October 17, 2009

Ryan opposes reconciliation after he supported it; Feingold opposed then and opposes now

Update: A commenter wondered about Sen. Russ Feingold's stance on reconciliation. Below is an excerpt from a speech Feingold gave on reconciliation in April. Short version: He opposed reconciliation when Republicans did it, and opposes Democrats using it to pass health care reform.

Feingold's speech:
However, there are some features of this resolution with which I take exception, most notably the use of reconciliation as a tool to expedite health care reform. The arguments over the use of reconciliation are familiar to this body. Sadly, a tool intended to streamline the painful process of deficit reduction has been used to clear a path for major policy changes that have, at best, only a passing relationship to reducing the budget deficit. This is not the first budget resolution to abuse the special budget procedures to ease the enactment of significant and potentially controversial policy changes. Perhaps the grossest misuse of reconciliation was to pass sweeping changes to the Tax Code in 2001 and 2003 that far from reducing the deficit actually exploded annual budget deficits and government debt. Indeed, we are still living with the downstream effects of those fiscally reckless measures that have left us less able to meet either the current economic crisis or our long-term fiscal challenges.

I had hoped that with a new President in the White House and Democrats in control of both Chambers we could restore a respect for the proper use of budget procedures. But while the budget we pass today is a huge improvement over those submitted by the previous administration, both with respect to honest budgeting and the fiscal path it embraces, its misuse of reconciliation to advance policy priorities is regrettable.

I opposed using reconciliation when it was abused by the other party to enact fiscally reckless tax cuts and when it was attempted to be used to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. I opposed it earlier in this debate as a way to expedite climate change legislation, and I oppose it now as a vehicle to fast-track health care reform.

Congressional leadership indicate they may not need to use reconciliation to enact health care reform, that it will be used only as a last option to ensure Congress acts on that vitally important issue. That may be, and I certainly hope this body will pass a health care reform measure under regular procedures. Health care reform is long overdue, and I look forward to the Senate finally acting on an issue that is so important to my constituents. But let's not kid ourselves. It is no more appropriate to use reconciliation as a hammer to push through health care reform under regular procedures than it is to use it directly to enact those reforms. Both are abuses. Both undermine its original intent. Both invite even greater abuses in the future.
Here's another Feingold speech on the breakdown of decorum in the Senate. He heavily quotes Republican senators as models of honorable conduct.

Original post: Just a few years after Rep. Paul Ryan supported the use of an obscure procedural motion to pass President Bush's tax cuts, he's criticizing Democrats for doing the same to pass health care reform.

Ryan is crowing about Democrats using "reconciliation" to pass health care reform through the Senate. The procedure allows the Senate to approve legislation without a filibuster-proof majority. Normally, the minority party in the Senate can derail legislation by refusing a bill to come up for a vote.

Put another way, most bills need 60 votes to pass the Senate to stop the opposition from stalling the proposal, but reconciliation only requires 51 votes. Ryan told the National Review:
“This is a massive abuse of power. The reconciliation process was designed for the budget and to help reduce deficits and debt. Now it’s being used to create new entitlement programs. The Democrats hijacked the rules in order to exploit a procedure.”
Ryan, who opposes Democrats' health care reform plans, is upset with reconciliation because it makes it easier for the bill to pass the Senate. But he was OK with reconciliation when President Bush and Republicans were in power. (Ryan may argue the Bush reconciliation votes were over the budget, while Democrats plan to use reconciliation for "entitlements," though Democrats counter that health care reform has critical budget implications for the country.)

And this isn't to just pick on Ryan. Democrats complained about Republicans using reconciliation under Bush, but now they're set to do the same. It's a sad commentary on a system that repeatedly proves: There's no honor in politics.

Democrats and Republicans follow an important rule when they're in power: Get while gettin's good. President Obama and Democrats know their time in the majority is limited, and they're trying to push through health care reform while they have the chance.

No doubt Republicans will do the same when it's their turn, just as they've done in the past.

October 16, 2009

Caledonia Cousins Subs sets boot drive
to benefit the kids at HALO

A children's boot drive to benefit the kids at HALO will be held in Caledonia by the Cousins Subs at 5131 Douglas Ave. Donations of new or gently used children’s boots will be accepted from Saturday, Oct. 24, through Saturday, Nov. 14, during business hours. Anyone donating a pair of boots will receive a coupon for a free sub (with the purchase of another) and a special holiday catering offer.

HALO needs boots in children’s sizes 6-13 and 1-5 and hopes to collect four pairs of boots in each size. Boots are needed for both boys and girls, and HALO suggests that people who intend to donate new boots purchase “gender-neutral” colors and styles.

“We love being part of the Caledonia community and, as colder weather approaches, we wanted to do something to give back,” said Mary Jo Lorentz, Cousins' co-owner with her husband, Norm. “HALO is a wonderful organization that does so much for people in need in Racine County. We hope everyone will join us in giving to this important effort to help local children.”

Super School Star: Rachel Gravunder, Wadewitz Elementary

Every day students and teachers excel in our local schools. RacinePost will highlight a few of these successes with a weekly series called "Super School Stars." Do you know a student or staff member who deserves recognition? Contact us at: racinepost@gmail.com

Rachel Gravender, P-5 coordinator at Wadewitz Elemenatry, poses by the display she created
for Wadewitz Elementary's upcoming Family Pumpkin Math Night.

Rachel Gravender, the P-5 coordinator at Wadewitz Elementary School, is a part-time employee whose contributions far exceed the time she's paid for, according to school Principal Ursula Hamilton-Perry.

Gravunder goes above and beyond to assist students and staff in any way she can. She assists staff with technology needs when help is not available immediately. She organizes fantastic learning experiences for families and students on a monthly basis (with the help of other dedicated staff members). She also coordinates a phenomenal Math Meet for students across SE Wisconsin.

"She is an awesome addition to our staff and we are very fortunate to have her," Hamilton-Perry wrote in nominating Gravunder for the "Super School Star" award.

Congratulations, Rachel! And thanks to Principal Hamilton-Perry for the nomination.

Do you know a student or staff member who deserves recognition? Contact us at: racinepost@gmail.com

HALO, shut out of city funding, may get another chance at CDBG money

The city's Community Development Block Grant committee will reconsider its decision to deny money to Racine's primary homeless shelter.

The Community Development Committee voted on Oct. 8 to deny HALO's entire request. The shelter had received at least $50,000 in CDBG funding the last three years.

Alderman Greg Helding, who sits on the committee, said Friday he wanted to take another look at HALO's $76,194 request to run its shelters. Helding voted against money for the homeless shelter, but he's since reconsidered his decision.

CDBG money is given out by the federal government to help communities pay for local projects and programs. Helding said the money should be given out based on community priorities, and based on that criteria, HALO was a worthy recipient.

Others on the committee argued the Community Development Committee should consider new programs this year instead of acting out of habit. Ken Lumpkin, who sits on the committee, said all organizations should be eligible for the money.

"There shouldn't be any sacred cows," Lumpkin said. "No organization should be automatic."

The decision on HALO came, in part, because the city received $1.4 million in requests for about $315,000 in CDBG money. Lumpkin said deciding among projects is near impossible because most organizations who apply are doing important work in the community.

"Homelessness is an issue, but joblessness is an issue. So are youths being steered away from gangs," Lumpkin said.

The committee's decision on HALO was surprising because the organization received $50,400 in CDBG funding in 2007, $55,000 in 2008 and $50,000 in 2009. The shelter requested $76,194 for 2010.

The decision drew a strong rebuke from Neal Nottleson, who sits on the shelter's board of directors. Nottleson wrote to community members:
... I could translate the decision to exclude the decision to exclude HALO from ANY CDBG funding for 2010 (after being the recipient of $50,000 this year) as, in effect saying "... we've now resolved the homeless issue; let's move on to other things...". Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth and I don't really believe you think that to be the case, but that's how it could appear.
Nottleson urged the committee to reconsider its decision, and he'll likely get his wish. Helding said the committee's recommendations at the Oct. 8 meeting were preliminary and that he'll ask to reconsider the HALO decision.

The committee's next meeting is Oct. 21.

JT gives Ryan last word on protest, may get protested itself

Protestors the JT covered this week may be targeting Racine's newspaper next week.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the head of the Hispanic-advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, is attacking the paper for refusing to publish a commentary she wrote as a response to Rep. Paul Ryan's commentary published on Thursday's Opinion page.

Neumann-Ortiz is claiming Ryan's commentary contained inaccuracies that Voces de la Frontera hoped to correct.

At issue is Ryan's alleged relationship with the Federation of American Immigration Reform, an organization labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Voces de la Frontera is claiming Ryan granted the organization an interview and appears on their website.

The JT previewed and covered a protest outside of Ryan's office on Tuesday. We had photos of the event, too.

Ryan responded to the protest, and the JT's coverage, in a commentary in Thursday's paper. He said the alleged interview had nothing to do with immigration reform - only health care and football - and wasn't even with someone from FAIR. Here's an exerpt:
We were first made aware of this confusion last week after being contacted by a representative from Voces de la Frontera. We quickly clarified the situation with Voces de la Frontera, and my name was subsequently removed from FAIR's Web site, where it had been incorrectly listed. I was surprised that Voces de la Frontera decided to go forward to protest something that I did not do, but more troubled by the coverage of the event.


I understand that there are new pressures to break stories and turn things around at a moment's notice. But I'd ask that in the future, The Journal Times makes certain every effort is made to ensure accuracy prior to publication - and once the facts are made clear, that they are expressed in an even-handed manner.
After reading the commentary, Neumann-Ortiz said Voces de la Frontera drafted their own commentary and asked the JT to run it. The newspaper refused.

Voces de la Frontera is now considering another protest, this time in front of the JT's offices, Neumann-Ortiz said. She said the newspaper's refusal to run their commentary amounted to censorship, and that the newspaper should allow Voces de la Frontera's commentary as a matter of fairness.

After the JT refused to publish the commentary, Neumann-Ortiz sent it to RacinePost. The commentary is published below.

For what it's worth, it appears a couple of issues fanned this fire's flame. First, if we take Ryan at his word, then it appears FAIR overstated his involvement in a recent "Hold Their Feet to the Fire" event. Ryan said he only talked about health care legislation, not immigration reform, though his name was proudly listed on FAIR's website as an example of the group's influence on immigration issues.

Second, Voces de la Frontera used the reference to point out Ryan's record on immigration, which they oppose.

Third, the initial JT story didn't include Ryan's explanation of his appearance at the FAIR event. Ryan's office was closed Monday because of Columbus Day.

Fourth, the JT gave Ryan free space to further explain his side of the story even though reporter Paul Sloth explained the issue well in a story covering the protest. This, in turn, created reasonable expectation in Voces de la Frontera that they would get unfettered access to the Opinion page to explain their concerns about Ryan's stance on immigration reform.

The JT, which has an exclusive deal to publish Ryan's commentaries, decided to give Ryan the last word on the issue. Voces de la Frontera, which is good at organizing protests, appears determined to not let that happen.

Here's the commentary the JT declined to publish:

Voces de la Frontera responds to Congressman Ryan’s editorial

Voces de la Frontera is pleased that Congressman Paul Ryan has disassociated himself from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a Washington DC organization widely recognized as a hate group.

Mr. Ryan’s statement on the matter, however, is inaccurate when it alleges that Voces de la Frontera was advised of this by his office prior to the rally. That is simply not true.

It is also important to recognize that the Journal Times cannot be held accountable for the fact that Congressman Ryan’s name was listed on the event website of the organizers as a participant, whose “…presence at Hold Their Feet to the Fire is also a recognition of the important role that FAIR plays in the immigration policy debate.” At this time his name still has not been removed. This raises serious questions about Congressman Ryan’s position on immigration reform and his relationship to this anti-American hate group.

Despite this confusion, it would be easier to believe Congressman Ryan’s denial if his position on immigration reform had not shifted over time. He has gone from someone who was willing to engage in an honest dialogue with the immigrant community and who supported comprehensive immigration reform to supporting repressive, anti-democratic legislation like HR 4437. If passed, 4437 would have turned labor unionists, teachers, priests and doctors into felons for not reporting undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.

Many of the students that participated in Saturday’s protest came to ask why Congressman Ryan had turned his back on them by not cosponsoring the DREAM ACT, legislation allowing earned legalization for students aspiring to purse higher education. Besides his co-sponsorship of Ag Jobs this year, which helps agricultural workers achieve legal status, he has to date refused to provide the leadership necessary to move a broader bill forward, that is essential in making Ag Jobs a reality.

Congressman Ryan’s position on immigration reform has shifted from one based on American principals of justice and equality to one that caters to the blindest prejudices.

As a grassroots community organization dedicated to protecting the rights and opportunities of all workers and families in Wisconsin, regardless of race or background, Voce de la Frontera continues to ask Congressman Ryan to sign a pledge affirming his principled stance to not affiliate with hate groups, whether it be FAIR or one of their other front groups.

Moreover, we ask Congressman Ryan to engage in a constructive dialogue aimed at passing the DREAM ACT this year. Our goal remains: We want Congressman Ryan to work with the immigrant community to secure immigration reform legislation that protects the rights of workers, keeps families united, and provides an earned path to citizenship.

In closing, we respectfully ask Congressman Ryan to sign the following pledge:
As a representative of the first district of Wisconsin, I pledge to take a stand against hate. Specifically, I will not associate with nor participate in events organized by groups that have been designated as hate or white supremacy groups, which have known alliances with such groups, which accept funding from such groups or that publish materials that are hateful or racist in nature.

Furthermore, I recognize that using the rhetoric of hate in political debate stands in the way of progress on important issues like immigration reform. I will not participate in the scapegoating of immigrants. Instead I commit to working toward practical and humane long term solutions to fix our broken immigration system; solutions which will give undocumented people an earned path to citizenship, protect US and immigrant workers, keep families together and enhance our nation’s safety and security. I commit to work toward building a world that is inclusive of all people and to oppose those who would exclude others just because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.

The struggle for equality and citizenship in this country has a long and proud history beginning with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We are writing our chapter, our future, like every other generation that has come before us seeking a better life in America; Congressman Ryan which side are you on?

The BUS: Ready for its closeup...

BUS executive director Curtis Garner


That was the scene this morning, as David Martinez -- clad in a tan Safari hat -- drove a spotless Belle Urban System bus toward the garage on Kentucky Street, covering the 100-ft. distance two, three, four times... until videographer Gary Alvarado said the shot was just right.

The BUS is about to star in its own TV commercials, aimed at increasing ridership while at the same time promoting three of Racine's attractions: the beach, the Zoo and Downtown shopping.

Alas, my timing was off: I arrived at the beginning of the shoot. A mermaid will join the cast tomorrow, as Corporate Images advertising agency films three commercials that will air on local cable next year. The theme: "The bus: Connecting you to your world."

This has been an interesting year for the BUS (as in the old Chinese proverb and curse, May you live in interesting times.) Ridership is up, although only incrementally, to about 1.5 million. More importantly, the issue of regional transportation has moved from the back burner to the front, both nationally and in the Legislature. And although lawmakers continue to kick it around as part of the commuter rail debate -- passing a hinky regional funding source based on rental cars, having the governor veto it, playing hide-n-seek with the blasphemous idea (to some, like Sen. John Lehman) of a countywide sales tax -- most onlookers believe that something will come out at the end that will allow an expansion of BUS service.

In the meantime, Curtis Garner, executive director of Racine's bus system, is using part of an $80,000 Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality grant (matched with 20% local money) to fund the commercials; their promotion of public transportation fits directly into CMAQ's purpose. He'll spend $20,100 to make the commercials, and $10,000 to $15,000 to air them on local TV. "The goal is to promote both Racine and the Belle Urban System simultaneously," he said. "Racine has some great places to visit, and the BUS will take you to all of them." BUS provides 94,000 hours of fixed-route service each year, covering some 1.2 million miles. Plus 180 door-t0-door trips per day for Dial-a-Ride's disabled passengers.

Videographer Gary Alvarado with the commercials' detailed storyboard

Revenue is down a bit this year, but ridership is up; this conundrum comes about because riders with monthly passes ($50; $25 for the disabled) are using them more often, Garner says. In any case, rider fares produce only $750,000 of the BUS's approximately $7 million annual budget. (That percentage is in line with other public transit systems around the country, he says.) Remaining operating funds come from the feds ($2 million), the state ($2 million) and local governments ($2 million). Most of the local money comes from the City of Racine, which provides $1.1 million, plus all the capital improvement money; Mt. Pleasant provides $175,000 a year, Caledonia, $33,000; Sturtevant, $53,000 and Yorkville, $6,000.

It is this geographic inequality of support that most hinders Garner's goal of establishing "a transit system that truly fits the new demographic of Racine County." By "new demographic," Garner means that all population growth is outside Racine's city limits: in Mt. Pleasant and Caledonia, and closer to the Interstate. "That's the area you want to serve," he says, estimating that the BUS could handle 3 million passengers with roughly the same 100 employees and 42 buses: two trolleys, seven paratransit vehicles and thirty-three 35' buses.

"I could design an ideal system, but the municipalities won't pay for it," Garner says. "A regional funding source would dissolve the artificial boundaries." He smiles, and stops, trying to avoid turning our conversation into one about commuter rail, regional transit and countywide taxation -- a subject for another day.

Garner and I go back outside to watch the set-up of the next shot, this one involving one of three new low-floor buses sitting in the Kentucky Street garage. They can't be used for passengers yet: none has a license plate or graphics on the side. Also on the way, four new hybrid buses. Someone brings out a director's chair, with a stuffed monkey sitting in it, and places it near the bus. No doubt, Alan Bagg of Corporate Images will move it before the cameras start rolling. Or maybe it's part of the Zoo storyboard; I'll have to check.

Shooting of the commercials will continue Saturday at the Zoo, the beach and downtown. If anyone gets a picture of that mermaid, be sure to pass it along to us...

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive! Corporate Images sent us pictures of both the mermaid and "Tarzan," as filmed for the commercials! And here they are:

Whinter Andersson portrays our mermaid...

...while Ezequiel Gutierrez does his best Tarzan

HALO elects new officers

New officers were elected Oct. 7 at the annual board meeting of the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization (HALO).

Those elected are Art Howell, president; Julie Hueller, vice-president; Nancy Hutchings, treasurer; and Jean Verber, secretary.

Out-going officers are Cathy Knuteson, president; and Debbie Ganaway, secretary. Other board members are: Sherre Chapin, Laura Clampett, Dan Hiatt, Neal Nottleson, LaToya Robbins, Paul Schiele, Debbie Seeger, Chris Terry, and Nannette Wellstein.

HALO combats chronic homelessness in Racine County by meeting shelter needs, coordinating supportive services and providing community leadership. Last year HALO sheltered approximately 1,000 individuals and through a transitional housing program provided services to 26 families and 12 single adults. For more information please visit HALO's website or call 262-633-3235.

Randolph Brandt: Being noble about Nobel

By Randolph D. Brandt

The president of the United States wins a Nobel Peace Prize, and the opposing party mocks him.

The whole world is embracing the kind of openness this president is proposing, a chance to settle conflicts rather than simply jumping in unilaterally to kill and alienate more people.

The Peace Prize has been awarded to American presidents only on several rare occasions.

Once, to President Theodore Roosevelt – ironically, perhaps our most warlike president – for trying to settle the Russo-Japanese War.

Again, to President Woodrow Wilson, whose map for world peace also was scuttled by the opposing party in Congress; thus, instead of peace, we wound up with yet another global war, World War II, the worst one ever.

Again, to former president Jimmy Carter, in a better-late-than-never endorsement of a hope for a more peaceful Middle East.

And now, to President Barack Obama, who’s at least willing to talk to Turks, Armenians, Cubans, Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Iranians and others, and to take the hugely symbolic step of delivering a speech in Arabic.

The rest of the world cries out for the traditional leadership offered by the United States of America. They know that at our best, we stand for a more rational, more peaceful and democratic world. This is a reason, for all of us, to be proud.

So let’s be at our best, rather than at our worst, and refrain from mocking a potential presidential peacemaker, solely for the sake of domestic politics.

When we do otherwise, we appear to the rest of the world as ignorant bullies, just like the old bunch of would-be world dominators who chose to kill millions rather than seek peace and justice.

There is a common thread here. Foreign policy used to stop at the water’s edge. Nixon could go to China. Reagan could dissemble the Soviets.

We now owe that same kind of bipartisan backing to President Barack Obama.

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

Youth As Resources grant deadlines announced

The Racine County Youth as Resources Board is proud to announce the grant deadlines for the 2009 – 2010 program year: October 30, 2009, January 29, 2010, and April 30, 2010. The Youth as Resources (YAR) Board awards grants to promote and assist with youth designed, youth led service projects addressing a community need in Racine County. Completed grant applications must be delivered to the United Way of Racine County office no later than 4:30 on the day of the deadline. Applications are available at www.unitedwayracine.org or can be requested by calling Jessica Safransky at (262) 898-2251.

The YAR board is committed to helping youth groups interested in submitting a grant produce high quality proposals. Groups interested in learning more about the grant process and receiving guidance are invited to attend a free grant writing workshop on October 19, 2009 at 5:30. Please contact Jessica Safransky at (262) 898-2251 to reserve a space.

The YAR board is currently accepting new youth and adult board members. Board member applications are available online at www.unitedwayracine.org. Youth applicants must be at least middle school age.

Youth As Resources is a youth initiative of United Way of Racine County.

October 15, 2009

Racine Produce is closing after all

The hand-lettered signs on the window of Racine Produce tell the story, albeit obliquely:


Alas, this is not just a big sale, but also the final sale. Rumors of the store's closing were deflected at the end of July, when owners Dino and Jimmy Gregory said only that the grocery store -- the anchor of Elmwood Plaza and a magnet for Hispanics -- was up for sale. In August, the Journal Times reported that it had been sold, to Windolph Trahan of Milwaukee.

Well, the sale never took place. We're told the money never came through; Trahan was unable to raise the necessary credit.

This afternoon, shelves are starting to empty... There's a whole section of the produce aisle that's empty, another in the cheese case and a large portion of the deli: empty. An employee told me the expectation is that the 15,000 sq. ft. store will be closed by Saturday. Another said it might be open through the end of the month..."or until everything's gone."

The Gregorys -- who are Greek, not Hispanic; go figger -- opened the store in 2001 and went directly after the Hispanic market, focusing on bilingual signage and many food items not found in other grocery stores.

"Business used to be good, but now it's down 40 percent from two years ago," Dino told us in July. (Efforts to reach the Gregorys today have so far been unsuccessful.)

Racine Produce is the second of the city's retail fixtures to announce its closure this week. Martha Merrell's Bookstore, which has been open Downtown since 1950, also posted big discount signs on its windows this weekend. It is scheduled to close by the end of the month.

October 14, 2009

MuckLuck: A Siberian Husky for Winter, and you

Yet another disturbing sign that Winter is coming: Countryside Humane Society offers up MuckLuck for adoption -- a Siberian Husky.

The breed originated in eastern Siberia, stretching south from the Arctic Ocean. Siberian Huskies, bred in the extreme cold and harsh environment of the Siberian Arctic (as Wiki explains), were imported into Alaska during the Nome Gold Rush and later spread into the United States and Canada. They were initially sent to Alaska and Canada as sled dogs.

Yeah, a Winter dog.

MuckLuck is a white with red markings and blue eyes, an active dog who would make a good walking or jogging partner, with or without snow. MuckLuck is said to be housetrained and good with children. She is already spayed and ready for a new home. MuckLuck would fit best in a family of experienced dog owners. (Paging Cesar Millan?)

Come see MuckLuck before the snow falls, at Countryside Humane Society, at 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

Gateway gets $497,000 to help displaced workers

A $497,938 federal grant to Gateway Technical College will help displaced workers and adult students get into health care careers.

The project will help workers in these fields increase math, reading, writing and oral communication abilities while preparing for careers in the field of allied health. Gateway plans to open this up to students accepted into all of its health programs, including nursing, physical therapy assistant, surgical technology, dental assistant, health information technology, community pharmacy technician, radiography and medical assistant.

The grant will include assessments of the participants, career counseling, classroom instruction, mentoring, and individual case management. Partners include Racine County Workforce Development Center, Wheaton Franciscan Health Care and Tech Corps Wisconsin.

The grant is part of $11.25 million in grants for 29 community college projects.

Study: If done right, gas station OK in West Racine

A consultant hired to study West Racine's retail market said Tuesday night the gas station Tom Tousis wants to build as part of his $5 million development would be OK on the vacant lot at Washington Avenue and West Boulevard.

Kennedy Smith, of the Arlington, Va.-based Clue Group, told the West Racine Business Improvement District said gas pumps would work if they are not located on Washington Avenue, according to people at the meeting.

"She doesn't have a problem with a gas station in the district," one person at the meeting said.

Alderman Terry McCarthy, who was at the meeting, said Smith was more concerned about the look of Tousis's gas station than there being a gas station. "It needs to fit into an urban environment," McCarthy said, paraphrasing Smith's conclusions.

Tousis took steps in that direction recently when he released drawings of a proposed gas station canopy for the site that would resemble a train depot.

A rough sketch of the train depot canopy Tom Tousis is proposing in West Racine.

Overall, Smith's report was good news for Tom Tousis, who is trying to build a $5 million grocery store, restaurant, gas station and bank. Tousis' proposal has met opposition from people opposed to the gas station.

But Smith's recommendations may require changes to Tousis's proposal. She recommended the main buildings run along Washington Avenue with gas pumps located behind the buildings.

"Pulling (the buildings) to the street is critical," the person at the meeting said.

Tousis' team has said in the past it's not possible to build entirely along Washington Avenue because of utility easements that run through the property.

That aside, a supporter of Tousis' project said Smith's report supported their contention that the grocery store, restaurant, gas station and bank would bring foot and car traffic to West Racine that would benefit all surrounding businesses. The key, though, is the development has to built and maintained at a high level.

"It would be a perfect fit as long as it was done right," they said, paraphrasing Smith's report. "It can't be a Kwik-E Mart kind of thing. It has to look completely different from the norm for the gas station you usually see in Racine."

Smith's retail market report for West Racine will be available in two to three weeks. She was also hired by the Racine County Economic Development Corporation to study business districts in Caledonia, Waterford and Union Grove.

The four studies cost $56,900. RCEDC contributed $37,500 and the participating municipalities each contributed $4,850.

City to employers: Don't demand doctor's notes for flu-like symptoms

Update: To clarify, health officials don't want people sick with the flu going to doctors' offices because it increases the risk of doctors, nurses and other patients getting sick. If you have the flu, there's not much a doctor can do for you, so it's just best to sit home and let the virus run its course. That wasn't clear in the original story.

Original post: Employers who demand doctor's notes for sick employees this winter may help spread the H1N1 flu virus, according to city health officials.

Wheaton-Franciscan All Saints is working with the Racine Health Department on a public information campaign to help contain the virus. Part of the campaign will tell employees with flu-like symptoms - fever over 100 degrees and a cough or sore throat - not to return to work until 24 hours after their fever breaks.

At the same time, the campaign will also try to convince employers not to demand employees get a note from a doctor if they're sick. Many employers require a note if someone is out sick for three days or more.

"All Saints is worried about employers sending people in for a pass," said Terri Hicks, director of community health programs for Health Department.

The city itself is reviewing its HR policies to address the coming flu season, Hicks said.

In response to the H1N1 epidemic, the city is distributing its first vaccinations this week. Paramedics will start administering the vaccines to each other this week, interim Public Health Administrator Marcia Fernholz told the Board of Health. They'll also target health department staff, school nurses, nursing home staff and day care workers.

The city now has 600 vaccinations to give out and has ordered another 3,300 vaccinations for mass flu clinics at the end of October or early November, Fernholz said. The Mount Pleasant/Caledonia Health Department and the Western Racine County Health Department also each ordered 3,300 vaccinations. All three departments are planning together to offer mass clinics with about 10,000 vaccines in October or November.

The good news for the city is the vaccines are paid for by the federal government. The feds are also supplying syringes, cotton swabs, though the city has to provide band aids. The H1N1 vaccines will be available for free to the public.

For the first 10,000 vaccines, health officials are recommending pregnant women get the vaccination because children under 6 months old cannot receive it. They are also recommending people between 6 months and 24 years old get the vaccination, as well as anyone between 25 and 64 with existing medical conditions that could be aggravated by the flu.

Eventually there will be enough H1N1 vaccines for everyone who wants it, said Michelle Breheim, epidemiologist with the city.

As for regular flu vaccines, the city has already given out most, if not all, of its supply. The city ordered an additional 100 doses, which should arrive in November. Walgreen's and other local providers have access to regular flu vaccines at prices comparable to what the city was offering.

City searching for public health administrator; One of several Health Department vacancies

The city is now accepting applications for its vacant public health administrator job. You can see the posting here. The job is open until the end of the month.

The Board of Health discussed who would review the applicants for the position at its meeting Tuesday. Among the members on the selection committee include two City Council members, the city administrator, program directors and a public health administrator from another community.

The Board of Health may add two or three members to the committee, which will interview the candidates.

Marcia Fernholz is filling in as interim public health administrator until a replacement is hired. She can't apply for the job because she doesn't have a master's degree.

Fernholz took over the department after Janelle Grammer, the previous public health administrator, was fired by the City Council.

The department head is one of at least four openings in the city's Health Department. The city is also looking for a sanitarian, nurse and dietitian. They'll also post in the next month for someone to run the city's Healthy Births, Healthy Outcomes program.

The city appears committed to filling the vacancies. Fernholz told the Board of Health she submitted the department's 2010 budget, which included no lost positions.

Local group protests Ryan's Racine office over connection to hate group

About 100 75 people, including many high school students, protested outside Rep. Paul Ryan's Racine office on Tuesday over an incident they say showed the congressman appeared to support a hate group.

Ryan conducted a radio interview with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has singled out for its anti-immigration stances. Ryan has since distanced himself from FAIR and clarified he only participated in a radio interview with the organization. (See the JT's full coverage of the issue here.)

We stopped by briefly on Tuesday for photos of the protestors in action. A good-sized crowd carried signs outside of Ryan's office and delivered a proclamation demanding Ryan no longer meet with the group. Ryan wasn't at the office, but Teresa Mora, an aide in Ryan's office, was there.

The event was largely peaceful. Police showed up briefly to keep protesters on the sidewalk (not in the street) and to ensure the crowd kept the door open as they walked into Ryan's office.

Horlick teacher Al Levie, known for organizing high school students in political movements, was part of the crowd. Here are more photos:

A protester holds a sign demanding Ryan cut any ties with FAIR. Ryan said in a statement his ties to FAIR were minimal. Ryan is listed in one article on FAIR's website as part of a list of U.S. representatives in support of preventing illegal immigrants from benefiting from health care reform.

The crowd outside Ryan's office.

Police (right) showed up briefly to keep the crowd on the sidewalk.

Update: Here's a statement about the protest released Wednesday from Voces de la Frontera:
Ryan Backs Away from FAIR, Students Push Him to Sign a Pledge Against Hate, Co-Sponsor DREAM Act

Yesterday, more than 75 protesters with signs reading "Hate has no home in Racine" and "No Legitimacy to FAIR" picketed outside Congressman Paul Ryan's office in response to his recent interview with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As a result of the protest, Ryan has since issued a statement distancing himself from FAIR and clarifying that his name will be removed from their website.

Kennia Coronado is a sophomore at Horlick High School in Racine and a member of Students United for Immigrant Rights (SUFRIR). She and other members of SUFRIR and their partner group Students United in the Struggle (SUITS) organized the rally yesterday. She says, "It's a good thing that Paul Ryan backed away from FAIR and asked to be removed from their website. Now we need him to be a leader. Yesterday we brought a pledge against hate to his office, we want him to sign it."

Racine Voces de la Frontera coordinator Maria Morales also sees this as a victory. "FAIR is a thinly veiled hate group that too often gets into the mainstream media as a legitimate counterpoint of view. When Representatives like Ryan disassociate themselves from FAIR it helps to discredit them," she explains. "Now we need Ryan to do more. Many families in Racine are suffering because of a broken immigration system. We need him to work with us towards comprehensive immigration reform."

A delegation of youth and community members met with Ryan's staff during the rally to explain their demands. Christian Alvarez, a junior at Walden High School was part of the delegation and reports "I was really angry when I heard that Ryan interviewed with FAIR and it is great our rally got him to move away from them." However, he is not satisfied with just a move away from FAIR. "There are other important things I'm concerned about that I brought up to his staff. Congressman Ryan used to support the DREAM Act and now he has turned his back on it. My friends need the DREAM Act. I asked his staff why Ryan is not supporting those students. They promised a response from the congressman and I am eager to see it."

Congressman Ryan's office is expected to give a response on the pledge and to clarify his position on the DREAM Act and immigration reform within a week.

Couple of photos ...

Spotted these photos driving around in recent days ...

This work truck is in the swing of the season.

Birds took to the communication tower on top of the police department.

October 13, 2009

'Everything is on the table' in tough times, Dickert says

Nine of the city's 14 TIF districts are failing, "and you're paying for them every day." That's one of the reasons behind Mayor John Dickert's approach to development proposals. "I can't afford to have a TIF go belly-up," he told the Racine Taxpayers Association.

He also discussed a such diverse issues as illegal Mexican immigrants, Metra, drug houses and foreclosures, explaining how they're all part of the "firestorm" of economic issues the city must deal with -- a new reality.

Dickert promised that his long-awaited 10-year plan will be incorporated into the city budget, its direction made clearer "in my budget address next Monday." Despite the city's $1.2 million shortfall in its $83 million budget, it can't afford to cut staff, not with the existing "17.2% unemployment rate." ("Nor are the jobless just the people you think; It's people with Ph.D's, master's degrees. They come up to me every day...") One thing Dickert has done is to direct the city's procurement departments to buy locally, "and they have responded very well."

Here are some of the points the mayor made:

Illegal immigrants: "There are only so many fights I can fight." The federal government, he said, "was paying to take people who hadn't committed a crime and putting them in jail. We said, 'why not take those who are selling drugs?' I'm not going to fill my jail with illegal immigrants." In response to a questioner, Dickert agreed that "illegal immigrants are here...they're wrong. I can't have an impact on federal immigration law."

Foreclosures: Forty percent of houses for sale are in foreclosure, he said, estimating that number may grow to 70%. A questioner asked about the property tax bill faced by those of us remaining, whose houses are not being reassessed down to reflect diminished value when the identical $200,000 house next door sells for $150,000."It is a problem; there's no skirting that issue," the mayor said. But rather than lower the property tax bill of nearby houses, the answer, he said is that "we're trying to build the other ones up" -- in other words, get the assessed valuation of that sold-for-pennies foreclosure house back up to what it used to be as quickly as possible.

Development deals: Noting some failed developments -- the Family Dollar store proposed for Uptown, the Sixth Street grocery, a housing development and a music club for State Street, etc. -- a questioner said, "I'm seeing a lot of dead bodies," and Dickert was asked why there were different outcomes. The difference, he said, was that some of the desired land was for sale (West Racine, the Southside Industrial Park) and some was not (State Street). The Family Dollar store deal fell through because the developer couldn't come up with financing. The difficulty the city had finding a developer for the Washington Avenue/West Boulevard site can be traced to the three utility easements on the property, which limit what can be built where.

As for Tom Tousis' gas station and restaurant in West Racine, subject of an RDA hearing last week, Dickert said, "They just gave us the option-to-purchase documents."

City land speculation: Dickert was called out on an earlier statement that "it's not government's business to be a land speculator." When it comes to State Street -- near the proposed rail stations -- the mayor agreed the city is speculating. The two-acre site the city has taken off the market "will be worth ten-fold when the train comes in," he said, maybe half a million dollars compared to the $75,000 it could sell it for now. In addition, the city is "grabbing the three properties across the street" -- drug houses -- and will also hold them for future development.

"In the past, we've dealt irresponsibly with our land," Dickert said. It would be "fiscally irresponsible" to sell the State Street property now, without waiting to see what's going on with KRM. When the Metra does come in, those sites will be hit on my many developers."

"Everything is back on the table," Dickert said, things like joint services with Caledonia and Mt. Pleasant, elimination of police overtime, joint dispatch, squaring up the border with Mt. Pleasant. "I don't care what happened in the past." He said he keeps asking the state, "how much more bone are you going to cut off?"

"I work 12 hours a day, six days a week," the mayor said. "And it's not good enough."

Hiawatha ridership down in '09...but still trending up

Not sure what this means for KRM partisans and the mayor's hope for a big payday on State Street property, but we're convinced both sides will declare it significant.

Amtrak's ridership is down on the Hiawatha's Milwaukee to Chicago run. The numbers for fiscal 2009, which ended Sept. 30, show a decline to 738,231, compared to 749,659 in 2008. At the same time, Hiawatha revenue grew from $13.1 million to $13.3 million. Keep in mind that Hiawatha ridership jumped 25% in 2008 over 2007... so even with this 1.5% drop it still shows solid growth.

See, something for both sides to crow about!

Overall, Amtrak's ridership dropped more than one million nationwide, but the year still was its second-best in history. Its trains carried 27.2 million passengers in 2009, better than any year except 2008, when it had 28.7 -- anybody remember $4/gallon gasoline? Yup, that was the year.

Ridership in 2009 was up 5.1% over 2007; Amtrak President Joseph Boardman blamed this year's decline on the weakened economy and a drop in business travel.

Becker's trial date set: Feb. 1

Gary Becker was given a Feb. 1, 2010, trial date today -- more than a year after he was arrested in an internet sex sting and forced to resign as Racine's mayor.

He will face the most serious charges -- child enticement, attempted sexual assault of a child and possession of child pornography -- before Judge Stephen Simanek. A lesser charge of misconduct in public office, for asking city employees to fix his personal computer -- a request that led to everything else -- will come at a later date.

Becker appeared before Simanek Tuesday afternoon, when the judge also set a hearing on defense motions for Dec. 3. Filings and evidence submitted by Becker's attorney, Pat Cafferty, have been suppressed and are under seal. Cafferty said their release "may taint the jury pool."

At the 10-minute hearing today, Simanek also warned Becker to make arrangements to pay the $945 bill that has accrued so far for his GPS monitoring device. If that is not done, the judge said, then Becker "is going upstairs," into jail until his trial. Becker and his attorney agreed to do so, and he remains free on bond.

District Attorney Michael Nieskes assured the judge that copies of all 1,800 internet chat transtcripts -- allegedly between Becker and the Department of Criminal Investigations agent who was impersonating a 14-year-old girl -- have been turned over to the defense. While some are only a few lines in length, others go on for "page after page."

Becker was arrested on Jan. 13 and resigned as mayor on Jan. 20. Last week, his wife Julie was granted a divorce.

New Lockwood playground still needs landscaping

No blame here, but the city may have missed out on a grand opening this fall for the new Lockwood Park playground.

Landscaping work is still needed around the playground's edge before it will be opened up to the public (though many kids have still managed to try out the bridges and slides in recent months).

Work on the playground was delayed by the reconstruction of Lockwood's parking lot. The lot is now completed, but rain followed by cold weather further delayed work. We recently checked with city officials on the playground. They're hopeful they can get the work done this year.

(We're also told there's a new basketball court, but we missed it visiting the other day. We'll get pictures next time we're out at the park.)

Here's photos from the new playground:

The city needs to push dirt up to the concrete border that surrounded the playground to complete the project. The playground, which is built on a bouncy blue rubber surface, is designed to be fully accessible to wheelchairs, walkers and people who otherwise have a tough time crossing sand or woodchips.

Until the work is done, the city won't put up the swings on the swingset.

Here's Lockwood's freshly paved parking lot.

October 12, 2009

Bar owners: Committee may be discouraging calls to police

A city committee's efforts to monitor bars may have some bartenders and owners afraid to call police, according to two Racine tavern owners.

JJ McAuliffe and Joey LeGath appeared before the Public Safety and Licensing Committee Monday night to caution aldermen against penalizing bars for calling the police on problem customers.

In recent years the committee has worked with the Racine Police Department to review incidents at bars and to call in owners to explain those incidents. LeGath and McAuliffe agreed violent or illegal behavior should be investigated by the committee.

But they were concerned the committee was asking bar owners to attend meetings based on calls the owner or their employees made to police to try and prevent fights or corral out-of-control drinking. Some bar owners are beginning to question whether they should call police, out of fear they may get called before the Public Safety and Licensing Committee, which regulates liquor licenses in Racine.

On Monday night, four bars were called in for review. The owners of Coasters, Kenny's, the Neighborhood Bar and The Club were all called in, though the committee found few problems with the bars' operations. Most of the police incidents cited in the review had nothing to do with the bar, or were some sort of fluke violation. (In one example, a 20-year-old was caught in the bar after she was turned away at the door by a bouncer. The girl snuck in the back after her boyfriend opened a locked door for her, according to the owner.)

McAuliffe and LeGath, who are both active members of the Racine Tavern League, read a letter to the committee that questioned if a committee would call Kmart or Walmart in for review for regularly calling the police to arrest shoplifters. They said many police calls from taverns are similar.

LeGath said bars should be thanked for working with police, not called in to defend their actions.

Alderman Aron Wisneski, who chairs the committee, said bar owners should not consider being called in a punishment. "Just because you're here, doesn't mean you're in trouble," he said.

But Wisneski also accepted LeGath and McAuliffe's recommendation and said the city could use clearer language to explain that the committee is more interested in the type of police calls, not the number of police calls, involving a tavern.

LeGath said reassuring bar owners that they won't be punished for calling police would ease people's fears when dealing with troublesome customers.

"If that only helps one person avoid something tragic, it will have been worth it," LeGath said.

Pepi's Pub and Grill gets liquor license approved

The co-owners of the proposed Pepi's Pub and Grill at 618 Sixth St. appeared before the Public Safety and Licensing Committee Monday night. Here's some highlights from the proposal:

* Co-owners Joe Madison and Christina Kong will move Pepi's Deli on Main Street to the new building and rename it Pepi's Pub and Grill. The business will be 60 percent restaurant and 40 percent bar, Madison told the committee.

* The food will be Pepi's current sandwich menu plus fried foods. The bar will have a slight sports theme, and Madison is planning some music nights featuring classic rock and B-sides from 3,000-album collection.

* Madison and Kong have some work to do on the building, which is owned by Tina's father, Rany Kong. They're planning to gut the first floor and open the building's facade with windows, including a garage door style window that will be open on warmer nights.

* They're aiming to open between March and May. Given the state's smoking ban is set for July 1, they'll probably just start non-smoking, Madison said.

* Hours are planned from 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., with food served until 1:30 a.m. Madison saw that as a competitive advantage because there are no restaurants Downtown that serve food late.

* Alderman David Maack described the hours as "ambitious." Madison replied: "That's why I'm doing it when I'm young." Madison said he plans to be on site 95-100 percent of the time the bar is open.

* They're planning on 200-400 people on busy days.

* Madison said he's been working on opening a bar for eight years. Along with running Pepi's Deli, he also tends bar at John's Dock, which is the former Sandpiper's, where he also worked as bar manager.

* Peter Henkes, who worked at 609 and 603 Sixth St., "wholeheartedly" supported the business. "These are hardworking people who are an asset to the community," he said.

* Alderman Jeff Coe also spoke on behalf of the restaurant and bar. "There's a lot of excitement for this," Coe said.

* The committee voted unanimously to grant Kong and Madison a Class B liquor license, pending completion of a kitchen and installation of a security system. The City Council will take up the license next week.

Police to use armored car to monitor nuisance properties

Peoria's "armadillo"

Racine police have something fun planned for nuisance properties in the city.

The police department has a MacGyver-esque plan to convert an armored vehicle into a mobile, indestructible video camera.

Known in some communities as the "armadillo," the armored vehicle will be parked outside of troublesome properties and record activity for three to five days, according to Police Chief Kurt Wahlen.

Wahlen got the idea from a similar program in Peoria, Ill. Police there first tried to videotape nuisance properties using a parked squad car, but neighborhood residents smashed out headlights and further damaged the vehicle, Wahlen said.

Peoria police switched to an armored car, which couldn't be damaged. The vehicle proved so successful at monitoring problem properties that Peoria now has a second one, Wahlen said.

An added bonus with Racine's armored car is it's basically free. A 1999 armored car was donated to the police department and the city needs to spend a few thousand dollars tuning up the engine, mounting the camera and painting the vehicle.

Wahlen appeared before the city's Public Safety and Licensing and Finance and Personnel committees Monday night to get approval to accept the donated car. The City Council will consider the donation next Tuesday.

"This is a great tool in our arsenal," he said.

Wahlen said policies are being drawn up on how to use the vehicle. He did say neighbors would be notified when the armored vehicle is parked in front of a nearby house.

The donation easily passed the committees Monday.

"It's a great idea that costs almost nothing," said Alderman Aron Wisneski, chairman of the Public Safety and Licensing Committee.

October 11, 2009

Raiders advance in playoffs, beat defending champs

Few games live up to the pregame hype. An exception to the rule took place at Mahone Middle School in Kenosha Saturday night as the Racine Raiders (11-2) defeated the defending North American Football League (NAFL) champion Indianapolis Tornados in a defensive battle, 21-14.

The teams were scoreless through the first quarter of play, but the Tornados did have a great opportunity late in the quarter: Raiders' punter Tim Merchut mishandled the snap deep in Raiders territory. He ran outside and tried to kick the ball on the run, giving the Tornados the ball at the Raiders' 15-yard line. A few plays later, Raiders defensive back Donald Woodard picked off a Quincy Adams pass at the nine-yard line, preserving the tie game.

The Raiders drew first blood midway through the second quarter on a four-yard touchdown run by former Green Bay Packer J.R. Taylor. Taylor was playing in his first game since breaking his fibula and dislocating his ankle on July 11.

The Tornados responded on their next possession: Adams hit running back Mo Virgil on a screen pass that Virgil brought to the Raiders' ten-yard line. A few plays later, fullback Mike Perkins ran the ball in from three yards out. The Chad Rollins extra-point was good and the score was tied at seven.

The Raiders moved the ball well on their following possession, but the drive ended when quarterback Ron Ricciardi was picked off. The teams went into halftime tied at seven.

The Raiders' offense got the ball first in the second half and were marching down the field. Ricciardi threw a pass intended for wide receiver Dorian Palmer. Tornados defensive back Charles Jackson tipped the ball right into the hands of linebacker Anthony Weather who rumbled 40 yards for a touchdown. The point-after gave the Tornados a 14-7 lead just minutes into the half.

Ricciardi connected with wide receiver Curtis Gordon on a 16-yard touchdown pass. Kicker Tim Merchut added the extra point and the game was tied at 14.

The Tornados then drove to the Raiders' ten-yard line. Adams, under pressure and moving up in the pocket, threw the ball in the middle of the field near the goal line. Raiders rookie defensive back and First Team All-Star Torie Ruffin picked off the pass at the three-yard line and returned it 97 yards for what would be the winning score, giving Racine a 21-14 lead, with six seconds to play in the third quarter.

The Tornados had trouble moving the ball until late in the fourth quarter. They converted two fourth down plays on their final drive, getting the ball deep into Raiders territory. Adams attempted to hit a Tornados receiver in the front corner of the end zone with 36 seconds left but Woodard came up with his second interception of the game, securing the Raiders' victory.

The Raiders defense held the defending champions to just 225 total yards and picked off three passes in the game.

The Raiders return to Horlick Field next week for probably the final time in 2009. They will play the Traverse City (Mich.) Wolves in the third round of the NAFL playoffs. The game will begin at 7 p.m.

The Wolves advanced by beating the London (Ont.) Silverbacks 20-7 in Traverse City Saturday night. The Raiders played the Wolves on Aug. 29, and walked away with a 43-6 victory.