September 26, 2009

Racine Art Guild opens invitational show

The Racine Art Guild opened its latest Invitational Exhibition Saturday with a reception for artists at Avenue Gallery and Frame, 402 Main St.

Forty-one members of the Guild submitted works -- mostly paintings but also some sculpture and fabric work, as well as a life-size papier mache statue of a young man entitled "When I get some money I want a Chevy Impala like my dad" by Russell Bohn (closeup at right). Seventy-one pieces are displayed in the gallery, filling its south wall.

The exhibition by members of the 52-year-old Guild -- which stages Racine's Starving Artists Fair toward the end of every summer and donates funds to Wustum, RUAF and others, as well as art scholarships -- will continue through Oct. 10.

The Guild meets at Wustum on the second Thursday of each month (except for January, July and August). Another interesting project done by Guild members was Art Squared, in May. Details HERE.

Rebecca Venn's pen-and-ink drawing gets a once-over

James Chaplin poses for a photo next to his portrait of a young girl

Ardeth Trebra near two of her paintings (Moonrise, center; Rocky Creek, bottom)

Pat Guttenberg's clay Madonna

Nancy Justus' fibre piece, Sunset in an Urban Sky

September 25, 2009

It's Fall, but farmers market still going strong

Yes, it's Fall -- summer officially ended at 5:18 p.m. Tuesday -- but Downtown's Farmers Market is still going strong, with a variety of colorful and tasty fresh vegetables.

But hurry: it will only be open Saturday mornings for another month.

Here's what we saw last weekend in the JI Case parking lot off State Street.

Logan Brissey, 3, found two perfect pumpkins

Shonee Lo was selling beautiful peppers

Dottie Maslowski provided music with her accordion

If you had enough to eat, there were gorgeous flowers for sale

UW-Parkside gets $1 million for workforce development

The University of Wisconsin – Parkside today received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. This funding will go towards UW-P’s Nonprofit Development team, to expand the focus on workforce development and economic recovery.

The grant will allow UW-P to develop a self-sustaining model to continue these programs in the future, according to Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, who announced the grant. In June, Kohl supported the grant application submitted by UW-P.

Property Transfers: Yorkville home sells for $675,000

Property Transfers, Sept. 14-18 in Racine County (Click for interactive map)

Update: We followed up on the Burger King sale to see if it was involved with the I-94 expansion project that's underway. Emlynn Grisar, of WisDOT, said it wasn't. The state doesn't need to buy the Burger King to make way for the wider interstate, she said.

Grisar also noted construction work at Highway 20 and I-94 isn't scheduled to begin until 2014.

Original post: A beautiful 5-bedroom, 5.5-bath home in Yorkville sold recently for $625,000, according to Racine County's property transfers.

The two-story house on 10.44 acres of land at 1725 51st Drive was assessed this year at $593,000. You can see pictures here.

The Yorkville home was the top seller in Racine County recorded between Sept. 14 and 18. The second highest-priced sale was the Burger King at 13348 Washington Ave. The building, located near the on-ramp to Interstate 94, sold for $543,000.

The low-priced sale of the week was at 1901 Linden Ave. The home, assessed at $91,000, sold for $8,900.

Property Transfers, Sept. 7-11
Property Transfers, Aug. 30 - Sept. 4

Mason launches 'green cleaning' initiative

From left: Mike Sheridan, Cory Mason, Brian Torner, Robert Israel,
Jane Finkenbine and Jeff Neubauer

A statewide "green cleaning" initiative was launched today by Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, at a press conference at Walden III school.

Mason introduced a "Green Cleaning for a Healthier Wisconsin" bill that would eventually require all state, county and municipal buildings to be cleaned with methods and products "that minimize adverse effects on human health and the environment." As part of the bill, the state Department of Health Services would adopt rules and standards for such products as restroom cleaners, hand soap, toilet paper and paper towels and vacuum cleaners.

Initially, the bill would adopt standards promulgated by such programs as Green Seal, Inc., TerraChoice Enviornmental Marketing, Inc., the Green Label Program of the Carpet and Rug Institute and the federal Environmental Protection Agency; when standards conflict the bill says DHS "shall give a preference to standards that are more protective of human health and prevention of the spread of infection and disease."

Mason, said the bill would "encourage healthier and more environmentally friendly cleaning in schools."

"Childrens' lungs are susceptible," he said, "and the students at Walden have decided being a leader in the environment is really part of their goal."

Robert Israel, vp of global environmental sustainability at JohnsonDiversey, noted that health problems caused by indoor air quality cost the U.S. more than $120 billion a year: "Asthma alone causes children to miss 14 million days of school each year." JohnsonDiversey launched a line of commercial indoor green cleaning products in 2003, "to save lives and preserve the earth." JohnsonDiversey partnered with Mason to develop the bill.

Brian Torner, a Walden biology teacher, said his students did a lab experiment last year and "found that green cleaning products work as well as others."

Jane Finkenbine, parent of two Walden students and president of the PTSA, agreed that "Walden is leading the way," and told how student-learned lessons carry on to the home: "We don't buy bottled water any more," she said.

State Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said the legislation addresses "public health, environmental needs and our economy," and praised Mason as "one of our shining stars."

Sheridan, left, and Mason
examine JohnsonDiversey products

The press conference was held at Walden both because of its environmental awareness (see our stories about the school's rain garden and "green revolution" from this summer) and because of JohnsonDiversey's presence in Racine. Mason is a Walden graduate and said he would not be a public official if not for his experience with student government there.

Speakers were reluctant -- they outright refused -- to name any harmful cleaning products now on the market. When asked what they do use, Jeff Neubauer, president of Johnson distributor Kranz Inc., said, "Johnson-Diversey products," and Mason said "SCJ." Neubauer elaborated that schools and office buildings use "towels and tissues that require up to 35 million trees. We don't need to do that; recycled paper is available." He cited products made in Wisconsin by Wausau Paper Co.

When asked how to choose among products, to find those that are most environmentally sound, Israel said, "third-party certification," which is where Mason's bill begins.

Mason said one-third of Unified schools already use environmentally sound products; "Walden is at the epicenter and the state needs to provide some leadership for all public buildings." He urged everyone to think about what's on the janitor's cleaning cart: cleaning supplies, papers, vacuum.

Walden senior Rachel Pettit asked what enforcement was built into the bill. None, Mason said. "It's advisory; we're saying you need to do this. There are no penalties in the bill, no green police." But he said, "using the purchasing power of the state will change the way the market works."

Commentary: Top Ten Reasons for Health Reform

By Randolph D. Brandt

No. 10: Insurance companies will post their rates and services all together online so people can pick the best policy for themselves.

No. 9: Businesses that provide benefits for their employees will be rewarded, businesses that drop benefits for their employees will be penalized.

No. 8: Pretty much everybody will be able to keep the health insurance they have if they like it.

No. 7: People can take their health insurance with them if they change jobs or lose their job.

No. 6: Insurance companies can’t drop you from coverage if you get sick.

No. 5: Insurance companies can’t deny you insurance in the first place if you’re sick.

No. 4: Insurance companies can’t discriminate against people in their rates if they have a "pre-existing condition."

No. 3: Medical record keeping will be computerized so doctors can see which treatments work and which treatments don’t work, and avoid mistakes.

No. 2: Insurance companies and drug companies will reduce their rates by billions of dollars.

No. 1: Pretty much everybody will finally have health insurance.

(Randolph Brandt is a retired newspaper editor living in Racine, Wis.)

September 24, 2009

Racine's jobless rate slightly improves ... to 16.2%

There's a glimmer of good news in the unemployment figures issued this week by the State Department of Workforce Development.

But just a glimmer.

The City of Racine is not No. 1 in unemployment and, in fact, our jobless rate slightly improved in August, compared to July.
  • Worst in the state is Beloit, with 17.4% unemployment. In July, the city of Beloit's rate was 17.7%.
  • Racine is in second place, with 16.2% jobless, an improvement from July's 17.1%. Last year, the city's jobless rate was 8.9%.
Racine County's jobless rate is 10.2%, also slightly improved from July's rate of 10.8%. But a year ago, the rate was 5.5%.

Unemployment for the state as a whole dropped to 8.4%, from 8.8% a month ago. But last year, the rate was 4.6%.

State DWD Secretary Roberta Gassman, who released the numbers, said, "August labor market statistics show all metro areas and all but three counties with decreases in their unemployment rates. We see encouraging signs that the economy is improving..."

The full list of state workforce stats is HERE.

OOHP's new play 'Rabbit Hole' is a cathartic tear-jerker

You're handed complimentary tissue when you take your seat for the Over Our Head Players' emotionally charged show, "Rabbit Hole." At intermission, more Kleenex are passed out.

But while tears may flow during David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer-Prize winning play about a family dealing with the death of a child, director Patti Fitchett said the show is hardly wrenching.

"They're the kind of tears that are cathartic," she said. "It's not an unpleasant experience. The show is not tragic by any means. It's the universality of the emotion that brings the tears."

Fitchett described the play as a warm, tender and real look at the absurd things people way when tragedy strikes someone else. "Like platitudes at a funeral," she said. "The script really discusses those, and the reaction to those things."

Jennifer Kostreva leads a cast of five that also includes: Jennifer Nordstrom, Joe Krapf, Alice Anne Conner, and Patrick Schneider. Kathy Honigmann assistant directs; Rich Smith production manages, and Stephanie Dresen stage manages. The staff includes Joseph Piirto, Donna Nielsen, Maddie Braun, Ron Schulz, Diane Carlson, Jerry Horton, Tom Spraker, and Janine Anderson.

Fitchett said "Rabbit Hole," which is something of a departure for the typically comedy-minded OOHPs, was well suited to Kostreva's refined talents.

"This casts her in a way that was commensurate with her experience," Fitchett said. "Sometimes Snowdance isn't the best vehicle. She is much better used in this show than she's been utilized in the past."

"Rabbit Hole" is the sixth play Fitchett, of Kenosha, has directed for OOHP over the last 13 years. Fitchett said she lobbied to helm show.

"After I first read script I went to the board, begged them to direct," she said. "I loved it so much."

Fitchett proved a good fit, in part, because she had experience with Lindsay-Abaire's work. She had previously directed his play, "Wonder of the World," for the OOHPs.

She also brought a personal depth to the show. Several years ago her son became seriously ill and she and her husband were confronted with the possibility of losing a child. The boy, who was 3 at the time, is now a healthy teenager. But the experience forced Fitchett to confront many of the same emotions as the characters in the play.

"We were at the point of, 'What would you do if the unthinkable happens and we lost this child?" she said.

Lindsay-Abaire's play pushes the characters over that ledge and explores their life after the tragedy. Here's OOHP's description of the show:
A successful suburban couple must pick up the pieces after devastating tragedy tests their marriage: the Corbetts have everything a family could want, until a life-shattering accident leaves them drifting perilously apart. Rabbit Hole charts their bittersweet search for comfort, exploring life after tragedy. Their story is told through daily moments and emotional hurdles hiding in routines. The drama is in the haunting details, capturing "the awkwardness and pain of thinking people faced with an unthinkable situation - and eventually, their capacity for survival, and even hope.
The show was first performed in New York City in 2006 and featured a cast that included "Sex in the City's" Cynthia Nixon. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 and was also nominated for a Tony award.

"Rabbit Hole" opened at the Sixth Street Theatre last weekend. It continues with eight more shows over the next two weekends, including Friday nights at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 5:30 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12 or $15 and are available by calling (262) 632-6802.

Purse-sized pets have their place, too

Size matters, even with pets. Some of us like big, brawny dogs; others -- you know who you are -- prefer a pet that will fit in your purse.

So here's a little guy, Mitchell. He's an eight-week-old Chihuahua puppy who would be happy living with a family with children six years old and up. He is very tiny, and, like all puppies, will require lots of patience.

Mitchell and his brother, Marko, are ready for adoption now. To take a look, and hold him in your hand, stop down at Countryside Humane Society, at 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

Racine police report two grisly crimes Thursday morning

The Racine PD put out two grisly press releases this morning. The first involved a fatal shooting in the 1700 block of Erie Street around 2:40 a.m. The second was about a boyfriend who repeatedly stabbed his girlfriend Wednesday night outside near DeKoven and Kearney avenues.

UPDATE, Sept. 29: Police reported the arrest of Jeremiah T. Brown, 25, for the homicide of Byers. He is charged with 1st Degree Intentional Homicide, Possession of a Firearm by a Felon and Bail Jumping.

UPDATE, 3:55 p.m.: Police announce the arrest of a "person of interest" in the homicide of Terrell Byers, 34, this morning on Eire Street. The suspect is being held in the Racine County Jail while the investigation continues. No name has been released yet.

Here are the releases:
Officers Respond to Shots Fired Call to Find Homicide Victim

Officers responded to 1718 Erie St at 2:39AM this morning for a Shots Fired call and located a 34 year old male suffering from gunshot wounds. He was transported to Wheaton Franciscan St Mary's Hospital in Racine where he later succumbed to his injuries.

Officers and investigators are conducting interviews of witnesses and persons in the area in an attempt to identify possible offenders and determine the exact circumstances surrounding the incident. At this time, there are no suspects in custody and there is nothing to indicate that this was a gang related incident.

No other information will be released at this time.

If you have any information related to this incident, you can call the Racine Police Department Investigations Unit at 635-7756, Crimestoppers at 636-9330, or by texting to CRIMES (274637) and referring to Tipsoft I.D.# TIP417 with your text message.

Man Arrested After Seriously Injuring Girlfriend

Officers responded to DeKoven Av and Kearney Av at 8:43PM on September 23, 2009 for a Civil Trouble. At the scene, officers located a 21 year old female victim suffering from multiple stab wounds. The injuries included wounds to her upper body and neck area. The victim was transported to Wheaton Franciscan St Mary's Hospital in Racine where she was treated for her injuries.

Officers and investigators were able to locate witnesses at a nearby home who indicated that the incident had started out as a boyfriend-girlfriend civil inside an apartment at 1848 Kearney Av.

The boyfriend grabbed a butcher knife and chased the victim outside where he caught up with her and began stabbing her. According to witnesses, the offender had been seen standing over the victim stabbing her repeatedly before fleeing on foot from the area.

Several hours later, James H Griffin III (03-25-85) returned to a family members' home at 1636 Morton Av and police were notified so that he could turn himself in. He was placed in custody without further incident and transported to the Racine Police Department where he was interviewed and arrested on the following charges:

Outstanding Warrant through Kenosha County Sheriffs' Department
Outstanding Warrant through Department of Corrections
Outstanding Warrant through Sheboygan County Sheriffs' Department
Attempted 1st Degree Intentional Homicide While Armed

The medical condition of the victim is not known at this time. Griffin is currently being held in the Racine County Jail.

If you have any information related to this incident, you can call the Racine Police Department Investigations Unit at 635-7756, Crimestoppers at 636-9330, or by texting to CRIMES (274637) and referring to Tipsoft I.D.# TIP417 with your text message.

September 23, 2009

West Racine farmers' market is a hit on Harvest Night

Picking apart the fine points of the proposed West Racine development gave way Wednesday afternoon to picking through farm-grown vegetables at the site's farmers' market.

Sixteen different farm operations had booths at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard, selling everything from squash and pumpkins, to peppers and tomatoes, to eggs, beef, sausages and decorative corn stalks.

It was more than a farmers' market, it was also Harvest Night, with music by Copy Cats, arts and crafts, beer tasting from the Belle City Homebrewers, face painting and more.

But, of course, the veggies -- and baked treats -- held the top spot.

The market is open Wednesday afternoons, Tuesday and Friday mornings -- but only through October.

Ted Gall had the largest onions, tomatoes and peppers

Sue Van Swol demonstrated her 1924 knitting machine -- a P.T. Legare from Quebec -- that all-but-automatically knit socks (two at a time!), mittens, scarves and infants' hats. The hand-operated machine, a 'modern' version of one developed during the Civil War, cost her $750; during World War I the Red Cross gave them to housewives to knit socks for our troops.

Susan Stevenson Lemke with one of her painted gourds.
She also did the pumpkins in our picture at top

Sweet Dumpling Squash

Face-painting attracted a long line of kids.

KRM dominates YPR forum with Mayor Dickert

KRM commuter rail was the lead topic Tuesday during Mayor John Dickert's first meeting with the Young Professionals of Racine.

Dickert met with 25 YPR members at the Radisson hotel. Here's some notes on the forum:

* No surprise, Dickert came out strong in support of commuter rail and regional bus transit. He said he had no problem with government supporting trains and buses because it's government that pays for roads. The state is spending $1 billion adding another lane to I-94, and Racine won't get much benefit from it. Buses and KRM will cost less than that, and benefit Racine more.

* But YPR member Chris Terry said he didn't believe transit alone would solve Racine's problems. The city needs to become more aggressive in attracting businesses with tax benefits and other incentives, he said.

* One YPR member said Racine needed KRM to connect to its neighbors. "We're getting cut off from the rest of the world," she said. "We're going to be a ghost town."

* Talk about KRM, high-speed rail and buses took up easily more than half of the forum.

* Dickert said he's working to create a 10-year parks plan for the city. Park land along the Root River, which Dickert called on the "longest continuous parks" in the country, will be a focus of the plan.

* The city is re-writing its housing ordinances to discourage bad landlords and bad tenants tenants, Dickert said. He also wants the city involved in remodeling more homes. Right now, Dickert said, the city spends $1 million remodeling 3-4 homes a year. He wants to renovate 30-40 homes a year, without spending much more money.

Krystyna Sarrazin, executive director of YPR, introduces Mayor John Dickert Tuesday.

* Dickert said his No. 1 priority is creating jobs. He pointed out there's about 10,000 adults out of work in the city right now.

* The city is vetting every developer interested in Racine, Dickert said. Over the last five year, he said, the city took in any developer and wound up with too much low-income housing. He's trying to even out types of developments that are coming into Racine.

* Dickert said he doesn't hold grudges. He shared a story about a disagreement with an alderman over how City Administrator Tom Friedel was hired. The alderman, who opposed aspects of Friedel's hiring, assumed he was on Dickert's bad side. Dickert said he assured the alderman he wasn't. "I'm OK with disagreement," Dickert said.

* Speaking cryptically, Dickert told the YPR members there's a lot going on. "More than you know," he said.

The crowd at YPR's forum with Mayor Dickert.

Shaw: Unified needs to expand options; Supports expanding Walden and REAL School, building two elementary schools

Racine Superintendent James Shaw delivered the annual "State of the District" address on Tuesday night. Here are a few key points of his talk:

* About 75 people attended the address at SC Johnson's Golden Rondelle theater.

* Shaw talked a lot about his "North Star" initiative, which is a goal to have every Unified student college or career-ready by the time they graduate. A key aspect of the "North Star" is measuring student and school performance.

* Shaw noted Racine has more impoverished children than most school districts in the state, but is spending less per student than most school districts in the state. "We are addressing above average needs with below average resources," he said.

* Unified is working on ways to use numbers to evaluate school safety. He said it's a priority to keep children safe in schools.

* Saying he wants to give parents "options," Shaw threw out a few innovative ideas:
  1. It's time for Unified to open a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, he said.
  2. Unified needs one or two new elementary schools to lower class sizes. An audience member asked if the former Caddy Vista Elementary in Caledonia would be an option. Shaw said no sites have been chosen for the proposed schools, but they would be built where kids live, and early analysis suggests the new schools would be needed in the city.
  3. Expand the Walden and REAL School programs to more students.
  4. Expand Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, which offer high-level classes to students.
  5. Open a virtual school that would allow students to attend classes online. Shaw said Unified is one of the few districts in the state not to have a virtual school option, and it's losing some students because of it.
* Shaw made an interesting point about looking to other districts as models. While they may help, he said, Unified has to find "The Racine Way" to improve. Essentially, the Racine area needs to fix its schools and can't look elsewhere for the answers.

* "The community wants a voice in Racine's schools," Shaw said. "They want a say." He added the community has supported Unified for years by passing referendums and working to improve the district.

* Unified's diversity is a strength, Shaw said. "It's a reflection of America," he said.

* Shaw's concluding point was to "never give up" on trying to improve Racine Unified. He told a story about reading an essay written by a high school student. He was moved by the essay and asked for the student to be recognized at a School Board meeting. The teacher said it wasn't possible, because the student was in juvenile detention. Shaw told the teacher he was "deeply disappointed." The teacher responded: "What are you going to do? Give up?" Shaw's response: "We don't ever give up."

* An audience member asked if Unified was working on a way to allow parents to check students' grades online. Shaw said the district is working on such a program. He also noted Unified trails many districts in offering this service, which is now limited to Case High School. "We need to move in that direction," Shaw said.

* Shaw said if his plans aren't working, the School Board should find someone new to lead the district. "If the needle doesn't move, the School Board should find a new superintendent," Shaw said.

He added similar accountability can't be brought down to the teacher level because there are too many factors that go into individual success. It's the administrators who should be held responsible for district-wide improvement.

"When schools don't make progress, central office has a problem," Shaw said.

September 22, 2009

Transit Summit spells out need for regional cooperation

A "Transit Summit" was held in Milwaukee last week to lay out the need for cooperation on bus and train service throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Kerry Thomas, executive director of Transit NOW, the group pushing for KRM from Kenosha to Milwaukee, attended the pro-transit summit and wrote a summary of the gathering, which is printed below.

Here are a few key points:

* Scott Bernstein, a national expert on transit and regional economies, said southeastern Wisconsin is competing with 400 other regions for federal money to aid economic development. The money is needed because the Milwaukee region, which includes Racine, now ranks 336th out of 392 regions as a place to live and do business. Declining transit is a major region for the decline, Bernstein said.

* Jeff Van Koningsveld, president of the International Brotherhood of Electricians Local 430 in Racine, said simply that building KRM would create needed jobs in the region.

* Deborah Blanks, CEO of the Milwaukee-based Social Development Commission, summed up the need for transit. “If you want thousands of people in the inner city to work and contribute to the economy they need better transit. People are desperate for better transportation. The fiscal reality is all of the dollars that we are losing. We can’t attract businesses and grow jobs, people can’t get to the jobs and keep the jobs and contribute to our community.”

Here's Thomas's full write-up:

(Anticipating complaints, we're running this because we're pro-transit. Not radically, or irresponsibly so (we pay taxes, too), but Racine needs an injection of outside money to spur development. KRM is one big, multi-million dollar example. Another is effective bus service to I-94 once Caledonia and Mount Pleasant get their business parks going. Mostly, though, we're pro-Racine, and investing in transit helps the city.)

Southeastern Wisconsin must get its regional mass transit act together now or risk losing out in the competitive scramble for federal economic recovery infrastructure dollars while continuing to slide farther behind other regions ranked by economic development indicators for attracting jobs, talent, and outside investment.

That was the sobering message delivered at the 8th Annual Community Development Summit in Milwaukee recently by a national expert, guest panelists and other speakers including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Michael Morgan, Governor Jim Doyle’s secretary of administration.

"Four hundred regions are vying for money. It’s time to start acting like a region because you can’t afford not to," said Scott Bernstein, president of the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), the event’s keynote speaker. In all, a crowd of 200 elected officials, business executives, and others attended the summit at the Italian American Community Center in Milwaukee last week.

Bernstein said a viable regional transit network is of utmost importance for growing jobs, reducing cost of living and foreclosure risk, and promoting a thriving regional economy. (His slide show presentation is available here. A series of maps linking housing and transportation expenses illustrates our shrinking housing affordability and is available at Detailed CNT research shows that between 1999 and 2007 in SE Wisconsin income gains were wiped out by the increases in fuel and transportation costs.

Bernstein explained that the cost of transportation must be included with the cost of housing because housing location drives transportation costs, which have climbed to be equal with housing costs region-wide. For Wisconsin, the lack of affordable transportation choices has added to foreclosure pressures and created a leaky economy, bleeding billions of dollars from the economy annually.

Greater Milwaukee Committee President Julia Taylor said improving the regional transportation network is a need “we can’t afford to ignore” any longer. She urged the public to insist their elected officials join “a call to action” to improve the region’s standing.

Bernstein reemphasized the reality that an integrated Regional Transit Authority is needed to coordinate systems across municipal boundaries to support local economies and validate the region’s federal eligibility. Areas that are successful in gaining federal investments are well organized regionally and are viewed as a much more solid investment not only in the federal review process but to investors and the private sector as well.

Barrett and Morgan both voiced similar views along with strong support for improved transit and a Regional Transit Authority. They said a regional approach is essential to creating and executing a broader transportation network with sufficient service and funding. Morgan stated, "A strong SE Wisconsin strengthens the whole state. Transit is high on the Governor’s list to get done."

Bernstein further cited a range of research data that identified poor and declining regional transit service as a key contributor to the region’s low status when compared to other places to live and do business. He said Moody's Investors Service, among the world’s most respected and widely utilized sources for credit ratings, research and risk analysis, ranks the region 336th on a list of 392 areas. Businesses and individuals consider public transportation and access to quality of life amenities highly desirable factors in determining where they will locate. The lack of good modern transit hurts our ability to attract businesses, jobs, and talent.

Bernstein, apologized for the “gloom-and-doom” scenario, but emphasized it’s not too late to take action. He then joined a seven-member reaction panel, which, despite differing views on transportation and economic development issues, unanimously agreed that the region must move quickly and decisively to:

* Form a permanent integrated Regional Transit Authority;
* Establish a dedicated transit funding source for bus systems.

"We can argue [our options], but you can’t argue the need to increase public Transit," said Edward Zore, chairman and CEO of Northwestern Mutual. The company is one of the largest employers in the area with 5,000 workers at its downtown Milwaukee office complex and Franklin campus.

Zore said 11 percent of his workers rely on public transit and complained that the company must run its own employee shuttle service between its two sites because Milwaukee County Transit System service and other options are inadequate or inefficient. Bridging the transportation gap with company money adds to the cost of doing business in the area. As a business already in the area, Northwestern came up with a solution to what another business looking to locate here would see as a potential deal breaker.

Another panelist with business locations just outside Milwaukee County said he could add and train unskilled workers who can’t afford a car, but the options simply don’t exist for them to get to the jobs. “Unless you have a car, you can’t get there from here,” said Eric Isbister, CEO of General MetalWorks Corp, a 65-employee metal fabrication company with plants in Slinger and Mequon. He said the situation is especially frustrating in Mequon where his facility is just north of County Line Road.

Jeff Van Koningsveld, president of the International Brotherhood of Electricians Local 430 in Racine, added that “for Racine job growth has become a critically urgent need. Transit investments create jobs.” He added that the startup of KRM would create 4,000 jobs, and the development along the corridor would create 17,500 that would not be there at all without the investment.

“Everyone will benefit through tourism and sales as or many businesses and cultural destinations open up to nearly 2 million people that live near transit stations in the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor. The time is now to make the RTA real so we can get to work creating jobs and building cleaner more prosperous future.”

Deborah Blanks, CEO of the Milwaukee-based Social Development Commission responded to a question about the fiscal reality of government budgets saying, “If you want thousands of people in the inner city to work and contribute to the economy they need better transit. People are desperate for better transportation. The fiscal reality is all of the dollars that we are losing. We can’t attract businesses and grow jobs, people can’t get to the jobs and keep the jobs and contribute to our community.”

Other panelists were Wallace White, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce; and Karl Ostby, chairman of the temporary Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority.

Current efforts to shore up transit and commuter options include gaining a dedicated funding source for existing bus systems, and moving forward with the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line or KRM. The need for dedicated funding source for transit is important throughout the region, and especially in Milwaukee County where increased fares and route reductions have hit the community hard. Additional service cuts are anticipated in 2010 with more cuts expected in subsequent years under current funding trends.

Taylor emphasized the immediate need to establish dedicated transit funding and a regional authority. “We are one of only two areas where transit is funded by the property tax. The other is Indianapolis.” Taylor noted that there are too many demands on the property tax and it does not grow with the economy resulting in inadequate and unstable funding for maintaining and expanding fundamental transit programs.

Spangenberg rips post card supporting West Racine proposal

Alderman Jim Spangenberg is fighting mad over a post card sent to West Racine residents last week in support of a proposed development at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard.

The post card shows a vacant lot in the 3100 block of Washington Avenue on one side and on the other side speaks in favor of Tom Tousis's proposed $5 million development, which includes a grocery store, restaurant, bank and gas station. The post card singles out Spangenberg as an opponent of the project and asks people to call him to voice their support.

Spangenberg provided RacinePost with a copy of the post card. Here's the front:

And the back:

Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis, said he hadn't seen the post card and said Tousis had nothing to do with it. He added Tousis did not pay for the post card and was unaware it existed until RacinePost called to inquire about it. The post card likely came from local unions, which are backing Tousis's project because he's agreed to use union labor to build the development.

Spangenberg called the post card "sleazy" and inaccurate. For starters, he said, the post card states Tousis wants to build a grocery store, restaurant and bank, but makes no mention of the gas station.

Spangenberg also contested the post card's claim that lot has been "an eyesore for nine years." Buildings in the 3100 block of Washington Avenue were demolished in 2006 to make way for new development. This is the third year the lot, which houses the West Racine Farmers Market, has been vacant.

"This is sleaze," Spangenberg said, adding that he's up for a fight if Tousis wants to challenge him over the development.

"They don't know who they're messing with," Spangenberg said.

The post card, and Spangenberg's response, is the latest in an increasingly tense fight over the vacant lot in West Racine. Tousis' proposal is controversial, in part, because it's largely what West Racine has been seeking for years. Tousis intends to build a grocery store with a produce section and butcher, a sit-down family restaurant named after his father, Gus Tousis, a long-time restaurateur in Racine, and a bank branch. The development would also preserve the West Racine Farmers Market.

But Tousis also wants to build a gas station on the site, which Spangenberg adamantly opposes. He said gas stations always cause problems in their surrounding neighborhoods, adding Tousis' gas station is simply a bad fit for West Racine.

Spangenberg rejected the argument that it's time to build on the vacant lot. He said Downtown Racine waited a number of years to replace the Venetian theater, but then landed the Johnson Bank building. (That said, Spangenberg estimated in 2006 that the loss of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in West Racine cost nearby businesses 10-15 percent of their sales.)

A key meeting on the proposal is scheduled for Sept. 30. A small group West Racine business owners, and a few residents, met in recent months to discuss their hopes for the 3100 block of Washington Avenue, which is owned by the city's Redevelopment Authority. Organizers of the group said it was not called in response to Tousis's proposal. The group was actually forming back in March, before anyone had seen Tousis's plans.

But the group's recommendations do affect the proposal. The final draft of the proposal, which will be considered by the Redevelopment Authority at its Oct. 7 meeting, calls a gas station an "unacceptable/undesirable" use of the land. "Undesirable" was added to "unacceptable" in the final revision of the group's proposal, in part to soften the recommendation. In theory, adding "undesirable" gives the RDA the opportunity to consider Tousis's plan without immediately discarding it because it does include a gas station.

One person close to the process said the RDA could may adopt the West Racine recommendations and then grant Tousis an exception on the gas station based on the positive aspects of his projects, mainly the grocery store and restaurant. "I think that may be what happens," they said.

But support from the RDA is simply the first of several steps any development in West Racine would have to survive. Tousis also wants a "Class B" liquor license for the development, and needs approval from city committees and the City Council to proceed.

The Sept. 30 public meeting on the West Racine group's recommendations to the RDA will be held at 6 p.m. at Gethsamae Lutheran Church, 3319 Washington Ave. The church has offered to provide activities for the children for parents who would like to attend.

September 21, 2009

'Raytown Roadhouse' gets liquor license approved; Two others turned down

Public Safety and Licensing Committee Monday night.

Yeehaw, Racine! You're a step closer to getting a country-western bar.

The City Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee voted unanimously Monday night to grant the "Raytown Roadhouse," 522 Sixth St., an alcohol license. The new bar and restaurant will have a country-western theme featuring live music, a steakhouse and a mechanical bull.

The "Raytown Roadhouse" is the creation of Jim Spodick and Pete Karas, who got the idea for the restaurant and bar walking around 7 Mile Fair. They noticed people drawn to a country music singer and realized there's an untapped market not only in Racine, but southeastern Wisconsin.

The new bar and restaurant is a career change for Karas and Spodick. Karas ran for mayor earlier this year, served on the City Council and used to sell insurance. Spodick opened the Historic Century Market at 522 Sixth St. and has hosted a number of businesses on Sixth Street, but he's still looking for a knockout success.

The same night the committee approved a liquor license for the Raytown Roadhouse, it rejected two other requests.

Tommy Daniels' bid to reopen a bar in the former "Cash Money's" at 901 S. Memorial Drive failed on a 3-1 vote with Alderman Jim Kaplan the lone member to support giving Daniels a license. Alderman Robert Mozol argued against the license, noting a murder occurred outside of the bar when it was open, but few, if any, incidents have been reported since it closed.

Kaplan supported the license because Daniels agreed to a series of security measures for the new business. But the video cameras, extra security and other provisions Daniels agreed to were not enough to convince Mozol and aldermen Sandy Weidner and David Maack.

Alderman Mike Shields, whose district includes the proposed bar, spoke in favor of the license. That leaves the vote total at 3-2 against heading into the next City Council meeting, where the license likely will be debated.

The committee also rejected Dwight Mosby's application for a liquor license at 1846 Mead St. Mosby wanted to open a bar that would be affiliated with the adjacent Prince Hall on Mead Street. He planned to limit the bar to patrons 25 and older.

Alderman Bob Anderson, whose district includes the proposed site, spoke against the license. He said neighbors strongly opposed the tavern. "Everybody said, 'Absolutely not,'" Anderson said.

Mosby's application now goes to the City Council for a final vote up or down.

And the winners of the photo scavenger hunt are...


The Racine Camera Club held a photographic scavenger hunt this summer, drawing 159 entries from 21 local photographers. The rules allowed each entrant to submit one photo in each of 12 categories -- and here are the winners selected by members of the club, who judged them at their last meeting. One photographer, R. Priest, had three winning pictures, and one -- Sue Weisensel -- had five!

Although she wasn't a member of the Racine Camera Club at the time, the scavenger hunt was open to all. Sue told us, "My first camera was a Brownie Holiday that I got for Christmas when I was very young. To this day I still have pictures I took with that camera. I entered the digital area several years ago and photography and the 'digital darkroom' have now become a passion. I guess the creative side of me is always trying to come out in one way or another, and working with pictures is a great avenue for that." We asked her for a little information about each of her winning pictures, and have placed it below.

Here are all the winners, including two categories in which there was a tie:

INSECT: R. Priest

INSECT: Cabbage White Butterfly, by Paul M. Oemig

LEAVES: Vascular leaf, by Paul M. Oemig

SKY: North Beach sunrise, by Kurt O. Thomsen

SAND: Silken sand, by Sue Weisensel
This is a scene from Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. It's a place that's hard to describe to anyone who hasn't seen those incredible sand dunes with their own eyes. The scenes there change with the time of day as the sun moves over the dunes so there are always "new" shots to be had.

BRIDGE: Dave Hoel

NATURE IN THE CITY: Cedar waxwing, by Sue Weisensel
This is my personal favorite. A few years ago while at an art festival on the lakefront, someone pointed out to me the Cedar Waxwings in a tree in the area. I didn't have a camera with me at the time, but the Cedar Waxwings never left my mind. This year, I purposely went to check out that same tree one day in early June and to my amazement, there they were... a large flock of them, feasting on the cherries on that tree. I went to that same location four days in a row, taking pleasure in photographing those amazingly beautiful birds.

BOAT: At the marina, by Sue Weisensel
The intense color in a rack full of kayaks caught my eye.
Such a display of color is like "eye candy" for me.

BOAT: Marilyn Wilson

LAWN CHAIR: Adirondacks in bloom, by Sue Weisensel
This was photographed in Colorado. Adirondacks are always photogenic it seems, and these even more so as they were surrounded by a field of beautiful Alpine flowers.

SHADOW: Kathy Brand


FLOWER: Orchids for you, by Sue Weisensel
The Orchids picture is post-processed in Photoshop with a technique called "out-of-frame." More of my out-of-frame images can be seen here.

Private schools invited to SOAR scholarship meeting

Private schools in the greater Racine area that wish to become part of the SOAR network of schools serving a larger population of students in poverty should attend a school orientation session Thursday, Sept. 24, at 8 a.m. in the Assembly Hall at DeKoven Center, 600-21st St.

SOAR – Scholarships, Opportunities & Access in Racine – is a new organization committed to providing opportunities for excellent education through scholarships awarded to families with limited financial resources. Its goal is to help provide Racine students from low-income families an opportunity to attend approved, area private schools; to grow in their academic achievement; and to find success.

SOAR schools will be accredited and have high academic standards, and they will work with SOAR to provide the compassion and support necessary for scholarship recipients and their families. All private area schools that wish to be included in this SOAR network are encouraged to attend Thursday’s meeting to learn how the scholarship program will work in 2010-11 and to indicate their interest in accepting SOAR scholarship students next fall. The meeting is most appropriate for principals, pastors, school board members, church council representatives and finance administrators.

Participants are asked to RSVP by calling Executive Director Laura Sumner Coon at 498-9425. SOAR is a nonprofit, 501(c) 3 corporation.

The cartoon @

September 20, 2009

Candlelight vigil promotes health care for all

"Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and other great religious leaders were healers as well as prophets," the Rev. Michael Mueller reminded congregants at the Racine Interfaith Coalition's Candlelight for Compassion vigil for health care Sunday night. "A faithful tradition of healing restores to community those who have been marginalized by illness..."

The vigil, originally scheduled for Monument Square, was moved inside the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church by last night's rain. That only intensified the message, delivered by Rev. Mueller, Rev. Tony Larsen and Rev. Carol Baumgartner, who found support for universal health care in diverse sources.

For example:
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

Imam Sa'dullah Khan: "The right of every individual to adequate health care flows from the sanctity of human life... We believe that health is a fundamental human right... Equally available and accessible to all."

Rabbi Alexander Schindler: "Health is not a luxury; nor should it be the possession of a privileged few. We are all created b'tzelem elohim -- in the image of God -- and this makes each human life as precious as the next."
Rev. Baumgartner's prayer noted:
Oh Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others...
Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong.
Let me not be afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich...
The half-hour service, which attracted about 75 people, also included music sung by Rev. Larsen, who revised some of the lyrics to fit the occasion. For example, he sang
We are a gentle, angry people,
Singing, singing for our lives
and added the verse
We are a healthcare seeking people,
Singing, singing for our lives