September 20, 2010

Racine housing program creating lead hazard, city employee says; Stimulus project may violate lead-safe practices

Bill Bielefeldt, a housing technician for the city of Racine, stands with an award he received from the Wisconsin Rental Housing Legislative Council for his work on lead-safe practices. Bielefeldt alerted the state Department of Health Services about unsafe lead practices on city-owned homes.

A city program meant to improve neighborhoods may be endangering children.

Racine's Neighborhood Stabilization Program is under investigation by the State Department of Health Services after a city employee flagged dozens of potential lead paint violations on city-owned homes.

The NSP, funded by $3.4 million in federal stimulus, is designed to renovate and sell rundown homes in foreclosure. The city bought 23 homes with federal money over the summer and is renovating 17 homes. Work is underway to renovate the homes, but contractors may be violating several regulations in the process, according to Housing Technician Bill Bielefeldt and local contractors.

Toxic lead paint chips were found on sidewalks and in yards next door to city-owned homes. Lead paint can lead to brain damage in children. There are stringent city and state guidelines to safely remove and dispose of lead paint from homes. The city isn't following its own rules, said Bielefeldt, who has turned whistleblower last week in hopes that the city will enforce its lead-safety guidelines.

"Those rules are in place for the children," Bielefeldt said. "They have enough disadvantages. They don't need an unhealthy environment."

Bielefeldt stepped forward after being suspended without pay by City Development Director Brian O'Connell. Bielefeldt, who has worked for the city for 12 years, said city officials suspended him for "gross negligence" on Sept. 10 for his work on the NSP. He said the real problem is an ongoing personality conflict with his bosses, who have made repeated attempts to undermine him and his work, and a department that's overworked with too many programs going on at once.

After being suspended, Bielefeldt turned whistleblower. He sent 76 photos to the Department of Health Services on Sept. 16 documenting potential lead paint violations. They include photos of lead paint chips scattered around the exterior of a city-owned home at 1124 Irving Place. Lead paint chips were also found outside of 1841 Villa St., 1706 Maple St., 1537 Thurston Ave., and 1435 Blaine Ave. RacinePost confirmed paint chips outside of all four homes on Sept. 17, and witnessed lead paint tests on chips recovered from each of the houses.

Photos submitted by Racine Housing Technician Bill Bielefeldt to the state Department of Health Services alleging unsafe lead practices at homes owned by the City of Racine.

O'Connell confirmed Monday the state was investigating some properties, but said he had not seen a complaint. He was not aware of the homes in question until notified by RacinePost.

O'Connell said all contractors hired by the city were required to be lead-safe contractors and work in lead-safe manner. The city checked all contractors to ensure they were lead-safe certified.

"It's what we require," he said about lead-safe practices. "I do not expect the state to have a problem with this department."

During a tour of homes on Sept. 17, RacinePost also witnessed investigators from the state Department of Health Services investigating the home at 1435 Blaine Ave. The investigator declined comment on the investigation.

Shelley Bruce, supervisor of the DHS' Asbestos and Lead Program, confirmed in an email that the state is investigating the city-owned properties. She wrote to Bielefeldt on Sept. 17:  

I've tried to contact you a couple of times by phone this morning but you don't
answer and your phone does not take voicemails.  So, I'm just writing to let you
know that I got all the photos with the street addresses.  Thank you.

We are pursuing an investigation of these properties and I appreciate your

Shelley Bruce
Supervisor, Asbestos & Lead Program
Bureau of Environmental & Occupational Health
An investigator from the state Department of Health Services at 1435 Blaine Ave. on Sept. 17.

Bielefeldt and other local contractors who follow lead-safe rules said some contractors working on the homes are violating safety policies. Rules require contractors working on homes built before 1978 to assume the home has lead paint. They have to lay down plastic 10 feet from the edge of the home and then create another buffer zone around the plastic when removing paint and siding from homes. They then have to use a special vacuum to clean the plastic after each use. Contractors are also required to wear plastic suits and masks while working and dispose of them after each use. There are similar rules for work inside of houses.

Not all contractors violated the rules. During RacinePost's tour on Sept. 17, a contractor at 1706 Maple St. had plastic down along the side of the house he was working on. However, the contractor was not wearing plastic protective gear and paint chips were found around the home.

A contractor with plastic down alongside 1706 Maple St.   

Paint chips around the exterior of homes, including at least five that tested positive for lead, shows contractors were not following rules, Bielefeldt said. The shoddy work exposes neighborhoods to lead paint hazards that is particularly harmful to children 6 and under, he said. At one home RacinePost visited last week five children were playing in a front yard next door to 1435 Blaine Ave. where paint chips were found on the sidewalk.

City of Racine officials, particularly in the Health Department, take lead paint threats seriously. They have a local program to remove lead paint from homes, and doctors routinely report cases of lead poisoning to health officials for investigation.
(Above) 1124 Irving Place.

It's embarrassing that the city isn't following its own rules and concerns, Bielefeldt said.

"I would be just as much at fault as they are if I didn't report that," he said. "I didn't just go blindside them. I told them about this, and they chose not to do anything."

Bielefeldt is one of the city's chief advocates for lead-safe practices. Along with a local advisory group, he serves on a state committee for the Department of Health Services and received an award from the Realtors association for working to make homes lead free.

Despite his credentials, Bielefeldt's concerns went unanswered in his own department. The city suspended Bielefeldt without pay after he started to raise questions about lead-safe practices at the city owned properties. City Development officials, including Director of Development Brian O'Connell, acused him of "gross negligence" in working with the NSP. Bielefeldt said he expects to be fired.

After being suspended, Bielefeldt documented what he says are a series of major contractor violations on city-run projects, including lead-paint contamination. Using his contacts with the state, he notified the Department of Health Services and investigators are now reviewing the program.
Sign on the door at
1124 Irving Place.

O'Connell said his department, and the City of Racine, are leaders in removing lead from homes and following lead-safe practices.

"Contractors are required to be lead-safe contractors and work in a lead-safe manner," he said. "That's in our specs."
The state investigation is potentially disastrous for one of Mayor John Dickert's signature programs. The idea was to create a revolving fund of money with the city buying up homes in foreclosure, renovating them, selling them and then using the money to buy more homes. Dickert, a former Realtor, has said he hoped the program would improve the city's housing stock.

Now, the city is facing major violations for creating potentially hazardous conditions. The city's response to Bielefeldt?

It sent two uniformed police officers to Bielefeldt's Mount Pleasant home just before midnight on Sept. 17 to deliver a letter saying Bielefeldt was prohibited from all of the city's NSP sites.

Bielefeldt said it's clear the city was trying to intimidate him.

"What are they doing pulling officers off the street to be mailmen?" he said.

Here's the letter the city delivered to Bielefeldt just before midnight:
Mr. Bielefeldt;                                               
    It has come to my attention that you have been on city-owned property
without authorization.  Pursuant to your suspension of emploment beginning
September 10, 2010, you have been relieved of your duties as a Housing
Technician as of that date.  Be advised that You are not to enter any city-owned
property under the control of this department, including but certainly not
limited to any homes that are now or are in the future in the Neighborhood
Stabilization Program.
    Further, you are not to contact any property owners participating in the
city's loan program or any related programs, such as downpayment assistance, and
you shall not represent yourself as a current City of Racine employee during the
course of your suspension and/or upon termination.  As was said to you on
September 10, 2010, any requests for information from this department must be
made directly to me for response.
    Failure to comply will result in the city seeking all civil and criminal
remedies available to it..

 Brian F. O'Connell
 Director of City Development
c:      Scott Letteney, Deputy City Attorney
O'Connell declined comment on the letter, saying it was a personnel matter. He said he did not instruct police to deliver the letter in the middle of the night.

Five positive lead tests of paint chips collected outside of five homes owned by the City of Racine.

Get more Post! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Want to advertise? Learn how!


  1. So Dickert pushed to have his friends do the work and they are not even doing it properly? This is going to cost us, the taxpayers, a ton of money when Racine has to pay to cleanup all the lead paint on the neighbor's lawns.

    Thanks Dickert.

  2. Wow. Our cops are used as O'Connell's personal thugs?

    How deep does the rabbit hole of corruption at City Hall go?

  3. Goes to show you that Dickert's pal contractors are idiots too. Way to go Mayor Dickert. Now we will have to pay to clean the neighboring properties. I hope the city has enough money to clean 25 new Brownfield properties.

  4. Excellent job guys. I put a link to the article on my site. Not only do we have to worry about crime, jobs and education now it seems we have to worry about the city poisoning the kids in these areas. It's a sad state of affairs in this town.

  5. Thats right we wouldn't want anyone to fix up their property unless they pay the city a hefty BS fee. More money for the madness to continue!

    I suppose the city will now issue some new color garbage cans for lead materials and charge us all for them?

  6. I would like to commend Mr. Bielefeldt on his integrity. It's a pleasure to know someone is looking out for the interests of the public.

  7. Bravo to Mr. Bielefeldt for standing up to the corruption at City Hall. I am sure that he will endure pain during this ordeal, but please understand that the prayers of the common people will be with him. Turn to God's word during these times. "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32) Truth is something that City Hall knows little of.

  8. Thank you, Bill Bielefeldt, thank you. You are risking your career to expose the sleaze in city hall. Every resident of Racine is in your debt. Thank you for having the courage to do what is right despite the enormous pressure on you to do the opposite. Thank you.

    Oh, and lying John, you be sure to party on.

  9. What power Does Brian O'connell have over the Police Department? Why is he using the PD to intimidate city employees? Maybe because the Mayor pulled rank on the Police Chief? The City must be one great place to work. What a heaping pile of BS. Go get them Bill, give them hell for what they are doing.

  10. Time to get the shreaders out & tuned's going to be a long week for the city hall gang. Is every department ripe with corruption?

  11. Could part of Dickert's Ten Year Plan be to poison all of Racine's minority children?

  12. Oh my they really screwed Bill over big time. I have known him for quite a few years and he is one of the most credible, honest men I have known. How are they even try to suspend him and throw their garbage at him. Who the hell does Brian O'Connell think he is and then to have the cops come and tell Bill he can't go on property. Tell me why did the HUD grant pull the representative her in Racine with no notice and ship her off to Kenosha. What in the hell is going on? Who is trying to cover up what and why? I don't believe this is going on and yet I do. What the hell is lying John doing and why?

  13. What will it take for Wahlen to be let go? I can't even count the number of screw-ups and acts of corruption that guy has committed.

    As all this goes on, the only thing on the City Council agenda is Greg Helding and his stupid chickens. This is one F'd up city!

  14. O'Connell needs to go. IMHO since he does not mind inner city kids to eat less healthy (hates Urban Agriculture)Whats a bit of lead?

  15. Now why do you think Bill Bielefeldt went to the media? Unless you know exactly what is going on, you should not comment. I don't know how many times I've seen a story in the media that is very one-sided without all the facts from all sides portrayed in the story. Racine Post, if you are serious journalists, then get all of your facts before reporting. There is a lot more to the story.

  16. Pictures and the witnesses involved look pretty credibal!!
    The city got there minority contracts with low bid!! Now look what its got them! Low bid unqualified contractors with state violations in the tens of thousands! they will all be out of business!

    Thank God

  17. Looks by the holes in the siding, that they may have asbestos problems also.

  18. JSP,

    Are you really Jean? And if so, are you worried? You should be, you and your "play toy" Mike! Unqualified to perform even the simpliest of task's! Watch out you and "Johnnie Boy" are next!!!!!!

  19. All I am going to say is I told you so! To any of the council members that thought we had a "Housing Department" capible of "General Contracting" a project of this magnitude. Do you believe me now?? This project was a joke from the start, Jean Wolfgang who is a state certified "Lead Asessor" and Brian's new guy "The HVAC Contractor" who thinks he is a construction expert, totally F'd this one up. Bill gets fired for Gross Negligence, what about these three clowns what is thier punishment. Brian says the city checked the credentials of all the contractors to that I say BS. The city is hiding more info regarding this program than we can imagine, and Dickert is behind it. And the only one on council with balls is the new guy Marcus, sure wished he lived in my district!

  20. I wish I could say I was surprised by this, but I am not. When will the city of Racine stand up and show some integrity...give credit to the employees who do their jobs...not gonna happen, no never. Glad I am out of there!

  21. Jean- When Dickert is done playing with you he will throw you under the bus just like the others.

  22. Demolition Man9/20/2010 9:04 PM

    KaBOOM! That's the sound Dickert's re-election chances exploding.

  23. &;41 is a poor try to defend the good old boys. Thinking be great to see a Grand Jury

  24. There are laws to protect whistle blowers and rightfully so in this case. Another Dickert fiasco, its time for some city officials to resign.

  25. O'Connell needs to go and take Rick Jones with him.
    How dear O'Connell use the RPD as his thugs! For Shame!

  26. Dickert's fingerprints are all over this mess.

  27. Notice how the JT, which claims to be first and best with local news, is once again on the sidelines? Can't embarass Comrade John and his 10 year plan?

  28. Maybe the city should check their own website for the dangers of lead paint:

  29. You people are sheepole. What a joke. I imagine the truth will eventually come out. I bet you all believe no plane flew in to the world trade center and it was the work of the federal government. This is just a blog not a news source. Dustin is just a failed reporter, crazies.

  30. Anon 9/21/10, just another city employee or Dickert clonie!

  31. Just have John go out there and clean the paint up himself.

  32. Yet another two wrong assumptions from the sheepole.

    Just a concerned citizen in opposition to stupidity.

  33. Sheeple not sheepole. Sheepole must be something you sit on at home.

  34. Can you count how many agencies, inspecting units, and buearucrats are involved in this?? I think we need more stimulus money spent on a new "Bureau of Organizing All the Others".

  35. At some point the public has to realize there are some significant problems in city government. I'm amazed that the aldermen just keep getting re-elected and every mayor seems to go along with the staff. Hopefully, the next round someone comes in and cleans house. I hope the voters challenge everyone running in the next few elections to commit to wholesale change in the city's leadership and operation.

  36. Sadly, this will be forgotten by the voters when the next election comes around. Every mayor in Racine keeps the same people and policies even though there are major problems. Mt Pleasant had big changes in the board last election but they too keep clearly unqualified staff in place. The upcoming budgets should be a time when every government body takes a good look at their operation and finds new ways to do business. Outsourcing, collaborative agreements and cuts to operations not performing or no longer needed should be considered as part of the 2011 budgets. Voters should be watching every elected body and vote based on what you see coming out of each group. I'm not even going to start on RUSD and their spending.

  37. Before we hang anybody, let's get the truth from all parties - then if a hanging is appropriate, so be it.

  38. Racine Residents should be outraged! Dickert once again shames all of Racine. Please people stand up for yourselves and what you believe in. This idiot and his staff of Friedel and the waste of money that is the PIO Eickhorst should all resign over this and all the other disasters they have created for this city. Mr. Bielfeldt, Thank you sir! WAKE UP RACINE!

  39. You want to wait for the truth. How many of these types of stories do you need before it becomes clear the issues are throughout the organization. The amount of snow jobs being dump on the residents and council by these folks should make it winter here year round. I have become so frustrated watching how so many city and village staff members can continually get away with incompetence, lies and deception. What more proof is needed?

  40. Sir we all know that you are a Dickert drinking buddy. Nice job trying to protect him.

  41. sir also defended Becker to the bitter end.
    Birds of a feather...

  42. Oh, and thanks to the RacinePost for publishing this. If Mr. Bielefeldt had gone to the Journal Times with his story, would they have printed it? Since their publisher joined the Dickert PR team, I doubt it. All of this would have been swept under the rug while Dickert continued to lie about green Racine and environmental issues.

  43. The Journal Times, actually took the post out under the open forum that I put up showing the link to this story along with asking what was really going on at City Hall.. Guess the Journal really is in bed with them and censor everything!

  44. I'm not supporting anyone - I said when the results are in, and if someone has been negligent-then certainly hang them. I just don't get on the band wagon before all the facts are known.I am also not a drinking buddy of John's, plus I have always said Gary's actions were reprehensible.

  45. Hoping for jail time for this cover up. Must be O.K. to hurt Black Kids

  46. Who are the contrators involved? I certainly wouldn't want them doing work on my house.

  47. Why isn't anyone asking why this guy got fired?? Gross negligence and personality conflicts are two different things. If we fired every person that was a flake, some companies would be dead space. It just seems like there's more to the story than just the city's practices "exposed".C'mon people,this guy seems jaded and he wants 2 stik it 2 the city. So get the facts first before you make this guy a martyr.
    ...To be Concluded..

  48. This f'in City is run by crooks and liars. They should all be jailed!

  49. You can go to the City of Racine Wed page and there should be a list of contractors doing the various homes, but of course these goons broke up each house into 20 different contracts, so no one will know what's going on.

  50. @ 3:33

    and thats why. make it harder to understand.

  51. Anon 3:26
    If there is more to this???
    Then why oh why did the state stop the rehabs?
    I could not care less why he has been suspended or fired for that matter.
    Obviously what he has said has merit!
    Or the work would continue!!

  52. Excuse me should be directed to 3:06.

  53. Anon 3:06 and sir you both seem to have brains. Not like most who post. You people are making this guy a martyr without knowing the facts. Why did this guy get fired? What was he doing to get suspended and possibily fired? Was he negligent on the job? Was he looking the other way? Was he actually doing the job he was supposed to do? Find out the facts folks before you rant about how bad the City government is. Maybe this guy is trying to cover his butt because of his wrong doing. Maybe the City has some fault in this. Maybe not. Get the facts.

  54. I know Bill. He did not have to take on this battle. He had given H R in personel written notice back in July that he was retiring at the end of the year. Thank you for fighting the fight instead of turning tail and running. That would have been the easy road taken. Good Luck

  55. Bill, Sorry to see you get screwed by the beauracrats.
    As for contractors--lowest responsible bid. That's the law, pushed into law by the unions!
    Yes all contractors on NSP houses are required to be Lead Certifified. Want to know what's involved to be certified and what needs t obe done on the job? Look up Lead Certification EPA. You will be amazed at what is required.
    The gray area of the law is "who is responsible, the General Contractor (City of Racine) or the sub-contractors--painters, plumbers, hvac, electricians, etc. All are Lead Certified.
    Contractors were told the walls would be open. That means Lead Abatement/Safety was conducted by others! So, many of the sub contractors are unaware of the Lead Hazard AT THESE houses.
    Of course they assume there is lead present until told different, which I believe they were told to assume no lead as the walls would be opened. Don't worry about it.
    Do you have a 1978 or older home? Get it checked for lead. Let me know the cost for the cost for the test.
    I know...I bid on some of these houses!

  56. I'm not amazed by what is required to be Lead Certified. I'm amazed that Dickert and O'Connell ignored those rules while spewing about green Racine. The only green they know is $$$.

  57. Dustin/Pete, stay on this story for sure. It's just the beginning!

  58. Why the venom toward the Mayor??
    He and City hall has dozens of union butts whose job it is to make sure these programs are followed and all the money (yours) is spent properly.
    Without all the porkulus $$ half those butts wouldn't be employed.

  59. Why the venom? Because in the beginning of the year, the city sent all the contractors in Racine a Qualification form to fill out to qualify for the project. In it they required financial statements, Dunn's number, Dwelling Contractor Certification (Which we had before it was required to have), past and present projects. Our Company qualified. WE tried to bid on some of these project houses and even using low-buck subcontractors and Menards material prices, we just could not come close to what they were requiring, then we found out they were using contractors like "Joe Blow" and his station wagon, with a bunch of illegals doing the work. Secondly, if Dickert calls himself a Real Estate Professional, then he of all people should know not to over-improve a house for the neighborhood. We checked and double checked some of our prices with other reputable subs and suppliers, and we don't know how they are doing it. Another item was the plumber who got a small contract for around $2,100 and was then told he need to increase his insurance to 2-million dollars, which was going to cost the plumber $2,800 to do. You don't need to be a math genius to figure that one out. Most of these contractors probably don't have Workman's Comp

  60. Dustin, it should be researched exactly how long these companies that were hired by the city have been in business, did the pop up overnight. Do they have all the required insurances (including WC and UC)where are their taxes from last year showing their business. Would be interesting to know. How many employees are on their books and do they have them all properly documented?

  61. And who was paying those contractors. Let me guess... Bill Bielefeldt. Which came first the chicken or the egg? I smell a big steaming pile.

  62. Venum???

    There for sure not paying work comp or requiring there laborers/carp to cover themselves with liability insurance. The carpenter/ siders on the jobs are butchers!! Go look at the houses ?The specs are not being met for sure!

    Just get the job done and on the market!!

    Total bullshit program!!!

  63. Anon 5:25 PM - you hit the nail on the head. This is a disgruntled employee.

  64. RacinePost: Was today's story in the Journal Times the first time that they've credited you by name? If so, congratulations, I guess.

  65. I know Bill was on vacation right after the contracts were signed he had been working ten hour days for months on the new programs and earned some time off and when he returned on September first he was informed he would no longer be participating in any NSP programs.
    The new jobs were just starting after he left for vacation so he could not have done any pay outs on this work. Who was in charge since Bill was on vacation? Who were the project managers overseeing the projects? Not Bill.
    Was it Dickert or Jean or the new guy Mike who does not seem qualified just being a HVAC guy?
    Or is he the next fall guy?

  66. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  67. Dickert = arrogant and unethical. C'mon Racine, is this who we really want running the ship? He has proven that everything he is involved with fails, thus Racine fails. Enough is enough already oust the guy!

  68. The name of this blog should be the Racine Inquiror. Where is the other side - has the Post become the Fox News of Racine. You guys are better than that.

  69. Dickert like Oboma must not be questioned!
    If only we where more positive everything be O.K!
    No Unemployment! No Crime!

  70. Anon 1:02- You are 2 minutes past lunch time. Do the taxpayers know you are doing this on their dime? What does the Man Secretary do?

  71. Anon 102-Go over to the Fountain of Misinformation known as the Journal Times and complain. What is written here is a fine piece of investigative journalism.

  72. I cant seem to find any text or comments on this subject on the journal's site.

  73. JSP you are right. There is a lot more to this story. Get ready for your round. You dont make all the rules to fit your own needs. You are not the goddess you think you are. Many are after you and your job. Inquires are being made all over. Cover your BS.

  74. Thanks Orbs, I know you will stay on top of the story

  75. I agree with anon 102. theres is alot more to the story than wat is on the surface. JT does fact checking and is not stupid enough to present a lopsided story if all the facts arent in place on both sides.Bill knows legally that he has time b4 all the facts come out. If u can get the court of public opinion on your side, the logic of why he did it wont matter because people will have made up there minds

  76. Thats absolutely true. why would you need the advice of legal counsel to speak to the journal times about something you are trying to expose??

  77. Because he was unjustly fired for blowing the whistle on the city and he is going to have to sue the Dickert.

  78. Everbody knows the journal is Dickerts guys. Why would anyone want to talk to them?

  79. Are these homes a complete hazarad for the entire neighborhood/city?
    Must be if the State shut them down.
    The big story here is not Bill but the hazards created by these city projects.
    Do you have children near these homes? Have they been tested for lead? They should be for thier own protection. Let us not loose sight of the real problem here. Lead hurts kids.

  80. I love how Dickert's cronies are trying to turn the story into the whistle blower. That is what got Dickert into trouble with this project in the first place.

    How about instead of trying to avoid blame, actually clean up the mess Dickert created.

  81. orbs corbs was interested in permits

  82. This is Bill Bielefeldt. I just want everybody to stop talking about the city and myself. Who said this or who did that and would someone please go look at these properties. I have been forbidden to go near them. Someone please look and make sure that the hazards in the photos have been cleaned up. After all the only real reason for this conflict is to protect the children who cannot defend themselves. We as a village have the power and responsibility to protect our children. If you still see hazards please call the Post, call the Journal, call the Mayor or let me know they still exist and I will walk a picket line with you.

    God bless and see over our children.

    William Bielefeldt

  83. I know the clowns who are doing the work on these houses.I know the more qualified contractors who were "puzzeled"at not getting a single bid even though they bid them at the lowest possible price.It is rigged.There are drugs involved too.When you go to vote do you just believe some spiel,or do you actually know something about who these people are?Oh yeah,the houses are dumps.If you put 30 into them,they are worth 10 more.A real estate person should know this and decide to spend other peoples money a lot wiser.

  84. The biggest problems most developers encounter in developing countries is the rampant corruption. Everyone with a higher authority wants something. Before you know it, your resources to develop is gone because of the red tape.

  85. As expected, the forecast for median home prices in Chicago, while somewhat improved, is still declining on an annual basis.

  86. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.