February 6, 2010

You Can Help! Local volunteer opportunities

I met someone this week, who, like so many people in Racine, was looking for a job. He had interesting strategy, though. Along with networking, looking on the Internet and filling out resumes he had three regular volunteering jobs. He figured with free time during the day, and a chance to build skills while helping out local nonprofits, volunteering was not only a helping activity, it was a good career move. It seems to be paying off. He had one interview this week and his eye on 3-4 more jobs that look promising. Part of the success, he said, came from volunteering.

Looking to give your job search a boost? Or a chance to help out in Racine County? Here's this week's Volunteer Opportunities from the Volunteer Center of Racine County:

The American Red Cross First Aid Service Team (FAST) is a group of volunteers trained in first aid and CPR that provides immediate care for illnesses and injuries at community events. All training is provided free of charge as well as free entrance and parking at events. All you need to do is be available to staff a minimum of 25 hours at events during the season.

The Racine Public Library, 75 7th Street, has openings for individuals interested in assisting library patrons with the new self-checkout machine. Volunteers will greet, direct, and help individuals as they learn the new system. The hours are flexible, 2-3 hours per shift. Training and parking reimbursement are offered.

Individuals who are 21 or older are encouraged to volunteer 3-6 hours per month serving in the role of Volunteer Guardian. Guardians are appointed by Probate Court to make sound and dignified decisions for individuals unable to do so for themselves. Clients may include the physically or developmentally disabled or elderly. Applicants will be required to fill out an application and pass a background check.

Those 18 and older are invited to become part of the Senior Services Volunteer Companion program through the Aging and Disability Resource Network. Individuals provide a few hours per week relief to in-home care givers. Complete training and support is provided. A little bit of your time and compassion will benefit those who give non-stop care!

The Intergenerational Fairs is an ongoing program in cooperation with RSVP. Fair organizers need YOU to help keep this 20 year plus tradition alive. If you are over 55 and you have a hobby you would like to share with elementary aged school children several times per year, please call. In this age of computers and technology, hand crafts and hobbies are a novelty. Share your talents. The kids love it!

The Racine Zoological Society, 200 Goold Street, is looking for volunteers to assist with stocking and straightening merchandise, cleaning windows, shelves and displays. Must be able to work well with children. Would like to have 2 volunteers May through September starting on weekends. References required.

If you are interested in any of the listed volunteer opportunities or others on file at the Volunteer Center of Racine County, call 262-886-9612 or toll free (Racine County only) at 1-800-201-9490 or email us at volunteer@volunteercenterofracine.org or visit our web site at www.volunteercenterofracine.org. Office hours are weekday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 6216 Washington Avenue, Suite G.

February 5, 2010

Turner's bill on vets' cemetery theft becomes law

Among 11 bills Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law Thursday was one introduced by Rep. Robert Turner of Racine. Turner issued the following press release today:
State Representative Robert Turner (D-Racine) announced today that Governor Doyle has signed Assembly Bill 376 into law. Rep. Turner introduced the bill to help eliminate the growing problem of the theft of veterans’ bronze cemetery markers. “This has been an escalating problem that needed a fix,” said Rep. Turner.

Under current law, a court must order a person who is convicted of a crime to pay restitution to any victim of the crime, unless the court finds substantial reason not to order restitution. Assembly Bill 376 requires that a person who is convicted of theft of a veteran’s cemetery marker must reimburse the cost to replace the markers to the cemetery from which it was taken.

“I find it extremely disrespectful and disappointing that people will stoop to the level of stealing bronze markers from the graves of our veterans,” Turner said. “By virtue of this legislation, at least they will have to pay to replace the marker if they are convicted of the theft.”

Turner’s bill is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Wisconsin Cemetery and Cremation Association. The bill will become effective within two weeks.

February 4, 2010

City's closed meeting violating state guidelines?

The agenda for a closed session involving the city's Executive Committee tonight does not specifically mention what the committee will discuss. The omission may violate a ruling from the state Attorney General on closed meetings.

The agenda reads:
Communication from the City Administrator wishing to convene in closed session to discuss with the Executive Committee, and to confer with legal counsel, concerning strategy with respect to litigation in which the City of Racine is or is likely to become involved.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice's 2007 Open Meetings Compliance Guide reads (emphasis added):
b. Closed session
The notice provision in Wis. Stat. § 19.84(2) requires that if the chief presiding officer or the officer’s designee knows at the time he or she gives notice of a meeting that a closed session is contemplated, the notice must contain the subject matter to be considered in closed session. Such notice “must contain enough information for the public to discern whether the subject matter is authorized for closed session under § 19.85(1).” Buswell, 2007 WI 71, ¶ 37 n.7. The Attorney General has advised that notice of closed sessions must contain the specific nature of the business, as well as the exemption(s) under which the chief presiding officer believes a closed session is authorized. 66 Op. Att’y Gen. 93, 98. Merely identifying and quoting from a statutory exemption does not reasonably identify any particular subject that might be taken up thereunder and thus is not adequate notice of a closed session. Weinschenk Correspondence, December 29, 2006; Anderson Correspondence, February 13, 2007. In State ex rel. Schaeve v. Van Lare, 125 Wis. 2d 40, 47, 370 N.W.2d 271 (Ct. App. 1985), the court held that a notice to convene in closed session under Wis. Stat. § 19.85(1)(b) “‘to conduct a hearing to consider the possible discipline of a public employee’” was sufficient.
The Executive Committee may be in the clear, though, following a ruling last year by District Attorney Mike Nieskes. Read a recap of the last challenge to an Executive Committee meeting here.

Update: I talked with City Administrator Tom Friedel this afternoon. He disagreed with our interpretation of the open records law, and, to be fair, the Racine County District Attorney appears to agree with him.

Friedel said the city is being specific when it says it plans to meet "concerning strategy with respect to litigation in which the City of Racine is or is likely to become involved." The city doesn't want to get more specific because it doesn't want to tip its hand and give the opposition an advantage in court.

Speaking on behalf of the state's "Sunshine Laws," we'd argue the city needs to at least reference the case it intends to meet on. It has every right to meet privately to discuss strategy, it just needs to say what it's going to meet privately about.

We really don't post these items to make city government "look bad." Everybody here seems to be acting reasonably. We just believe government functions best when it gives as much information as possible. In this case, we believe more specifics were needed on the Executive Committee's agenda.

Update 2: The meeting was canceled

NAACP, led by Shields, fires at Mayor Dickert

Two days after Mayor John Dickert gaveled down Alderman Michael Shields at a City Council meeting, the local NAACP fired off a press release accusing the mayor of "cronyism."

Shields is president of the NAACP's local chapter.

Here's the press release:

Since last May’s Mayoral Election, our present Mayor and his activities related to the governance of Racine have been closely monitored by the Racine Branch NAACP. The need for this monitoring is based on the dark night this City has recently emerged from. Couple this with the inherent goals of the NAACP to “ …ensure equal rights, treatment, and access to government for all people regardless of race, creed, color or sexual orientation monitoring the Mayors actions is view not only as wise but responsible as citizens and taxpayers. In this light, the NAACP views the Mayors most recent action in hiring a questionable PIO (Public Information Officer) as an unwarranted repudiation of inclusive and responsible governance.

By bypassing the hiring process in place, the Mayor seems to convey a growing parental view of his responsibilities. Whether it’s the granting of access to Public Land to individuals of questionable backgrounds; or the decision and then hiring of a political ally to burnish Racine’s image. This Mayor has demonstrated again his distaste for the rules and regulations of fair, open and honest government.

Gaveling down reasonable questions does not remove the fact: This Mayor and his group of associate’s grand plan contain the provisions to further the divisions within this city. Be those divisions racial, economic or social, the message being conveyed to the public is clear: “Unless you agree with us, we don’t care what your input is, we know what’s best for you," The NAACP asks the question, what is the difference from the last administration?

The Racine Branch NAACP in keeping with its historic traditions of opposition against racism, sexism and backroom government goes on the record as firmly opposing the manner in which the PIO position was filled.

Dickert said at Tuesday night's City Council meeting that he wanted to hire a local candidate for the new PIO position. Mark Eickhorst, a former newspaper reporter, City Council member and current radio show host, met the qualifications for the $25,000 contract, Dickert said.

While Shields challenged the mayor's hiring decision, he was the only one. The council voted 14-1 in favor of hiring Eickhorst.

February 3, 2010

Proposed West Racine grocery store, gas station faces Monday deadline

Jim Spangenberg, Nicole Loop, Brian O'Connell, John Crimmings and Jean Wolfgang
at Wednesday's RDA meeting.

Developer Tom Tousis has until Monday at 4:30 p.m. to pay the city $5,000 or he'll lose an option on the West Racine site where he intends to build a grocery store, restaurant and gas station.

The city's Redevelopment Authority voted 3-2 to set the Monday deadline after Tousis missed a Jan. 16 deadline to make the payment. Tousis withheld payment after discovering a pipe on the property, located at Washington Avenue and West Boulevard, ran through the middle of his proposed building.

The standoff is based around the complicated, and distrustful, relationship between Tousis and city officials. Tousis claims the city has worked against his project, most recently, by not telling him about a stormwater pipe that runs through the property.

On the flip side, city officials are mystified by Tousis' unwillingness to meet deadlines and follow through on a development he's spent $30,000 on to this point.

Assistant City Attorney Nicole Loop said, legally, Tousis is in breach of contract for failing to pay the $5,000 on time.

"I'm at a loss of where this is coming from," she said.

"If he'd set out to complicate a matter, he couldn't have done a better job," O'Connell added about Tousis.

But the RDA was unwilling to kill Tousis' project Wednesday. Alderman Jim Spangenberg, an outspoken opponent of the proposal, moved to end Tousis' option on the land, but the motion died because no one else seconded the motion.

Cory Mason, a member of the RDA, then sifted through the issue and came up with a proposal to give Tousis until Monday to pay. Spangenberg then moved to set the deadline until Friday, but his amendment was defeated 3-2. The Monday deadline then passed 3-2, with RDA Chairman John Crimmings, Mason and Scott Terry voting in favor. Spangenberg and Robert Ledvina voted against the proposal.

It's unclear what Tousis will do next. He's deposited $5,000 with Landmark Title with the intention of releasing the money to the city when he gets a reliable survey on the West Racine site.

But the RDA made it clear Wednesday Tousis needs to pay the money directly to the city. If he doesn't, the option is dead and the project won't move forward.

"I really don't think he's going to come with the money," Spangenberg said. "I think he's afraid he's going to lose the money."

Karen Sorensen (left), who represented Tousis at the meeting, said the project is at a standstill until the city presents them with a survey showing all easements on the site.

"We never dreamed there was information that we didn't know," she told the RDA.

RDA approves community garden on Marquette Street

RUGN's map of its proposed community garden at 734 Marquette St.

As director of city development, Brian O'Connell's job doesn't usually involve agreeing not to develop land. But on O'Connell's recommendation, the city's Redevelopment Authority agreed to do just that Wednesday.

The RDA approved the Racine Urban Garden Network's ambitious plan to create a community garden on just over an acre of land at 734 Marquette St. The committee gave the new non-profit organization a five-year lease on the property, which effectively takes it off the market through 2015.

O'Connell admitted during Wednesday's meeting he usually doesn't support community gardens on land set aside for development. But he said the down economy and RUGN's well thought out plan convinced him a garden would be a good fit on the Marquette Street site.

"I feel confident we can work with them," he said.

Kandy Meyers and Nikki Aiello, of RUGN, presented the community garden plan to the RDA. Meyers said the site will lease out up to 80 plots on a sliding scale and include a food pantry plot, roadside garden beds, a dog walk area and a rain garden to collect stormwater runoff.

Under the lease with the RDA, which is the technical owner of the property, RUGN will take over the site "as is," O'Connell said. If the nonprofit secures a conditional-use permit for the garden, which shouldn't be a problem, its first task will be test soil on the site for contaminants. If the soil is dirty, RUGN will fill raised garden beds with soil trucked into the site.

Another challenge is water for the garden plots. There's no water hookup to the property, which means gardeners will have to carry in their own or rely on rain. Aiello and Meyers said they'll use rain barrels and other tanks to get water to the site.

RDA members approved the garden unanimously. It now goes to the City Council for final approval.

RUGN is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting gardening in the Racine area. The nonprofit's website says:
RUGN seeks to promote a strong gardening effort in the Racine area, and to create a network of resources and education to improve sustainable gardening and farming. RUGN will serve as a central point to connect individuals and organizations that each have visions for their own gardens, and to find available land and resources for people to start gardening projects. The goal is to facilitate communication amongst all who have the initiative to start a garden.

February 2, 2010

Gypsy moth spraying weighed; meeting on Feb 15

The Journal Sentinel reports today that state and local officials are planning to spray some trees in four counties -- one of them being Racine -- this spring, in hopes of stopping the gypsy moth infestation.

A meeting on Racine County's spraying is scheduled for Feb. 15, at 5 p.m., at the County's Ives Grove office, 14200 Washington Ave., Sturtevant.

So far, the only area listed for spraying is 42 acres from Graceland Cemetery east to Blaine Avenue. See map below, from the Department of Natural Resources website.

Two judicial candidates raise $37,000 so far

The two candidates running for the Racine County Circuit Court judicial seat to be vacated by the retiring Stephen Simanek filed campaign finance reports yesterday, as required.

With two months to go before the April 6 election, here's what they've raised:
Gene Gasiorkiewicz reported $24,942 in contributions, including $2,000 from himself and his wife and a $10,000 in-kind personal loan. Expenditures have been $13,287.

Georgia Herrera reports $12,745 in contributions, including $3,500 from herself. Expenditures have been $6,082.
Both reports are on the Wisconsin Campaign Finance Information System website.

Journal Times denies Racine police request for fire photos

The Racine Police Department is seeking a subpoena to obtain photos the The Journal Times took of a fire that left a mother and her child dead.

Police Chief Kurt Wahlen had asked the JT to provide all the pictures it took of the August 2006 apartment building fire on Durand Avenue, including those not published. Following JT policy, Editor Steve Lovejoy declined the request.

The exchange between Lovejoy and Wahlen raises interesting, long-standing questions about the newspaper's role in the community. Does the JT, which serves as Racine's primary source for news, exist as an integral part of the community? Or is it a dispassionate observer of events more focused on business than community?

To be fair, the answer likely lies somewhere in between. But Wahlen lays bare the JT's shortcomings in its zest to cover (and profit from) crime, while at the same time removing itself from the story with a simple recitation of journalistic principles.

Here's Wahlen's letter to Lovejoy:
Steve: We have come a long ways. A while back I reviewed the photos from the Tina Davidson homicide which occurred in 1973. The JT did the photography work for us. (It would have been nice if the JT would have taken a few more photos too.) Now I find that you do not wish to be considered an arm of law enforcement and will not relinquish possible evidentiary photos without a subpoena.

What happened to taking a stand for what is right and doing the right thing? It is interesting to note that the JT makes a profit off violence in our community, yet it backs away from assisting our community with addressing violence. As for fear of retaliation, I am thankful for the few brave souls in our city who have had enough and stand up to those who would keep them locked in their homes. They live in close proximity to those you fear and yet are willing to take a stand and do what is right.

The photos I requested concern the untimely death of a mother and her daughter in a fire. Should you not be on the side of justice for these victims? If you are going to make a living from reporting violence in our community, you should likewise take a stand against it.

We will seek the subpoena.


And here is Lovejoy's response to Wahlen's initial request for the photos, which ostensibly would help the PD's investigation of the fatal fire:

We’re always glad to cooperate when we can but we do not release unpublished photos or videos to police agencies unless they are subpoenaed. We do not want our reporters and photographers being viewed as arms of law enforcement and possibly subjected to danger.

Give me a call if you would like to discuss it.

Steve Lovejoy

I was working as the JT's city editor at the time of the 2006 fire, and recall the newspaper publishing a number of photos both in the newspaper and on the website of the tragic blaze. I'm pretty sure the JT's photo staff won awards for their coverage of the event.

At the time, no doubt I would have supported Lovejoy's stance. Reporters can lose the trust of the public if they are seen as agents of the law. But now, a few years removed from corporate journalism - and firmly enmeshed in community journalism - I find myself siding with Wahlen in this particular instance. Why wouldn't the newspaper help investigate this crime? What do they have to gain from not helping?

I remember former editor Randy Brandt coming up with an elegant solution to a similar situation. He had the photo staff publish all of its photos from a crime scene on the website. It met the newspaper's guidelines for only turning over published photos, and allowed police to review all of the images.

In this particular case, it's unclear what photos the JT would have left from the Durand Avenue fire. But there doesn't seem to be much upside in keeping any unpublished images hidden, simply because police asked for them.

The bigger issue for the JT is an urgent need to rethink its role in the community. The paper spends relatively little time challenging people in power - including the police department - compared to its aggressive retelling of people's crimes and shortcomings. The paper would do well to focus on helping people in need and challenging the people who aren't meeting those needs.

Interestingly, one of the JT's best community-minded journalists is Mark Hertzberg, the paper's tireless photo director who has spent years working to improve the city and its image. Hertzberg's career is the JT's best response to Wahlen's accusations; it's also a model for everyone else at the newspaper to follow.

Until the paper reviews its role in the community, and makes needed changes, it's susceptible to questions about its motivation. Here's a letter to the editor I wrote to the paper on Jan. 25, but was not published:
Dear Editor,

I read with interest your coverage of SC Johnson's new Fortaleza Hall in Sunday's paper. The impressive new building on SCJ's historic campus is a remarkable architectural accomplishment and a monumental tribute to the late, great Sam Johnson. The story explained the project well and the photos were, as usual, superb.

However, I found a surprising omission in the coverage. At no point did the story report that a large portion of SC Johnson's new building is exempt from property taxes. The corporation found a loophole in state law that allowed Gov. Jim Doyle to sign an executive order exempting Fortaleza Hall from property taxes. The Journal Times itself reported this fact on May 23, 2009, noting SC Johnson was the only corporation in the state to receive such an exemption. But this detail, which will cost local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, was left out of the celebratory story announcing the building to the public.

The Journal Times does itself no favors in securing "exclusive" tours with SC Johnson CEO Fisk Johnson, and then failing to recount its own reporting on questionable public policy that will benefit a multi-billion dollar corporation at the expense of local taxpayers. Either The Journal Times left out the information as part of a deal for the exclusive tour, or simply forgot to include critical piece of back story to Fortaleza Hall. Neither possibility speaks well for our daily paper, which once again failed to report on Racine's rich and powerful with the same vigor they relay the crimes and shortcomings of our city's downtrodden. The Journal Times can, and must, do better.

Dustin Block

February 1, 2010

Preserving history: City may catalog its artifacts

The city of Racine may soon begin cataloging its historic items to prevent them from disappearing.

The City Council is scheduled to take up an ordinance (read here) Tuesday night that would protect Racine's "historic artifacts." The ordinance would apply to any city-owned objects, but not to any real estate.

An example of where the ordinance would have been useful is in protecting eight Civil War cannons that were once placed on Monument Square. The cannons disappeared and no one knows where they're located, said Eric Marcus, chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

More modern examples - where the ordinance could actually go into affect - include the Karel Jonas statue on Douglas Avenue and the historic paintings that hang in City Hall, he said.

Under the ordinance, the Landmarks Preservation Commission would compile a list of historic city-owned objects that are over 50 years old. The City Council would review the list and, within 60 days, vote to remove an object from the catalog of historic items. After 60 days, the items would be protected, essentially, forever.

Private owners could also submit items for the list, but the city cannot compel a private owner to include an item. For example, Gateway Technical College's Mary Todd Lincoln statute could not be included on the list unless Gateway approached the city and asked for it to be included. (The ordinance includes a specific provision directing the commission to work with Gateway, Racine Unified, and county and state governments to expand protection to their historic objects.)

Marcus described the city's historic objects as the "fabric of Racine" that's slowly disappeared over the years. He noted the urns outside of Winslow School, city bubblers, and countless others items have been lost.

"We need to take a proactive step so this does not happen again," he said.

Brian O'Connell, director of city development, told the commission he hasn't heard objections to the proposed ordinance from city departments or aldermen.

Alderman Bob Anderson said he expected the ordinance to pass.

"Any controversy will be on what's included on the list," he said.

Update: The City Council voted Monday (Feb. 3) to send this ordinance to the Finance and Personnel Committee for further consideration. The committee will consider the proposal Feb. 10.

Whitman honored for over 20 years service on Landmarks Preservation Commission

For the first time in over a decade, there's a new chairman of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Long-time Chairwoman Mary Whitman recently resigned from the commission after serving over 20 years as an appointed member. She was elected chairwoman in 1999.

Whitman will be replaced as head of the commission by Eric Marcus, who was elected chairman on Monday night. Robert Hartmann was elected vice chairman.

Marcus is running for the Racine City Council this spring. He's seeking the open Second District seat being vacated by Alderman Bob Anderson, who also serves on the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Marcus is being challenged by Jameel Ghuari.

After electing Marcus and Hartmann, the commission's first action was to unanimously pass a resolution thanking Whitman for her service to the city.

Other commission members include: Paul Zens, Tony Veranth and Roger Lacock.

Venetian was Racine's finest theatre

The Venetian Theatre in Downtown Racine.
Photo provided by Oak Clearing Farm & Museum

In celebration of Racine's 175th anniversary, RacinePost is running a series of stories about our city's storied history. Today, historian Gerald Karwowski recalls the city's lost treasures - its movie theaters. (As a sidenote, I just learned local theatres used to give out dinnerware to people who went to movies. Imagine going to see Avatar and coming home with a piece of a china!)


By Gerald L. Karwowski

Many of us can remember the good times we had at one or more of Racine’s old theatres. Like the Sunday afternoon double features with three or four cartoons or specials featuring the milking of live cows on stage.

However, few people can recall W.C. Tiede, and his son Charley, showing Cameraphone movies at the College Avenue Orpheum, in the early 1900s, or Flickerless movies at the Crystal as it was called in 1914.

There are some who can recollect days at the Majestic Theatre, (Uptown) when the orchestra would slowly rise into view playing soft music, as a glow of colored light was cast against the huge curtain in the background. Or block long lines, when a hit was playing at the Rialto or Venetian.

The Venetian's screen and stage.

Theatres in downtown Racine included the Bijou, Orpheum, Rialto, Rex, Main Street, Palace, Badger, Racine, Imperial, Strand, White House and Dreamland to name a few.

Also scattered throughout the city were the Capitol, Granada, Crown, Allen, State Douglas, Grand, Princess, Star, two Majestics and more. Many of these date back to when admission was a nickel or a quarter and a whole family could have a night out for less than a dollar.

In the late 1920s “talkies” began to replace silent movies, which sparked the building of new theatres throughout the country. Racine was caught in this whirlwind of theatre-building in 1928, with four new theatres opening within weeks of each other. This were the Granada, April 7, Venetian, April 12, Majestic (Uptown) May 1, and Capital, May 30.

The largest was the Venetian, an atmospheric theatre with a $ 1 million price tag. Plaster art décor in Italian Renaissance design, with statues, enhanced this 2,100 seat showhouse. The north end of the Johnson Building now marks the site where the Venetian stood fronting Monument Square. It was razed in 1977.

Looking south inside the Venetian Theater.

The Majestic (Uptown) opened on Washington Avenue. The 1,500 seat theatre was built by Ernst Klinkert at a cost of over $250,000. Its interior is of Gothic design, some of which is still intact. However, all the seats have been removed and the lower areas were used for storage. The main corridor and lobby still has most of the original plaster art and trim.

Entry way inside the Venetian.

The Capitol, Douglas, Crown and Granada were smaller neighborhood theatres. Each had a seating capacity of about 1,000. They were equipped with stages and theatre organs.

The Granada was built with a Spanish décor inside and out, and was located on Charles Street near Douglas. The theatre was stripped of it 32-foot marquise in the late 1960s, when it was remodeled into a wholesale warehouse.

The Capitol was built in a Italian design and in later years was remodeled into a twin, Capitol 1 and 2 and in November of 1981, Park 1 and 2.

By far Venetian was Racine’s finest theatre with its ornate statues, twinkling ceiling stars and often long waiting lines. Today’s theatres are little more than boxes in comparison to the movie palaces which the city once had.

Venetian being knocked down.

Lehman reports $68,440 in his campaign chest;
Wanggaard has $32,882 in contributions

Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, today reported having $68,440 on hand for his upcoming re-election campaign, in a report submitted to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. The report is due today; so far we have not seen one from Lehman's opponent, County Supervisor Van Wanggaard's is below..

Lehman reported 549 donors contributed an average of $61 each between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2009. He raised $36,583 and spent $3540 during the six months.

Lehman said, “The campaign fundraising is far ahead of where I was four years ago when I defeated County Executive Bill McReynolds. And, with the continued support of friends and neighbors, we’re on track to have the resources to run a strong race again in 2010.” At this point in the 2006 campaign cycle, Lehman said he had roughly $50,000 in the bank, eventually raising and spending about $220,000. McReynolds, raised and spent over $400,000.

“We proved in the past and are prepared to prove it again in 2010 -- a strong grassroots campaign, a proven record of standing up for the middle class, working families, kids and seniors of Racine County and the resources to get our message out can beat big spending Republicans and the special interests,” Lehman said.

UPDATE, 2/1: We found Van Wanggaard's filing online tonight. It reports total contributions of $32,882 and expenditures of $6,587.

In a press release Tuesday, Van Wanggaard reported raising more money in the Senate District than his opponent:
Wanggaard raised $31,382 overall during the last reporting period, while Lehman, with a three-year head start, raised $36,583. More importantly, Wanggaard raised roughly $23,000 in the 21st Senate District, while his opponent only collected around $16,000 from those he represents in Madison. Wanggaard also had more individual donors from the district than Lehman, a sign that his campaign’s grassroots operation is far outpacing the incumbent’s.

Wanggaard touted the fact that 87% of his contributions came from Racine County,
and 91% of his contributors donated $100 or less:

“I am humbled and encouraged that the hard-working men and women of Racine County are digging deep to donate to my campaign. At a time when individuals, families, and small business owners are struggling to make ends meet, those who want to bring fiscal sanity back to state government are offering what they can to support my candidacy.

“I know how tight family budgets are right now, which is why with every contribution that comes my way, I am reminded of the fact that I am running to serve the people of Racine County, and not to serve the powerful special interests that so often control my opponent’s agenda...Senator Lehman played a direct role in shaping last year’s state budget which raised taxes on families and businesses by $5 billion, implemented the “felon early release program,” and jacked up property taxes and auto insurance rates to unprecedented levels."
Other reports filed Monday include:
  • Rep. Robert Turner, D-Racine, 61st District: $36,928 in total receipts; $42,053 in disbursements; a loan of $5,000..
  • Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, 62nd District: $28,203 in total receipts; $16,852 disbursements.
  • Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, 63rd District: $52,566 in total receipts; $19,700 disbursements.

'Connecting the dots' between weatherization and job creation

Gil Sperling, Tom Barrett, John Schmitt, Cory Mason and John Dickert

There are:
  • Millions of energy-inefficient homes.
  • Billions of federal dollars available for weatherization.
  • Meanwhile, Racine's unemployment rate is 15%.
"Connecting the dots between energy efficiency and jobs" -- as Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, put it -- is the goal of proposed legislation rolled out this morning during the first stop of what participating state, local and national officials called the Clean Energy Roadshow.

At a press conference at the Marquette Avenue home of Racine's First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program, Mason, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Racine Mayor John Dickert, John Schmitt, business manager of Local 113, and Department of Energy weatherization official Gil Sperling all sang the same lyrics: The Wisconsin Sustainable Jobs Act that Mason has introduced will provide a framework for weatherizing Wisconsin homes while ensuring that the work goes to newly trained, needy, local workers.

With billions of federal funds available -- Wisconsin expects to receive hundreds of millions and 1.9 million Wisconsin homes would benefit from weatherization -- the number of jobs this could create is substantial, perhaps 6,000. Each newly-weatherized home is estimated to save $460 a year in utility bills.

There is, of course, a catch: It costs about $6,500 to weatherize a home, "and most people don't have $6,500 lying around," as Mason noted. That's where his bill comes in: it would provide no-interest or low-interest loans up to that amount to be spent on weatherization -- "That's what's different and new here." -- with the money to be repaid over time, a little each year added to the homeowner's property tax bill.

There are also requirements aimed at the contractors who do the work -- they must hire local workers, with at least 30 percent coming from the low-income pool, pay them prevailing wages, and they must provide training for them. "Without the training and local-hire provisions," said Mason, "it's a free-for-all."

Thus the three dots are connected. And along with environmental sustainability the revolving loan fund will allow the program to be sustainable over time, Mason said.

Dickert and Barrett -- the latter a Democratic candidate for governor -- seconded his remarks. Dickert noted that Racine took some stimulus dollars and used them to buy LED street lights from RUUD Lighting of Racine, and then hired local IBEW workers to install them., Barrett endorsed the program for both its efficiencies and job goals, but also because "there are no oil wells or coal mines in Wisconsin" and sending energy dollars out of state sends them "to countries that can't stand us."

Mason's bill also allows utilities to use private funds for weatherization, lending the costs to businesses and homeowners, while putting repayment on their utility bills. So far, the bill has two co-sponsors, Democrats James Soletski of Green Bay and Ted Zigmunt of Manitowoc.

Sperling of the Dept. of Energy said "there is nothing more important that we can do than putting people back to work. This will be the largest economic development program the City of Racine has ever seen." He noted that $11.6 billion is available in weatherization and state block grants, but said "trillions and trillions of dollars are needed to make this transformation happen. This will leverage what the private sector does."

Ola Baiyewu, executive director of the Human Capital Development Corp., which runs the First Choice training program, said 127 enrolled and 80 completed the program last year -- with 30 of them finding full-time construction jobs. "That's like full employment in this city," he said, ruefully. The six-week training program is supported by the city, SC Johnson, the United Way, the Racine Community Foundation and the Racine Dominicans. It's been running since 2005, said Baiyewu. "I saw a need for women and minorities to be represented in the building trades." Six of those graduates with construction jobs are women.

While some recent graduates of the training program showed how insulation would be installed in an attic, left, Baiewu said he looked forward to the jobs weatherization funds would provide. "We're not going to train people for non-existent work," he said.

One of those his graduates present for the press conference was Anna Fell, 34, a laborer with Walsh Construction working on the North-South I-94 corridor reconstruction. A former school bus driver who also worked for a company now out of business, Fell says she earns about $20 an hour and is grateful for her training. "You need to learn everything you possibly can, so when the union hall calls with a job you're set to go." She hopes to become a heavy equipment operator.

Vaillancourt named Kenosha Unified's spokesperson

Gary Vaillancourt is the new director of Marketing and Community Relations for Kenosha Unified.

Vaillancourt is a former executive director of Sustainable Racine. He also used to teach fine arts at Horlick High School, hosted the Racine Post Prom TV broadcast for a number of years and was RAMAC's first education director.

Last year, the National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers named Vaillancourt its national high school announcer of the year for his work as an announcer at Horlick.

Vaillancourt started today as KUSD's spokesperson. He replaces an interim public information officer. The district declined to release his salary.

National catamaran races coming to Racine this summer

An F 18 Catamaran like the ones that will race in Racine this summer.

Add another major event to Racine's already crowded summer calendar.

The city will host the U.S. National F-18 Catamaran Sailing Championships this year from Aug. 6-13. The event is expected to attract 60-70 teams from across the U.S., according to a letter Racine Director Bob Sample sent to the Department of Public Works.

The Racine Yacht Club has hosted the event several times, mostly recently in 2006.

All racing will take place within one mile of North Beach and will be visible from the shore. All event activities will be based out of the Racine Yacht Club.

The purpose of Chu's letter was to request use of two city parking lots next to the Racine Yacht Club. The city granted use of the lots in 2006, which worked well for the event.

The national catamaran race joins pro beach volleyball and an Ironman triathalon as major events based around North Beach this summer.

January 31, 2010

The Front Porch: New mentoring program one way to help build community

Do you recall the last time you enjoyed a visit on a front porch? Perhaps you chatted with a neighbor about how to solve a problem on Main Street, or maybe a friend came over to brainstorm about how to launch a new business. It seems to me that a whole lot of good thinking and old fashioned community building takes place on front porches – it’s a nice place to spend some time and sort out next steps.

The front porch is a metaphor we often like to use for the Center for Community Partnerships (CCP) at the University of Wisconsin–Parkside. We strive to be a front porch for the University as community members come for a visit and decide whether to spend a bit of time with students, faculty and staff. Community members may choose to step from our porch into the door of a classroom or conference, or experience some other opportunity our campus has to offer. There are also many instances when our faculty, staff and students step off the porch and venture into the community. A campus community member might engage in a service-learning or research project, provide expertise for a local business or organization, or participate in a collaborative effort to address a regional need like workforce development or educational attainment.

At the CCP, our primary focus areas are nonprofit development, community-based scholarship, continuing education for teachers and other professionals, and community development and diversity issues. In this column, my colleague Debra Karp and I will not only let you know about some innovative programs and opportunities that you can explore at the university and in the community, but also about various resources that are at your fingertips.

The Front Porch will inevitably celebrate significant UW-Parkside grant awards like the $1,000,000 we recently received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to foster nonprofit capacity building, or the $500,000 awarded by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to expand mentoring in middle schools, or the $300,000 from the National Science Foundation to support science teaching efforts, particularly in grades 3 – 8 in urban schools. But more importantly, we will explain what we’re doing with the resources we garner and how you can benefit from and collaborate in the work that takes place.

To be clear, community engagement does not only happen at the CCP. As our new Chancellor Deborah Ford is quick to point out, community engagement is a hallmark at UW-Parkside that permeates throughout the University. In fact, our university wide community engagement efforts have been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation that chose us as the first public post-secondary learning institution in the state to be honored for service-learning and community partnership efforts.

Since community engagement is a university wide priority, this column will also highlight community engagement efforts across campus. You will learn about star-studded teaching and outreach efforts like when our Theatre Arts Department recently earned the first University of Wisconsin Regents Teaching Excellence Award ever bestowed upon an arts department. We might also share news about some nifty global partnerships like when Professor and Fulbright Scholar Jonathan Olsen connects with colleagues in Germany to co-author a book, or when he creates an international learning opportunity for students. Have a chat with Prof. Olsen and he will likely urge you to “Die Welt erleben,” or “Experience the World.”

Yes, there may be some boasting on our front porch just like grandpa used to do, but more importantly, we hope to stimulate thinking and prompt opportunities to meet community needs and spark new partnerships. We won’t just pontificate about building social and economic capital – we’ll do it right here in this column by helping you make connections and provide pieces of information that are relevant and meaningful.

Each column will end with three “Front Porch Rockers” that provide opportunities for you to engage with the University and/or the community. Here are today’s rockers:

Front Porch Rockers

1) Become a Mentor: Mentor Kenosha & Racine is making a big push to recruit mentors for sixth graders in the Racine and Kenosha Unified School Districts. Learn how you can become a mentor at www.mentorkr.org or call (262) 595-2635.

2) Apply for a Nonprofit Capacity Building Grant: Attend the “CAN Works Launch” on February 4 to learn how local nonprofit organizations can get grants and technical support to help to sustain and grow their efforts. Learn more at www.uwp.edu (keyword: nonprofit development) or call (262) 595-2312.

3) Attend a Play: The Theatre Arts Department presents a one act play festival on through Jan. 31 entitled “Delights in Dementia.” Learn more at http://www.uwp.edu/news/newstemp.cfm?storyID=3250 or call (262) 595-2547.

So please pull up a chair, spend some time on your university’s front porch, and let’s see together what problems we can solve, partnerships we can create, and learning and laughter we can enjoy.

Mark Gesner is the Director of Community Development & Dialogues at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Contact him directly at mark.gesner@uwp.edu.