March 6, 2010

Thoughts for Food ... a photo album

Sister act: Sue Shaff and Nancy Burke show off matching wristbands

First an apology: I'm getting too old to spend six hours bar-hopping, so had to miss more than half the 40-odd great bands who donated their talent Saturday night to the 18th annual Thoughts for Food. But those I did see and hear -- albeit briefly -- were terrific, ranging from folk and blues to hard rock (or whatever it's called these days).

The smiles of the sisters above, and the two guys below were genuine; people were having a great time while also doing good. By early in the evening, the Racine County Food Bank already had a truck filled with non-perishable food donated by the concert-goers.

Dan Taivalkoski had a hint this would be a successful event. It came Friday night, at the "all-ages" TFF preliminary concert for teens at the YMCA, where eight bands played for the non-alcoholic set. The gate there was $350 over last year's $725 -- a total of $1,075.

Update: On Sunday morning, Dan reported these preliminary results for Saturday's 18th annual Thoughts for Food:

Paid attendance was 1,189, compared to 1,122 last year. Total attendance, including volunteers and musicians, was 1,549, compared to 1,493 a year ago. Pounds of food collected: 2,696 compared to 2,588 last year.

More contributions are yet to be tallied from some Tavern League members, and a corporate sponsor or two. This year's numbers will grow. The smiles will get bigger -- and most importantly, more hungry people will be fed.

Food Bank's Dan Taivalkoski and George's David Popoff were all smiles

Saturday Night Preachers at the Eagles

Flat Pocket's Al Kosterman reminded everyone that Thoughts for Food
'is all about taking care of people who can't take care of themselves.'

Mean Jake at Chartroom Charlies

Danny Armstrong of Hwy 13 dedicated 'a song for the president.'
Um, it was the Beatles' Back in the USSR

Titus, Rench and Wheary at George's

Joel Thierfelder of Lyden Moon has magic picking fingers

Final Approach was smokin' at Coasters -- no, really!

nikdamit rocked the Rhino Bar

The Crispy Brothers played at the Red Line Tavern

JT's Mark Hertzberg got down and dirty to photograph Mean Jake

March 5, 2010

Thoughts for Food is tonight!

Labeled rocks the house at the Y Friday night

The teenagers came out in force Friday night, as the preliminary event of Thoughts for Food opened at the YMCA. Eight youth bands played their hearts out before an enthusiastic crowd of teens and proud parents.

As with the main event tonight at ten different stages in the neighborhood just north of the Root River each guest bought a ticket with cash and food for the Racine County Food Bank.

Tonight's concerts, featuring nearly 40 different bands -- all donating their services for free -- will take place at George's, the Eagles, Coasters, the Racine Yacht Club, Michigan's Pub, the Red Line Tavern, Chartroom Charlie's, the Rhino Bar and John's Dock. The bars, which donate to TFF as well, are all walking distance from each other on a good night. If you're not sure where any of these watering holes are located, here's a MAP.

Here's the complete schedule, telling who's playing where, and when. The music starts at 7 p.m. and ends at 1 a.m. Most of the bands will play for an hour to seventy-five minutes; the Red Line Tavern is hosting a blues jam, with an opening set and jamming after.

This is the 18th annual Thoughts for Food, so you should know the drill by now: bring $10 and two non-perishable food items to donate; put on your yellow wristband that provides entrance into all of the venues; and be prepared to have a great time. TFF began small 18 years ago -- "“A beer party with music for food” at George’s Tavern. Since then, it has raised over $300,000 and 70,000 pounds of food.

Keep an eye out for Dan Taivalkoski, executive director of the Racine County Food Bank. I used to think of Dan as the guy who distributed over 800,000 pounds of food each year to some 16 food pantries within the county -- no mean feat in itself. Those pantries provide some 60,000 meals a month.

He does all that. But as I keep running into him at these various events -- from the Harvest Benefit in November, the Polar Plunge on January 1, Empty Bowls last week, Thoughts for Food this week -- I have come to realize that he does much, much more than serve as a distributor. Someone has to encourage the donations as well -- especially in these hard times when some 20 percent more people are coming for free food each week. That's what Dan does so well -- and always with a smile.

So when you see Dan at this venue or that tonight, selling tickets, collecting food, rounding up the cash donations, be sure to say hello -- and thanks.

As he says: "These are hard times. Many people are in need. People that for years held a good job, owned a home, sent kids to college and donated to the community are now without work and in need of help. People that never, ever thought they would need assistance are struggling to remain financially solvent. A box of food helps them get along. It takes one more thing off of their troubled mind. It gives them a balanced and healthy diet for their family. Your attendance helps make this happen."

It's a tough job, and Dan does it so very, very well. Let him know you appreciate his efforts -- by showing up, and saying thanks.

Punk Rockers The Ruckus performed Friday night

Real Racine honors the year's first 40-degree day ...

All Saints surgeon: Anesthesiology services are safe, but corporate management created unnecessary strife

Dr. Dennis Anderson is a surgeon at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints. He wrote the following commentary in response to recent developments and comments regarding anesthesia services at Racine's hospital.

For background's purpose, Wheaton Franciscan All Saints ended its relationship with its long-standing anesthesiology provider in January and replaced the physicians with a hybrid of doctors and nurse anesthetists.

Here's Dr. Anderson's commentary on the change:
A lot has been said recently about the state of affairs surrounding anesthesia services at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare. Some of the statements have been well thought out, some not so. Questions remain regarding patient safety, how the conflict came about, and who is to blame. I have been asked to weigh in from the perspective of an active Wheaton surgeon, so I offer the following as my own thoughts on the matter.

First of all, I must say that the anesthesiologists of SEAC (Southeast Wisconsin Anesthesiology Consultants) were among the best anesthesiologists I have ever worked with. Not a day goes by in which I do not regret the loss of their professional service and their personal companionship. I certainly look forward to the day when we can work together again.

Having said that, the current group of anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists (CRNA’s) are licensed professionals, as well. They provide quality, safe service, and deserve respect. They had nothing to do with the current state of affairs. They are the innocent victims of all this. They really did not know what they were entering into when they signed up for this job. In speaking with them, none was informed of the local climate. Had I been involved in the interview process, I would have told them outright what was going on. They could have decided not to come, as it is not their fight. They could have chosen to come anyway, as it was a job, but at least they would have known what to expect. It may not have eliminated the emotional pain when harsh words are spoken, but knowing what to expect can lessen the shock.

In the past, whenever SEAC would consider hiring a new associate, they were always brought in to meet with the surgeons. Our input in the selection process was actively sought and respected. This is in stark contrast to the manner in which our new present CRNA’s were brought in. They were selected sight unseen by the administrators, with no surgeon input. The surgeons, for our part, were suddenly met with unfamiliar faces in our operating rooms, where our trusted colleagues once sat. The CRNA’s acknowledged that they did not have a chance to meet with any of the surgeons before arriving one day to start working in our OR. Thus, they were at great disadvantage, and a remarkably easy target for surgeon frustrations.

Unfortunately, as so often happens, the focus turned thereafter to personalities rather than remain properly focused on a failed process. I refer to the failed negotiations between Wheaton and the former SEAC group. Although many of the details of those negotiations are beyond even my scope, my analysis is as follows:

As this unfolded over the course of several months, there was little noise heard. When negotiations appeared to be making little ground, word started to get out. Those not directly involved in the talks, but who would be most affected by the outcome (i.e. the surgeons) began to ask questions. We got little to no information from the Wheaton negotiators. At the same time, we received constant updates from the SEAC members. Naturally, opinions began to form, but with only the information available. With no rebuttal, over time those opinions become cemented until they become virtual fact in our minds. By the time it became clear that negotiations were at an impasse, it was too late to call us in. We had already taken sides on the issue.
Had the surgeons been called in to mediate earlier in the negotiations, instead of excluded as we were, I believe that there could have been an entirely different result, and our SEAC colleagues could very well still be with us. While it was likely assumed by administration that we would naturally side with our physician friends, we may have in fact helped the hospital get some of the issues that it wanted, such as a nurse anesthetist model. In fact, as those negotiations were taking place, I was asked in a rather off-the-cuff way, if I have ever worked with nurse anesthetists. I said that I had, and that it had never been a problem. I assumed, however, that this referred to a new model to be hired by the SEAC group. Little did I know that they were destined to replace the SEAC group. It was exactly this type of slight-of-hand that so angered the surgeons. I, for one, could have easily embraced this new model had it not come about in such an unseemly way.

Now that our former anesthesiology group is gone, and permanently replaced, I can only consider them as casualties in a war that did not have to happen. Moving forward, I feel it is only fair to treat our new providers with the respect they deserve. Surgery, and anesthesia at St. Mary’s Hospital are safe and of high quality. Patients should feel comfortable coming to our institution for care. In speaking with most of the CRNA’s, now that they understand the circumstances, they are able to move beyond the hurtful words that had been tossed in their direction. We can all get back to the business of taking care of our patients, without having to worry about who should apologize to whom.

That is not to say that all issues are resolved. If it was the negotiation process that failed, then it is the process that needs serious re-examination. And Wheaton officials know that they were in charge of the negotiation process. Wheaton officials have to understand where they went wrong in this whole affair, and remain accountable so that it does not happen again. Up front, fair-minded negotiations will lead to more favorable results than the hard-lined, ultimatum-driven, corporate style they are used to. I think they know that now, but they may need reminding now and then.

Dennis Andersen, MD

Artists with disabilities decorate agency's office

David Insurance Agency of Racine has bought nearly 40 paintings created by participants in the Career Industries Art & Soul program. The sale -- the program's largest ever -- raised $900, of which one third will go to the artists and two-thirds for the program to buy art supplies.

The Art & Soul program is part of the in-house activities and community-based opportunities offered through Career Industries' Integrated Day Services program, providing employment and other activities for people with disabilities. Art & Soul works have been for sale and on display at numerous art fairs.

Career Industries "has a great stock of talent and some of their participants have developed nice artistic abilities," said Chris Antonneau, president of David Insurance Agency, Inc. “Originally, they asked if we would like to display the art at our place of work... We obtained about 40 paintings and found them to be very enjoyable. They’re bright and colorful, and it’s evident the artists enjoy what they’re doing. Instead of looking to be a vendor of these items, we chose to permanently keep them.

“The office had a fun time decorating with them,” said Antonneau. “The artists have true artistic ability. The color scheme exudes the joy that people are putting into these pieces of art as they work on them. The paintings brighten up our office and people. Having been produced by adults with disabilities and knowing the great work that Careers Industries does, our people are intrigued by the artwork. Understanding that the person that produced (a painting) has his or her own challenges, they were really impressed with the work and the fact that we can support Careers in this way.”

Other businesses that own or display work from the Art & Soul program include Psychiatric Services of Racine, DeRose Dental Office and Bestway Flooring Center. For more information contact Dawn Parrish at (262) 752-4100 or the website. Art work can also be purchased directly at Careers Industries at at 3502 Douglas Avenue.

Andis' Freedom Clipper named 'best new product'

Andis' Company's Freedom Clipper was recently honored as one of the Best New Products of 2010 by Tack 'n Togs, an international publication for equine retailers. The award was announced in the magazine¹s January issue.

The Freedom Clipper is a rechargeable cord/cordless clipper for touching up horses' fetlocks, ears and face. Matt K. Andis, vice president of sales for the Sturtevant company, says the clipper "operates so quietly that horses stay calm when the clipper is close to their ears and face for clipping. It is perfect for quick touch ups on the bridle path or at horse shows.”

Dickert: Treasures Media needs a bigger site to expand

Treasures Media is abandoning plans to build a new distribution center in the city's Southside Industrial Park because the company needs more space, Mayor John Dickert said on WRJN-AM 1400's Sound Off program Friday. (You can hear the report here.)

Dickert said Treasures Media bought another company over the holiday season that expanded its needs.

"They're growing so fast that they may not have time to build there," Dickert told WRJN. "They may actually have to get another site that's even bigger. We're working with them on doing that in Racine."

Treasures had planned to build an 80,000 square-foot distribution center where the former Jacobson/Textron industrial plant was located.

WRJN reported Treasures' new site may create up to 45 new jobs. Dickert declined to say what sites Treasures was looking at, but said it would be bigger than the South Side Industrial park location.

Dickert also said on Sound Off that the city was working with two other companies about moving to the city, and the city is finalizing a contract with American Tire and Recycling to open a new plant on South Memorial Drive.

The American Tire deal is moving forward after a court decision in January kept things in track. American Tire had planned to open sometime in the first quarter of 2010. They plan to create up to 88 jobs at the site.

Democratic leaders, trying to protect Lehman, are killing commuter rail, insider says

Democrats are putting on a good show with efforts to pass a regional transit system in southeastern Wisconsin that would combine bus systems and allow KRM commuter rail to move forward.

But it's an open secret in the Legislature that Democratic leadership, particularly in the Senate, will not allow a transit proposal reach the floor for a vote, according to a Democrat insider with knowledge of the negotiations.

The RTA and KRM are DOA.

Democratic leaders have no interest in pushing any of the proposals circulating around the Capitol that would combine Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee counties into a regional transit authority paid for with some sort of combination of taxes, transportation aids and local government spending.

Majority Leader Russ Decker and other top Democrats are afraid pushing the proposal will force Democratic legislators to either vote for a tax increase or vote against KRM commuter rail. Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, is of particular concern because he's up for re-election this November against Republican Van Wanggaard.

"Lehman is terrified of voting for any sort of tax increase," according to the Democratic insider. "Call it the Petak effect."

Former state Sen. George Petak, R-Racine, switched his vote in the middle of the night in favor of a tax increase on Racine County to pay for the new Miller Park. Local residents threw him out of office and replaced him with Democrat Kim Plache.

Lehman is afraid voters will do the same to him. He's so skittish on the possibility he's even afraid to vote for fellow Racine Democrat Cory Mason's plan that would allow Racine County to join an RTA without passing a tax increase. The plan does call for a sales tax increase in Milwaukee, and Lehman is fearful he'll be linked to the tax increase.

Decker, who's trying to hold on to control of the State Senate through the November election, will not allow any transit legislation come up for a vote this spring, according to the Democratic insider.

"All of this is being done so Lehman doesn't have to vote on KRM," the insider said. "They want it to look like he supports it, but never has to vote on it."

The insider provided detailed specifics on how Democrat leaders in the Senate intend to kill the legislation. The plan was to have Sen. Jim Holperin, chairman of the Senate's Committee on Transportation, Tourism, Forestry, and Natural Resources, basically pass the bill (SB205) to Sen. Jeff Plale, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities, Energy, and Rail, who would sit on it and refuse to allow it to come up for a vote.

"Once it gets to Plale it's in a blackhole," the insider said.

Holperin apparently complicated things by refusing to release the bill, the insider said. Regardless, Decker will never allow the full Senate to vote on an RTA for southeastern Wisconsin.

The Democratic insider added it may not matter. Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha need a "consistent dedicated source" of income to receive $250 million in federal money to build the KRM commuter rail system. That basically means they need to agree to a regional sales tax, which isn't going to happen.

Mason and Milwaukee Rep. Tamara Grigsby released a plan that would avoid a sales, wheel or room tax for Racine County, but that plan won't pass muster with the federal government, the insider said. Gov. Jim Doyle's plan is the best option, they said, but Democrats' efforts to protect Lehman will kill the proposal.

"The whole process is frustrating since the votes for a three-county RTA with a consistant funding source would pass is Lehman would stop playing politics and do the right thing," the insider said. "It's an easy vote for him, but he's trying to have it both ways."

In summary: the RTA is dead, and KRM commuter rail is dead along with it.

March 4, 2010

Racine Arts Council unveils encaustic wax art show Saturday

Racine's newest art show is based on one of the world's oldest art forms.

The Racine Arts Council is unveiling an encaustic wax art show on Saturday featuring four local artists who use melted wax to create paintings and sculptures. Artists Maggie Venn, Nirmal Raja, Jay Mollerskov and Kathleen Laybourn have pieces in the show, which has an opening reception Saturday from 6-9 p.m. at the Arts Council, 316 Sixth St.

Encaustic comes form the Greek word "enkaustikos," which means "to burn in." Encaustic painting consists of pigment mixed with beeswax and then applied with heat, which explains the title of the Arts Council's show, "Burn, Baby, Burn!" (Right: Urban Landscape by Maggie Venn.)

Mollerskov, curator of the show, said the four contributing artists show off encaustic painting's wide variety of uses. While he uses wax to create paintings that he literally sets on fire, Venn and Raja use wax to embellish collage and sculptures. Laybourn pours melted wax over life-sized dresses to create elaborate sculptures that will hang in the Arts Council gallery.

"Everyone approaches it differently," Mollerskov said. "Rather than have thematic content for the show, the medium itself is the theme."

"The pieces complement each other," he added, "but there's a nice variety."

Mollerskov said one of the surprises he discovered in putting the show together was the large number of artists between Kenosha and Milwaukee who work with encaustics. That fits with a national trend, which has seen encaustics gain in popularity after a lull dating back to the 1960s when Jasper Johns was creating his famous target paintings.

That's not to say encaustics are trendy. Some of the oldest paintings in the world were created with wax on the tombs of Egyptian mummies nearly 2,000 years ago.

"Burn, Baby, Burn!" will be at the Arts Council through the end of April. The gallery is open most days from noon to 4 p.m., or by appointment if you call the gallery at (262) 635-0261.

(Left: Encaustic painting by Jay Mollerskov)

While he sought longer, District Attorney says he can 'live with' Becker's prison sentence

District Attorney Michael Nieskes said Thursday he wasn't surprised to learn Gary Becker was shopping for women's underwear 15 days before his sentencing hearing.

"I'm not surprised a sex offender who has a history of taking risks and making bad decisions on a regular basis on how to conduct themselves continued that behavior," Nieskes said.

DA Michael Nieskes making a point during hearing

Nieskes' office secured a three-year prison sentence for Becker on Wednesday on crimes related to the former mayor's arrest in an Internet sex sting in January 2009. The District Attorney had recommended Becker serve five years in prison for the crimes.

Judge Stephen Simanek sentenced Becker to three years in prison after learning Becker shopped at Boston Store last month for nine items of women's lingerie. Simanek said before learning about the shopping trip he was prepared to give Becker probation for his crimes.

Nieskes said Thursday the revelation of Becker's shopping trip didn't change his recommendation of five years in prison.

"My recommendation didn't change, but it strengthened my argument," Nieskes said.

As for Simanek's decision, Nieskes said he stood by his recommendation for the five years in prison. But he added he had no comment for or against Judge Stephen Simanek's sentencing.

"The judge made his determination. I don't feel it's appropriate to comment one way or the other," Nieskes said. "The judge had a different interpretation. It's a ruling I'll live with."

Becker's attorney, Patrick Cafferty, said Wednesday he would talk with Becker about appealing the judge's ruling. Nieskes said there's not much to appeal. Becker plead guilty to the two felonies he was sentenced on, and the state gives circuit court judges a great deal of power over sentencing.

"I don't know what the basis of the appeal would be," Nieskes said. "I feel this case is a very solid case. The record is clear. It doesn't mean someone won't file an appeal."

As for the revelation during the hearing that Becker admitted to having an affair with two city employees while mayor, Nieskes said the information came from a written statement by Becker and medical reports taken while Becker was receiving treatment.

All of the documents that report Becker's affairs were sealed by the court and unavailable to the public, Nieskes said. This is typical in criminal trials, he said.

Biz News: Andis promotes Ivan Zoot to expand role

Andis Company is pleased to announce that Ivan Zoot has been promoted to Director of Education and Customer Engagement.

In his new position, Zoot is responsible for strengthening the Andis brand through improved communication and education about Andis products with both sales groups and customers.

“Ivan has been both creative and prolific in his efforts to expand awareness of Andis products throughout the various markets that we are involved with,” says Gary Stanczyk, vice president of sales at Andis. “He frequently posts videos on YouTube demonstrating and explaining how to use our products. He is also well known at trade shows for his lively repartee during educational showcases.”

A licensed cosmetologist and barber, Zoot’s background includes experience as a hairstylist, salon manager and owner, hair care product manufacturer, salon chain technical trainer, regional sales manager and consultant in the professional beautyindustry. He holds three Guinness World Haircutting records.

In his previous position with Andis, he identified, recruited, trained and managed Andis’ team of professional beauty industry educators. He is often a featured presenter at industry shows and eventswhere he shares information, education and his enthusiasms for clipper cutting and for the professional beauty industry.

About Andis Company

Andis Company, a family held business founded in 1922, is a leading manufacturer of handheld tools to trim, cut, curl, straighten and dry hair. The company’sproducts are purchased worldwide by barber and beauty shops, consumers, hotels,motels, resorts, small animal groomers and large animal groomers and shearers. To find a local distributor, call the company at 800-558-9441 or visit their website at www.andis.com

Diversey's Catherine Conaghan named Young Professional of the Year

A world-traveling auditor from Diversey Inc. was named the Young Professional of Racine's 2010 Young Professional of the Year.

Catherine Conaghan was given YPR's annual award for her professional success and local volunteering efforts. Conaghan works on an international auditing team for Diversey, formerly JohnsonDiversey, and serves on boards for Girls Inc. and YPR. She also volunteered at San Juan Diego, co-led a women in science and engineering group at JohnsonDiversey and graduated from Leadership Racine.

Conaghan is YPR's seventh Young Professional of the Year. Previous winners include: 2009 - Chris Antonneau (David Insurance); 2008 - Jeff McKeown ( Express Personnel Services); 2007 - Doug Nicholson (Ivanhoe Pub & Eatery); 2006 - Anne Stillman (CNH); 2005 - Jay Christie (Racine Zoological Society); 2004 - John Busey (Robert W. Baird).

Conaghan was one of four finalists for the 2010 award. Other finalists include: Gordan Bittner (Realtor), Janine Anderson (The Journal Times), and Russell Warren (SAFE Haven).

Other nominees for the 2010 Young Professional of the Year award include: Sara Luther Hagerman, interim director of QTI of Southeastern Wisconsin; Jim Moes, teacher at Jefferson Lighthouse Elementary; JJ McAuliffe, owner of McAuliffe's Pub; Bret Glembocki, staff scientist at JohnsonDiversey; Michael Fischer, staff scientist at JohnsonDiversey; Tracy Nielsen, vice president-marketing and resource development; Jane Kurylo, business services team lead, Workforce Development Center.

Mason proposal backs KRM without need for local tax increase

The state Legislature is continuing its mystifying debate over the so-called "regional transit authorities" that would be used to pay for buses and commuter rail in southeastern Wisconsin.

Maybe this falls on the J-S reporter, but seriously, I dare anyone to read this article and explain what's going on with the RTAs. Racine State Rep. Cory Mason is somehow involved in this, but good luck trying to decipher what he's proposing along with Rep. Tamara Grisby.

Honestly, as an outsider, it seems Democrats are doing their best to muddy the waters and avoid any sort of meaningful action on an issue that's unpopular with the public. After all, most people who vote own cars and wouldn't think of using public transportation.

I'm working on a story about the stunning mismanagement of this entire process, including inept public relations on explaining how and why public transportation is important to Racine and other communities throughout southeastern Wisconsin. More on this in the next few days ...

Update: Here's a much better story by Sean Ryan of The Daily Reporter that explains Mason's proposal. Essentially, Mason is trying to avoid tax increases by dedicating local transportation aids to transit systems in Racine and Kenosha. In exchange, Racine and Kenosha need to maintain their spending on transit systems at 2010 plus an annual inflation increase.

I just talked with Mason about his proposal, which is much simpler than the J-S story suggests. Mason and Grisby came up with the plan to try and break gridlock around a regional transit authority for southeastern Wisconsin. The RTA is important because the federal government won't release roughly $250 million for the KRM commuter rail system unless there's regional cooperation on transit.

Mason's plan allows Racine and Kenosha to join the RTA, formally called the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority, or SERTA, without passing a tax increase. That's important because proposals for wheel, sales and hotel taxes are politically difficult.

Under Mason's proposal, Racine would transfer its Belle Urban System to SERTA, which would run the buses. Kenosha would do the same with its transit system. Both cities would continue to pay for the systems, plus a cost-of-living increase, and the state would allocate $2.5 million for Racine and $2.5 million for Kenosha out of the local transportation aids typically used to rebuild local roads.

Why spend money on buses instead of roads? Because it would convince the federal government to approve the $250 million for commuter rail, Mason said.

The plan, like everything with KRM, local transit and RTAs, has obstacles. One big one is Gov. Jim Doyle opposes Mason's plan. The governor favors his own proposal, which would require Racine and Kenosha to approve some sort of tax increase.

Mason said he was "disappointed" with the governor's response because Doyle's plan doesn't have enough votes to pass the Assembly. Mason said his plan has more votes than Doyle's plan, but he stopped short of saying he had enough votes to pass the proposal.

What does all this mean for KRM? It still seems like a long shot, but at least there's a proposal out there that would allow Sen. John Lehman to support commuter rail without having to support a tax increase. That's important because Lehman, D-Racine, is up for re-election this year, and he may have a tough race against Republican challenger Van Wanggaard.

Update 2: Mayor John Dickert is backing Mason's proposal.

“It takes the taxpayers of Racine out of the equation,” Dickert said in a statement from his office.

Dickert's statement added the bill requires the Department of Transportation to move from singling out roads to a more Regional Transit focus, which he feels is important because expanding highways does not necessarily help cities.

More on the Becker hearing ...

Following Wednesday's sentencing hearing for former Mayor Gary Becker, Judge Stephen Simanek said to a nearly empty court room he was surprised by his own ruling.

"If you would have told me on Monday this would happen, I wouldn't have believed you," he said shortly after sending Becker to prison for three years for crimes related to an Internet sex sting in January 2008.

Interestingly, the action that sent Becker to prison wasn't illegal. Simanek said Becker's decision to go shopping at Boston Store for women's underwear convinced him the former mayor needed to go to prison for further treatment.

Much was made about the size of the underwear and whether it was for young girls or a 46-year-old woman who Becker was apparently dating. Simanek said he didn't care who it was for, it was stupid for Becker to be shopping for women's underwear 15 days before his sentencing hearing.
DA Mike Nieskes with display
of lingerie like that Becker bought;
Asst. DA Robert Repischak in foreground

No doubt that's true. But Becker really didn't break a law in shopping for women's underwear. His parole bond didn't have a condition to avoid lingerie departments or refrain from giving bras and panties as gifts. Even sex offenders can buy underwear.

Becker's crime was not playing the game. Simanek said Becker's attorney, Pat Cafferty, worked the system perfectly. Monday, Becker was set to receive probation and no prison time for his actions. He could go on rebuilding houses and living a somewhat normal life in the city he once oversaw as mayor. Wednesday, he was in prison.

Just as a fateful trip to a mall started his legal troubles, it was a fateful trip to a mall that ended Becker's legal troubles behind bars.

It was interesting to watch Judge Simanek's vitriol at Becker during the hearing. I noted on the live-blog of yesterday's hearing it was almost like Simanek was saying, "Gary, you idiot. You were off the hook, but now I have to send you away."

But Becker's action backed the judge into a corner. When the District Attorney pulled out a display board with a hot pink bra with a butterfly on it for the TV cameras, Simanek's own reputation was on the line. It was already going to be unpopular to let the former mayor walk. After the Boston Store purchases, Simanek decided it was impossible.

As an observer untrained in sex crimes and legal proceedings, it seems hard to say if Becker is a danger to society. He obviously had some dark, disturbing thoughts about sex and young girls. But for all those chats, he never (or at least was never able) to follow through on those impulses. According to court records, one expert said Becker wasn't a threat, and another said he was. Probably best to err on the side of yes, while acknowledging how close the court was to saying no.

What's easy to say is Becker failed to play the game. The system was wired for him to walk away from all this, and he screwed it up. Simanek called it arrogance and a sense of invincibility. Others may call it an addiction or a sickness. No matter the label, Becker has a few years at Dodge Correctional Facility to, hopefully for his own sake, sort out a confused life and return a better man.

* Credit Assistant District Attorney Robert Repischak with the line of the day from Wednesday's dramatic, at times bizarre, hearing. Repischak said of Becker: "He was following a deviant rainbow hoping at the end he'll find a pot of gold that's a 14-year-old girl."

* Following the hearing, I asked Cafferty if he'd be willing to talk about the case. He declined, saying he had to talk with Becker about an appeal.

Atty. Pat Cafferty and Gary Becker during the sentencing hearing

March 3, 2010

Police create 'emergency sanctuary'

The Racine Police Department today announced creation of an "emergency sanctuary option" at their headquarters at 730 Center Street. Even when the building's lobby is closed after normal hours, those who need help will be able to get in for protection and immediate assistance.

The news release from the Police Department says:
The Racine Police Department would like to announce that there is now the means for someone in a dire emergency to access the Police Department lobby area after normal business hours. It is as simple as pressing the red button on the silver phone box and quickly explain the emergency. The silver phone box is located on a post just outside the doors at the front of the police department.

The person who needs immediate access should tell the dispatcher / call taker what the emergency is (being pursued, currently being assaulted outside the department, suffering from injuries requiring immediate medical assistance, etc.) and they will activate the door lock system. This will permit you to open the door, and close it, relocking the door behind you.

Immediately, the dispatcher will send out the Shift Commander and other officers from inside the department and / or dispatch multiple squads to the department in an effort to neutralize the immediate threat and provide assistance as needed.

There have been incidents around the country (and some here in Wisconsin) whereby victims of assault have driven to the Police Department in hopes of receiving sanctuary from a threat, only to find the doors locked and no assistance available. It is our hope that this type of incident will not occur here and that citizens can feel comfortable knowing that we are taking additional steps to ensure their safety.

Judge sentences 'brain-dead' Becker to three years in prison after former Racine mayor caught buying women's underwear

Handcuffed Gary Becker being led off to jail

Gary Becker's mind-numbing stupidity got him arrested, and then it got him sentenced to prison.

Judge Stephen Simanek sentenced Racine's former mayor to three years in prison Wednesday for charges related to the Internet sex sting that nabbed Becker in January of 2009. Becker was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom and is on his way to Dodge Correctional Facility to serve his sentence.

Becker was so close to walking away with probation. Simanek said as much during the three-hour hearing that produced a number of bombshell developments a Hollywood screenwriter would struggle to invent.

The biggest, at least for Becker, was the revelation that 15 days ago he went shopping at Boston Store in Racine for young girl's underwear. District Attorney Michael Nieskes disclosed Becker bought nine panties and bras - some with butterflies and puppies on them - in small or petite sizes on his credit card. The Boston Store clerk recognized Becker and reported the purchases to police, noting Becker spent an unusually long amount of time for a man browsing in the lingerie section.

Nieskes even presented a display in court, left, showing the girlish-looking underwear.

Patrick Cafferty, Becker's attorney, tried to beat back the report by providing an affadavit from a 46-year-old woman who claimed the underwear was for her. The woman was 5-foot-3 and 103 pounds, small enough to fit the underwear.

But Simanek was having none of it. He said up to Monday he was prepared to give Becker probation for his crimes, but the disclosure about Becker's Boston Store shopping changed his mind. In his decision, Simanek pounded Becker for "a sense of arrogance and invincibility that is astounding to the core."

"Mr. Cafferty does everything humanly possible to avoid prison, and two weeks ago, Mr. Becker goes and purchases all of these items, knowing it's exactly, exactly what got him in trouble," Simanek, right, said. "It's almost like a death wish. It's almost like you have to be brain dead to not understand the significance of that."

In a near empty court room after the hearing, Simanek told Cafferty he would have given Becker probation. "If you would have told me on Monday this would happen, I wouldn't have believed you," he said.

Even with the three-year sentence, Becker got less time than the District Attorney and the state were recommending. The DA's office requested a five-year sentence and the state, which ran the sex sting that caught Becker, recommended a four-year sentence.

Becker's Boston Store shopping was only one of several major developments in the dramatic hearing.

Nieskes revealed Becker ran out of gas on the way to his fateful meeting at Brookfield Square Mall with an undercover state agent posing as a 14-year-old girl. He said Becker was so determined to reach the mall to meet with the girl that he first called his secretary to ask if she could call the State Patrol and ask them to bring him gas. He then got a friend to bring him gas so he could finish his trip to the mall - and his eventual arrest.

Nieskes also said Becker admitted to having an affair with his secretary and another city employee. Becker's secretary was Sandra Tingle, who sued the city for sexual harassment after she was fired from her job.

Becker scowled during most of Wednesday's sentencing hearing

March 2, 2010

RacinePost live-blogging today's Becker sentencing hearing

Commentary: Here’s an old-fashioned idea: Pay for the war

By Randolph Brandt

Despite all the noise to the contrary, our great entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, actually pay for themselves, as would the pending health care reform bill.

Indeed, with the exception of the exceptional emergency efforts to bail out the economy in the closing months of the Bush administration and the first days of Obama’s, pretty much all the rest of our typical domestic needs remain pay as you go.

What doesn’t pay for itself is our war against terrorism and our military incursions into the Middle East and Afghanistan.

No, we’ve been borrowing every dollar to fight those wars for more than eight years, and all those hundreds of billions of dollars have been off budget, off the books, and a straightaway mainline injection of colossal debt shot so far into the body politic that there’s no conceivable cure in sight.

It wasn’t always like that. Our last “Good War,” World War II, was good in many ways, not the least of which is that we actually paid for it. We did that in large measure with increased taxation, with marginal tax rates of up to 94 percent, though the average percentage was closer to 20.

And, yes, we borrowed some, but mostly we borrowed it from ourselves, via liberty bonds sold in great campaigns to the American public. In that way, everyone was seriously vested in the war, and the payback from those bonds went into the pockets of Americans, who used it after the war to fuel the greatest economic expansion in the history of mankind.

We paid for World War II in blood and treasure, but it was the treasure part that paid back many times over for American business, industry, workers and their families.

Then, somehow, after those heady postwar years, we got the idea that we could just fight our wars on the cuff.

President Johnson encountered that public reality during one of our longest, most expensive wars, Viet Nam. Though he first tried to make the war a pay-as-you-go venture, so much opposition built up that he finally gave up on his tax surcharges and austerity measures, especially after people wouldn’t even let him close the Post Office on Saturdays to save money.

So, we printed more money instead, triggering the greatest decade of inflation since the Revolutionary War.

We won the Cold War mostly on borrowed money, too. President Reagan cut taxes but ballooned defense spending at the same time, hoping to drive the Soviet Union out of business. After a fashion, it worked.

We may not have been all that much stronger than the Russians in the beginning, but we did have better credit, so we just outspent them until their Soviet Union collapsed in bankruptcy, trying to keep up with us.

But it left us with the beginnings of the crushing national debt that’s plagued our country for three decades.

We’ve been fighting in the Middle East for nearly a decade, spending tens of billions of dollars — soon to be trillions — in borrowed money, while just putting the tab on a federal credit card, whose bills will come due for the next generation, and the generation after that.

But it’s even worse this time. It’s not only that we’re borrowing all that money, but also who we’re borrowing the money from.

We’re not borrowing it from American citizens this time, but from our erstwhile enemies, the communist Red Chinese.

So, for the foreseeable future and beyond, all the principal and interest that finances the wars we’re unwilling to pay for now will be going to our greatest international competitor, The People’s Republic of China, fueling its next greatest economic expansion in the history of mankind, instead of ours.

It’s also a pretty sure bet that the Chinese aren’t terribly disappointed that we’re exhausting the fighting effectiveness of our military at the same time we’re sacrificing our economic future, all the while contributing mightily to the stupendous growth of their military and economic might.

Perhaps the Chinese will never boast, as the Russians did, that they’ll bury us, but we’re certainly putting them in the position to be able to bankrupt us, much as we did the Soviets.

There is a solution.

For a millennium, the West has been invading the Middle East, whether to liberate the Holy Land in the Middle Ages, fill the power vacuum of the failed Ottoman Empire after World War I, secure the Suez Canal after World War II, or to make sure oil supplies reached the rest of the world in the 1990s and 2000s.

We’re no different, so let’s reach back into history for a possible answer.

During the Crusades, the West financed its wars in the Middle East with what was called the “Saladin Tithe.” That was a 10 percent tax on income named after Saladin, the fundamentalist Muslim holy warrior who vexed the West by trying to drive the Christian Crusaders out of Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Holy Land.

Everybody paid the Saladin Tithe, except those who “took up the cross” to fight in the Middle East, and their families.

Maybe we should consider the same thing, but this time, we’ll call it the bin Laden tax. Think about it; it even rhymes: — Saladin, bin Laden.

Let’s say, everybody pays an additional 10 percent on income and/or transactions for the bin Laden tax, except soldiers who take up the cross, or Jesus rifles, as the case may be. They pay enough just by being willing to go.

The rest of us, though, should be willing to pay for the wars.

So, instead of organizing anti-war protests or Tea Parties, we all ought to gather in front of Rep. Paul Ryan’s office in Racine for a “pay for the war” rally, insisting that our local representative come up with a plan to actually pay for the war, so that we no longer finance our former and future enemies in order to battle our current ones, and so to strengthen the United States of America, for ourselves and our posterity.

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

Volunteer Opportunities: Math Club Volunteer needed

BOSTON STORE/GOODWILL SALE
Boston Store and Goodwill Industries need volunteers to take in donations in exchange for discount coupons. The event will take place March 10 to March 24 at Boston Store at Regency Mall.

LIONS’ CLUB ROSE DELIVERY
The Racine Lions’ Club needs volunteers to deliver bouquets of roses from 9 a.m. to noon and noon to 3 p.m. on Friday, April 23. Roses will be picked up at 3915 Douglas Ave. and distributed to residences or businesses. Minimum age is 16, with a current driver’s license and insurance.

ENHANCE LETTER CARRIER SAFETY THROUGH SAFE PLACE PROGRAM
Racine Neighborhood Watch, the Racine Police Department, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are seeking volunteers for the Safe Place program. This program is part of the present Neighborhood Watch activities promoting raised awareness, crime prevention, and improved quality of life in Racine’s neighborhoods. Under this program, community volunteers provide shelter to letter carriers in the event of an emergency.

MORE OPPORTUNITIES AT LINCOLN LUTHERAN
Lincoln Lutheran of Racine is seeking volunteers to help with activities at the Becker Shoop Center, 6101 16th Street. Opportunities include assisting at the snack and drink cart, writing birthday cards for volunteers, and operating evening Bingo once a month. Schedules are flexible, but volunteers should be 16 or older unless accompanied by a responsible adult.

MATH CLUB VOLUNTEER
The Racine Public Library is offering students in grades 1-6 a chance to gather after school on Tuesday nights through May 25th to share their love of math. Volunteers are needed to assist with this program. The club will provide a place for students to receive help on homework problems, learn new techniques in problem solving, fun math activities, fun math websites, and to share and learn from fellow math lovers.

JOIN THE RED CROSS FIRST AID SERVICE TEAM
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.

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.

COP House planned for 16th Street

The "A" above marks the proposed location of the proposed COP House on 16th Street.

The nonprofit that owns the community policing houses throughout the city is planning on opening a new COP House on 16th Street.

Dave Voss, president of Racine Community Outpost, is scheduled to appear before the Redevelopment Authority on Wednesday to discuss plans.

Community Outpost has a pending offer to purchase 1900 16th St. for a community policing center. The property is now a parts store for industrial tools, according to a letter Voss wrote to the RDA. General Industrial Supply Inc. is listed at the address.

The organization is asking the RDA to use $50,000 in tax incremental district money to help buy and rehabilitate the property. Once complete, the building will house two COP officers and possibly Department of Corrections employees, according to Voss' letter.

Waterford Police Chief endorses Herrera

Town of Waterford Police Chief Tom Ditscheit has endorsed attorney Georgia Herrera for judge. She is running against Atty. Gene Gasiorkiewicz in the April 6 election for the Circuit Court branch to be vacated by the retirement of Judge Stephen Simanek.

“I researched the candidates, and Georgia Herrera’s qualifications are superior," said Chief Ditscheit. "She served Racine County as a tough, no-nonsense criminal prosecutor. She knows western Racine County well, too, her husband’s family is from Burlington, and her husband Jeff Leavell grew up in Burlington... She’ll work hard to keep our streets safe.”

Herrera has many police endorsements; Gasiorkiewicz was favored by the Racine County Bar Association poll.

AG Van Hollen visits 21st Century Prep School


J.B. Van Hollen, Wisconsin's Attorney General, is pictured with students from 21st Century Preparatory School after he had addressed the 7th and 8th grade Civics classes.

Van Hollen spoke of his constitutional duties, the responsibilities of his office and internet exploitation of youth in Wisconsin. Of the latter, he explained how his office has been fighting this crime and prosecuting violators.

Afterwards, Van Hollen said he enjoyed the visit and hoped the students "enjoyed the discussion as much as I did.” He said the kids "asked some great questions.”

March 1, 2010

Bar Association poll picks Gasiorkiewicz over Herrera

Lawyers vs. law enforcement officers!

That appears to be the endorsement battle shaping up in the campaign for a judicial seat on the Racine County Circuit Court. (Our earlier story on judicial endorsements is here.)

The Racine County Bar Association weighed in on the election battle between Georgia Herrera and Gene Gasiorkiewicz today -- and came out firmly in favor of Gasiorkiewicz.

Asked to vote "for the individual you believe is most qualified, based upon your personal knowledge, investigation or experience," 96 Bar Association members chose Gasiorkiewicz, 21 chose Herrera and 17 said the two are equally qualified. Sixty-seven members didn't vote. The Bar Association conducts such a poll before every local judicial election.

Gasiorkiewicz told the Journal Times he was "quite gratified" by the results.

Herrera, whose campaign has touted the many endorsement she has received from law enforcement personnel -- police chiefs, prosecutors and officers -- sent out a press release downplaying the Bar Association poll, saying it "represents a small segment of the County’s lawyer community, and few of Racine County’s prosecutors are active in that group."

She added: "I am more conservative on criminal law and law enforcement issues, like sentencing... Public safety and accountability for criminal conduct are my chief concerns for the criminal court, where judge’s spend most of their time."

Gasiorkiewicz told us recently, "My life as a trial lawyer has been devoted to preserving and promoting the safety of the people of Racine County and to holding individuals (and corporations) strictly accountable for violating the law. I will bring to the bench that same devotion to enforcing the law... At the recent judicial forum I described my strong belief in the truth in sentencing law and that I would apply the judicial discretion provided in that law to prevent the early release of convicted criminals. As a former municipal judge, I demonstrated the courage to hold those who violated the law accountable."

The seat they seek will be vacated by the retiring Judge Stephen Simanek (who goes out with a bang on Wednesday with the sentencing of former mayor Gary Becker, who pleaded guilty in December to two charges resulting from an internet sex sting.) The election is April 6.

Soup bowls weren't empty for long at fund-raiser

Update: 3/5: Preliminary results show that 1,150 people were fed at this year's Empty Bowls event, raising over $20,000. Dan White's photo slideshow is here:

Original post:

Dan White remembers the first Empty Bowls fund-raiser, back in 1997. "About 50 people came to eat," he says.

How times change. Looking around at the Masonic Center today, there were that many volunteers -- and far more hungry people making their way past the line of ten servers, each presiding over not one but two steaming kettles of soup. The lines were continuous, as picky diners -- having first chosen their hand-made soup bowl -- made their way around the room, checking out their meal options.

Ah, choices! There were about 50 different kinds of soup. Some of the more unusual included pumpkin peanut bisque, chili with protein curds instead of meat, vegan mushroom with caramelized shallots and thyme, pizza soup, five different versions of minestrone, lobster bisque, Italian wedding soup, Irish hunter soup... I could go on, but it's making me hungry all over again...

Not to take credit for something I had very little to do with, but my kettle of chicken and dumplings soup, chock full of both, won in a landslide -- refilled seven times in 90 minutes! -- over John Dickert's offerings to my right, and Bill McReynolds' to my left. (But who's counting?)

The kitchen was smoothly run by volunteers from Gateway Technical College's culinary arts program, who kept hot the various offerings from local restaurants, and also kept servers well-stocked. Other volunteers handed out fresh bread from local bakeries, and beverages. And in the dining room, musicians provided a calming backdrop.

All this effort for a very good cause; well, two of them: Empty Bowls is, after all, a fund-raiser for the Racine County Food Bank and the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization's shelter. Total results won't be known for a while, but co-chair Heidi Fannin said, "We served approx. 200 more people for lunch than we did last year! So, we did very well, which is what we all expected." Evening serving results hadn't been tabulated, but she said, "we were busy until the end!"

In the meantime, let's give recognition to as many of the participants as possible.


Restaurant chefs
who provided soup represented: Apple Holler, Bentley's, Charcoal Grill - Hwy. 20, Circa Celeste, The Corner House, Culvers - 21st Street, Danny's Catering, Douglas Diner, Georges Tavern, HALO, Henry & Wanda's, Infusino's Restaurant, Ivanhoe's Pub, Javier's, Jose's Blue Sombrero, Kewpee Sandwich Shop, Lee's Deli, Mike & Angelo's, Old Country Buffet, Olde Madrid, Olive Garden, Out Of The Pan, Perkins Restaurant, Pias' Pizzeria, Red Onion CafĂ©, Reflections, River Run Restaurant, Roma Lodge, Roosters Restaurant, Salutes, San Francisco Grille, Sausage Kitchen, Sebastian's, Shillings Irish Pub, Spinnaker's, The Council House, United Way of Racine County, Veteran’s Center, Waves Pub & Grill and Wells Brothers.

Other soup donors
were: Dick and Pat Ehlert, Kimball Hardin and M. Rubin, Michele (Kobriger) Hunter, Bonnie Kidwell, Curt and Susan Lange-Pruitt, Cindy Maragos, Connie Molbeck, Cathy Perkins and Family, Barbara Suprak, Evelyn Smetana, Chris Veranth, Debbie Weyers, Cynde Summers and Family, Midge Green, Pam Henderson and Family, Sue and Gary Goodsell and Sue Gibbs and Family


Bread donors
were: Bendtsen's Bakery, Larson's Bakery, O&H Bakery, Lopez Bakery, Panera Bread, Siena Center, Gateway Culinary Program, Olive Garden, Piggly Wiggly and Pick-N-Save.

Musicians were Amy Joy Dienberg, Kevin Brown Quartet, Luke Patterson and Night Wing.


Volunteers
came from the AAUW, ALP, Girl Scouts, Horlick High School, Junior League, Prairie 8th Grade, Racine Art Guild, Volunteer Center of Racine, West Racine Rotary Club.

Major event sponsors
included: ART Clay Studio, Educators Credit Union, Gateway Culinary Program, In-Sink-Erator, Kiwanis West, Masonic Center, Racine Founders Rotary Club, Career Industries, Cooper Industries, DASH Gloves, Fired Up!, Merchants Moving, General Rental, Rotary West, Sebastian’s, Starbucks Coffee, Volunteer Center of Racine, Wilson’s Coffee & Tea, RAM and Wustum.

Artists who made some of the magnificent bowls included Jeff Shawhan, Amanda Paffrath, John Van Koningsveld, Cathy McCombs, Sue Inbusch, Harold Solberg, Hank Bardenhagen, Kevin Pearson, Pam Showman, Bill Anderson, Jim Limburg, Maureen Michna Becker, Joyce Guillien, Alex Mandli, Jim Hall, Cindy Morganroth, Karisa Livingston, Larry Jamison, Barbara Hantschel, Sue Bush, Barbie Rench, Dennis Moll, John Ellgas, Marg Lacock and Denise Zingg.

Bowl-donating organizations
included Dr. Jones Elementary School, Giese Elementary School, Wind Point Elementary School, Mitchell Middle School, Prairie School, Racine Montessori, Educators Credit Union, Raymond Elementary, Spectrum School and Gallery, Jerstad-Agerholm Middle School, J.I. Case High School, Johnson Financial, Junior League, Horlick High School, Washington Park High School, Walden High School, Waterford High School and UW Parkside.

And finally, here's the Empty Bowls 2010 Committee: Heidi Fannin, Dan White, Paul Schiele, Sue Beres, Donna Newgord, Dorothy Feeney, Judi Quinn, Pam Hoadley, Brenda Thomas, Dan Taivalkoski, Nancy Feiner, Sue Fritsche, Susan Feehrer and Wendy Sustochek.

Public information meeting on Douglas Ave. reconstruction

City residents can get a sneak preview on March 11 of plans to rebuild Douglas Avenue from Goold Street to 3 Mile Road. The project is scheduled for 2012. Here's a press release on the meeting:
The City of Racine in conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the consulting firm of GRAEF will be holding a Public Information Meeting for the reconstruction of Douglas Avenue from Goold Street to 3 Mile Road.

Proposed improvements to Douglas Avenue will include curb and gutter and pavement replacement, spot replacement of sidewalks, geometric modifications at the South Street and Goold Street intersections, and new traffic signals at these intersections. Temporary easements and fee acquisition are anticipated to be acquired in some areas of the project corridor to accommodate grading and the construction of turning lanes at South Street and Goold Street. Construction is anticipated to start in 2012. Plans will be available for public review on:

Date: Thursday, March 11, 2010
Place: Cesar Chavez Community Center
2221 Douglas Avenue
Racine, WI
Time: 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The meeting will be an open house format with representatives from the City, WisDOT and GRAEF available to answer questions. This is your opportunity to ask questions, exchange information, offer suggestions, and present known problems relating to the roadway.

If you have any questions about this meeting, please contact the City of Racine at (262) 636-9460 or Bob Warren of GRAEF at (414) 266-9032.

The Cesar Chavez Community Center is ADA accessible. Persons with hearing impairments who wish to make accommodations for a special interpreter should contact the Wisconsin Telecommunications Relay System by calling 7-1-1 or 1-800-947-3529.

Case High grad offers sneak preview of his movie 'Funeral Arrangements' on Thursday


Anwar Jamison, who graduated from Case High in 1994, is offering a sneak preview of his movie, "Funeral Arrangements" on Thursday in Milwaukee.

Jamison directed the low-budget movie, which debuted at the 2009 Indie Memphis Film Festival to complimentary reviews.

The sneak preview in Milwaukee will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Oriental Theater, 2230 N. Farwell Ave. Admission is $9.50.

Here's a plot summary from the movie's website:
Drew is an aspiring producer from a small Midwestern city, currently residing in the South. He is fresh out of college with a degree in Music, but only a general labor job to show for it. His cousin, Lance, is a hustler from Drew's hometown, seeking to get a new lease on life and follow in his cousin's footsteps. Through one of his many connections, Lance arranges the opportunity that Drew has been thirsting for: an all-access, VIP night with some of the biggest movers and shakers in the music industry. However, there are two things standing in the way of Drew's dream evening: his company's attendance policy which won't allow him to miss work, and his overbearing, insensitive, military-minded supervisor who is determined to uphold that policy.

After telling his boss that he has to attend a funeral, Drew's bluff is called and he is forced to go to the funeral to attain proof that he attended, or risk losing his job. While at the funeral, he is swept off his feet by Terricka, the niece of the deceased man, and also mistaken for someone else by Parkway, a young thug who has unfinished business with the deceased man and now thinks Drew is the man who can settle it.

After being confronted and threatened by Parkway, Drew realizes that Terricka is the missing link that can help him find what Parkway is looking for and perhaps what he is looking for in the process.

Racine County GOP recognizes Dona Poelman

The Racine County Republican Party awarded Dona Poelman its Anita Hunt Award for work with the local political party. Here's a press release:
On Friday, February 26, 2010, the Racine County Republican Party recognized Dona Poelman for her years of continued service to the Racine County Republican Party, State and Local Elected Officials and her ongoing desire to make Racine and Wisconsin a better place to live.

In honor of Anita Hunt, a long time conservative activist for the Racine County Republican Party, this award is given annually to a volunteer that has continued to serve the community, the candidates, and the party in an ongoing role.

"Dona has always been active in her own way and recently came back to us and said 'I'd like to take over the county fair booth,'" stated Bill Folk, Racine County GOP Chairman, "What was I to say? She organized it, scheduled the volunteers and got things done. She will be good for the Walker campaign and she remains a tireless volunteer for Racine."

Dona has served the County Party as a past Chairman and Vice Chairman and is currently the county co-chair for the Walker for Governor campaign.

February 28, 2010

Racine native wins top Snowdance prize

The Covenant: Ron Schulz, John Adams, and Rich Smith reeling in a catch of smelt

A Racine native who now lives in Jonesboro, AK, won the top prize in the 2010 Snowdance 10-Minute Comedy Festival Sunday.

The Over Our Head Players concluded this year's five-weekend run of eleven original comedies selected from 240 entries on Sunday, presenting the Best in Snow first prize of $300 to The Covenant, written by Tim Bohn, now of Jonesboro.

Please Report Any Suspicious Activity with Ron Schulz, Rich Smith
and John Adams in a very suspicious moment on the Boston MTA

Second place and $100 went to Please Report Any Suspicious Activity, by Rick Park of Boston, MA -- who was last year's first prize winner. Third place, also with $100, went to 10 x 10, by Roy Sorrels of Santa Fe, NM.

The prizes were determined by audience votes throughout the festival's run. After Sunday's final performance, and the final audience tally, the ensemble came together for the Closing Ceremonies, highlighted by the Dance of the Salmon -- a Snowdance celebration of Salmon-a-Rama, the festival's kindred spirit in competition. Then, the ceremonial Snowdance snow cone was sealed away for next year’s competition.

The Covenant featured a father, his son, and the veteran smelt fisherman they encounter. Please Report Any Suspicious Activity is about two dolphins in a spat after a visit to the aquarium. In 10 x 10 two actors raced the clock performing 10 scenes in 10 minutes.

10 x 10 with Barbara Akey and Rich Smith
telling the tale of a grouchy grocer

Artistic Director Rich Smith notes that “Snowdance is literally an entire evening of world premiere productions. We are fortunate to draw so many talented directors and actors to our group. I think the energy of this production is what attracts them and the audience.” Rules will be available this summer for the seventh Snowdance production.

The OOHP's 18th season will continue at the Sixth Street Theatre with The Beauty Queen of Leenane in March and Theatre Schmeatre, an evening of sketch comedy in May. For information, call the box office at (262) 632-6802.

Soup's on!

Lily Fannin carefully brought out hundreds of soup bowls

Dinner for 800.

Or maybe more.

The Masonic Center was transformed by volunteers Sunday afternoon into Racine's most popular restaurant. It holds that distinction one day a year -- today!, if you're reading this on Monday, March 1 -- during the Empty Bowls benefit for the Racine County Food Bank and the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization shelter. For two meals, lunch and dinner, hundreds will enjoy a hearty bowl of soup, home-made bread and beverage -- all proceeds going to feed the hungry.

Diners first get to choose a hand-made ceramic soup bowl -- some made by professionals, others by local organizations or school children -- and then their choice of soup to fill it. The soups are provided by local restaurants; nothing against Campbell's, but none of these come from a can! When the meal is over, diners get to take their bowl home.

Event co-chair Heidi Fannin was supervising the volunteers Sunday afternoon, none more enthusiastic than her daughter Lily, 7, who was busily putting out hundreds of colorful bowls on tables in the Masonic Temple's long hallway. Bowls of every color, various shapes; many defying description, left. Word to the wise: come early for the best selection (although not all will be put out at the start, so a varied selection will be available at all four seatings).

Servings are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., all at the Masonic Center on Main Street. Use the 1012 Wisconsin St. entrance. Various community officials and civic leaders will be serving up the soup; if who serves your soup is important to you, check here for their scheduled serving times.

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.