November 7, 2009

Ryan: 'This is not about health care, it's about ideology'

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, voted against the health care bill that passed the House of Representatives late Saturday night, 220 to 215.

If that's a surprise, you haven't been paying attention. Still, regardless which side you're on, it's hard to disagree with Ryan when he says, “This is not about health care policy. this is about ideology.”

Ryan's statement on the issue, sent out just five minutes after the vote, makes crystal clear how he feels about this bill that provides health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, while providing subsidies for millions more. Here's a summary of the bill's provisions from the Wall St. Journal, which is nobody's Democratic mouthpiece.

We're a long way from making up our minds about the bill, but it's fun to see how firmly Ryan is locked into the opposition. He credits its passage to "Pelosi's arm-twisting" and "political horse-trading" and sees in the bill the replacement of the "American ideal" by a "European-style social welfare state." And he's just getting warmed up.

Decide for yourself about the bill, which still has to go through the Senate. Meanwhile, here's our Congressman, in his own words:

WASHINGTON – Wisconsin’s First District Congressman Paul Ryan voted against the Democratic Leadership’s massive health care overhaul, which passed the House of Representatives at 11:15 pm on Saturday night. Despite Speaker Pelosi’s arm-twisting enough Democratic votes for final passage, there was a bipartisan coalition opposed to the legislation – the result of mounting evidence that the legislation contradicted its own goals, along with growing concerns with its costly consequences.

While the Majority’s health care overhaul faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate, Congressman Ryan continues his efforts to promote fiscally responsible, patient-centered health care solutions. Prior to the vote on final passage of H.R. 3962, House Republicans offered a simpler and less expensive health care alternative, focusing on reforms that would reduce health care costs by empowering patients and small businesses, encouraging true competition to allow coverage to be purchased across state lines, and curbing the practice of defensive medicine by reigning in junk lawsuits. The Majority rejected this common sense proposal, opting instead for a 2,034 page, $3 trillion overhaul that will ultimately restrict individual choice and increase the cost of coverage.

As a result of last minute political horse-trading, House Leadership was able to secure 220 votes to pass H.R. 3962 late on Saturday night. In advance of tonight’s vote, Ryan delivered the following remarks on the House floor:“I firmly believe that this is the most consequential vote each of us will take in our service here in Congress.
“When you expose this bill’s budget gimmicks, does it increase the debt and deficit? Yes. Will it take coverage away from seniors, raise premiums for families, and decrease health care innovation? Yes. Will it raise taxes on small businesses and workers, and cost us nearly 5.5 million jobs when our unemployment rate is 10.2%? Yes. Does this bill mean the government will take over running our health care system? Yes.

“But what is worse is this bill replaces the American Idea with a European-style social welfare state. This bill – more than any other decision we are going to make in this body – will lead to millions of Americans becoming dependents on the state rather than being dependent upon themselves. This is not about health care policy – if it were, we could pass a bipartisan bill to fix what’s broken in health care without breaking what’s working in health care. This is about ideology.

“The choice is not whether or not you’re going to stick with your party leaders. The choice here is what side of history do you want to be on? Will you be on the side of history where you stick with the people and the principles that built this exceptional nation? That is the choice we face.”
As the House Leadership muscled through its overhaul of 17% of our economy tonight, Congressman Ryan raised a number of substantive concerns with the legislation:

A Government Takeover of Health Care – Rather than address the current health care market distortions imposed by flawed government policies, H.R. 3962 would expand Washington’s heavy hand and exacerbate what’s broken in health care. Specifically, the legislation proposes:
  • One-Size Fits All Health Care. The bill’s rating restrictions, coverage mandates, and benefit requirements will halt innovation and drive individualized health products out of the market. The bill disqualifies Health Savings Accounts, which provide more than eight million Americans with access to low-cost coverage. All plans would be subject to approval by a new Health Choices Commissioner, with the authority to penalize any health plan that does not comply with this new federal bureaucracy.
  • Government Rationing. In an unprecedented power grab, this bill provides the federal government even greater leverage in deciding which medical treatments are worth paying for and which are not. In an effort to contain costs of its new health care entitlement, a new “Comparative Effectiveness Research” program will inevitably impose government control over physicians’ medical decisions, and cause private-sector insurers to limit coverage in line with the government’s choices.
  • Price Setting. While the legislation suggests providers will be able to negotiate rates with the government, there is nothing to prevent this from becoming a take-it-or-leave-it, price-setting system. Put simply, prices will be dictated to health care providers at rates determined by the federal government.
Another Unsustainable Health Entitlement – The unsustainable growth in federal spending is driven largely by the exploding costs of existing federal government entitlement programs. Paradoxically, this bill attempts to address our entitlement and fiscal crisis through the creation of a costly new open-ended entitlement. H.R. 3962 dramatically adds to the federal government’s already unsustainable liabilities, including the following specific spending concerns:
  • $3 Trillion Ten-year Price Tag. Proponents continue to tout a massive budget gimmick, using 10 years of revenues but only seven years of cost. Even with this timing trick, the CBO’s score of H.R. 3962 remains in excess of $1 trillion. Once the spending is fully phased in after 2014, its true cost exceeds $3 trillion over ten years.
  • Driving States Deeper Into the Red. Rather than make quality health coverage more affordable, H.R. 3962 attempts to cover the uninsured by adding them to ever expansive government-run programs. The dramatic expansion of Medicaid would force cash-strapped States to spend an additional $34 billion over the next 10 years – on top of the already unsustainable Medicaid burdens States already face.
  • $279 Billion Doc Fix Shell Game – In a final-hour political deal, the Majority sought to gain credit for a Medicare reimbursement increase doctors want (the so-called “doc fix”), while hiding its $279 billion cost. This quarter-trillion dollar budget gimmick is a fiscally reckless stunt: Democrats will claim support for the doctors’ payment hike as part of their overall health care plan, but at the same time pretend its cost is a separate matter.
Heavy Taxes and Fees on Individuals and Small Businesses – The massive expansion of the federal government’s role in the delivery of health care relies heavily on a number of mandates and tax penalties. H.R. 3962 imposes $729.5 billion in new taxes on families, employers and workers, including the following:
  • A total of $460.5 billion in job-killing surtaxes on small businesses;
  • Another $135 billion in employer mandates, including the “play-or-pay” scheme punishing even small companies that are unable to provide group health insurance;
  • An additional $33 billion in individual mandates – including an unprecedented Washington requirement that everyone must buy health insurance or be subject to federal penalties (including jail time).

Long lines for flu shots end earlier than expected

Noor Khan watches intently as mom, Iman, gets her shot

Little Noor Khan, 8, of East Troy, wasn't happy. She stood by and watcher her mother, Iman, get her flu shot this morning, but was less than eager to take her place in the chair and roll up her sleeve. There were no tears, mind you; just a natural reluctance.

Finally, the nurse's promise of stickers put her over the tipping point and ... voilĂ , it was done, almost before she knew it.

And then Noor's bg smile came out.

Actually, there were far more smiles than frowns at Case High School Saturday morning, as 90 health department workers and volunteers lined up to give thousands of flu shots -- a total of 5,500 doses were on hand.

During the first 90 minutes it looked like they would be needed. There was a long line when the free clinic began, and 1,000 people received either the shot or the nasal spray. But by 10:45 a.m., the crowd was down to a trickle, and most of the nurses' stations were empty. (Update: The Journal Times reported tonight that a total of 2,220 vaccines were administered Saturday.)

Margaret Gesner, health officer from the Caledonia/Mt. Pleasant Health Department, was on the fence about whether the sudden end of the long lines was good news or bad.

"We expected the lines to persist," she said, "and we'd like to vaccinate as many people as possible. But this may not be bad because it may mean that people are getting the vaccine elsewhere."

Both forms of flu vaccination -- with a needle in the arm or a nasal mist -- were being administered this morning. The live virus nasal spray is for healthy people aged 2 to 49, and the shots are for older folks and those with underlying conditions, like asthma. The clinic continues until 3 p.m. today.

The county already has tentative plans for more free flu shot clinics, depending upon vaccine availability.

Nurses' vaccination stations lacked only patients

November 6, 2009

Time capsule highlights Sixth Street rededication

Sixth Street's chilly but enthusiastic rededication ceremony

Well, if you really want to start at the beginning, Friday night's party on Sixth Street had its origins in 1848, when planks were first installed on the Janesville Plank Road, making it the gateway to Racine. There was a toll booth near Mound Cemetery; the fee was one cent per mile for a wagon and horse.

It wasn't until 1884 that the first pavers -- limestone blocks from the Horlick Quarry -- were installed; bricks didn't come until 1895, and they lasted until the 1940s.

This brief history was presented by John Busey, chairman of the Downtown Racine Corporation, as long-suffering merchants joined city and construction officials to rededicate Sixth Street, celebrating the completion of a two-year, $3 million project that officially began six years ago. Hopefully, it will last for another 50 years.

Busey and Devin Sutherland, executive director of DRC, presented 100-year-old "ceremonial bricks" unearthed during the project, to many of the local officials and workers from HNTB and Oakes Construction who were instrumental in the street's rebirth.

The first went to State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, who led the successful effort to get an extra $500,000 from the state, money that turned an everyday street into the attractive streetscape that is the new Sixth: with street furniture, ornamental lighting and brick pavers. For Lehman the day overflowed: he also celebrated the birth Friday of a granddaughter.

The nip in the air kept speeches mercifully short. Mayor John Dickert brought a proclamation, but said, "there are far too many 'whereases' in it; read it in 100 years."

DRC's John Busey and Devin Sutherland showed off time capsule

The highlight of the rededication ceremony in the parking lot of Porters of Racine was the burying of a time capsule, full of mementos from Sixth Street merchants, the Racine Heritage Museum and DRC. There's a history of Sixth Street, a copy of the legislature's proclamation this week in honor of the city's 175th anniversary, a CD with 250 photos of the city, t-shirts from Joey's on Sixth and some other businesses.

The capsule -- an 8" in diameter tube about two feet long -- was built by Feiner Plumbling. Although it looked like stainless steel, in reality it was PVC pipe painted silver. The biggest problem with similar time capsules is that people forget about them long before, say, 50 years goes by. Sutherland said he's got that problem under control: there's a national register for time capsules, and Chris Paulson, director of the Heritage Museum, will geocache the location. (A lesser problem will be whether our descendants who open the time capsule during the street's next reconstruction in 2060, or whenever, will know what to do with a CD -- but that's their problem, not ours.)

The capsule was handed to Bob and Micah Waters of Porters of Racine; their store, which opened in 1857, is almost as old as Sixth Street itself. Bob gently lowered the capsule into a hole drilled by Feiner Plumbing into the sidewalk. Barely an hour after the ceremony ended, two workmen from Midwest Paving had cemented the capsule into place and covered it with one of the decorative granite inserts designed by Erika Adams.

By then, the party was well underway, with cheesecake and other snacks available at most of Sixth Street's galleries and eateries, and along Main Street, a bigger kickoff than usual for Downtown's First Friday celebration.

Kids exhibited photos of what it's been like for two years

Couple marvels at old wooden water pipe that ran under the street

Bob and Micah Waters with the time capsule

...which Bob gently lowers into the sidewalk

...where it's now covered by this decorative granite insert

Fred Evans provided the music at Photographic Designs' party

Racine Lutheran Walkathon raises $12,000

Racine Lutheran High students raised more than $12,000 in the school’s recent Walkathon, as 90% of the student body participated in the 10K event. Top fundraisers were: Senior Maria Ilso with $272, Junior Katie Friesema with $350, Sophomore Ty Demuth with $600, and Freshman Peter Andersen with $135.

Racine Police may get new crime-fighting cameras

Update: We talked with Lt. Jim Dobbs about the cameras, which sound pretty cool. The cameras will be mounted on four squad cars' light bars and running nonstop while the cars are on duty. They can be used to track specific license plates and for general surveillance.

Dobbs gave a few examples of how this will be useful:

* The cameras can search for stolen vehicle. If the camera hits on a stolen plate, the system pings the officer so they can recover the car.

* They can also help investigators track down subjects. For example, if someone catches a license plate in an armed robbery, investigators can review the license plate cameras to find out where the suspect was before or after a crime.

* It gives police another tool to track track sexual offenders.

* It also could help spot people who owe significant amounts of money in overdue parking tickets. If these cars are spotted, police can tow them until the fines are paid.

Original post: Big Brother... um, Racine Police may soon be watching more closely than ever.

If you're on the right side of the law, that can be a good thing. If not ... well, tell it to the judge!

Yesterday -- according to a release from Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI -- the U.S. Senate approved Kohl's request for $850,000 for crime prevention projects in Southeastern Wisconsin. Most of the money went to Milwaukee, but Racine could scoop up $100,000 for four license plate recognition cameras.

Here's what the release said about them:
This project will provide the City of Racine with four Automatic License Plate Recognition cameras on police patrol cars. The system will capture digital images of virtually every license plate within view of the patrol car, either moving or stationary.
The license plates are then instantaneously compared to a variety of databases. The officer operating the system is immediately notified of any irregularities and may then take appropriate actions.

These cameras will reduce the amount of time officers spend investigating crimes so they can spend more time patrolling Racine streets and neighborhoods. In addition to benefiting the City of Racine, the Racine Police Department regularly participates in multi-jurisdictional law and traffic enforcement projects, so those jurisdictions will benefit from the use of this equipment as well.
No word on how effective the city's existing crime-fighting cameras have been...

The money is in the Senate version of the 2010 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which will now go before the House-Senate conference committee

November 5, 2009

All that hard work on Sixth Street finally pays off

The new Sixth Street, looking west toward City Hall

Has it been just two years?

Two years of construction, a torn-up street, blocked-off sidewalks, dark streetlights, pedestrian barriers, business-as-usual under the most difficult conditions?

Yes, it has been horrible -- but all that comes to an end Friday night, with the official completion of the Sixth Street renovation project. The pavement is done, utility lines rebuilt, brick sidewalks and bump-outs installed, new street lights erected and made operational. Crews were finishing up the fine points Thursday afternoon, installing decorative metal "shrouds" at the bottom of the last few street lights.

The Downtown Racine Corporation is throwing a party -- the centerpiece of this month's First Friday celebration -- to mark Sixth Street's rebirth, its rise from the ashes ... um, dirt and planks of the old Plank Road, revealed during the sometimes archaeological project.

The ceremonial rededication will begin at 5:30 p.m., in Porter's parking lot, where DRC will read a proclamation, install a time capsule, recognize many of those involved in the project ...and allow far too many to speechify about it (briefly).

Devin Sutherland, DRC executive director, and John Busey, DRC board chair, will welcome state and local officials, and those from the companies that completed the street work (on schedule, it must be noted).

After this, the real party will begin, with cake, music, free attractions and Sixth Street $6 bills good for special offers at many of the street's merchants. Go here for the real party specifics, as well as the details of other Downtown events marking November's First Friday.

Sixth Street, looking east toward the Lake

November 4, 2009

Letter to Editor: Avoid 'Where the Wild Things Are'

Dear Editor,

This letter is meant as a public service to the community. Where the Wild Things Are
is a dud. The film is boring again and again and again. It's unsuitable for adults and children no matter their ages. Where is wonderment?

Children watching were restless tusslers and feet scrapers. My adult friend and I agreed we could have left anytime and not missed a thing.

Tom Hanks, as a producer, done us wrong! Could Hanks's name as film tie-in be why high-profile critics are giving the film three, even four, stars?


Editor's Note: Boltslider is the alias of a local writer who comments on cultural, community and all other types of events.

It's our day tomorrow in the Legislature;
Happy Demisemiseptcentennial, Racine!

The Wisconsin State Assembly tomorrow will take up Rep. Cory Mason's resolution honoring Racine on the occasion of the city's historic milestone: the Demisemiseptcentennial Anniversary of its founding.

The city began 175 years ago, in November of 1834, when Capt. Gilbert Knapp, left, established his settlement of Fort Gilbert at the mouth of the Root River.

Mason's resolution -- with 39 Whereas clauses strung together pointing out the city's diverse attributes -- will be read and celebrated near the beginning of the Assembly's convening on Thursday, the last day of the legislature's fall session.

Mason solicited the community’s input for the resolution, and said he was pleased with the number of suggestions he received. “The numerous events, people, accomplishments and ‘firsts’ detailed in this resolution honoring Racine make it clear just how much we have to be proud of,” said Mason, a fifth-generation Racine resident. “It was very hard to select just a few items to commemorate all that makes Racine special.”

Among those he selected were the city's strong opposition to slavery before the Civil War; the birth here of Paul P. Harris, founder of Rotary International; the invention of malted flavoring by the Horlick brothers along with other iconic manufacturers like SC Johnson and JI Case; the Racine Belles and Raiders; architect Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings; the city's Danish population; the cleanliness of North Beach; and the Racine Symphony Orchestra, oldest in Wisconsin.

The most unusual attribute? "Whereas, the people of the Racine Community have the good sense to refer to a water fountain as a Bubbler..."

Following passage of the resolution, legislators and the public will adjourn briefly to the Assembly Parlor to enjoy some Racine kringle. Members of the public are invited to the State Capitol to help celebrate Racine’s 175th anniversary; those who can’t make it can watch the proceedings on Wisconsin Eye.

State Assembly to Honor Labor Leader Rudy Kuzel Thursday

State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, announced today that the state Assembly will take action Thursday on a resolution honoring Rudy John Kuzel (left), former president of the United Auto Workers Local 72, who died on Oct. 1.

Assembly Joint Resolution 86, authored by Mason, celebrates Kuzel’s life and legacy. The resolution will be read and celebrated near the beginning of the Assembly’s convening on Thursday, the last day of the legislator’s fall session.

Mason said, "Rudy Kuzel was a skilled, tough, and passionate leader. This resolution’s passage is a symbolic but lasting testament to his advocacy, and his ability to fight for working families through the strength of his union."

The resolution details and honors Kuzel’s life, public service, and deep commitment to the Wisconsin labor movement. Kuzel worked at American Motors Corporation and then Chrysler Automotive in Kenosha for 38 years. He was President of the UAW Local 72 during many challenging times, including the shutdown of the auto assembly operations in Kenosha in 1988.

"Honoring Rudy in this small way provides an opportunity for other legislators and the public to learn about this great man and to pause for a moment to recognize his tremendous contributions to the Racine community and, indeed, to the entire state," Mason said.

Numerous legislators joined Representative Mason in introducing this resolution, including Representatives Barca, Turner, Steinbrink and Kerkman, and Senators Lehman and Wirch.

Library team spells its way to championship

When it comes to spelling, the Racine Public Library rules. Must be all those dictionaries in the Reference section.

The Library's spelling bee team, the Dakota Bees, are champions again, winning The BUZZ, the Adult Spelling Bee that celebrated its 15th anniversary last week.

Competing against seven other teams, the Dakota Bees won the nerve-wracking, four-hour contest when Syzygy, the team from Sturino Funeral Home, tripped up on "verglas," a thin film of ice on a rock.

It was all in good fun, a fund-raiser for the Racine Literacy Council.

Dakota Bees are Craig Corson, Steve Calalghan and Star Lopez. Syzygy members are Darryl Sturino, Walter Hermanns and Jeff Barrow.

Other teams included: M&I Bank, Gateway Tech, Literacy Council, CNH-New Holland, Horlick High School, the Johnson Foundation and Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church.

Between rounds, the crowd talked with Miss Racine 2009 Sha-Nita Rhea, enjoyed Roma Lodge's buffet, Night Wing's music and a silent auction. Event co-chairs were Peggy Groth and Cindy Strathman, who was also the pronouncer.

November 3, 2009

Wisconsin Plating Works celebrates 90th year

Wisconsin Plating Works is celebrating its 90th year as a family operated, regional commercial and industrial metal finisher. Owners Robert and Jeffrey Toeppe credit much of the company’s longevity to ongoing family involvement, which currently includes Robert’s wife, Kathy, and their daughter, Nicki, the fourth generation of Toeppe family management.

In 1919 Michael Gebhardt Toeppe, grandfather to the current owners, left his foreman role at Simmons Manufacturing Company in Kenosha to begin Wisconsin Plating Works. Ten years of polishing and buffing brass beds equipped him with the skills needed to finish metal parts, leading eventually to the business’ focus – metal plating.

Michael took on partner Otto Kopitzke in 1935, and the two set up shop. Michael Toeppe’s son, Robert Joseph, became a partner in 1950 and later moved the business to its current location, 931 Carroll St., where the sole proprietorship operated until his death in 1974.

Robert’s sons and current owners, Robert and Jeffrey, assumed control, expanding in 2005 with the purchase of Racine Plating, a 78-year-old family-operated company. The purchase added large quantity runs to Wisconsin Plating’s smaller, specialty order focus.

City: Email vote was to expedite property sale; Records show board regularly voted by email

The city put out a press release today responding to stories that its Loan Board of Review illegally voted by email. Here's a breakdown of the press release, including a major omission:

1. The press release was emailed by Deputy City Attorney Scott Letteney, but was titled: "City of Racine Press Release" and was unsigned.

2. The press release noted the Loan Board of Review was created in 1979. It's made up of specific city staff members (and no elected officials).

3. At the Loan Board of Review's June 18, 2009 meeting, the board deferred action on developer Jim Spodick's request to reduce a city loan to wait for a financial analyst's report, according to the release. RacinePost filed an open records request Tuesday for a copy of the analyst's report.

4. The Loan Board of Review's email vote was done to expedite Spodick's sale of the Wilmanor Apartments, according to the press release. It also suggests the vote was in the city's interest, which allows officials to balance the city's interest against the state's open meetings law.

4.5 Records show the loan board voted by email prior to Spodick's claim. The board voted March 25, 2009 to affirm two "electronic polls" to help two local homeowners increase loans. They did the same on Feb. 21, 2008, May 15, 2008, Aug. 21, 2008, and Nov. 20, 2008.

5. The press release then disassociates Spodick's $650,000 claim against the city from the Loan Board of Review's actions. It suggests that Spodick made a deal with former Mayor Gary Becker and that deal is under review as part of a larger review of Spodick's claim.

6. Missing from the press release is any mention of the Loan Board of Review's odd/dishonest/potentially illegal decision to alter the official minutes of the June 18, 2009 meeting to reflect a vote that never occurred.

7. The JT continues to pump this story, which they learned about by reading RacinePost. They've asked the state Attorney General's office for a ruling on the email vote. The AG responded that a decision could take a couple of weeks.

8. This entire incident is potentially embarrassing for the city because it involves senior city officials, including City Attorney Rob Weber, who is well-versed in the state's open meetings law. Weber's involvement makes it an interesting choice to have the city's official response come out of his office.

9. Mayor John Dickert banned email votes in city government today. Since email votes are already illegal (in order for any public body to vote, they have to hold a public meeting), his word should be followed.

10. Since the JT borrowed the first half of this story from RacinePost, we'd recommend Editor Steve Lovejoy direct reporters to take a closer look at the particulars involving Spodick's deal with the city and who made the deal to lower the loan amount. They may specifically want to investigate why Spodick was brought in at all.

Community sculpture planned for Root River Pathway

Welding Boot Camp students posing with their sculpture that's now
on display at the Workforce Development Center.

Here's a cool example of art imitating life. Or is it life imitating art? I always get that cliche mixed up. Anyway ...

Students in a Gateway welding class worked with artists to create a large sculpture that's now on display at the Racine County Workforce Development Center.

The project came together through UW-Parkside's Center for Community Partnerships. It proved so successful organizers sought permission from the Racine City Council to create a second sculpture to be placed along the Root River Pathway near the REC Center.

The innovative program started with a partnership between the Racine County Workforce Development Center's Welding Boot Camp and UW-Parkside's art department. Students practiced their new welding skills on a large, metal globe that was built around the theme of "Higher Expectations." Along with practical welding skills, students also learned about community art and its impact on community.

Ben Lehner, former head of the REC Center, and Mark Mundl, head of UW-Parkside's Center for Community Partnerships, laid out the program, called "Community Weld," in a letter to the city's Parks Board.

The pilot project made the welding program eligible for Wisconsin Arts Board Funding, which will be used to create the REC Center sculpture. In keeping with an Earth Day theme, organizers hope to incorporate found and recycled objects into the final piece.

The design will be inspired by poems and essays written by Racine Unified fourth-graders who toured the REC Center. The welding class will pull themes from the writings and use them to create a final design.

The City Council's Public Works Committee and the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Board approved the concept of the program, which heads to the City Council for final approval tonight. Both committees will approve a final design for the sculpture.

Organizers hope to have the sculpture completed by next April in time for Earth Day.

November 2, 2009

Stein: Environmental Advisory Board will attract businesses

Update: Geez, the comments have a way of beating people down. We reached Alderman Kelli Stein to talk about the Environmental Advisory Board she asked Mayor John Dickert to create. Surprise, surprise, negative bloggers, it's nothing like the bureaucratic-time-wasting-socialist-tree-hug fest imagined. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Stein's idea, modeled on several other cities around the country, is to create a strictly advisory board that would develop ideas to protect and promote the environment in Racine. Interestingly, Stein didn't recommend the board because she's a staunch environmentalist trying to save the world one solar panel at a time. She's doing it because it's an opportunity to lure new businesses to the city.

"I'm not a gung-ho crazy environmentalist," Stein said. "This could give Racine an additional selling point" to attract companies.

The seven-member board would bring together environmentally minded businesses, organizations and residents in one room and challenge them to build on Racine's existing green efforts through grants and other resources. That's important, Stein said, because environmentally conscious programs also can be fiscally responsible programs.

Case in point, she noted, is the recycling proposal in the mayor's budget. While environmentally friendly, the city can save money by getting more people and businesses to recycle.

There's also a marketing aspect to going green, Stein said. Cities like Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C., are using green initiatives to attract businesses. Racine can do the same, she said, noting no other neighboring cities have a formal committee to explore and implement green programs.

The committee itself would meet monthly and only serve an advisory role (hence the name, "Environmental Advisory Board." It wouldn't add a layer of bureaucracy to the city because resolutions wouldn't be routed through the committee. The board would only make recommendations to the City Council and the existing committees, Stein said.

"I don't want another level of government," she said. "I wouldn't support fines for businesses, or anything like that."

But she added she expects the board to have a real impact.

"It's designed to look for solutions instead of wait for them," Stein said. "... It's just meant to be helpful."

Her idea won approval from a powerful ally Tuesday night. Mayor John Dickert, who has the power to create boards, said Stein didn't have to present her idea because he'd already decided to support it.

Dickert will appoint six community members and an alderman to the board. Stein said she would like to serve on the board, but the decision was up to the mayor. "If another alderman wants to serve, that's OK with me," she said.

Stein said it's critical for Racine to pursue green businesses and promote its environmental resources.

"I don't want Racine to fall behind," she said.

Stein already had two people express interest in serve on the board, and she hopes others will apply. She even encouraged people who are skeptical of the board to get involved and bring

If you're interested in the serving on the Environmental Advisory Board, contact the mayor's office at (262) 636-9111.

Original: New City Council Member Kelli Stein is ready to make her first mark on the city.

She's asking Mayor John Dickert to create a seven-member "Environmental Advisory Board" to: "find ways to adopt environmental objectives as a city with its businesses and citizens." The committee would include six residents and one alderman.

City Council President QA Shakoor II will introduce Stein's proposal at Tuesday's council meeting. The item will be referred to the mayor for consideration.

Giving Room at Radisson aids SAFE Haven

The Radisson Hotel Racine Harbourwalk has announced an overnight-stay room package called the “Giving Room,” designed to cater to the growing number of socially conscious guests by giving back to the local community.

For each overnight stay booked under the program, the hotel will donate to SAFE Haven of Racine the cost of an overnight stay for a child who is homeless or abused or whose family is in crisis. The "Giving Room" packages, offered on the hotel’s website, will be priced the same as a comparable room without the package.

“It seemed that the whole business world had become too enmeshed in the current state of the economy, the uncertainty, the rising unemployment, and this package grew out of a need for us at the corporate level to change the focus and move our energies toward the positive,” said Ben Graves, president of Graves Hospitality Corporation, which owns and manages the Racine Harbourwalk. “These packages allow us to make a calculated and measurable improvement in the lives of children and families while empowering our guests to make the choice to make a difference.”

SAFE Haven was selected, he said, due to their long standing positive reputation and the ability to positively impact the lives of families and children in the community.

The donation to SAFE Haven will be made in the hotel guest’s name. Also, the Radisson front desk will provide additional information or arrange volunteer opportunities if guests have the time and desire to do more to make a difference.

City Notes: Maack pushes ahead with Owens proposal

Alderman David Maack is pushing ahead with his proposal to remove Corinne Owens' name from any developments on State Street and to create a commission to find a park, plaza, building or other venue to honor Owens for her contributions to the civil rights movement. Maack offered to chair the commission. The item was referred to the mayor's office.

Other items that will come up at Tuesday's City Council meeting:

* Parks Director Donnie Snow wants to meet with the council's Finance and Personnel committee to discuss applying for a grant to pay for North Beach mats.

* Police Chief Kurt Wahlen is seeking permission to accept the three-year "beat patrol grant" that will be used for two officers whose primary duty is beat patrol. The grant is worth $134,927 in 2010. The city needs to kick in $33,976, which is included in Mayor John Dickert's 2010 budget.

* Ann Yehle, principal of McKinley Middle School, hopes the city will close a section of sidewalk on Rupert Boulevard this winter. The section in question is the south sidewalk from Chicago Street west to the cemetery, at the bottom of McKinley hill. Yehle said the sidewalk is "nearly impossible" to maintain clear of ice without significant amounts of sand and ice melt. She added there is little pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. Her request will be taken up by the city's Public Works committee.

* Owners of the Olley Brother Farm on Highway 38 want to swap land with the city to maintain access to the Dog Walk just north of the farm. Access to the park is part of the farmland, which is being divided. The family is seeking just under 2 acres of land in exchange for the access to the Dog Walk.

* Alderman Bob Mozol wants to increase the number of voting members on the Board of Health from eight to nine. The proposal will be sent to the Board of Health for consideration.

* Horlick High School is getting a new digital sign. The City Council is set to approve the sign with conditions, such as only Horlick-related events can be advertised on the sign.

Wheelchair basketball team seeks use of Bryant Center

The Wisconsin Thunder wheelchair basketball team is asking the city to waive fees so it can play home games this year at the John Bryant Community Center.

The Thunder, ranked No. 2 among 71 teams in Division 3 of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, played all 30 of its games last year on the road because the team could not afford the $200 fee to host games at the community center, according to a letter Coach Carlos Mireles wrote to the city.

The team raises money to cover travel expenses and tries to cut costs whenever possible, Mireles said. Last season they traveled to and from Iowa in a day to save money on hotels, he said.

The Thunder reached the national finals last year, losing to a team from Canada in the championship game. "It made me disappointed to know that people of Racine did not see this team, one of the best teams I ever coached," Mireles wrote.

The team hopes to use the Bryant Center gym three or four times during the season on Saturdays.

Mireles' request will be introduced to the City Council on Tuesday and referred to the Finance and Personnel Committee for action.

City Claims: Residents seek money for damaged car, stolen bicycle

Several claims will be submitted to the City Council on Tuesday. They include:

* Caroline Stephens is seeking $189.18 for repairs to her vehicle which was vandalized while it was in the city's impound lot.

* Scott Tuska is seeking $500 for a bicycle that was stolen after being found in the middle of the street by a police officer during an unrelated investigation.

* Celeste Balcer is seeking $50,000 for injuries arising out of an accident involving a snowplow on Goold Street near Blake Avenue on Feb. 21, 2009.

* Jessica Salgado is seeking $2,000 for the loss of her dog, which was shot by police

City Attorney Rob Weber also wants to discuss the city's proposed $33,000 settlement with Clara Bridgeman, who was hit by a police officer's squad car while crossing Packard Avenue on a scooter. (JT's courts reporter Janine Anderson has the story here.)

All claims will be introduced to the City Council on Tuesday night and referred to the Finance and Personnel Committee for action.