January 30, 2010

Le Tour de Snowfall



Some people just didn't get the winter weather memo, like this guy riding a recumbent bicycle Saturday around Mt. Pleasant. He slowed down to ask directions, but didn't stop long enough to give his name.

The curse of 2920 Taylor Ave. has not struck again!

Relax, all you lovers of southern-style cooking.

Taste of Soul restaurant is not closing.

The FOR RENT sign that appeared this week on the building's facade merely signals that the building has been sold, and there's vacant space available upstairs. Although the restaurant is closed right now, a hand-written note taped to its front door states: "Due to a change of ownership of this property, Taste of Soul will be closed for a short time. We will be reopening soon."

A call to Edrick Scarvers Jr., owner and cook of all that bluegill, catfish, perch, tilapia, fried okra, chicken (yikes, I'm making myself hungry!) and so on, confirms the good news: Taste of Soul, he says, will reopen the second week of February.

Let's hope so. The restaurant's location at 2920 Taylor Ave., on Durand, has appeared cursed in recent years. Long the home of the Stockade, known for its pizza, it has housed a series of less-successful eateries lately. Barney's Memphis Style Ribs opened in March 2006, only to be replaced a year later by Pig 'n Out, which lasted just seven months. Then came Da Brickhouse in October 2007, which was replaced by Taste of Soul in April 2009.

January 29, 2010

Per diem payments mostly higher this year than last

Five Democrats topped the State Assembly's per diem list -- collecting the highest amounts for tending to business in Madison during 2009.

Cory Mason, D-Racine, is among them.

What that means is that these five legislators spent the most time in Madison during the year -- 153 days, in fact, since they received $13,464 and the per diem payment is $88 per day. You don't have to do the math; the complete list is here.

Mason is a member of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, which was very busy in this budget year.

The four others were Thomas Hixson, Whitewater; Ann Hraychuck, Balsam Lake; Marlin Schneider, Wisconsin Rapids; and Leon Young, Milwaukee.

Here are the days worked in Madison and total per diem payments for our area representatives. All collected more -- and perhaps worked harder? -- this year than 2008, except for Bob Turner who was in Madison the same number of days both years. Here's last year's accounting.
  • Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-83, Waterford: 131 days = $11,528.
  • Rep. Bob Turner, D-61, Racine: 110 days = $9,680.
  • Rep. Cory Mason, D-62, Racine: 153 days = $13,464.
  • Rep. Robin Vos, R-63, Caledonia: 118 days = $10,375.
Legislators also receive mileage reimbursement for the trip to Madison, and a salary of $49,943.

Mason, by the way, donates all his per diem money to charity.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker of Weston collected the most last year, $16,368, followed by Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, with $15,488.

UPDATE, 2/1: The full Senate per diem listing has just been released, and Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, is in the middle of the pack. He worked 109 days in Madison, earning $9,592 in per diem payments, well in the middle of the pack with 14 senators taking home more.

Ryan confronts Obama on the budget...

Paul Ryan scored some facetime with President Obama today, asking him an essentially loaded question but nevertheless opening a dialogue. Both Ryan and Obama come off well in the exchange, especially so if our Congressman likes being referred to as "wonky," which showed up in two of the early reports of the session.

It all took place at the GOP House Issues Conference in Baltimore. Before asking his question, Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, introduced the President to his daughter, Liza; sons, Charlie and Sam; and wife, Janna. Then, according to a transcript, Ryan tossed this at Obama:
"The spending bills that you have signed into law, the domestic and discretionary spending has been increased by 84 percent. You now want to freeze spending at this elevated level beginning next year. This means that total spending in your budget would grow at 300ths of 1 percent less than otherwise. I would simply submit that we could do more and start now."
Obama easily deflects blame for the 84% increase:
"The fact of the matter is that most of the increases in this year's budget, this past year's budget, were not as a consequence of policies that we initiated, but instead were built in as a consequence of the automatic stabilizers that kick in because of this enormous recession.

"So the increase in the budget for this past year was actually predicted before I was even sworn into office and had initiated any policies. Whoever was in there, Paul -- and I don't think you'll dispute that -- whoever was in there would have seen those same increases because of, on the one hand, huge drops in revenue, but at the same time people were hurting and needed help. And a lot of these things happen automatically."
He also rejects Ryan's suggestion that the freeze take effect immediately, saying that experts agree:
"...if you either increased taxes or significantly lowered spending when the economy remains somewhat fragile, that that would have a de-stimulative effect and potentially you'd see a lot of folks losing business, more folks potentially losing jobs. That would be a mistake when the economy has not fully taken off. "
But the second part of Ryan's question got more traction. Ryan said:
"You've also said that you want to take a scalpel to the budget and go through it line by line. We want to give you that scalpel. I have a proposal with my home state senator, Russ Feingold, a bipartisan proposal, to create a constitutional version of the line-item veto."
And Obama responded:
"I think there's not a president out there that wouldn't love to have it. And, you know, I think that this is an area where we can have a serious conversation. I know it is a bipartisan proposal by you and Russ Feingold.

"I don't like being held up with big bills that have stuff in them that are wasteful but I've got to sign because it's a defense authorization bill and I've got to make sure that our troops are getting the funding that they need."
Obama mentioned earmarks, and gave Ryan props for taking the issue "pretty seriously."
RYAN: OK. I'd like to walk you through it, because we have a version we think is constitutional . . .

OBAMA: Let me take a look at it.

RYAN: I would simply say that automatic stabilizer spending is mandatory spending. The discretionary spending, the bills that Congresses signs -- that you sign into law, that has increased 84 percent. So . . .

OBAMA: We'll have a -- we'll have a longer debate on the budget numbers there, all right?

The Washington Post's transcript of their exchange is HERE. And from the White House, here's a transcript of the entire session.

And HERE and HERE are two early reports saying that Ryan came out very well in the exchange.

There even was a little humor. As ABC News reported:
At another point, pushing for “a tone of civility instead of slash-and-burn,” the president said the media doesn’t report on the positive. “I don’t get a lot of credit if I say, ‘You know, I think Paul Ryan's a pretty sincere guy and has a beautiful family.’ Nobody's going to run that in the newspapers, right?”

The crowd laughed.

“And by the way, in case he's going to get a Republican challenge, I didn't mean it,” the president joked. Turning to Ryan, he said, “I don't want to -- don't want to hurt you, man.”
Following their exchange, Ryan issued a statement:
“President Obama proved to be an honest broker this afternoon in acknowledging our unsustainable fiscal path. The President highlighted a serious proposal to tackle our entitlement crisis. Reflecting the deteriorating economic and fiscal condition since first released in 2008, I put forward ‘A Roadmap for America’s Future 2.0’ earlier this week to fulfill the mission of health and retirement security, lift the crushing burden of debt, and boost jobs and competitiveness in the 21st century global economy.

"I applaud the President for rejecting his Democratic colleagues’ false ‘Party of No’ attacks. Tackling our economic and fiscal challenges require real solutions and serious dialogue. I look forward to working with the President on rising above the partisan attacks – and tackling our generation’s greatest challenges.”
AND, here's VIDEO of Obama discussing Ryan's plan at the session.

Walden team heading to state academic decathlon

Walden III High School took fifth place in the United States Academic Decathlon regional competition held on Jan. 8 at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Walden III competed against 12 teams and qualified for a slot at the upcoming state competition.

Academic areas covered include: math, economics, art, music, social science and language and literature. Students compete as a nine-person team and are distributed into Honors, Scholastic and Varsity categories. Walden III was represented by juniors Dylan Friss and Reese Grabowski, sophomore Kayla Simanek in the Honors category; junior Paul Hickey and sophomores Rosemary Haegerl and Hannah Gudbaur in the Scholastic category; and sophomores Antonio Moctezuma, Courtney Kitzing and Sage Sanchez in the Varsity category.

Walden III will now move on to the state competition in Wisconsin Dells March 11-12. The school has advanced to the state finals for the past three years and five times in the last nine years.

Surprise stormwater pipe forces changes to proposed West Racine grocery store


A stormwater pipe is forcing a Racine developer to redraw plans for a grocery store and restaurant in West Racine.

Developer Tom Tousis was surprised to learn earlier this month an 84-inch stormwater pipe bisects the 1.5-acre lot at West Boulevard and Washington Avenue. Tousis can't build over the pipe and now needs to shrink the size of his proposed building by as much as 40 percent.

The pipe is the third utility easement any developer would have to address on the corner lot. A powerline and a water pipe also run through the property, carving up the seemingly vacant lot into four sections available for construction.

Tousis and the city disagree over whether the stormwater pipe was included in city records.

Brian O'Connell, director of city development for Racine, said the stormwater pipe was included in materials when the city first began searching for a developer for the site. It's also included in the city's GIS system, which is available for free online.

"They should have known about it," O'Connell said about Tousis' development team.

But Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis, showed a city survey of the site completed in 2006 that does not include the stormwater pipe. He said the original plans, which were shown to city officials when Tousis applied for an option to buy the land, were based on the 2006 survey.

"If the city knew about the pipe, why didn't they tell us about it?" Williams asked, noting the plan was approved by the city's Redevelopment Authority and City Council with no mention that the proposal would not fit on the site. O'Connell serves as staff to the RDA.

Williams added the city's own GIS website includes a warning on the front page that the online maps should not be used as official documents. Instead, Tousis used a city-commissioned, formal survey of the site, which left off the pipe, Williams said.

"Every developer knows you go off the survey," Williams said.

O'Connell said the stormwater pipe ran down an alley behind buildings the city knocked down to create the vacant lot. Utilities underneath alleys were not included on the survey map, he said.

O'Connell added Tousis made a "naive assumption" that there was stormwater pipe running underneath the former alley. He said the bigger problem is Tousis and his team have not worked with city officials on the project. As a result, O'Connell said, there are surprises.

Williams said the new pipe - discovered earlier this month - will force reductions in the size of the grocery store, restaurant and gas station. The new building may still be 10,000 square-feet, but it's significantly smaller than what Tousis intended to build.

Developer Ray Leffler, who has worked with Tousis on the project, said building over the stormwater pipe would be risky because the city may need to access the pipe for repairs. If that happened, crews would have to rip up the store to reach the pipe, he said.

"It wouldn't generally be an acceptable practice to build over that pipe," said Leffler, who owns Newport Realty in Racine.

But Leffler said Tousis can work around the stormwater pipe and still build an acceptable project. "It would have been nice if there was a pipe running right through the middle of a building that someone would have said something," Leffler said.

He added "the ball was dropped a bit," but instead of placing blame, focus should now be on redrawing the plans to fit the utilities on the site.

"The real question is how do you fix it and move on?" Leffler said.

Tousis and real estate agent, Karen Sorenson, wrote O'Connell a letter on Jan. 13 asking for an extension on the submission of their conditional-use permit for city approval. "The recent information obtained has changed the scope of our project drastically," the wrote to O'Connell.

Williams said Tousis is now waiting for the city to provide a reliable survey of the site before redrawing plans. "We don't want any more surprises," he said.

January 28, 2010

Nominations sought for innovative business award

When people hear about your new venture, do their thoughts spring to phrases such as: “Wow!” “Very Innovative,” “How Creative.” or the highly over-used, but very effective “Cool?”

If so, you’re the perfect business for the 5th Annual Apollo Award sponsored by the Racine County Workforce Development Board. This award recognizes the accomplishments of a business owner or entrepreneurial team who started a new and innovative business in Racine County in the last three years. The winner of the Apollo Award will receive a $2,000 prize from the Racine County Workforce Development Board to be used for marketing, product development or research and development.

Pradeep Jain, president of Ictect, the 2009 winner, had this to say about the award: "The award provided recognition to Ictect in the local and statewide media. We received some inquiries and interest in our offerings as a result. Further, the money was helpful toward additional business development activities that we undertook."

Nomination packets are available from Kim Bartel at 638-6643. Nominations will be accepted until March 13. The presentation of the Apollo Award will be made at the RAMAC Annual Meeting to be held at a dinner April 14 at the Racine Marriott.

The award was developed in the interest of promoting entrepreneurial spirit in the Racine area, and encouraging creative, innovative business people to make their dreams a reality while providing jobs and economic stimulus for the area. The selection committee includes representatives from RAMAC, the Workforce Development Board, the Small Business Development Center, Racine Unified, Burlington School District, Gateway Technical College and last year's winner, Ictect.

Attorney: No local businesses being forced out for American Tire and Recycling

If American Tire and Recycling moves into Racine, it will not displace a local business at 2301 S. Memorial Drive, according to an attorney who worked on the deal.

Attorney John Bjelajac helped Leonard Investments, of Racine, purchase the trucking terminal on South Memorial Drive for $470,000. The sale was approved in court this week as part of SC Johnson's awarded damages in the Milt Morris corruption case.

Leonard Investments, owned by Rick Leonard of Floyd's Trucking in Racine, plans to lease space in the trucking terminal to American Tire and Recycling, which could bring as many as 88 jobs to the city.

Three businesses - Elite Systems, ABF Freight Systems and Siam Transportation - now lease space at 2301 S. Memorial Drive, Bjelajac said.

Elite Systems, which attempted to buy the building itself, has a lease through 2011, Bjelajac said. The company intends to stay in the building and did not object to Leonard Investments buying the building, he said.

ABF is looking to get out of its lease in the trucking terminal, Bjelajac said. That would free up the space needed for American Tire and Recycling to move in, he said.

Siam Transportation rents office space in the building and won't impact the American Tire and Recycling Deal, Bjelajac said.

"No one is being forced out," Bjelajac said. "ABF wishes to be out, and we'll coordinate that" with American Tire's lease.

Early enrollment open for Lutheran High

Racine Lutheran Ambassadors are (back row): Catherine Lie, India Debe, Matt Rairie,
Alex Kristiansen, Jon Lambert, Ryan Ganther, Andrew Rosenberg, Pete Drummond,
Eric Oertel, Braiden Moriarity, Caleb Schneider, Sarah Gregory, (front row)
Rosie Aumann, Sondra Rosenberg, Aly Borgardt, Ryanne Jackson, Sam Kateley,
Sam Godlewski, Hannah Lillich, Cassi Malko, Erin Pintar, and Felicia Hess.



Meet the Ambassadors of Racine Lutheran High School. These are students in Sophomore-Senior years that represent the school to the community. If your teen wishes to shadow a student for a day, she or he will be with an Ambassador! These students also help at Open Houses, 7-8th grade school visits, dinners, church visits, and more.

Principal Randy Baganz notes, “We are pleased to have so many fine students in this year’s Ambassador program. Being an Ambassador improves presentation skills and develops poise. The service hours and experience are also vital on college scholarship applications. We appreciate our Ambassadors’ willingness to represent the school and to be involved working with other young people.”

Racine Lutheran High School provides Christian education and academic excellence in a safe, clean facility with orderly classrooms with competitive private school tuition and financial aid.

Early enrollment for next year ends March 12. To have a teen shadow a student for a day, call Randy Baganz or Bonnie Christensen at 262/637-6538 or check the school's website. . The school is located at 251 Luedtke Avenue, off Spring Street.

Chinese city invites Racine delegation for spring visit

Zhenyang Street in Sheyang, China

Mayor John Dickert's meeting with representatives from Sheyang, China in December ended with a request from the Chinese delegation. "We'll see you in the spring - in China," Dickert recalled them saying.

The invitation, which was also part expectation, was a sign of the speed at which Sheyang business and government leaders are hoping to build ties with the Racine community. The China SINB group, led by Wanming Chi, bought 54 acres of land in Mount Pleasant to build a 600,000 square-foot Eco-Business Park. The land cost $850,000.

Dickert said in a recent interview that he's attempting to put together a Racine delegation of business leaders and government officials to visit Sheyang, though nothing is definite at this point. Cost is a factor, he said, but business leaders have offered to help pay for the trip. Sheyang is located along the Yellow Sea about 150 miles north of Shanghai.

Dickert said traveling to China could result in business deals for local companies. He's also hoping to present development opportunities in Racine to investors.

Chinese companies have made a push into southeastern Wisconsin in recent months. The BizTimes reported last week that Wanming was one of a handful of Chinese businessmen to purchase property in the Milwaukee-Racine area in 2009. The story also provided interesting background about Wanming and his connection to the Racine area:
The driving force behind SINB North America is Wanming Chi, the president and chairman of the board of SINB Group Co. Ltd. The company does business in manufacturing (particularly structural steel fabrication), real estate development, port construction, financial investment and international trade.

After the U.S. real estate market collapsed and the economy plunged into a deep recession, Chi became interested in investing in the United States because he saw an opportunity to do so at a discount.

Chi’s business relationship with William Osborne, the president and chief executive officer of Racine-based LGO Global Sourcing LLC, led him to Racine County. LGO assists American businesses with outsourcing manufacturing operations. The company has two China offices in Jiangsu and Beijing. Osborne makes 8 to 10 trips a year to China.
Racine's Sister City Committee has begun to explore a relationship with Sheyang, which, despite a population of over 1 million people, is still considered a mid-sized Chinese city, Dickert said.

The mayor and the Chinese delegation signed an agreement to consider talking about a Sister City arrangement.

Al Guetzlaff, chairman of Racine's Sister City Committee, described the two cities as being in the "dating/courting process."

Any relationship with Sheyang likely will differ from Racine's other Sister Cities because of the economic incentives underlying the partnership, Guetzlaff said. While the U.S. has a history of treating Sister Cities as "citizen diplomacy," the Chinese Sister City organizations are based in business and more like our Chamber of Commerce, Guetzlaff said.

Based on his experience working with Racine's six Sister Cities - four which are active - Guetzlaff said Racine needs to find a local resident who can "carry the torch" of a Sister City relationship with Sheyang, he said. Wanming's emerging business connections in the Racine area may be the connection needed to seal the Sister City bond, he said.

Guetzlaff also said customs and traditions will come into play on the cross-cultural exchange. For example, the Chinese can be insulted if you do not thoroughly examine a business card they give you.

"There are protocol things that are very important," Guetzlaff said. "Just like when you're courting, there are traditions you need to be aware of."

January 27, 2010

All Aboard! $810 million will take Hiawatha to Madison

Amtrak's Hiawatha train between Chicago and Milwaukee is going to Madison, thanks to $810 million in federal stimulus funds just awarded to the state. Another $12 million will improve the Chicago-Milwaukee run. But there was no mention of funds for KRM in the announcement late Wednesday night from Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold.

"This is a major job creation project that will provide a long-term boost to our economy," Gov. Jim Doyle said. "Through high-speed rail we will connect the major centers of commerce in Wisconsin and in the region. This was a national competition and the results clearly demonstrate that Wisconsin had a very strong application."

Rep. Robin Vos, D-Caledonia, is quoted by the Wisconsin State Journal today saying, ""If we have to invest money in rail, high-speed rail is much more likely to have a positive economic impact than commuter rail."

Although work on the project could start soon, since much of the preliminary planning is done, the first 110mph train to Madison isn't expected to leave before 2016, according to the state's application for the funds.

Here's Kohl and Feingold's statement:
U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold today announced that Wisconsin’s high-speed rail projects will receive $822 million in federal stimulus funds. Of that total, $810 million will be directed to the Madison-Milwaukee corridor and $12 million to the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) included $8 billion for high-speed rail projects. This $8 billion was designated for capital projects, and included three types of competitive discretionary rail grant programs – one of which was for high-speed rail corridor development grants.

“It’s great to see Wisconsin getting its fair share of these federal funds. The Secretary’s decision speaks to the quality of our state’s high-speed rail corridor project. I’m especially pleased by the promise it holds to create jobs and provide transportation choices for travelers across our state,” Kohl said.

“This funding is good news for Wisconsin workers. Not only will this funding help create jobs improving our state’s infrastructure, it will open up more job opportunities for workers in southern Wisconsin. This is an important investment in Wisconsin’s economy and workforce,” Feingold said.

According to the Department of Transportation, the $810 million in funds allocated to the Madison-Milwaukee project will be used for construction of track, passenger stations, signaling and other infrastructure improvements to extend the existing Amtrak Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee to Madison. The project will result in increased ridership and improved on-time performance. The $12 million in funds directed to the Milwaukee-Chicago project will be used for the installation of crossovers between Chicago and Milwaukee to improve on-time performance for the Amtrak Hiawatha and Empire Builder services, and for construction to extend the platform at the Milwaukee Airport Station, which will reduce travel times on the Amtrak Hiawatha and Empire Builder services by allowing trains longer than the current platform to board and deboard faster.

Wisconsin applied for funding under the Federal Railroad Administration’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program. According to the State’s application, this would create thousands of jobs in the state, along with clearing congestion on highways and airports and providing an environmentally friendly transportation alternative.

Last November, Feingold and Kohl sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in support of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s application to the Federal Railroad Administration for funding under the ARRA rail program. In April, 2009, Kohl and Feingold and a group of 11 other Midwestern Senators signed a letter to President Obama asking that Midwestern rail corridors be considered for ARRA rail funding.

Kohl called Secretary LaHood on Jan. 21 when officials at the Department of Transportation indicated that decisions were being made about how to allocate the funding, which must be obligated by Feb. 17. Feingold spoke with Secretary LaHood in December 2009 to highlight how Wisconsin has been a leader on passenger rail issues under Governor Doyle and WisDOT Secretary Busalacchi and voice support for funding for Wisconsin’s proposal.

Kohl: 'Encouraged' by Obama's jobs commitment

Sen Herb Kohl, D-WI issued the following statement after President Obama's State of the Union address:
"I’m encouraged that the President is committed to creating jobs, relieving pressure on middle class families, and growing the economy. Deficit reduction is also essential to the long term economic health of our country, and achieving it is going to take bipartisan effort. We’re pleased that he emphasized the need for strengthening retirement security for all Americans, and remains committed to reforming our enormously expensive health care system."

Ryan 'disappointed' by Obama's state-of-the-union

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, issued the following statement following President Obama’s State of the Union address:
“President Obama was right to focus his remarks on job creation, fiscal responsibility, and keeping America safe. But I was disappointed to yet again find the substance fall far short of the rhetoric. Many of the policies the President advanced tonight – including the continued push for the Majority’s massive health care overhaul – reasserted Washington’s ideological commitment to a reckless expansion of government at the expense of economic growth.

“The President was right to acknowledge that our massive deficits are unsustainable. We must build momentum to tackle this fiscal crisis, but the illusion of budget discipline must be matched with actual solutions. That is why earlier today I reintroduced ‘A Roadmap For America’s Future,’ updated to reflect the dramatic decline in our economic and fiscal condition since 2008. The Roadmap fulfills the mission of health and retirement security, lifts the crushing burden of debt, and promotes jobs and competitiveness in the 21st century global economy.

“We all want to boost job creation and get this economy growing again. Unfortunately, the agenda moving through Washington moves us in the wrong direction. There are honest disagreements on how to meet these challenges. I stand ready to work together to chart a different course forward and advance common sense solutions.”

Hank: A high-energy puppy ready for some fun

If you're up for some high energy fun, Hank may be the puppy for you.

Hank is a six-month-old Yellow Labrador Retriever. He is a happy dog with an outgoing, "so glad to meet you," personality.

Hank is a high-energy puppy, so he will need lots of active things to do. Countryside Humane Society recommends lots of exercise and some training classes for this puppy. He is quick on his feet, so playing in a fenced in yard, trips to the dog park or enrollment in a doggy day care would be great for Hank, who seems to be a small sized lab.

Think you can handle him?

You can see Hank at the Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

City ready to purchase recycling carts; Bid comes in $400,000 under budget

A lot of questions are hanging around out there about the recycling carts included in the city's 2010 budget. Rick Jones, head of the city's Public Works Department, answered a few of those questions Wednesday in a press release.

Here's a breakdown of information that came out today:

1. The city has not bought the carts - yet.

2. The city has settled on a contractor for the carts. Racine is set to purchase 28,500 carts from Rehrig Pacific Company for $1,349,080 - about $400,000 less than was budgeted for the carts. City Administrator Tom Friedel said Wednesday the savings will allow the city to stop collecting the $10 recycling fee from property owners sooner than expected. (The city is still calculating how much sooner, he said.)

3. The carts will be manufactured at Rehrig's plant in Pleasant Prairie.

4. The city is close to finalizing rules for its cart program, according to Jones' press release. The standard cart will be 65 gallons for residential properties and 95 gallons for non-residential customers in the city.

5. Property owners will be able to exchange their carts after a 60-day trial period. The one-time, free-of-charge exchange will allow residents to switch to the larger size (95 gallons) or a smaller, 35-gallon cart.

6. "Our program is based upon trying to maximize the recycling volume in order to maximize the cost savings to our property taxpayers," Jone said in the press release. "However, we also understand that one size does not meet everyone’s needs and that flexibility needs to be a significant consideration."

The press release also reiterated that the city implementing the program to save money. As of Jan. 1, it costs the city $43 per ton to dispose of regular garbage in the landfill, compared to $9 per ton for recyclables. In other words, the city saves $34 for every ton of garbage that is recycled instead of being thrown into the landfill.

See Jones' full press release below.

Also Wednesday, Alderman Terry McCarthy reported on research he'd done on another community that required residents to use recycling containers. Here's his letter to the City Council and other city officials:
All,
In an effort to verify the validity of the fiscal benefits claimed for single-stream recycling carts beyond the myriad of examples already supplied to us by the DPW, I googled "single stream recycling" results and went to the first municipal site that showed up on the list, Springfield, MA. It turned out to be a perfect reference for our situation, as they are a similar size, older, cold-weather city moving from dual stream to single-stream recycling with 95 (yes, 95) gallon carts.

I spoke to Greg Superneau, the DPW manager responsible for the program. He indicated that they faced all the same questions and concerns we are hearing (including civil liberties - it is Massachusetts after all!). After implementing for the first third of the City, the results are very positive (greater than 100% increase in recycling), and they are moving forward with the remainder of the City.

Please take a look at these links in anticipation of our Committee of the Whole meeting on this topic.

http://www.springfieldcityhall.com/COS/20091105-singl-stream.0.html

http://www.springfieldcityhall.com/DPW/single-stream-faq.0.html.

The City Council is scheduled to reconsider the recycling carts at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb. 2. Alderman Sandy Weidner has requested an advisory referendum on the proposal be placed on the city's April ballot to help the council make a decision on the carts.

The City Council voted to include the recycling carts in Racine's 2010 budget.

Here's Rick Jones' full press release:
I am very pleased to provide an update report to you regarding our recycling cart program. There are two key components.

First, our Purchasing Department reports that they have received the proposal of Rehrig Pacific Company for the provision of recycling carts. The City’s Purchasing Agent reports that he was able to negotiate the purchase of these carts at a reduced rate by taking advantage of the Houston Galveston Area Council procurement program. The proposal for the purchase of 28,500 recycling carts from Rehrig Pacific Company is in the amount of $1,349,080.00 and will result in savings to the City of Racine of approximately $400,000.00 of the anticipated cost.

Mr. Tim Graeb, Municipal Sales Manager for Rehrig Pacific Company, states “We are very excited to be working with the City of Racine for the provision of carts for their recycling program. These carts will be manufactured at our plant in Pleasant Prairie, WI, employing residents of the Racine-Kenosha area. In these difficult times it is even more important to keep these jobs in southeastern Wisconsin”.

Second, I am also pleased to report that we have made extensive progress in developing the rules which will govern our cart recycling program. The standard cart will be a 65 gallon cart for residential properties and a 95 gallon cart for non-residential customers of the City of Racine. The City of Racine will, after a 60 day trial period, allow property owners a one time free-of-charge exchange. Residents may exchange their cart for either a larger (95 gallon) cart or a smaller (35 gallon) cart dependent upon their particular needs. Our program is based upon trying to maximize the recycling volume in order to maximize the cost savings to our property taxpayers. However, we also understand that one size does not meet everyone’s needs and that flexibility needs to be a significant consideration.

The recycling cart program was proposed and approved by the Common Council because of the long term savings it offered to our taxpayers. The dramatic increase in the cost to dispose of a ton of waste in the landfill, coupled with the rise in the value of a ton of recyclables, makes recycling a viable long term alternative to traditional landfilling.

As of January 1, 2010 solid waste disposal rates exceeded $43/ton and the value of recyclables continued to climb so that the City was being paid over $9/ton. The economic justification for the cart system is even truer today than it was 2 months ago when the budget was adopted.

January 26, 2010

Toyota recall, sales suspension will be felt here

All this year, as American auto manufacturers imploded -- Chrysler going belly-up, General Motors killing off Pontiac and Saturn, Ford and GM trying to sell off brands like Saab, Jaguar and Hummer -- it appeared to be business as usual at Gentile Automotive Group. The dealership's two showrooms on Washington Avenue offer some of the best-selling foreign brands on the road today: Toyota (its Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for seven years), Honda, Scion, Subaru, Hyundai and Nissan.

But today, Gentile was hit a body blow, as Toyota announced a recall of nearly 2.3 million vehicles because of a sticky accelerator pedal that reportedly has led to thousands of accidents. And an immediate sales suspension of the 2009-2010 RAV4, the 2009-2010 Corolla, the 2009-2010 Matrix, the 2005-2010 Avalon, the 2007-2010 Camry, the 2010 Highlander, the 2007-2010 Tundra and the 2008-2010 Sequoia.

The 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe, built by Toyota for General Motors, is also expected to be included in the recall list. Toyota sold 650,000 Camrys and Corollas in the U.S. last year.

The recall and sales halt comes just a few months after Toyota recalled 4.2 million vehicles due to gas pedals that could become trapped under floor mats, causing the vehicle to accelerate.

We attempted to get local reaction and information from Gentile Automotive, but Brian Hansen, general sales manager -- who, understandably, is up to his ears in the problem -- could only refer us to Toyota's media information specialists.

Toyota recommends that drivers call their local dealer if the gas pedal is sticking or difficult to depress. The company said drivers in their vehicle would need to step on the brake pedal with both feet, shift the vehicle into neutral and turn off the engine after pulling over to the side of the road.

Toyota is the world's leading automaker. Bob Carter, U.S. group vice president, said, "We're making every effort to address this situation for our customers as quickly as possible."

Rep. Ryan just back from Afghanistan

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, returned early this morning from a trip to Afghanistan.

Traveling with four other congressmen, he was in Afghanistan and the Middle East from Jan. 21-26.

The stated purpose of the trip was "to meet with members of the military…and foreign officials to discuss issues pertaining to the budgeting for, and execution of, the surge, reconstruction efforts, training of the Afghanistan National Army and Afghanistan National Police, and combating corruption. In addition, members of Congress will also visit Service Members in Afghanistan and conduct oversight into the increase of forces in support of…Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Ryan said, "We owe a debt of gratitude to the brave men and women in our armed forces. It was an honor to spend time with a number of remarkable Wisconsinites defending our freedoms far from home. They deserve not only our appreciation, but also our unwavering support." Ryan also had the opportunity to meet with Gen. Stanley McCrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, among others.

The delegation was led by House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-South Carolina. Others included Rep. Gene Taylor, D-MS; Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-CA and Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-NC.

Ryan's office said pictures and other information will be released in a few days.

Court ruling buoys hopes to lure recycling company's 88 jobs to Racine

City efforts to bring 88 jobs to South Memorial Drive dodged a bullet in court this week.

Judge Wayne Marik accepted a Racine company's last-minute bid on Monday to purchase a trucking depot at 2301 S. Memorial Drive that was caught up in the SC Johnson bribery scandal.

Marik's ruling paves the way for Leonard Investments to buy the building and continue to lure an out-of-town tire recycling company to Racine.

American Tire & Recycling is planning to open a production facility at the Memorial Drive trucking depot. Leonard Investments expressed an interest in buying the building and leasing it out to American Tire & Recycling, but those plans were complicated when a third buyer entered the picture.

Elite Systems LLC, which is housed in the building, submitted a bid to the court to buy the depot for $460,000 on Jan. 6. American Tire & Recycling balked at working with Elite Systems, according to a city official. The company threatened to bail on the Racine deal and open its recycling business in Burlington, the official said.

That left the city scrambling to support Leonard Investments' bid to, hopefully, bring in American Tire and Recycling's 88 jobs, the official said. The jobs were particularly appealing to Racine leaders because the company offered low-skill jobs that will reduce the city's soaring unemployment rate.

The city got some help from SC Johnson, which stands to profit from the sale of 2301 S. Memorial Drive. The building was awarded to the company as part of $147 million in damages awarded to SC Johnson in the Milt Morris corruption trial.

SC Johnson supported Leonard Investments' $470,000 bid for the building, according to court records. The company will make about $200,000 on the sale, minus a $215,000 mortgage on the property and additional transaction costs.

Leonard Investments, owned by Rick Leonard, who also owns Floyd's Trucking in Racine, will take over the property, which currently holds leases for three businesses. Siam Transportation, ABF Freight Systems and Elite Systems are all located in the building, according to court records.

Leonard didn't return a message left at Floyd's Trucking on Monday. An employee at Elite Systems said they were unaware of any sale involving the building.

An employee at Elite Systems said Monday they didn't know anything about the sale of the building.

When asked if the city was happy with Marik's ruling, a city official simply gave a thumbs up.


Ryan nominates five from county to service academies

Rep. Paul Ryan congratulates Briana O'Hearn of Racine

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-1st District, has nominated five Racine County students to attend U.S. service academies.

He nominated:
  • Briana O’Hearn, a senior at Horlick High School, for appointments to the U.S. Military Academy (at West Point) and U.S. Air Force Academy;
  • Eugene Ehlen of Burlington High School for a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy appointment;
  • Micah Warntjes, a Burlington High School alum, received a nomination for Military Academy appointment. Warntjes is a U.S. Army veteran and Cadet Candidate at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School in Fort Monmouth, NJ;
  • Tyler Bloodworth, a Union Grove High School graduate now attending Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, PA, for an Air Force Academy appointment;
  • Amanda Herman, of Waterford Union High School, also received a nomination for an Air Force Academy appointment.
“It’s a privilege to nominate these students for academy appointments,” Ryan said. “With their solid records of achievement and their commitment to doing the rigorous work required at the academies, I know that they will do well if they are accepted and will serve our nation with honor.”

Acceptance to the academies is highly competitive, and receiving a nomination does not guarantee acceptance.

Early in December, the Service Academy Nomination Advisory (SANA) Board interviewed and evaluated applicants from the First Congressional District for nomination to the U.S. Service Academies. Comprised of veterans, past Academy graduates, local public officials and educators, the SANA Board was appointed by Ryan to assist him.

“Each year, many highly qualified students apply for nominations, which makes the selection process quite a challenge,” Ryan said. “All of them deserve our gratitude for their desire to serve and protect our country.”

January 25, 2010

AG rules on JT request they learned about from RacinePost

Congratulations to The Journal Times and reporter Stephanie Jones for doggedly pursuing a ruling from the Attorney General's office regarding email votes by the Loan Board of Review in 2009. It's the type of work a daily newspaper should be doing, well, daily.

We'd also like to thank the JT for crediting RacinePost for breaking the story four days before going to print with the violations. Oh, wait. That never happened ... but we can dream.

'Mr. Racine' Mark Eickhorst in line to become city's public information officer

RAMAC President Roger Caron (left) and City Administrator Tom Friedel (right) speak in favor of Mark Eickhorst as the city's first public information officer.


Mr. Racine is ready to start selling Racine.

Mark Eickhorst, a radio host and former Racine alderman, is in line to become the city's new public information officer.

Eickhorst will work for the city through a $25,000 contract with Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce. The contract would run from Feb. 1 to Dec. 31.

As PIO for the city, Eickhorst will write press releases and market Racine to media within 100 miles of the city. Here's a list of job duties included in Eickhorst's contract:
▪ Coordinate, conduct and oversee all press conferences with all media sources.
▪ Develop, implement and maintain an effective public information program for the city organization and its departments.
▪ Prepare, review and edit letters, speeches, memoranda, proclamations and resolutions, calendars and press releases; develop and prepare city newsletters and articles for general public information.
▪ Provide Mayor with support/information on issues of interest to the media; assist departments and the Mayor’s office in responding to media inquiries and in promoting city programs, services, events and policies.
▪ Develop communication plans for various city campaigns, both internally and externally, including marketing.
▪ Work with information specialists on the development and maintenance of city web sites.
▪ Develop, implement and maintain city presence on cable television access channel.
▪ Work with departments on media and protocol training/advice.
▪ Draft public service announcements.
▪ Design, develop, organize and control the communication of the City’s vision, values and central themes and messages to internal and external audiences.
▪ Act as the primary contact person for all media inquiries and to respond to questions that arise from media releases.
▪ Plan, lead, organize and control print, web and TV media so as to enhance the City’s image and communicate City issues, actions and services.
▪ Perform other duties as designed or required.

Eickhorst is a former Journal Times sports reporter, served on the City Council from 1997 to 1999, when he ran for mayor and lost to Jim Smith. Eickhorst hosts the "It's All About Racine" radio show on Saturday mornings on WRJN and works for RAMAC in a variety of roles. He's served in numerous charitable roles in the community, which helped earn him the nickname "Mr. Racine."

The $25,000 PIO contract was included in the mayor's 2010 budget and received little opposition from the City Council.

Alderman Jim Spangenberg, chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee, said at Monday's meeting the position was long overdue.

City Administrator Tom Friedel and RAMAC President Roger Caron both spoke in favor of Eickhorst getting the job.



Even with referendum, repealing Racine's recycling bins would take work

Alderman Sandy Weidner is pushing forward with her request to hold a referendum this spring on recycling carts in Racine.

In a brief interview, City Attorney Rob Weber laid out a few potential obstacles to the referendum:

1. It would need to be an advisory referendum. State law says a city can't hold a binding referendum to repeal a budget item, Weber said.

2. Any decision to overturn the recycling carts, which were included in the city budget, would require a two-thirds vote by the City Council. That means 10 aldermen would have to oppose the carts. Efforts to pull the carts out of the 2010 city budget attracted three and four votes - not nearly enough to overturn the decision.

3. There's an issue of practicality. The city has issued request-for-proposals to buy the bins, and official are moving forward with the 2010 budget item. Any referendum would require the city to slow its plans to distribute bins this spring.

That said, Weber said it was possible to place the advisory referendum on the spring ballot. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the item at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb. 2.

City may give new bars, restaurants a deadline to use liquor licenses

Alderman Aron Wisneski and City Clerk Janice Johnson-Martin
at Monday night's Public Safety and Licensing Committee meeting.

Restaurant and bar owners who get a liquor license approved by the city may soon face a deadline to put the license the work.

The Public Safety and Licensing Committee deferred action Monday night on a proposal that would give liquor license holders nine months to open their doors or return to the city for a six-month extension. Despite the delay, committee members appeared to be leaning in favor of the proposal.

Alderman Aron Wisneski, chairman of the committee, said city-imposed deadlines are important following the City Council's recent decision to charge entrepreneurs $10,000 for a "reserve" liquor license.

Reserve licenses are granted when the city reaches its state-imposed quota of 128 Class B liquor licenses in the city. The city is at that limit right now, which means it will cost anyone $10,000 just to get a permit to serve liquor in a bar or restaurant.

However, if a regular license becomes available - meaning the city falls below the state-imposed quota - the license would only cost $500.

For that reason, Wisneski said, it's important for the city to encourage businesses to use their licenses or turn them back in so others can put them to use.

Three specific businesses in Racine were mentioned during the committee's discussion. Grumpy's on Lathrop Ave., Gerald's in Uptown, and Envi, on Main Street, all received liquor licenses, but have yet to open.

The Public Safety and Licensing Committee will take the matter up at its next meeting and possibly forward a recommendation to the full City Council for a vote.

Mayor Dickert files $6,700 in expenses; Committee says spending is 'clean'

Mayor John Dickert's expense reports aren't raising any eyebrows in City Hall.

The Finance and Personnel reviewed the new mayor's spending habits Monday night and gave him a pass.

The only item that jumped out to the committee was a $1,139 hotel bill for a conference in Providence, R.I. Alderman QA Shakoor II questioned the expense, but City Administrator Tom Friedel explained the mayor simply stayed at the hotel where the conference was being held. It was also noted the June conference - the 2009 U.S. Mayor's Conference - was booked before Dickert was ever elected.

Dickert filed expenses for three meals at the four-day conference. He paid for other mayors' meals at the dinners, which is a common practice when doing business between cities. In exchange, other cities' mayors bought Dickert dinners.

Other trips Dickert expensed include:
  • the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, Quebec, June 16-19;
  • the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Conference in Seattle, Oct. 1-3;
  • lobbying trip to Washington D.C., Oct. 14-18;
  • Alliance of Cities Conference in Appleton, Oct. 14-15;
  • U.S. Mayor's Conference, Boston, Nov. 18-20;
  • Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, Chicago, Dec. 10-11;
  • U.S. Mayor's Conference, Jan. 20-22.
Dickert's expenditures on the six-month report totaled $6,731.49.

Alderman Jim Spangenberg, chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee, said Dickert's report was "clean." He added the committee was largely reviewing the mayor's expenditure reports because of some "questionable" spending decisions by former Mayor Gary Becker.

The Finance and Personnel Committee will again review Dickert's expenditures in six months.


RUSD approves teachers' contract by 7-0 vote

Keri Hanstedt, Unified's employee relations manager,
and Alan Harris, deputy superintendent


With no dissent, and barely 20 minutes of explanation and discussion, the Racine Unified School Board ratified a two-year contract with the Racine Education Association.

The vote was 7-0 in favor, with board treasurer Don J. Nielsen abstaining. Teachers had approved the contract by 97% on Thursday.

In the few remarks they made prior to voting on board vice president Sue Kutz's motion for ratification, members had only praise, although Julie McKenna, who voted against the district's last contract with its teachers, did say, "I realize some in the community will be dissatisfied we didn't go for zero percent," as opposed to the 1.4% and 1.5% salary hikes in the new agreement. You can read the contract here.

Dennis Wiser called the contract's attempt to offer a comparable benefit package to teachers "a very important step," one that needs to be continued throughout the district.

Pamala Handrow, recognized that the district has "a way to go" regarding student achievement, but said the contract's "language reflects a concerted effort to concentrate on students."

Kutz said it shows "a collaborative working together to improve student achievement. The organizational culture of the district is changing."

That, in fact, was the over-riding message of much of the meeting, as the board heard from Alan Harris, who became deputy superintendent in October, explain the process the district is going through to implement its North Star Journey, the district-wide plan for school improvement. Harris illustrated the plan with a metaphor, a map of the United States during the Civil War, showing the various "Underground Railroad routes to freedom."

The district has a goal, he said, not a uniform plan for every school.

Dr. James Shaw, RUSD superintendent, left, went further, agreeing that the district will treat all schools the same while realizing they each have different needs. "That's a change for us," he said, noting that he hopes to change the negative perception that "we're from Central Office and we're here to help."

While the new contract does provide pay hikes for teachers, and payments for those at the top of the experience scale, Shaw, board members and Keri Hanstedt, employee relations manager, stressed that what's important is the focus on improving education. "It addresses school reform and the North Star," Hanstedt said. "I'm very proud of this agreement." When asked befire the vote what might happen if it were rejected, she said, "I would be concerned." Arbitration, she said, would include comparisons with districts "that aren't having as much financial difficulty" as Unified. This is the district's first contract since the QEO law was repealed, and nobody was eager test the results of arbitration.

Said Shaw, "The focus is on compensation," but the agreement has major language to move us toward the North Star. There's language in the contract supporting teachers to have time to look at data, to improve instruction, to help each other."

The only negative opinion offered came during the public input session of the meeting, when Jim Morrison of the Racine Taxpayers Association passionately urged the board not to approve the contract, but rather to take 90 days to study it. Referring to the district's newly announced plans for major "reinvestment" -- referendums for the construction of new schools -- Morrison said that would be "trying to breathe life into a dead horse" if the contract were approved.

The district "is on shaky ground" with the reinvestment program, Morrison said. "If you want to create an earthquake, then go ahead."

January 24, 2010

Having some fun reminding us (ugh) of tax time...


Every year, as income tax season approaches, Liberty Tax Services stations people in flowing Statue of Liberty costumes on street corners near their offices. The people Liberty hires don't just stand there, they dance and sing, wave and smile, run back and forth, wave the flag and their signs, and engage any passersby caught glancing their way.

The closer April 15 gets, the less likely I am to be amused. And on truly cold days -- when, Liberty has assured me in the past, their people are outside only for a few minutes at a time -- I get positively angry, no matter how bundled up they are.

But Saturday was in the 40s, and the crew outside Liberty's office at 1504 State Street, was hopping with energy -- dancing, running back and forth, engaging passing motorists and frequently earning a horn toot of approval. They were wasted there on that sidewalk; they shoulda been in showbiz. And all for just $7.50 an hour, four hours a day. For the next two months.

Let's hope the weather stays warm a bit longer... for their sake, if for nothing else.

Corey Harris, 17

Ricky Isom, 39

Devon Wiggs, 17

Marathon man: a 24-hour-stint making soup bowls

Jeff Shawhan with two unglazed bowls of the type he'll make;
the larger display bowls will be sold as part of the fund-raiser

Most of us know Jeff Shawhan as an artist who works in clay and displays (and sells) his work at Elements Gallery at 409 Sixth St. We also know him as a champion snow and ice sculptor. Meanwhile, he also has a day job, teaching in the art department of Concordia College for the past 13 years.

In two weeks he'll take on another role -- I'm not really sure what to call it -- pledging to stand in his gallery's front window for 24 hours straight, and make soup bowls for this year's Empty Bowls fund-raiser.

Empty Bowls takes place on March 1. For $15, guests receive a hand-crafted soup bowl and their choice of freshly made (and delicious!) soups and breads. All profits are donated to the Racine County Food Bank and the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization shelter.

Each year -- the event began in 1997 and raised more than $14,000 last year -- hundreds of hungry guests descend on the Masonic Center, 1012 Main St. And they're picky and choosy -- both about the soups they consume, and the hand-made bowls they take home.

This year, hundreds of the bowls will be made by Shawhan, in just 24 hours, starting at 5 p.m. on Feb. 12. He figures he can "throw" a bowl on his potter's wheel in about two minutes. He'll have some help from volunteers, who'll prepare the balls of clay for each bowl. But from that point on, all the work is in Jeff's hands.

He'll throw bowls for an hour at a time, and then -- after the clay has dried enough --
turn them over and create the "foot" which keeps the bowl upright. Once the bowls are completed they must be left for a day or so to dry. Shawhan will fire them, 100 at a time, in his kiln at Concordia. That takes another 24 hours: 12 hours baking, and another 12 hours to cool down. Then he'll apply colorful glazes to each bowl and fire them again, at 2300 degrees, to turn the glaze and clay into non-porous glass. Voila! Beautiful soup bowls.

But the real question is this: Can he really stay awake for 24 hours straight to make the bowls? Shawhan says he can. "When I'm snow-sculpting, I'll work for 24 hours straight," he says. He did just that on Monument Square the week before Christmas, when he won second prize in DRC's snow carving competition. He started helping set up the affair early Saturday morning, and continued working on his own sculpture all through the night. "I sat in my car for an hour in the middle of the night and contemplated closing my eyes..." he says. This weekend, he'll compete in a snow-carving competition in Kohler.

Jeff says he'll stand on a comfortable mat and have plenty of Ibuprofen and energy drinks on hand during the bowl-making marathon. He's looking forward to the event for another reason: He's not a production potter -- see some of his work here -- so the non-stop stint will be "nice and peaceful -- I won't have to think. But I don't know about the 23rd hour ... whether I'll feel relaxed then." In the meantime, he's set one additional task for himself: to look up in the Guinness Book of World Records whether someone has claimed the bowl-making marathon title. "If it's just a few hours more..." he muses.

Empty Bowls takes place on March 1 at the Masonic Center, with servings from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. The cost for "a simple meal of soup, bread and beverage" -- and a hand-made bowl to keep -- is $15 for adults. Kids younger than 10 eat for $5; soup to go is $7. Servers include many local officials and politicians.

So, you want to be Hugh Hefner for a day...

Painted Muse provides photographers a unique photo shoot

Boomers of my generation grew up through their testosterone-fueled adolescence believing there was no luckier man in America than Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, whose job (this is work?) was to photograph beautiful women. Naked beautiful women.

The decades pass by so quickly, the internet has made Playboy largely irrelevant, but the dream lives on... And is sometimes satisfied.

Come with me to Northwestern Avenue, behind the clock tower in the old Horlick Malted Milk factory complex. There, models and photographers -- mostly amateurs with day jobs -- came together Saturday for a day of fun and photography. Was there nudity? Yes, but it was tasteful nudity enhanced by colorful and imaginative body painting.

Jon Wenger shows Katrina Folberg the pictures he took

Let me stress from the outset that no hanky-panky ensued. One of the models, Katie Hutchins, 20, of Rockford -- a gorgeous 20-year-old blonde wearing, if that's the right word, a see-thru halter top and a Paris Hilton pout -- even brought her mother, Stacy Bradley, to the photoshoot. Mom said she was there not as a chaperone, but to provide support as her daughter tries to break into the modeling business: "This is my first time seeing her posing. I think it's beautiful, seeing her in motion. I'm very proud.,"

Still, this is not a PG story, so all you prudes should go elsewhere.

For me, the event began about 1 p.m., when I opened the door and walked into a big open space filled with about two dozen mostly male photographers and an equal number of models, mostly female. At first glance, most of the models were wearing elaborate costumes: for example, an elaborate black and gold Art Deco outfit, an African costume, a tiger skin, a baseball uniform, a red and white striped Teddy. It was only upon closer examination that you saw that most of the "costumes" were ... body paint! The stylists and models had arrived about 9 a.m. to begin a transformation that, in some cases took hours.

Amy Anderson strikes a sultry pose for photographer

Yes, it was a tough job, interviewing and photographing nearly naked beautiful women, but I persevered...


"I'm an artist. Your rules don't apply" said the t-shirt worn by Kat Beringer, a body painter and makeup artist from Chicago who was painting the face and torso of Jeanie, a 26-year-old model from Milwaukee, who stood patiently in shorts -- and nothing else. Jeanie, like some of the models present, didn't want her real name used.

Tatiana Zierath-Visintainer, 34, a model from the Twin Cities, stood virtually nude for about two hours, as Dawn Marie Svanoe, a professional body artist from Madison, transformed her into a colorful jester.

"It's all about making it as flattering as possible. It's not just about sex," said Svanoe, "It's an art form. It's an honor to paint this young lady... and when I'm done, I want her to be proud to put the pictures up in her house." Tatiana, who models "alternative, gothic, nude and bondage," said, "I'm hoping one day to get some money out of this."

Katrina Folberg, 20, from Cedarburg, a pre-med student painted into a baseball-like uniform (well, a crop top and short shorts) said she was there just to help photographers build their portfolios.

"Little Alice," as she calls herself, was painted to resemble a deer -- "it's an Okapi, an Amazon deer, my favorite animal," she said. "I just picked it out." Her body was painted by Gerald Mews of Westville, a full-time makeup artist, and included antlers made of small twigs stuck into two hairstyle buns at the top of her head. It was an artistic depiction, and she stayed in character, holding her hands like little hooves for picture after picture. She was deeply into the performance, but planned, after a couple of hours to wash it off and re-emerge as something totally different.

The 4,200 sq. ft. studio space -- one big room, high ceilings, brick walls, high windows -- had half a dozen makeup artists, hair stylists and body painters along one wall, with the rest of the space divided up into nine photo studios, each with an uncluttered backdrop and studio lights in large, 7-ft. reflectors. The photographers each had a little device mounted to their digital camera's flash shoe, a "Pocket Wizard" ($169 from Amazon.com) that wirelessly triggered each studio's flash. Given the equipment, lighting and beautiful models, it was hard to take a truly bad picture. And if you did, many photographers were willing to provide advice and assistance.

The day went like this: A model would offer to pose, and half a dozen photographers, in turn, would direct her movements and shoot as many pictures as desired. When done, the next photographer would step up. Sometimes, two or three models would pose together. Multiple shoots were going on simultaneously.

Most of the models said they participated for the fun of it, and to build up their portfolios. Amy Anderson, 23, a psychology major from Elgin -- a redhead painted in zebra stripes who models with a band -- said events like Saturday's bring out "My crazy wild side. I'm untamed, solitary, free."

Faith Enfire -- not her real name, she said, because she works in a bank "and they wouldn't appreciate this" -- is 28, and enjoys competing with the 19-year-olds. She just wanted to get published. "My goal is to get one print out of this," in a magazine or on a flyer.

Wearing a red-and-white-striped Teddy and posing for sexy pin-ups was Debra Schneiderwind, of Mt. Horub, who confessed that she'll turn 42 "at the end of January." Her day job is that of dental lab technician -- "I make teeth," she said. Dina Osterberg, 27 of Chicago, said she's been modeling since she was 21. "I work in accounting," she said. "This is something I do for fun."

Some of the photographers were professionals -- Jon Wenger of Roscoe, IL, for example, is a full-time fashion photographer, and Mike Crouse of Spring Grove, IL, a real estate appraiser, calls himself a semi-professional photog who does portraits, sports and cars. But most were amateurs; all said their wives or girlfriends knew what they were doing Saturday, but at least two told me, "she doesn't approve."

Most of the models are registered for work with the Model Mayhem website, "where professional models meet professional photographers." Saturday's event was put on by Painted Muse Productions, which creates events "to encourage artistic design, fun, and networking opportunities for the Midwestern glamour scene." The two men who run Painted Muse are a photographer from Kenosha (who, after this article was published decided he didn't want his name or image used) and Adam. Baker. "We try to provide something unique to shoot," said Mr. Now-Anonymous.

The two dozen or so photographers who participated each paid $150 for the day. Models were not paid, but pictures are jointly owned by the models and photographers. The hairstylists and makeup artists are paid.

The best way to hear about events like this is to become a member of the three Meetup.com photography groups in the Milwaukee area. The Painted Muse workshop was held at Michael Lee LaPointe's studio behind the clock tower off Northwestern Avenue. Studio MLP often holds free meetup workshops; I attended a very down-to-earth, helpful one last week on portrait lighting. The next one is Feb. 27 on digital camera basics. It, too, is free.

Jeanie near the start of her transformation by Kat Beringer

Debra Schneiderwind in full pin-up photo mode

Angelica Georgites of Madison, in full body paint by Dawn Marie Svanoe

Faith Enfire says the bank where she works 'wouldn't appreciate this'

Kristen Casey, 20, of Rochester, made up as an African Mother Nature

Katie Hutchins is trying to break into modeling

Little Alice, as an African deer

Founders Rotary Club sends shelter to Haiti

Aid for the victims of Haiti's earthquake has come from all over the world.

And from Racine.

Racine's Founders Rotary Club -- named after Paul P. Harris, founder of Rotary International who was born here -- raised $6,000 in two weeks to provide six "shelter boxes" to Haiti. Each of the boxes provides shelter, water, purification and other essential supplies to at least ten people.

Shelterboxes are usually packed with a ten-person tent (and sometimes with two). Other items can include insulated sleeping mats and thermal blankets, water purification tablets, water purification kits, water containers/carriers, a trenching shovel, a multi-fueled cook stove, eating utensils and plates, a childrens' activity kit and other essential items. More details here.

Rotary International has committed to supplying 3,300 shelter boxes -- shelter and equipment for 33,000 people.

Shelter Box grew out of a grass roots effort in 2000 from a Rotary Club in the Great Britain, and it has grown to be an international effort with heavy involvement from Rotary International. The Rotary Southeast Wisconsin district put the challenge out to each club to give to the Haitian relief effort via shelterboxes. Racine's two other Rotary clubs -- Downtown and Rotary West -- are also planning to send shelterboxes to Haiti.

The 80-menber Founders Club supports projects and provides resources primarily to local organizations. The club's upcoming fund-raiser is Vegas Night, providing games like poker, blackjack and roulette on Feb. 13, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Festival Hall. Money raised supports Racine Youth Sports, Camp Anokijig, Boy Scouts, and other worthy causes.

Founders meets at 7 a.m. on Fridays at the Meadowbrook Country Club, 2149 N. Green Bay Rd.