August 29, 2009

Zumba at North Beach

More than 80 people showed up on North Beach Saturday for a Zumba class and fundraiser.

The class, featuring aerobics set to Latin and hiphop beats, is a fun workout that drew women and men from a wide range of ages and physical fitness levels. Instructors from Racine, Madison, Chicago and other cities led the group through the high-energy routines. The class, with warm up and cool down, lasted about 75 minutes.

The free Zumba classes were held at North Beach on Saturdays and Tuesdays through August. The final Zumba class on the beach this year will be on Labor Day (Sept. 7) at noon.

The fundraiser cookout after the class was organized to raise money for a path that will make it easier for parents, senior citizens and people with disabilities to cross the sand to reach the water.

Here's more photos from Saturday:

The workout featured dance routines, with aerobic built in, to infectious music.


The instructors dance on the Oasis stage with about 80 people following along on the beach.

It was chilly Saturday morning with an overcast sky. But the Zumba dancers warmed up quick ...


It's easy to see why Zumba is growing in popularity. Despite a tough hour of work,
most people were smiling throughout.

August 28, 2009

OP-ED: Health Reform: Don't leave women behind

By Teri Huyck and Judy Hartig-Osanka
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin

Her story is all too common.

Megan has a part-time job and is a full-time college student — but she goes to a school without a campus health center. She, like 71,959 others, is a patient at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

“I come to Planned Parenthood because I don’t have the means to have my own insurance,” she explains. “My employer doesn’t offer it, and I can’t afford it, but Planned Parenthood offers all the services I need to be a responsible, healthy person.”

As Congress works to enact health insurance reform, it must keep in mind the millions of women who, like Megan, view reproductive health care as their most basic health care — and their reproductive health care providers as their most trusted health care professionals.

Ninety-seven percent of the health care Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin provides is preventive and primary. Last year alone, we provided more than 337,000 units of FDA approved birth control methods, more than 22,000 annual exams, including cancer screenings, and nearly 64,000 tests for sexually transmitted infections.

Planned Parenthood health centers are part of an important network of community providers that includes local health departments, community health centers and independent family planning clinics. Essential providers like us serve as a critical entry point into the health care system for millions of women throughout the country.

Today, one in four women who receive contraceptive care does so at a women's health center. One in six who obtain a cancer-screening Pap test or pelvic exam does so at a women's health center, as do one-third of women who receive counseling, testing or treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Six out of 10 patients at family planning health centers consider us to be their primary care provider.

The basic, affordable health care we and our partners provide is essential for women, particularly during difficult economic times. Consider that women of childbearing age spend a stunning 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men, in large part because of reproductive-related health care. Health insurance reform cannot leave women like Megan behind.

Yet abortion rights opponents, who want to outlaw all abortions, are lying about health insurance reform in an attempt to advance that agenda. And conservatives, who want to derail health insurance reform altogether, are using false claims of “taxpayer-funded abortions” as a red herring.

None of the bills being discussed in Congress will force any American to purchase health insurance that includes abortion coverage if they don’t want it. None of the bills will undermine existing laws prohibiting federal and state funds from paying for abortions. None of the bills will force providers to offer abortion services. Instead, the current Congressional health insurance reform proposals will enable all Americans to purchase coverage that reflects their basic needs and their values.

Many media outlets have been parroting unfounded claims by abortion rights opponents that reform will expand access to abortion by mandating coverage of abortion. For example, the Racine Journal Times printed a letter last week by Barbara Lyons from Wisconsin Right to Life, alleging that health care reform will result in "taxpayer-subsidized abortions." In truth, none of the proposals mandate abortion coverage, or coverage of any other procedure for that matter. See factcheck.org for more information, and go here for an article about the abortion flashpoint.

Central to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s mission is the belief that everyone deserves access to affordable, high quality reproductive health care. Even though 98 percent of women use family planning at some point in their lives, abortion rights opponents and their supporters continually attempt to restrict women’s access to basic health care. In fact, they actually put up barriers to women’s access of birth control and STI prevention methods.

At Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, we remain committed to health insurance reform that prioritizes women’s health, promotes prevention-based health care and protects essential community providers, like Planned Parenthood.
__________
Teri Huyck is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin; Judy Hartig-Osanka is board chair.

Racine surrounded by emerald ash borer

OK, it's official now: Racine is surrounded by the emerald ash borer. They're north of us, and south of us. So far, none here ... but most experts say it's just a matter of time.

One was found in Milwaukee County yesterday, and confirmed today, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. An EAB larva was discovered in the City of Franklin, after city public works officials observed ash trees with D-shaped exit holes, on Aug. 26. State officials were notified, and survey specialists found a larva after peeling the bark on a suspected tree.

HERE's the state's press releas on the latest confirmed sighting.

This makes seven Wisconsin counties where the tree-killing insect has been discovered. Kenosha was added to the list two weeks ago, after a sighting there. Other counties with the insect are Brown, Crawford, Ozaukee, Vernon and Washington. Quarantines exist for those counties, as well as Fond du Lac and Sheboygan.

The affidavit that brought Becker to trial...

Gary Becker, before the hearing began

One of the issues argued at Gary Becker's court hearing Thursday was the adequacy of the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant that allowed police to go through two of his computer hard drives.

Until that point, all the child pornography evidence that existed against Becker was seven photos found by computer technician Michael Ferderer -- photos that, by themselves, are not child pornography, according even to the affidavit itself.

The affidavit, submitted by Racine Deputy Chief Thomas Christensen, was not made public until the end of the court hearing, so let's go through it before recounting the arguments heard in court, followed by Judge Stephen Simanek's ruling. It's an 11-page document, divided into three sections:
1. Qualifications of DCI Special Agent Eric Szatkowski, who prepared it;
2. Background on the use of computers for child exploitation; and
3. Summary of facts establishing probable cause.
1. In six paragraphs taking up two pages, Szatkowski is described as a senior special agent since 1991, "with extensive experience working complex criminal investigations, including internet crimes committed against children, death investigations, cold case homicides, murder for hire, sexual assault, fugitive apprehension and drug trafficking."

He has often posed "as an underage boy or girl on the internet, has been responsible for the arrest of approximately 150 individuals from Wisconsin and across the United States" for computer sex crimes. He has engaged in "thousands of undercover on-line communications with suspected predators of children" and interrogated approximately 150 individuals involved in the sexual abuse and / or exploitation of children. He's had more than 420 hours of training on the subject, and has instructed "more than 160,000 people" on the topic of sexual predators of children on the internet.

2. The next four pages have 10 paragraphs describing the mechanics of child pornographic distribution over the internet, at times written as though introducing a computer for the first time: "Producers of child pornography often use a device known as a scanner to transfer photographs into a computer... Many digital cameras also can be connected directly to a computer... Individuals that possess, receive, transfer and distribute child pornography use communication devices known as a modem..."

The technical explanation continues: Szatkowski explains that "a perpetrator's child pornography collection is not diminished if he or she distributes the pornography to others via computer" and that images can be easily transferred via the internet and stored. "Harddrives with a capacity of one gigabyte are not uncommon." Furthermore, "a forensic examination of such a hard-drive can identify and retrieve such images, including those of child pornography, even if those images have been deleted by the computer operator."

Then he turns to the perpetrators. "Individuals involved in child pornography will use places that they consider private and secure to receive, download, store and / or view the pornographic images... most often... the individual's residence." And, "these images provide them with sexual stimulation, gratification and satisfaction. Images of child pornography allow them to fuel their fantasies and validate their behavior, which society at large finds abhorrent." And, "Special Agent Szatkowski also knows that many convicted child sex offenders have had multiple victims over a period of many years before being caught... (and) many of these offenders have been caught as a result of investigations that began as child pornography investigations."

3. The summary of facts establishing probable cause describes in detail seven images taken from Becker's hard drive and saved to a computer disk by technician Michael Ferderer. The description that got the most attention during the hearing, of the only photo approaching child pornographic status, was recited multiple times by the various attorneys. The affidavit says: "One (1) color photograph of a pubescent girl, approximately between the ages of 9 and 12, lying on her stomach, with her head supported by her arms placed under her chin; the girl is looking back towards the camera; she is wearing a pair of pinkish-white panties with a floral design, exposed because her blue skirt is hiked up over her buttocks; her bare legs are exposed from the bottom of the panties to just above the knees; her panties, covered buttocks , and legs are the focal point of the image; the image also has the file name '@ great panties.' "

Szatkowski notes that, according to Ferderer, the picture was saved in a folder on Becker's hard drive. "This is significant," he writes, "obtaining this image therefore was no accident or mistake." And, "Szatkowski does not believe that the computer user would save only one such image, in that persons who save sexually provocative pictures usually do so in large quantities."

Other images, some clearly pornographic, others simply suggestive, on Ferderer's disk were of naked females, whose ages were described variously as "possibly late teenage years," "approximately 14-16," "adult," "late teens to early 20's," and so on. One, with the file name "-1dau" could be an adult, Szatkowski writes, but the filename "is likely an abbreviation for '1daughter,' a term commonly used by pornographers, including child pornographers, to indicate a fetish for incest."

The affidavit concludes: "Based on his training and experience, and the images and file names described above, Szatkowski believes there is probable cause to search the contents of the hard drives described herein for evidence of the crime of child pornography. Szatkowski knows that although he has not observed images of child pornography on the CD prepared by Technician Ferderer, (emphasis added) he believes that when the images of children he observed are taken in context with the adult or barely legal pornographic images, it is reasonable to allow a search to look for images of child pornography."

Becker attorney Pat Cafferty's argument referred directly to the statement in the affidavit's 28th paragraph, the one in boldface directly above this: "He fails to establish probable cause; there's basically some hunches, some suspicion." Asst. DA Robert Repischak responded by pointing to Szatkowski's experience and expertise, and said, "We acknowledge that the images he saw were not blatant, hard-core child pornography," but noted that "reasonable inferences" could be made from the panties image, the one picture of a pubescent girl. Cafferty argued that even that image was not blatant child pornography. "The inferences are so far upstream from the facts," he said.

Which left the argument to Judge Simanek, who noted that although some of the seven images -- of adults -- were pornographic, "it is not a crime to possess or watch pornography" (which, he said, is prevalent even on "late-night TV.") But Simanek said he relied on a "commonsense approach," and considering the photos of naked teens on the CD he he fell back on Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, echoing his statement in a 1964 obscenity case, "I know it when I see it."

"There's enough here," Simanek concluded, denying Cafferty's motion for suppression of the evidence subsequently found on Becker's computers.

(Aside: There may be some irony here in Simanek's reference to the Stewart standard, in that the high court's ruling actually reversed an obscenity judgment against the French film, "The Lovers," as I'm sure Simanek knows.)

August 27, 2009

Name Sixth Street's new Barrel Boys mascots


In the better-late-than-never department: Three whimsical sculptures, called the Barrel Boys, have moved to Sixth Street, to remind people that all of the stores are open for business and to encourage people to shop on the street during construction.

The sculptures, made from construction barrels, stand nine feet tall. The Barrel Boys were made by artist Jerry Treiber, who has has participated in Downtown’s Public Art projects.

One of the Barrel Boys has a sign saying "Come See us," another says "15 minutes free parking" and the third's sign says "Look what we have for you."

They will remain on display through the end of the construction project in October. Meanwhile, the Downtown Racine Corporation is holding a contest to name the Barrel Boys. Send your suggestions to the DRC by Tuesday, Sept. 8; the winning names will be announced on Saturday, Sept. 12, during the Adirondack chair auction in Monument Square. Entries can be e-mailed to Terry Leopold or sent to: Downtown Racine Corporation, 425 Main Street, Racine, Wisconsin 53403.

Bad day for Becker at evidence suppression hearing

Gary Becker, right, with his attorney, Pat Cafferty

It was not a good day in court today for former Mayor Gary Becker.

He spent spent 2 1/2 hours before Judge Stephen Simanek, as his attorney pressed six motions mainly aimed at suppression of evidence before his Oct. 13 trial on child pornography and child sexual enticement charges.


But Becker and his attorney, Pat Cafferty, prevailed on only the most minor issue, managing to separate a charge of misconduct in office -- for having city IT contractors service his personal computer -- from all the felony counts relating to sex. The misconduct in office charge is "fundamentally different" from the other charges, Simanek ruled. An effort to also separate the child pornography charges from the most serious allegation involving sexual enticement of a 14-year-old girl -- who in reality was a criminal investigator -- failed, as Simanek accepted the argument of Assistant District Attorney Robert Repischak that there is a "commonality" of the sexual charges.

Simanek also rejected Becker's motion to have a jury from outside Racine County hear the cases. Cafferty had argued that "Mr. Becker is a pariah," noting that 99.9% of bloggers' entries "are ugly, ugly thoughts," making it "impossible to get a fair jury." Repischak said such "concerns are very speculative; we can't gauge the community outlook from bloggers. We don't even know if they're local."

Judge Stephen Simanek swearing in witness Alan Eubanks

Simanek, however, said "the actual newspaper reporting has been objective and factual, with no prejudging." And although he said, "there is little doubt the print media is in decline, and people are looking for other ways of communicating," there's no way of telling how many bloggers are making the comments and what impact they have on the overall community.

The most interesting portion of the hearing involved the question "whether or not there was a reasonable expectation of privacy" when Becker gave his computer to the techs to have it checked for viruses and adware. Simanek declared that Cafferty would need testimony to prove that point, and so he put two witnesses on the stand: Alan Eubanks, who was working as a contract "information manager" for the city on Dec. 22, 2008, when Becker brought his computer to be checked, and Michael Ferderer, the help desk support technician who did the actual work.

The questioning about what a computer technician does when virus-checking a computer went like this:
Cafferty: "Does part of the protocol involve just nosing around?"
Eubanks (right): "You look around."
Cafferty: "Does it involve looking at their family photos?":
Eubanks: (The problems) "could be in a non-standard location."
Cafferty: "The protocol doesn't involve just nosing around for the fun of it through people's personal files."
Eubanks: "It could be anywhere."
Repischak asked: "Did he (Becker) say, 'Stay out of this folder, this drive?' "
Eubanks: "No."
Repischak: "You had an all-access pass to this computer."
Testimony from Ferderer went along the same path, after he noted that the first thing he did was make a back-up copy of the hard drive, in case it needed to be restored somewhere along the repair process.
Cafferty: "The protocol doesn't include nosing around?"
Ferderer (right): "No, it doesn't."
Cafferty: "You respect their privacy?"
Ferderer: "Yes."

Repischak: "Were you given any indication not to look in any files or folders?"
Ferderer: "No."
Repischak: "Did you look at any for fun?"
Ferderer: "No."
At one point, Ferderer misunderstood Repischak's question, "What do you believe was a violation of protocol?" He answered, "I don't believe it was a city computer and I shouldn't have been working on it."

Cafferty insisted, "There is no case law that says someone who drops off a computer gives up his right to privacy." The protocol, he said, allows access "only for legitimate purposes." He said the situation is "analogous to inviting a cleaning person into your house," only to clean, not to look through your stuff; or bringing your car to a mechanic for engine repairs, which doesn't give him the right to go through your glovebox or trunk. "You have a "reasonable expectation of privacy," he said, conceding that there was no problem with Ferderer's finding seven pictures in the computer's Recyle Bin --"the seizure that was made by the Police Chief is the problem."

Repischak responded, "the key word is reasonable. It is not unreasonable that when you take your computer to an IT professional that he will go through folders and files." And, There's no showing that either did anything improper, he said, "no violation of the protocol." Becker's files were not encrypted, or behind any firewall, he said.

Simanek wasn't buying Cafferty's arguments. "Did Mr. Becker have a reasonable expectation of privacy? I believe he did not. He voluntarily brought his computer to the IT professionals... and relinquished dominion and control over the computer...He implicitly consented to a search of his computer...You have to look everywhere. That's part of the deal when fixing a computer." He rejected the cleaning lady and car engine repair analogies as well: "If he opens the hood and finds contraband, it's exactly in the palce he was bound to do the repairs."

The judge said he also had "real reservations here as to whether this was a government search."

Simanek allowed to stand two child pornography counts brought later by the state, after pictures of a sexual nature were found an a hard drive in Becker's car trunk. The question is whether the charges were "transactionally related" to the other earlier charges. Cafferty said they were not, deriving from two separate searches; moreover, he said, the hard drive was in the process of being thrown out, so there was no intentional possession.

Another argument devolved around the definition of "computerized communications system," whichCafferty argued is vague in state statutes. Cafferty's argument was that "the statute is so vague" that Becker could not know his conduct -- the sexual chats with the purported 14-year-old -- would be prohibited. Simanek noted that even though most people do not know how a computer works, "in a general sense most people understand what a computer is. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck..." The Legislature, he said, "has enacted a statute, a very clear statute," prohibiting engaging a minor in sexual activity. "You don't have to be Einstein," he said, denying that motion as well.

District Atty. Michael Nieskes and Asst. DA Robert Repischak

Ryan's office helped spread Racine Democrat's personal information online

An email circulating nationally that's led to threats against a Racine Democrat originated from Rep. Paul Ryan's office.

Kelly Gallaher, a key local leader in President Obama's campaign, wrote an email to members of Community for Change laying out plans for the group to attend Ryan's listening sessions on health care reform.

The email was faxed Aug. 21 from the Yard Arm Bar and Grill to Ryan's office. The exact same fax, identified by Ryan's fax number handwritten and circled across the top, appeared on RedState.com and Milwaukee radio host Mark Belling's website.

The fax included Gallaher's email address and home phone and cell phone numbers. As a result, Gallaher and Racine's Community for Change have received threatening calls and emails from people all over the country opposed to health care reform.

Gallaher complained about the email to Ryan's staff on Tuesday, and a new version of the fax with Gallaher's personal information was redacted was posted on RedState.com and Belling's website. (You can see the redacted PDF here.)
UPDATE, Aug. 30: Community for change has posted its version of the incident, and copies of the original fax as well as the redacted version. We've put the image of the two faxes at the bottom of this post.
But the damage was done. Gallaher was still receiving calls Thursday and participants at Ryan's recent listening sessions openly intimidated Gallaher as she attempted to promote a counterpoint to Ryan's stances on reform.

During Ryan's listening session on Thursday, Ryan Gleason, of Community for Change, questioned Ryan on his office's role in working with RedState.com to spread Gallaher's personal information. Ryan denied a role in the incident, despite Gleason showing him the email faxed to his office was the same email that appeared on RedState.com.

Conservatives around the country held up Gallaher's email as an example of Democrats trying to "disrupt" listening sessions on health care reform. Ryan himself said Gallaher's efforts to "overwhelm" the forums threatened civil discourse, which was ironic given Gallaher's treatment at earlier forums.

Conner Sweeney, Ryan's press secretary, said after Thursday's listening session that he had no specifics on the fax or how it ended up on RedState.com.

Ryan's listening session Thursday at Roma Lodge drew a packed crowd with police turning away hundreds of people because the building was already over capacity. (A Roma Lodge employee turned this RacinePost reporter away at the door despite letting in a JT photographer a minute earlier. To Sweeney's credit, he tried to vouch for me, but the Roma Lodge employee refused to agree.)

One person was kicked out of the listening session. Miles Kristin, of Racine, grabbed the microphone from a speaker and attempted to ask Ryan if the country would have more money for health care if it wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Ryan cut off Kristin and had him removed.

Outside of the forum, Kristin described himself as an "independent activist" who was neither a Democrat nor Republican. He said he had no stance on health care reform, other than to say whatever is passed will favor corporations over people.

Meanwhile, dozens of cars approached the forum hoping to get in to hear Ryan talk. But authorities started turning people away at 1 p.m. - a half hour before the session was scheduled to begin. Ryan's staff moved the forum to Roma Lodge after initially scheduling the session for Gateway Technical College in Racine. (One political veteran noted it was an odd move because Roma Lodge does not allow women to be full members. For that reason, campaigns generally avoid the club for events.)

Inside the forum, it's safe to say a majority of the crowd joined Ryan in opposing Obama's proposed health care reform. It's also safe to say the time and location (mid-day, the middle of Mount Pleasant) stacked things in favor of retirees and people who can get away from a job for awhile. Several older residents stopped to give the latest Obama zinger (Do you know why Obama's plane is going to crash? It has two left wings.) or to accuse the president of being a communist-socialist foreigner determined to fire every doctor and nurse in the country.

But for all that, Ryan played it cool. He's quick to say reform is needed, he just doesn't think Obama's plan is the way to go. The Janesville Republican is so smooth even liberals said after the listening session they were applauding at least some of his comments.

But given the treatment of Gallaher's email, it's also clear Ryan is ready to play hardball with anyone speaking up in favor of Obama's plan. Here's one of the hundreds of emails Gallaher received after her personal information was sent around the country:
If one of your uneducated, government dependent, whining assholes lays one hand on me, comes within 3 feet of me or shouts anyone down, they better get off their lazy asses and find a job, because they will need health insurance after I am done with them.
I am not putting up with you people any more. You people have absolutely no clue what is going on. Every one of you is so co-dependent on a nanny state it isn't even funny. Some of you should learn how to think instead of just reading and repeating. You might be amazed what you find out.
Once again, keep your assholes away from me, or they will be gumming their food for months.
You have been warned.
Update: Here's a transcript of Gleason's exchange with Paul Ryan at Thursday's listening session.
Unknown Speaker: I’d like to introduce my friend Ryan Gleason (RG).

Paul Ryan (PR) OK That’s interesting. Ryan, how many friends do you have in the audience?

RG Hi Thank you for taking our question. My name’s Ryan Gleason. I’m with…

PR I’m just kinda curious. How many people do you have helping you with that? Gotcha

RG We have an important issue I think that needs to be addressed. That’s why I’m here to…My name’s Ryan Gleason, I’m with Community for Change.

[Crowd noise]

PR Everybody please. I know there are organizations and groups coming here being represented. They have just as much of a right to talk as anyone else does. Ryan I know you‘ve got differing opinions. It is your mic … I want to hear it. But if you don’t mind keep It kinda brief so we can get to other people.

RG Absolutely

PR Community for change, is that it?.

RG And we’re here because we organize around the community. We are unpaid volunteers. And we just care about reform quite honestly as does Congressman Paul Ryan. What we’ve witnessed in this past week though has been something that’s been very unsettling.

Kelly Gallaher which I partner with on many of these events that we do, has endured a character assassination from a couple of blogs and we’ve discovered that that information actually came from your staff.

PR Uh..I’m not so sure about that. We’ve gotten. Is this this email that’s going around?

RG There is en email.

RG This was posted on Red states blog. That we were going to come here and disrupt your entire …

PR Yes I saw that email.

RG Which we have not. Our intention was to come here and ask questions, get people to come here and get involved.

[Crowd noise]

PR Do you have a question or a comment.

RG What happened was your campaign office.. your staff ..and I have the fax right here with the number on it ..sent this to Red State and Mark Belling and since then Kelly has been getting..her personal information was on this thing . She’s been getting phone calls, being harassed from all over the country and our email box has filled up. She cannot even be here tonight.

PR Allright so..I’ve read this email. Gotten 4 or 5 copies from constituents at town hall meetings about this emailthis Email has gone viral. It has come to us from many different sources. We’ve been asked for copies of it. We’ve redacted pieces of it. And yes we have received this. And we have shared this with people who have asked us for it. This has been going around. We got this from some in the media.

RG Went to the Yardarm and talked to the lady that sent it to your office. I’ll tell you what

PR Let me just say this. Point is yes there was an email that was going around that threatened…um um it wasn’t a very kindly written email, we’ll put it that way. And it wasn’t an email that led one to think that we were going to have civil discourse on this issue. It is because of the way the email was written. Because of the kind of uncivil discourse it was proposing. Shouting, overwhelming, things like this.

None of those things are in the email. I have it right here.

I’ve seen two versions of this email. I’ve seen the version which was cleaned up and I’ve seen the original version which has been sent to us. The point is.

It is fine with me if organizations …whether it is OFA DPW, C4C it’s perfectly fine with me if you want to come to our town hall meetings. If you’re a constituent and even if you’re not. You’re invited.

The problem is…Let’s not try and disrupt people …let’s not try and shout up other people. Let’s give every citizen an equal chance to have access to their representative to state their views. That’s exactly what we’re doing here today.

[Crowd noise]

[New voice…more money for health care….
Crowd noise…join the army…get a job]

[Cheering...]

August 26, 2009

A Good Ride: Kuko Padilla keeps Racine's skatepark flowing

Kuko Padilla installs a skate rail on Wednesday at the Racine skateboard park.
Padilla is hosting the 12th annual "Racine Bike Jam" on Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. at the park.
The event is free and open to the public.



Kuko Padilla sat in front of the city's Finance and Personnel Committee on Monday night. For the first time in 12 years, he needed a favor from the city's governing body. His argument was simple, and convincing: He'd earned it.

Flash ahead two days to Wednesday evening. Padilla, 35, is working in the middle of the skateboard park at Pershing Park. While guys around him attempt kickflips and jump spines, Padilla is running a generator and drilling a new guard rail into concrete. He paid to rent the generator and an air hammer, and he'll be there late into the night building and fixing the ramps used by hundreds of Racine kids and adults every summer. Padilla has been doing this work since the skate park opened. He's never been paid.

During the Finance and Personnel Committee, he faces a tough crowd. The committee doesn't like to waive fees completely, and one member admits to voting "like scrooge." (They often agree to cut a fee in half for groups that want to use city parks for events.) Padilla is asking the aldermen to waive a $318 fee to use the park for his 12th annual Bike Jam on Saturday (Aug. 29) from noon to 10 p.m. It's an odd formality given the skate park is free and open to the public all day long. But Padilla plans to have bands and food at the free event, and that triggered the need for the fee - unless he could convince the City Council to waive it.

Padilla tells the committee he's volunteered his time, and used his own money, to maintain and expand the skate park. This year alone he built a new "Hubble ramp and rail" - a sizable jump for skateboarders - and replaced worn surfaces that were falling into disrepair. Without Padilla's effort, it's work that would have fallen to the city. No doubt city workers could handle the maintenance, but they'd do it like a paid job. Padilla brings a different feel.

A Racine native, Padilla grew up on a BMX bike wishing the city had a park for bikers and skaters to fly around. After Dave Namowicz convinced the city to build the public skate park in Pershing Park, Padilla took on the job of keeping it around. He didn't know a thing about carpentry, but over time picked up the skills needed to build and re-build every ramp on site.

His work, and just his presence, grant him a deeper role. He's a supervisor, role model and mentor for the kids and young adults who flock to the skate park throughout the summer. If a fight breaks out, Padilla will throw out both kids and then counsel them when they inevitable return the next day. When bikes were being stolen a few years ago, Padilla confronted the kids suspected of taking them. The thefts stopped.

Padilla will also teach younger riders how to traverse the jumps and ramps - and to overcome the fear of vaulting 15 feet in the air and landing on what amounts to concrete. "You don't think we were afraid?" he'll tell kids eyeing their first jumps. "You just have to overcome it."

Padilla is the model of a resident invested in a city service. He's never paid for his work, which he slots in between his full-time job running a lawn care company and spending time with his family. (He used to use his three weeks of vacation from his job at UPS to work on the park.) He just keeps showing up because he loves the park, sees how much other people love it, and wants to keep it in shape for the new riders that appear every year.

"It's a love of the sport," Padilla said, answering the "why do this?" question. "I always wanted my own park, and now I have my own park. This provides a lot of kids in Racine with a place to go."

(For anyone wondering about the city's unions, an agreement was worked out a few years ago to allow volunteers - mainly Padilla - to work on the skate park without violating contracts.)

On Wednesday, Padilla looks around and calls the younger riders the "8th or 9th" generation to discover and use the park. One little guy, no older than 8, launches his bike up a ramp, lands on his back wheel and glides to a stop pumping his fist with excitement. It's the first time he's landed the trick and his face beams through his helmet.

Padilla knows most of the guys at the park Wednesday night, but he keeps to himself. Nobody offers to help, and Padilla does nothing to bring attention to his work. He's sincere in his effort. It's the type of commitment that should be rewarded.

At Monday's committee meeting, the aldermen seem skeptical. One asks to see receipts and a log of Padilla's hours, but Parks Director Donnie Snow assures Padilla does "some work" at the park. "He's put in more than $318," Snow says.

Alderman Bob Anderson finally moves to waive the entire fee and the committee votes unanimously to support it. They even agree to waive a $200 deposit usually required to ensure the park is cleaned up after events.

Wednesday night, Padilla said he was relieved. He and his wife, Rebecca, are planning to spend $300 to $400 on brats and hot dogs for Saturday's Bike Jam. They'll grill all the food and sell it for $1 to $2, too little to break even. But the event isn't about making money, Padilla said. He doesn't even advertise it's going on. The date just spreads through word of mouth and people turn out for one last ride before the end of the summer.

"A lot of good riding goes down," said Padilla, who's anticipating 300 people at the event.

A skateboarder attempts a jump off of the "Hubble ramp" Padilla built at the Racine skate park.

In preparation, Padilla will be at the skate park all week wrapping up projects and building a temporary stage for the bands. With a family now and his own company, Padilla admits working on the skate park creates some tension. He scaled back his time at the park this summer, but still put in dozens of hours of work.

"I don't want to give it up," he said, admitting eventually he may have to walk away from the role he's filled for years. But it won't happen this year. He's got too much work to do before Saturday's Bike Jam and still feels a responsibility to the park that's given so much.

"I want to be a good user," Padilla said. "This is something for every kid ... I want to keep that."

Saturday's "Racine Bike Jam" runs from noon to 10 p.m. and is open to the public. Bring your skateboard, bike, scooter, rollerblades, or just a camera, down to the skate park along Pershing Park Drive just east of the YMCA building. Brats and hot dogs will be available for sale, along with soda and Gatorade. Bands play from 5-10 p.m.

Elaine Kinch named 'Peacemaker of the year'

The Wisconsin Network for Peace & Justice (WNPJ) will designate Elaine Kinch of Racine as a "Peacemaker of the Year" for 2009. The award will be bestowed at WNPJ's annual fall meeting, Saturday, Oct. 3, in Madison.

Kinch was a founder and longtime organizer of the Racine/Kenosha Central America Solidarity Coalition (CASC) and a founding member of the Racine Coalition for Peace & Justice (RCPJ). As a volunteer she has participated in cotton and coffee harvests in Nicaragua and last fall in the olive harvest in Palestine. She has also traveled extensively in El Salvador, Mexico, and Peru.

She was the lead organizer of RCPJ's recent successful fundraising Concert for the Children of Gaza.

Besides her other accomplishments, she plays guitar and accordion in the Racine-based musical ensemble Wilde Thyme.

On the web: Nothing forgotten, nothing remembered?

The internet is like closing time at a blue-collar bar in Boston. Everyone’s drunk and ugly and they’re going to pass out in a few minutes.
--Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic
That quote is from Maureen Dowd's wonderful NYTimes column today about internet anonymity.

I recommend it to all of you who comment on our site, in hopes that some of you will get the message -- before the question ends up in the Supreme Court. (P.S. The message is not that the cyberbully is now suing Google for giving up her name...)

August 25, 2009

Ryan finds receptive audience in Kenosha;
his Racine listening session moved to Roma Lodge

Rep. Paul Ryan at Kenosha listening session Tuesday

If nothing else, the health care debate has brought out the faithful -- Rep. Paul Ryan's faithful.

The 1st District Congressman has been attracting crowds to his listening sessions on the issue this week; big crowds. Yes, Democrats who support President Obama's health care plan are showing up, but -- if the session in Kenosha this afternoon is any indication -- so are Ryan's supporters.

Ryan noted that his usual listening sessions in Paddock Lake draw fewer than 10 people; today they filled the Village Hall and the overflow was outside, peering in the windows.

At the Kenosha session, held at Gateway Technical College's Madrigrano Auditorium, it was standing-room only. I counted 250 people present 10 minutes before the session began, but by the time Ryan opened the session with a slide presentation the room was filled to overflowing: at least 350, with more than 50 people left standing.

Judging by the applause his remarks and more than two dozen questions from the floor garnered, and the occasional boos, despite Democrats' efforts to show up in force, and the 1st District's swing toward Obama in last November's election, these were mostly Ryan's people.

The crowds he is attracting have forced his staff to find larger venues for upcoming listening sessions. Tomorrow's 3:30 p.m. Janesville meeting has been moved to the large auditorium at Craig High School, 401 South Randall Ave.

Thursday's Racine listening session on health care reform, originally slated for the Great Lakes Room at Gateway Technical College, has been moved to Roma Lodge, 7130 Spring St., still from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Other sessions are listed here. Racine's session is scheduled to last an hour, whereas Kenosha's ran well past 90 minutes.

The first 25 minutes of Tuesday's session in Kenosha were taken up by Ryan's discussion of the faults of Obama's proposal, and the country's already serious financial problems. "Seventeen percent of the entire economy is devoted to health care," he said, and "existing entitlement programs -- Medicare and Medicaid -- "are already in debt."

"Will they have to be rationed? Unequivocably, the answer is yes. Inevitably we must ration care on the basis of costs. Massive debt is coming due. Let's fix what's broken in health care," he said. "Let's not break what's working."

It didn't take long for the questioners to show their oppostion to President Obama's proposal, and their support for Ryan's refusal to go along. The second questioner -- keep in mind that few people actually asked questions; most made statements -- said "I've paid into Social Security for 30 years. We should secure that before we start something new."

"I agree," said Ryan.

Another man, who identified himself as a retiree, said "Nobody should expect free insurance in this country." That was met by long applause, as was the next person's statement that he also opposed Obama.

In response to a question about our "elitist" Congress' own health care plan, Ryan said, "If we're going to foist this on everyone, we in Congress ought to be in on it as well." But, he said later, Republicans "don't have enough votes."

A schoolteacher asked what she called a rhetorical question: "We in America believe that everyone deserves a public education. Why would we not believe that everyone deserves health care?" She went on to say that she'd be willing to pay "an extra 1%, 2% or 3%" in taxes to ensure that everyone has coverage.

Ryan responded that "we already spend lots -- $5 trillion; Let's spend that money smarter, without spending more, without the government taking it over." He's willing to impose higher taxes on the wealthy -- "It's OK if it's Aaron Rogers, or Bill Gates," he said, "but the problem is small businessmen." During a discussion on federal borrowing, Ryan said, "Half the federal budget is borrowing." Some Democrats responded with a remark about Iraq, and Ryan's support of war spending, but he said, "The war is a small part of it." (Actually, $902 billion so far, and counting; and the national debt grew by $5 trillion under the Bush presidency.)

In answer to an audience member's statement, "We know your vote," Ryan made it crystal clear: "I am going to vote against this." That earned him more big applause. "My hope is that we scrap this thing and start over," he said.

Ryan said he was willing to look at other countries' plans, while at the same time pointing out flaws in many; England, for example, has a $22,000 limit on end-of-life care, he said. "Switzerland has a pretty good system," His goal is to "give the patient more power; give him more money." And he wants to make sure that pre-existing conditions and the uninsurable are covered, while limiting their out-of-pocket costs. He cited the example of an unnamed employer of 25, one of whom had breast cancer. "Everybody's premium doubled," he said.

"I want to target the subsidies where they ought to go. You can do that without massive new spending. Unfortunately, this is the only idea Congress is paying attention to."

One man said, "Every day I wake up, I feel some of my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is being sucked out of my body."

Ryan spoke about transparency, wanting doctors' and hospitals' costs to be known up-front by patients. "Aurora and St. Catherine's are across the street from each other; what do they charge?" He said they should compete for patients' business on the basis of price and quality.

The session went on for more than the scheduled 90 minutes, from 2:15 to 4 p.m..

Ban lifted on carry-in food at Racine Symphony concerts

The Racine Symphony Orchestra thanked Mayor John Dickert and the Racine Civic Centre management for reversing a policy that would have prohibited carry-in food at symphony concerts. Here's the item from RSO's newsletter:
Again, this year Richard Carsey, our musicians and soloist made the Summer Pops Concerts magical. In addition, we enjoyed great music, renewed friendships and food, either purchased or brought in. However, there was an elephant in the room ... the Civic Center management previously informed the RSO that the carry-in food policy would be changing at our Holiday Pops concert. Happily, the voice of the Pops audience was heard and at the August concert, Mayor Dickert announced the carry-in food policy was rescinded. For all future Pops concerts, audience members will be able to bring in their own picnic or purchase food at the event. Thank you Mayor Dickert and the Civic Center management for understanding how important that option is to our audience.

'Peacock Chair' wins first prize in Downtown's public art event

"Peacock Chair," by Sherri Shaver won first prize in Downtown Racine Corp's
"Sunny and Chair" public art event.


Sherri Shaver's "Peacock Chair" won the $2,000 first prize in the Downtown Racine Corp's "Sunny and Chair" public art event.

The chair, sponsored by Ron Jones, was located outside of Upurea at 304 Main St. It's an Adirondack bench featuring multi-colored stained glass mosaics on the back and armrests of the chair.

Tom Rauschke's "Trees Chair" won the $1,000 second prize. The chair was sponsored by Gene Johnson and was on display at the Racine Art Museum, 441 Main St. The wooden Adirondack chair and bench is cut and sanded to portray a tree.

Kristin Gjerdset's "Monarch Migration" bench won the $500 third prize. The bench was sponsored by Gabriella and Donald Klein and displayed at Dover Flag and Map, 323 Main St. It was painted entirely with monarch butterflies.

Melanie Hovey, executive director of the Lemon Street Gallery and ArtSpace Inc. evaluated all 54 chairs displayed in Downtown Racine to determine the three prize winners.

Hovery said while judging the chairs she looked at what each artist attempted to do and how successful they were with the finished product. She also wanted to make sure that each piece was a usable, functional piece of art. “I also looked at the backs of each chair,” said Melanie, “to ensure what the artist created was carried through the entire piece.”

“The original designs for both the Peacock Chair and Monarch Migration were submitted as a regular chair. Therefore, it was more difficult to adapt those designs to a bench which both artists were able to do. And the Trees Chair – it was just very well done.”

The chairs will be on exhibit through Labor Day and then will be auctioned to the highest bidders at a public auction which will be held on Saturday, September 12. The Chair Today; Gone Tomorrow auction will be held at Monument Square in Downtown Racine. The chairs will be on display at Monument Square beginning at 2 p.m. with the voice auction beginning at 3 p.m. The silent auction will follow the voice auction and will begin at approximately 4 p.m.

Following the auction, everyone is invited to stay at Monument Square to enjoy the country rock music of Trigger Gospel, who is performing the final concert of this year’s Summer Nights at the Square concert series. Named after an old Western novel, ANNA FERMIN’S Trigger Gospel reflects a spirited sound that intertwines hometown country and rock & roll with “a strong melodic-pop appeal.” This free outdoor concert will be held from 7-9 p.m. and is sponsored by a grant from the Osborne and Scekic Family Foundation.

Admission to both the auction and concert is free of charge and is open to the public. Food and refreshments will be available for sale throughout the day. In the event of inclement weather, both the auction and concert will be held at Memorial Hall.

Simmering feud? Wisneski, Shields continue to clash

Alderman Mike Shields heatedly addressed the Public Safety and Licensing Committee Monday night that's chaired by Alderman Aron Wisneski. Shields was ruled out of order for arguing.


Aldermen Aron Wisneski and Michael Shields continued their contentious relationship Monday night during two committee meetings.

First, Shields opposed Wisneski's effort at the Finance and Personnel Committee to get six decorative street lights for his district. Then, Shields heatedly engaged Wisneski during the Public Safety and Licensing Committee meeting over questions the committee was asking Tommy Daniels, who is trying to reopen the former "Cash Money's" as "Tommy's Den" at 901 S. Memorial Drive. Daniels turned in his liquor license to the city back in February rather than improve security.

The aldermen have exchanged words in the past over the Public Safety and Licensing Committee's aggressive oversight of liquor licenses in the city. The committee routinely calls in bars to explain incidents with police and to demand tighter security measures, such as video cameras, electronic ID checkers and private security.

On Monday night, Shields said the committee "micromanages" businesses applying for liquor licenses and suggested Daniels was being treated unfairly. During the tense exchange, Alderman Bob Mozol called Shields "out of order" for arguing with the committee. Shields then backed down and the committee voted to defer action on Daniels' request for two weeks.

Last month, Shields exhorted Wisneski's committee for the way it works with minority business owners. "The way they drill people of color is a problem with me," he said July 28.

Wisneski responded in July that Shields was misinformed. "Our committee is doing its job," he said. "We don't hand out licenses like candy. Liquor licenses are a serious job for our committee."

On Monday night the committee considered Daniels' application for a new liquor license for 901 S. Memorial Drive. Daniels was under scrutiny earlier this year for a murder and shooting that occurred near the bar. Mozol nearly lost his temper Monday night when addressing Daniels, saying Cash Money's "was not just a normal bar that closed." He said Daniels needed a detailed business plan to win over the committee's support. Wisneski recommended Daniels meet with City Attorney Rob Weber to work out an agreement within the next two weeks.

Shields said the committee needed to make it clear to applicants what they need to show to win approval for a license. Wisneski responded the City Clerk hands out a sample business plan and specific questions to all liquor license applicants.

As an aside to the issue, Daniels will not have to pay $10,000 to acquire one of the city's "reserve" "Class B" liquor licenses because he applied when a license was available. As of now, the city is at a state-mandated quota for liquor licenses and anyone who wants to open a bar or restaurant with a full bar would need to purchase one of the reserve licenses.

Council headed for showdown over Lathrop Ave. lights

The City Council is headed for a showdown over six street lights on Lathrop Ave.

Alderman Aron Wisneski appeared before the council's Finance and Personnel Committee Monday night hoping to secure $16,250 for six decorative light poles in the 700, 800 and 900 blocks of Lathrop Ave. The poles would match the lights installed on Orchard and Russet streets one and two blocks to the west.

The city's Public Works Department intends to install standard new lights on the street, which are the basic black poles used throughout the city. Here's a breakdown of the lights in question (there are taken from city records; we didn't add the labels):

These are the lights that need to be replaced. According to residents,
the lights haven't worked for over a year.


The type of light proposed for Lathrop Ave.

The type of light residents want installed, but will cost the city $16,250.
You can see more detailed photos of the lights here.


Wisneski and about 10 residents attended the meeting to make a case for the decorative poles, which in addition to cost an additional $16,250, are also less efficient than the standard poles (though the decorative lights are far more efficient than the current poles and only slightly less efficient than the standard poles). That would cost the city an estimated $200 per year in lost energy savings.

Their main argument was this section of Lathrop Ave. should be included in the Manree Park historic neighborhood and receive the historic looking lights. But the street isn't included in the district, and that left them with the standard lights.

They took their case to the Public Works Committee and got approval to install the historic lights. But the Public Works Committee sent them to the finance committee to find money for the lights. Members of the finance committee were skeptical.

Alderman Mike Shields, who sits on the Finance Committee, outright opposed the request, saying he wouldn't support spending city money on the lights. He called the proposal "fiscally irresponsible" and made a motion to reject the request. The motion failed for lack of a second.

Alderman Bob Anderson backed Wisneski's request, but Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II said he wasn't comfortable voting until he had more information. He motioned to send the proposal to a Committee of the Whole meeting (that's the entire City Council meeting as a committee) to discuss the request, which he said could set precedent for other areas of the city.

Alderman Jim Spangenberg, chairman of the committee, was non-committal. But he did point out sections of his district are near an historic area, but still had standard lights installed. He also wondered where the money would come from for the lights. Kathleen Fischer, assistant finance director, said the money would come out of the city's reserve fund.

One option not discussed by the committee was the city staff's recommendation to consider charging residents a special assessment to cover the additional cost of the lights.

The committee voted 2-1 to pass Shakoor's resolution and recommend sending the proposal to Committee of the Whole. Shakoor and Shields voted yes; Anderson no. Spangenberg, as chairman, didn't vote.

The committee's decision sets up a debate at next Tuesday's City Council meeting over the proposal. The Public Works Committee supported the decorative lights and it seems likely that Wisneski and Anderson would support dipping into the city's reserves to cover the upgrade. The council could vote next week to approve the lights, send the issue to committee or simply vote it down.

It'll be interesting to see how the council proceeds.

A couple more notes ...

Anticipating comments about wasting time on small issues like lights, this is important to residents. Forty-four residents on Lathrop or nearby streets signed a petition asking for the historic lights, and about 10 turned out for Monday night's meeting. One resident stood up Monday night and said she'd rather the city wait a year and install nothing rather than put in the standard poles, which they feel will detract from the street. This matters to people. Now, whether it fits with the city's budget is for the council to decide. But it certainly seems worth their time.

The city spends about $1.2 million a year lighting its streets. Stimulus money to install LED high-efficiency lights should help control that number, which had been jumping close to 10 percent a year in recent years. Spangenberg said he recalls not long ago the number being close to $400,000.

Anyone know why it's called Manree Park? If so, post in the comments. If you want to see more names for Racine's neighborhoods, check out this map that includes areas in the city such as: Westown Heights, Maple Grove, Slausondale and Garden City.

August 24, 2009

Rude reception for Gallaher at Ryan listening session

Most of what you see below is already on RacinePost, in the comments to this story, posted Sunday, about an Obama aide visiting Racine last week, to meet with local volunteers about the ongoing health care debate.

I wanted to post it here, as well, with some additional details, to make sure that those of you who don't read the comments -- nasty and hateful as so many of them are, alas -- don't miss it.

The pertinent exchange in question began with this post, from Anonymous:
Pete - your readers may be interested in the real story and an actual e-mail from Democrat operative, Kelly Gallagher (sic) Democrats Organizing to Actively Disrupt Rep. Paul Ryan's Townhalls

Interesting that C4C is planning to hold the room until 5 p.m., though Ryan will be gone at 2:30?

Guess when it's the socialists organizing it's good - when regular citizens, it's bad?
The link Anonymous provides, above, points a post on RedState.com. In support of the accusation that Democrats plan to disrupt the listening sessions the site offers up a copy of an email by Community for Change's Kelly Gallaher. That email lays out the group's effort to set up information tables at each of Ryan's 17 scheduled listening sessions, provide information, sign up voluteers and "overwhelm each session with reform supporters." It is mostly a schedule for volunteers; you'll have to read the email yourself to decide whether "disruption" is part of C4C's plan; frankly, I don't see it.

Below is Kelly Gallaher's response to the comment above, and her report on the reception she received today at Ryan's first sessions of the week in Racine County, in Eagle and North Prairie:
Pete, I'd like to add a response to this discussion. The Red State website which printed the email of the listening session times and dates stated in their own headline that opponents planned to "actively disrupt" Congressman Ryan's Town Halls which of course the email does not. Now I can only speak for myself and the ladies attending with me, but we wanted to hear what the Congressman had to say and of course let him know we support a reform plan. We are constituents and have every right to do that.

When I got to the first listening session today, some large men asked me very loudly if I was Kelly Gallaher, I said "yes" and then they said some derogatory remarks to me. They also wanted to know who paid me, odd question from a stranger, but for the record no one. I am not paid by any organization...the DNC, OFA, C4C, I'm just a volunteer. I thought it was odd, but I've never been to Eagle before.

Then inside some people called police officers over and were pointing at me. Then a woman came up and demanded to know my name. I told her and she started yelling "Kelly Gallaher is a liar." I asked to please go away and she followed me closely through the building yelling it over and over again.

After the second session, I learned about the website and how it had also been mentioned on the radio. Which was about the time I started to receive prank and threatening phone calls on my cell phone... it was listed in the email Red State published and I found a note left on my car.

After I returned home, I got a call from a reporter in Waukesha who had seen the website, she wanted to know why we didn't show up. I laughed and told her we did, and even asked questions. Some disruption huh?

I understand that people are very concerned about all the issues we are dealing with as a city and as a country. Health Care is right up there at the top of the list. I want to have all the facts, as I'm sure most people do. The events of today just show how easy it is to be mislead, just because it's on the internet or in the newspaper.

I don't and never said I had any intention of disrupting anything, but clearly others had different plans. They upset me quite a bit, and for what purpose?

I'll be at the next town halls, and I invite others to do the same. It's a great exercise in democracy. If you want to send a group use our email, it's detailed, organized and has all the locations. However, if you do, please remember to be respectful and considerate to all other attendees.

New principal for McKinley Middle School

Dr. Ann Yehle has been named principal of McKinley Middle School, replacing Lori Sue Pelk, who took a job in North Carolina.

Dr. Yehle will join the district on Sept. 15. Most recently she was executive director of Educational Services for the Madison School District, where she previously was a middle school principal and special education teacher. She also worked for the Department of Public Instruction as an administrator for the Title I, principal leadership and support to the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Supt. Jim Shaw said, "Dr. Yehle's experience in urban education will provide the leadership for McKinley Middle School to improve student achievement and reach the goals of the district's North Star vision. Her experience as a school leader will help build an inclusive school community with a focus on integrated units, small teams, collaborative time, community involvement, and student voice."

Becker in court Thursday

Former mayor Gary Becker will be in court Thursday for a motion hearing on charges that he tried to hook up with an undercover state agent posing as a 14-year-old girl. Becker's jury trial is scheduled for Oct. 13.

Here's our story from July about what he's been doing this summer.

Update on Lockwood Park Playground

A widescale view of the new handicap-accessible playground at Lockwood Park. Once finished, ramps and a unique rubberized surface will make the playground a great place to play for anyone who has a hard time climbing steps or walking across sand or wood chips.

The new Lockwood Park playground is all built. Now it's just waiting for the blue, rubberized surface to be poured into place. That could happen as soon as this week, according to city officials.

The city is also set to accept a $500 donation from the Lions Club of Racine to buy two park benches for the playground. A committee will vote to accept the grant tonight, and the full council will act on it next Tuesday.

While work is completed on the playground, the city is also resurfacing the park's parking lot. Crews have already ripped out the old asphalt and workers were smoothing out dirt on Monday afternoon.

Once all of the work is complete, it'll be a nice upgrade for a park that not long ago was in disrepair. Now if they could just get those tennis courts repainted ...

The entrance road and parking lot at Lockwood Park was ripped out to make way for new asphalt. Crews were working on the project Monday.

2 new practitioners join Lake House Health Center

Marie Boyum, certified yoga instructor and meditation teacher, and Judy Warner, board-certified massage therapist, are the newest independent health practitioners to join Lake House Health & Learning Center, 932 Lake Ave.

Both came to their professional specialties after experiencing serious health problems and finding solutions with alternative health methods.

Boyum brings more than 30 years of teaching experience to her 10 years of personal yoga practice and six years as a yoga instructor in the Racine area. She also has special certifications in children’s yoga, prenatal/postnatal, partner, corporate and senior yoga.

She began her self-sustaining lifestyle 30 years ago and after living with many illnesses and doctors suspecting cancer, she changed her life adding even healthier lifestyle options. She offers yoga classes – including midday yoga at $5 f or 15 minutes – and other meditation and wellness classes. For more information, or an appointment, call (262) 939-4964.

Warner says Reiki, a hands-on energy healing method, and prayer “saved and transformed my life” after suffering a car accident and two serious spinal fractures. She received daily Reiki treatments for several months, and friends and family stayed by her bedside and prayed. “Three months later after the accident there was no evidence of any type of fracture, nor any residual effects of the stroke I suffered,” she says.

She is a graduate of the professional massage therapy school at Wisconsin School of Natural Wellness, Racine. Her massage practice specializes with individuals in chronic pain, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis. She is certified in Myofascial Release, and Swedish and Hot Stone massage and is a Reiki Master. For more information, contact Judy Warner, call (262) 308-9515.

Lake House houses several independent practitioners offering psychotherapy, coaching, professional training, massage, yoga, Reiki and wellness classes and programs and feng shui.

Inflatable store going up at Regency Mall


A new store is coming to Regency Mall, located where the late, unlamented ChiChi's restaurant was. Don't get too excited, because it will only be here a couple of months.

The "building" is a giant inflatable pumpkin balloon. Inside you'll find Halloweeen costumes and other items for that singular holiday. Owner John Majdoch was unloading the "structure" this morning -- there is a steel superstructure around the perimeter. Once inflated, the balloon will be 100 ft. around and have about 8,000 sq. ft. of selling space.

"There are only two of these in the world," Majdoch told us; he designed the structure himself and had it made in Florida; think of those "indoor" golf domes. This one was at the State Fair for three years, and at I-94 and Route 50 in Bristol, but this is its first attempt to scare up business at a mall.

Halloween Express -- the Racine store used to be located in the old Kohl's supermarket on Durand and Lathrop -- is Majdoch's sole support. He has nine retail outlets -- only two of them are balloons -- and works all year to deal with 100 vendors and obtain the 10,000 products he'll sell, starting Sept. 1.

"I work at this all year," he says, "but I have only two months of income."

As you'd expect, the balloon will be deflated and hauled away at the end of the selling season.

Notes on RacinePost ...

As we continue to develop our new home (see progress here), Pete and I have been thinking a lot about advertising, news, comments and generally our hopes for RacinePost's future. In a simple sense, our hope is RacinePost continues to add readers, expand coverage and become a successful little business. Soon we'll be rolling out a new advertising rate card, new sections for stories and several additional features we hope will connect with readers while making our operation more efficient and robust.

But there's another aspect to RacinePost I'd like to do a better job of sharing. We really do exist to support and help the Racine area community. Our top priority is to celebrate local success by publishing accomplishments, promoting local businesses, covering interesting stories and showcasing the people, places and events that make Racinians proud. But we're not big enough (at least not yet) to do it on our own. We need your help.

But before I get into asking a favor, a diversion on local media. It seems a community news source (be it a paper, radio station, website, magazine, TV station) is only as useful as its ability to inform and connect its readers. If RacinePost isn't reporting timely, helpful material for people in the Racine area there's no reason for the site to exist. Anything else is simply stealing for personal gain, which is not a sustainable model for a business that relies heavily on public participation for support.

For example, publishers around the country are making money publishing the mugshots of people arrested in their community. Like pornography, it's popular, lucrative and entirely legal (even without the people arrested having gone to trial, or even having been charged). But also like pornography it's bankrupt of common decency and adds little to the community (other than reinforcing negative stereotypes and scaring people away).

This is a different view than almost all media companies, which exist to make money first, second and third. Supporting community may fall within their Top 50 priorities, but that's not entirely clear.

Here's an example. While I worked for the JT, a circulation director would sit in on story planning meetings and direct us to make murders, fires, robberies and any other big crime story the top story on the front page. Why? Because they'd sell a few hundred more copies of papers in stores and out of paper boxes. While I'm not longer on the inside, little from the outside appears to have changed at the JT in the past two years. (To be fair, many people at the JT see the same problems I'm describing and would like to see changes. But the newspaper culture, which dates back decades, is simply too strong for anyone to re-wire.)

RacinePost is trying a different approach. We're all for making money, but it's not our reason for existence. We're much, much more interested in doing everything we can to help local businesses, organizations, events and people succeed. Our goal is to tell as many people as possible about the great, interesting, important and exciting things happening in the Racine area. If you're a business, we want to know about every event, product, story and success you have. If you're a nonprofit, we want to know what you need to continue doing your work. It's the same for every church, school, group, club, sports league, etc., etc.

Here's where we need your help. If you share interesting, wonderful stories with us, we can share them with thousands of people, who hopefully will pass the word on to thousands of more people. Hopefully, if we stick at this long enough, these are the stories that will become the "news of the day" - and the foundation for new ideas, growth and success to emerge.

Let me end with specifics. If you know any place where people are having fun, we'd love to hear about it. If you know a business that is doing impressive work, please, let us know. If you know of an upcoming event that people should attend, send it over. If you know a local story that will inspire others, let's share it together.

I'll come back to this theme from time to time, but if you'd like to start today, our email address is: racinepost@gmail.com. We'll do everything we can to include your stories on the site.