one-day workshops and then visit Reading First classrooms to observe teachers implementing those best practices. A follow-up discussion will help visiting teachers understand what they observed and how each best practice is employed.

Janes Year-Round teachers have agreed to be observed several times in Winter/Spring 2010. Best practices include delivery of a core-reading program; a focus on the five elements (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension); 90 minutes of reading instruction; an additional 30 minutes of reading interventions/supplements; screening, diagnostic, and progress-monitoring assessments; data retreats and data-driven decision making, among others.

Ken Vetrovec killed in Nevada motorcycle accident

Ken Vetrovec, former chairman of the Racine County Board, was killed Monday in a motorcycle accident near Ely, Nevada.

Vetrovec was on vacation, riding his red 2000 Indian Chief across country on historic Route 66. His trip started on June 22, and he reached the endpoint of Route 66 in Santa Monica, CA, on Sunday.

On Monday, he headed toward home on US 395, the East Sierra Scenic Highway, having logged 3,500 miles. His final blog post Monday morning is here. The pictures, left, are from the blog, Motorcycle Riding Route 66, which he created to chronicle his trip. As he wrote at the start, "If you share my love of Route 66, I hope that our paths will cross. If not on the road, then on this blog."

The Nevada Highway Patrol said the accident took place on US 6, about 37 miles east of Ely; Vetrovec's motorcycle drifted off the highway on a curve and struck a steel mile marker. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Trooper Jim Stewart recovered Vetrovec's camera from the crash site and said he apparently was taking pictures because the last image on his camera showed the curve where he crashed. He was wearing a helmet.

Vetrovec, 59, of Caledonia, was executive director of the Gateway Technical College Foundation. He served six terms on the County Board, representing the 15th District. He lost a bid for re-election in 2006.

He joined Rotary in 1979, was a member of Rotary West, and was planning to volunteer at the Great Midwest Dragon Boat Festival this weekend. Vetrovec, an Eagle Scout, was a 2007 recipient of the Cliff Dochterman Award given to a Rotarian for distinguished and dedicated service to Scouting.

He leaves his wife, Janet, and sons, David, Brian and Paul.

Bryan Albrecht, Gateway Technical College president, said today, “Our thoughts and prayers are with Ken's family as he has led an inspirational journey in life. The Gateway community is deeply saddened by his loss and honors Ken for his compassionate service to others.

“Ken was dedicated to Gateway, our students and the Foundation. He will be missed, but his efforts to continually build the Foundation and its resources for the benefit of our students and community will be his legacy.”

July 6, 2009

Southside Historic District is history;
Commission unanimously rejects idea

There won't be a south side historic district.

The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously Monday to "receive and file" a study that mapped out an area from Eighth Street to DeKoven Avenue roughly east of Villa Street for the district. Historic homes in the area would have been subject to heightened city regulations designed to maintain their historic qualities.

The proposal died with a lot of talk and little fight. No one spoke in favor of the proposal during an 90-minute meeting that amounted to commission members explaining why the historic district was a bad idea. Chief among the reasons was a lot of people are opposed to the idea, which sticks the owners of historic (often expensive) old homes with regulations that non-historic homes wouldn't have to follow. The proposal offered no incentives (a.k.a. money) for homeowners to maintain the homes.

That's not to say the idea was without merit. The city was trying to find a way to protect beautiful old homes from being neglected or severely altered. But the historic district was a non-starter with homeowners and the public at large. A public hearing last month brought out aggressive opposition to the plan (26 were opposed, 8 in favor), and a handful of people (all opponents) attended Monday night's meeting to witness the proposal's death.

Some variation of the historic district could resurface down the road. But it's highly unlikely the commission will bring back a proposal like the south side district. Commission member Eric Marcus considered a weaker version that would give the city greater oversight over demolitions and new construction in designated areas.

Alderman Bob Anderson, whose district included parts of the proposed district, said the only way he saw people supporting a historic district was if there was a "carrot" for homeowners to pursue historic restorations. "But my sense is that it's dead anyway," he said, adding he estimated "80 percent" of the people he talked to were opposed.

Commission member Bob Hartman had arguably the best idea. He recommended the city offer "voluntary compliance" with its historic zoning regulations. Under this scenario, the city could serve as a resource for homeowners interested in historic renovations.

It was also suggested historic district proposal struggled because of "communication problems" with residents. That may be true, because no one seemed to offer a need for the district and there was little refutation of strong attacks on the proposal.

But even a well-honed proposal would have struggled to convince anyone of the need to subject home owners with some of the most beautiful homes in Racine to further city oversight.

The proposal left the landmarks commission on the defensive and seemed to leave them little choice but to reject the idea outright and wait for a more palatable way to maintain the city's historically significant homes.

The commission also made it clear, as it did during its public hearing, that the historic district proposal didn't come from them. The idea seemed to originate with an attempt to create a historic district near the former Lochnair Inn near Gateway Technical College. That district was meant to stop a high rise from blocking the lake view, but the City Council rejected it because it was too small. The city planning department came back with the larger district, but the idea never even made it into ordinance form.

Hartman tried to reassure opponents, who suggested the proposal was un-Constitutional and an abuse of power, that the city wasn't trying to implement an "evil plot."

"This was not a Machiavellian plot to get higher property taxes," Hartman said. "This was not an evil city plot to control you as American citizens."

It's something of a local government truism that when you have to defend yourself against being evil, odds are slim of a proposal passing.


A movie poster showing Johnny Depp in "Public Enemies"
hangs in the Racine Police Department's lobby.

Wary of sounding like Alanis Morissette and misusing the word "ironic," does anyone find it strange that the Racine Police Department has a display in its lobby highlighting a famous bank robber?

I bring it up now because now there's a large movie poster for "Public Enemies" next door to the case displaying a gun used when John Dillinger robbed a Racine bank at 5th and Main (the current Racine Art Museum).

It's a cool display and poster, but it's a bit odd to see police displaying the work of a criminal. It may even be, well, ironic.

The display of Dillinger's gun in the RPD lobby.

Work begins to demolish the Highway G bridge at I-94

I-94 at Highway G is tied up now while construction workers demolish and rebuild the overpass as part of the interstate expansion project. Here's a press release from WisDOT (click here for the project website):
As part of the I-94 North-South Freeway project, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is reconstructing the County G bridge at I-94.

Work to demolish the County G bridge is scheduled to begin the week of July 6 during nighttime hours. This work will create noise, dust and some vibrations while the bridge is being demolished. Additional lighting will brought on-site and the contractor will utilize dust control measures.

For safety reasons, full-freeway closures will be used on I-94 at County G during the demolition.

Other scheduled closures near County G that will occur include:
  • alternating East and West frontage roads (one frontage road open at all times) through Fall 2009
  • County G roadway between East and West frontage roads through December 2009
  • long-term closure of County G northbound entrance/exit ramps through • Fall 2010
  • long-term single lane closure on I-94 West (NB) throughout 2009 & 2010 construction seasons
  • long-term single lane closure on I-94 East (SB) throughout 2009 & 2010 construction seasons

Dickert backs Hispanic Center

Before we get to this story, we'll start with an appeal to commenters: chill out. This story is about Mayor John Dickert, Hispanics and a community center. No doubt any discussions will blow up within a half hour, but can we try at least some sort of civil discourse?

OK, on to the story ...

Rolando Gomez and Marie Olveda Black sent us a press release today saying Dickert is taking steps toward creating a Hispanic Center. Gomez and Black will head an advisory committee on the center and they're looking for people to help transform the idea into reality.

Here's the statement:

During the campaign John Dickert spoke of creating a much needed Hispanic Center. He has kept his word; preliminary meetings have been held to start this exciting and considerable undertaking. He has appointed Rolando Gomez and Marie Black to lead this project. An advisory committee will be formed in the next few weeks. A target date of 2012 has been determined. With hard work, dedication and cooperation from the community it will be met. The committee is welcoming all who want to participate in creating a Hispanic Center to contact the Mayor’s office at 636-9111.

The center will be designed to house programs in Health, Education, Business Development, Arts and Music Programs, Legal Advice, Family Wellness, Housing Resources, Spiritual Outreach and many more needed services. This is only the beginning. "We encourage the public to become involved and assist in making the center a resource for the entire community and future generations," said Ms. Black.

The center will also work as an incubator and resource for new employees as well as companies looking for workers. "Any way that we can work to bring employees and employers together to get people back to work is a bonus for Racine," said Mayor Dickert.

We sincerely thank Mayor John Dickert for his trust and conviction in keeping his word to the Racine Hispanic Community. He has taken it one step further. Rolando Gomez has been designated as his liaison in the Hispanic Community. Mr. Gomez will keep him up to date on concerns, needs and challenges facing our community.

Marie Olveda Black
Dickert's office confirmed the mayor reviewed and approved the press release.

July 5, 2009

Girls just wanna have fun: PJ party at HALO

Six "Glamorous Girlz" from San Juan Diego Middle School presented a “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” pajama party to the mothers and daughters at HALO last week.

The girls were able to host the party after writing and receiving a grant from Youth As Resources through the Racine County United Way. The girls planned six different activities, including a beauty station, cookie decorating, karaoke, quilt making, a night time mask station, and pictures.

Mothers and daughters from the shelter, the transitional housing program and the outreach program attended. The girls purchased new pajamas and a goodie bag with girly treasures for each of the attendees. “Everyone got new pj’s and changed into them right away,” said Deejae Kober, 12, who was one of the grant writers. “We wanted everyone to feel comfortable and just have fun.”

Besides the pictures, the karaoke was the hit of the night as everyone took turns singing. Stephanie Kober, family program manager at HALO said, “It was a great idea to do this with the participants, it gave everyone a chance to relax, and kick back and remember (at least for the moms) what it was like to be a kid.”

The party lasted three hours and included a movie and popcorn. The Glamorous Girlz are Deejae Kober, Luna Font, Minerva Galvan, Elissa Ramos, Jessica O’Connor and Jocelyne Mendoza.