May 1, 2010

What's blue and rusty red, and looking for a home?

Meet "Blue,"  a 4-year-old Hungarian Visula and Coon Hound mix.

Despite his name, he is a rusty red color like the Visula,  with the big, sorrowful eyes and droopy ears of a hound. He is a gentle dog with a little gray on his muzzle. He listens well and loves to go for walks.

"Blue" will continue to be blue (Gotcha!) until someone comes to take him home.

You can see him, and other dogs and cats looking for good homes at the Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Road.

Fountain, turned back on, quickly attracts the kids

After a winter's hibernation, Racine reanimated the Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain, named in honor of the NASA astronaut killed in the Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. The spraying water of the splash pad was turned back on Saturday and, as expected, was shortly rediscovered by kids. Despite the morning's chill, half a dozen youngsters were spotted running through the spray around 9 a.m.

Clearly, they hadn't gotten the word that the fountain -- although  built with this wonderful summertime activity in mind --  is now off-limits, thanks to a state law implemented in 2005 that the city announced Friday it will now enforce. Violations are subject to a $75 fine.

Unfortunately, either these kids couldn't read, or they didn't notice the KEEP OUT signs affixed to poles high above their heads. The city, we're told, will not be quick to fine kids, or their parents; preferring an education campaign first.

But the new regulations may not go down well. A father we spoke to this morning -- as he watched his kids run through the spray -- said disgustedly, "They should just rip it out. It's like having a big playground with a sign saying 'don't use it.' "

Artwork in many guises at Lakefront Art Fair

Jay Wennersten's amusing and artistic paintings got the once-over

The summer art festival season opened Saturday, with more than 100 artists and craftspeople displaying and selling their work at the Lakefront Art Fair at Festival Hall. The 29th annual event is a major fund-raiser for the Racine Montessori School.

Artworks on display ranged from hot-fired glass, to watercolors, photography, pottery -- and some other  items that caught our eye, pictured here.

Colorful three-headed creature caught the eye of Lauren Gaither, 6

Friedl Koeberlein's $30 bird feeder attracted this couple

William Waite's wood puzzles were both challenging and artistic

Richard Morrison's hand-made metal flowers were a hot item

Paul Imholte entertained kids and adults with his hammered dulcimer

Mom examines her kids' painted faces:
Jasmin Jones, 3, and Ryan Lockridge, 6

Nothing's better than a huge ice cream cone!

Kiwanians fill us with pancakes, for a good cause

A Racine tradition for 55 years continued Saturday as the Racine Kiwanis Club served pancakes and sausages to thousands. Breakfast started at 6 a.m., there were long, but orderly, lines stretching out Festival Hall's door and around the parking lot at 9.

Inside, the smell of fresh pancakes filled the huge room, while volunteers kept things moving smoothly. As usual, local politicians were on hand to serve -- yes, to actually serve. We saw State Sen. John Lehman at the sausage station, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan refilling coffee cups, Rep. Bob Turner handing out juice... and so on down the list. Van Wanggaard, Cory Mason, John Dickert, Chris Wright, Jeff Coe... I'm sure I'm missing a few, but it's unintentional.

Music filled the ears from the Festival Hall stage. While we were there, the McKinley School Red Jazz Band played, followed by the Starbucks Jazz Band (pictured at bottom).

Event chairman Peter Buchaklian reported at the end of the evening that more than 7,000 people were served more than 40,000 pancakes! Three hundred volunteers from various groups, teams and organizations made it happen, along with 40 members of the host chapter, the Greater Racine Kiwanis Club. All proceeds go back into the community, helping to fund many local organizations supported by Kiwanians.

April 30, 2010

Pepsi Grant Winner: Mitchell Middle School's Wendt teaches an empowering lesson

Mitchell Middle School science teacher Kim Wendt sees her school just won a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh grant. Wendt led efforts at the school to secure the money, which will be used to remodel science rooms built in 1974.

Kim Wendt heard "No" many times over the past three months. The Mitchell Middle School science teacher ignored every one of them.

No, she couldn't convince her colleagues to tear down the walls between their classrooms. No, the construction work wasn't possible. No, she couldn't enter the Pepsi Refresh Project to compete for $50,000. No, she couldn't raise the money needed to organize a campaign. No, she couldn't get enough votes to win the grant.

All those "No's" made for an emphatic "Yes!" Friday night as the competition ended and Mitchell Middle School won $50,000 to remodel science rooms built in 1974. The project, first imagined by Wendt in February, finished third in the voting for the Pepsi Refresh contest; the Top 10 projects received money.

Friday night's contest deadline brought to end a frantic marketing and voting campaign led by Wendt, her colleagues and students, Racine area residents and even people around the country and across the world.

Wendt got started when she heard that Pepsi had decided to skip placing Super Bowl ads this year and spend the $20 million on a social media campaign that would award grants to nonprofit organizations that compete for money throughout the year. Anyone could enter a project, which would be voted on by visitors to the Pepsi Refresh website.

Wendt immediately saw the contest as a marketing challenge. Already a creative designer -- she painted her science classroom lime green and her students' chairs bright pink -- Wendt knew how she wanted to rework Mitchell's science department. She just needed to convince others it was a good idea.

One of Mitchell Middle School's science rooms. Wendt's plan is to knock down the far wall and 
create an open space for classrooms and a student laboratory. 

Some were initially skeptical of tearing down walls between their classrooms and replacing them with glass cubes. But they, like most people associated with the project, came around to Wendt's idea. 

Her vision is to create a modern science learning center at Mitchell with space for students to conduct experiments, work on computers and hone reading and writing skills. The plan, as drawn, will require expensive structural changes. A cash-strapped Racine Unified doesn't have money to spend on projects like this, and even if they did, Mitchell would have to compete with the needs at other district schools. Instead, of waiting for the district, Wendt decided to raise the money herself. 

She got Racine Unified's facilities manager to go along with the plan with a passionate plea that even included a few tears. After initially saying, "No way," the manager changed his mind and promised her it would happen.  

Students voting after school on Friday in the Mitchell Middle School computer lab. 

With a plan in place, Wendt launched a nonstop, all-out marketing campaign that rallied students, teachers and plain old school supporters in favor of the project. Wendt, who titled the project "Construction for Instruction," started by distributing postcards, pencils and T-shirts to everyone she could think of. A school dance fundraiser helped pay for the supplies, but Wendt also bought the supplies out of her own pocket.

The message was simple: Mitchell had a chance to win $50,000 to rebuild its science rooms, and all people had to do was visit a website and click to vote. It was free, quick and easy - she just had to let people know.

Wendt's plan was to submit the proposal to compete in March, but projects from all over the country overwhelmed the Pepsi Refresh website and prevented her from entering. Wendt took her project straight to the Pepsi Refresh officials and pleaded with them to include the project. They relented and personally entered the project for April.

Word spread as marketing materials got around. Mitchell staff and students started to vote, and soon families and teachers in other Racine schools joined in. Wendt and her students sent a three-minute DVD explaining the project to 50 area businesses, and businesses responded by encouraging employees to vote. The project's Facebook page took off and people all over the country joined in.

Wendt was the driving force. She relentlessly sold the project to anyone who would listen. She even convinced the flight attendants on her flights to and from Los Angeles to let her make a mid-air pitch for remodeling the science rooms. While in Los Angeles, a friend scored tickets to American Idol and Wendt spent the entire show handing out pencils to people in the crowd and trying to convince family members of the performers to get the performers to mention the project on the show.

The only downturn in support for the Mitchell project came during Spring Break when students were away from their school computers. They stopped voting for nine days, and the project slipped to eighth place. Once the students, and Wendt, were back in school, they regained momentum and avoided slipping out of the Top 10.

On Friday, the final day of the April competition, Wendt's project sat in third place. Students rallied after school to make their last votes. Excitement crackled through the computer lab and lunch room, where sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders sat at computers and tracked the results. Other students met during lunch hours and voted at home. Their efforts are inspiring because they're empowering. At a time when schools are out of money, here was a group of teachers and students doing more than complaining. Following Wendt's lead, they weren't accepting no. 

Friday evening, Wendt stared at her iBook waiting for the competition's 11 p.m. deadline. She refreshed her browser and the screen flipped - voting was done. Mitchell finished in third place and won the $50,000 grant. Wendt now has to fill out paperwork, finalize plans for construction, which will happen this summer.  

And Wendt isn't done. She has a binder full of grant opportunities for schools and teachers, and she's thinking about pursuing another Pepsi Refresh grant (there's no limit on how many a school or school district can win) in August to do more work on Mitchell's science rooms. 

Here's some background on the project: 

In other rounds of the competition, a project to fund an alternative cancer treatment with no side effects,  and one to rebuild an elementary school destroyed by mine subsidence in rural Illinois were each on track to receive $250,000 awards. In all, Pepsi is giving away $1.3 million each month. A new round of project competition will begin Saturday. For a quick look at all the winners, go here.

Here are the ten winning projects in Mitchell's category:
1. Preservation of a one-screen movie theater in Rosendale, NY.

2. Buy Smart Boards for the Lone Star School in Sapulpa, OK.

3. Redesign and revamp science classrooms built in 1974 at the Mitchell Middle School in Racine.

4. Give 100 children with disabilities AmTryke therapeutic tricycles.

5. Save one of the nation's first Cub Scout camps from being shut down. Anthony DiNicola, who suffers from cerebral palsy, attended Camp Tadma in Bozrah, CT, as a child, and says, "I am now trying to save the camp that saved me."

6. Install multiple wind turbines in the Waukee, IA, School District.

7. Provide 200 music scholarships to the Hudson Valley Youth Wind Ensembles in Poughkeepsie, NY.

8. Engage thousands of high school teachers in teen suicide prevention.

9. Open the KIDDS Center for Youth Development and Performing Arts for elementary and middle school children in Lithonia, GA.

10. Provide an after-school program in foreign language instruction for disadvantaged public school students in New York City.
And, just in case you were wondering: The project that just missed getting funding, winding up in 11th place, was one to save lemurs by by building a new tour path, at the Duke Lemur Center in Southern Pines, NC.

Racine orders kids out of Laurel Clark Fountain

Racine the Grinch made it official today: Kids may no longer enjoy splashing through the Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain at the lower end of Sixth Street -- even though the popular splash-pad was constructed for them in the first place.

According to the city's press release, the children themselves share some of the blame for the order banning them: 
"Soiled diapers have actually been found and clogged drain areas ...Dogs and other animals have been seen in the fountain...When people walk though, wearing shoes or sandals, they are depositing dirt and other debris that contaminates the water...."
Also to blame are changes in state law, the city says, announcing the shut-down in a release "providing answers to residents' questions." The release came from the Mayor's office -- but no city officials were quoted; this is definitely not something anyone at City Hall wants to take "credit" for.

Two years ago, the city floated the idea of spending $30,000 to fence off the fountain, to keep out the kids it had been built to cool off. The fountain was built in 2002, in part with $50,000 in city money and $150,000 in community donations. State law requiring chlorine (and lifeguards !) took effect in 2005. In 2008 then-Mayor Gary Becker suggested that fountain(s) specifically designed for kids be built at city  parks -- or even a municipal swimming pool. Those ideas went nowhere. In his first preliminary budget submittal, Mayor Dickert  included $330,000, for one splash fountain. The idea went nowhere as well. More background here.

 When asked this afternoon about the potential fines for kids caught in the fountain, Tom Friedel, city administrator, told us "we're going to try to police it, warn people. We're taking it slow." Given current temperatures, he said hopefully, "it's not going to be a problem for a while."

"This is not what we want to do," Friedel said.

When he was mayor -- during the interim between Becker's resignation and Dickert's election -- Fridel said he "tried to put the closure off, tried to get around it. But we just came to the conclusion there is no easy way around it. It's a big investment in plumbing. And a bigger investment long-term for personnel."

Building a splash pad at one or more of the community centers, as Becker had suggested and as Dickert tried to put into his first budget, would have side-stepped some of those costs, Friedel said. "At a community center, we have personnel, we have bathrooms, we have phones and first-aid stations," all of which are required by the state law. The law, by the way, requires "attendants," he said; not the "lifeguards" so often referred to. The attendant is needed as much to keep kids in diapers out of the fountain, to avoid contamination, as for any safety concerns.

Parks and Rec Director Donnie Snow said the potential fine is $75, "but we don't expect to do it; we expect people to comply."

 Here's the city's Q&A press release:
City Providing Answers to Residents' Questions
About Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain

RACINE – In order to keep its residents as well informed as possible, the City of Racine has decided to post and answer some of the most frequently asked questions with regard to the changes being made to the Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain. The fountain is located at the foot of Sixth Street on the lakefront between Pershing and Festival Parks.

What changes are being made in connection with the Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain? The City of Racine Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department has advised that beginning Saturday, May 1, when the fountain is turned on, it will be off limits for playing or use for cooling off. Signs will be posted that the water is not treated and is unsafe and could result in serious injury or disease.

Children have played there for several years, why the change now? When the fountain was built in 2002 it met all State of Wisconsin regulations for use as a “water attraction”. The state has since changed the rules and the fountain no longer meets those regulations.

What is the problem? The fountain was designed with a sand filter. The new regulations require a higher standard to treat and sanitize water which could contain bacteria, viruses, or parasites such as Cryptosporidium that can cause serious illness.

Children are at greatest risk because they are most likely to play in the fountain and they can easily spread pathogens due to wearing diapers, drinking the water, and/or hand to mouth contact.

What is the cause of the problem? Children have been observed in the fountain with diapers. Soiled diapers have actually been found in and clogged drain areas. Dogs and other animals have also been seen in fountain. When people walk though, wearing shoes or sandals, they are depositing dirt and other debris that contaminates the water.
Injury is also a concern because individuals can slip and fall on the wet concrete. These observations made city officials more aware of the possible health hazards associated with people playing in the fountain.

The risk for infection, illness or injury and the increased cost of maintenance has simply become too great to ignore, that combined with fact the fountain no longer meets State of Wisconsin regulations has created the need for the changes.

What about using chlorine? The city added chlorine in 2004 to treat the water in order to make it safe for human contact. However, the chlorine has badly corroded the copper piping which is laid under the fountain’s structure and concrete.

What would it cost to repair and maintain the fountain? The first year’s maintenance and operational costs were $26,500, but grew to $50,000 by 2006. The corrosion problem caused by the chlorine, repair, and maintenance costs ballooned to $82,000 in 2007 and to $96,455 in 2008.

In 2009, the city contracted with an outside company, Aquatica, for an evaluation of the facility. Aquatica noted a number of deficiencies in the fountain’s installation when compared to the new state standards.

To comply with all the new state rules, Aquatica estimated the cost of renovation would exceed $250,000 and operational costs would approach $100, 000 annually. Operational costs include having an attendant on duty.

So, what is the solution? Enjoy the sound and beauty of the fountain. Don’t put your children or yourself at risk by playing in the fountain or drinking the fountain water.

Is there a penalty involved for failure to comply? Yes, individuals found violating this park rule could be fined, per sec. 70-82 of the municipal code.

Are there any options available? Yes, make use of our nationally recognized, award-winning “Blue Wave Beach”. North Beach is an excellent alternative location served by lifeguards beginning June 5, with toilet facilities, picnic areas, phones, and refreshments available from Memorial Day – Labor Day.

Where can I get more information? Call the City of Racine Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department at 262-636-9131.

Park HS students win SkillsUSA prizes;
one tops $140,000 in scholarships

Two Washington Park High School students took first place in statewide competition this week at Wisconsin's 36th annual State SkillsUSA competition at the Wisconsin Dells.

Brian Gronhom took first place for the second consecutive year in CNC Milling Technology, and Kieron Kohlmann achieved first place in Automotive Technology. Both will go on to compete against the top students from other states at the 46th annual National SkillsUSA Competition in Kansas City on June 20-26.

Other Park HS winners were Donovan Senzig, who placed second in Advertising Design; Amber Leger, second in Woodworking Display; Jerrid Orre, third in Motorcycle Maintenance; and Mitchell Haumersen, third in Cabinet Making.

Kohlmann has a history of success in state automotive competitions. This year's win earned him $4,000 in Snap-On Tools and nearly $15,000 in scholarships. In 2009, Kohlmann won first place in the Auto Dealers Association of Metro Milwaukee Technicians of Tomorrow contest and also won the Wisconsin AAA/Ford Student Auto Skills Competition – making him the first in Racine Unified School District history to win all three automotive competitions.

In addition, Kohlmann earned fifth place in the GNYADA National Automotive Technology Competition and 12th place in the National AAA/Ford Student Skills Competition along with his partner Jon Ramczyk – winning a 2009 Ford Fusion for the Park High School Automotive Program.

In all, Kohlmann has won nearly $140,000 in scholarships including a full scholarship to any Wisconsin technical school and several private automotive schools.

April 29, 2010

Update: City administrator responds to Ethics Committee's emailed report

Irony, thy name is Ethics Committee.

The committee that oversees the city's ethics policy is conducting business by email, according to minutes of the committee's last meeting. The committee voted April 14 to review its annual report to the City Council and the Mayor's office by email.

Chairman Mary Wyant told committee members she will "generate" the annual report and email it to committee members for review before submitting it to the council and the Mayor. The committee, apparently, will not review or vote on its annual report at a public meeting. That's likely a violation of the state open meetings law.

Ethics Committee members at the April 14 meeting included: Wyant, Jay Christie, Diana Valencia and Doug Nicholson. Committee member Russell Missurelli was absent.

Former Alderman Pete Karas, a hawk for open government, brought the committee's actions to RacinePost's attention.

The Ethics Committee isn't the first city committee to conduct business by email. Last year, the city's Loan Board of Review was forced to change its procedures after it was discovered committee members were voting by email.

Here's the full report in the Ethics Committee meeting minutes:
10-4922 Subject: (Direct Referral) Discussion of report to be filed with Mayor and Common Council no later than May 1, 2010 concerning its actions in the preceding calendar year.

Recommendation of the Board of Ethics on 4-14-10: That the Chairman generate the report and send to the Common Council before May 1, 2010.

Fiscal Note: N/A

Chairman Wyant stated she will generate the report and e-mail to committee members for review before submitting to the Common Council.

Received and Filed
Update: City Administrator Tom Friedel sent over the following update about the Ethics Committee:
Please add an update that no members of the board found a need to contact the chairman with any corrections to the report. The report, as approved by the board, is attached to the agenda for the next city council meeting on Tuesday. Your statement that, “ The committee, apparently, will not review or vote on its annual report at a public meeting” is misleading. Had there been a need to make corrections or changes, the chairman would have called another meeting before sending the report to the common council.

I’m surprised that a veteran reporter like you did not offer the chairman of the board an opportunity to comment on the story before you indicted the board for conducting business by email. Conducting business is a very broad term that, by itself, would not constitute a violation of the open meetings law.
Here's the response I sent to Friedel:
Hi Tom,

Thank you for the update. I'll post it with the story.

I'm surprised the city is OK with even the suggestion of a committee doing anything by email. I know this is a minor instance, but it's pretty clear under state law that committee members shouldn't vote or discuss issues by email. If we wouldn't have brought attention to this instance, we would have had no way of knowing if the report was emailed, if changes were requested or if the committee accepted the report. It's the same thing as the Loan Board voting by email. There's no public accountability when actions occur outside of official meetings.

You're free to think whatever you'd like about my reporting skills. But I'm going to keep bringing up these instances, and I may rely solely on the official minutes of meetings to do so.
Update 2: I just got a call from someone not happy with this story. Their point, basically, was the members of the committee are good people who are volunteering their time to take part in city government. It's an absolutely fair point. Volunteer committee members give up their time and effort at little personal benefit and should be thanked for their service.

I'd add that under no circumstance was this a major violation of the Open Meetings Law, if it was a violation at all. We're talking about pretty minor stuff here. But our job is to be hyper-vigilant about city officials governing in the open, and when we see official committee reports being emailed around without final approval from the committee, we get concerned.

That said, all other business the Ethics Committee conducted at its April 14 meetings looks to be on the up-and-up, and we've never heard any other concerns about their actions. It's a good group, I just wish they wouldn't have sent that report out by email.

Homeless shelter needs donated diapers, bedroom furniture

HALO is looking for donations. Here's a note from Stephanie Kolber, HALO's Family Program Manager:
Hello Everyone,

I am writing you this email to ask for your assistance. We are looking for donations of diapers size 5 & 6. We have plently of the other sizes, but are completely out of 5 and 6's. With 22 children in shelter, we are going through the diapers very quickly. If you are able to help please drop off the items at HALO on the women's side. I thank you ahead of time for any help you are able to give.

Please pass this to anyone you think can help.

Thank you again,

Stephanie Kober

Brenda Thomas, development assistant for HALO, added the homeless shelter is looking to replace the furniture in its bedrooms. Here's a note from Thomas:
HALO is looking to do several things this spring:  update our bed stock with heavy duty wooden bunk beds (new, preferably, try Furniture Warehouse on Washington Ave.) and replace much of the dresser stock with solid, sturdy dressers - new or gently used.  After four years, 107 people per night (average) things start to need replacing.  If you are able to help,,,or can forward these requests to other groups/individuals who may be able to help, please feel free to do so. THANK you for supporting and promoting HALO!!

State's technical colleges name Mason Legislator of the Year

The Wisconsin Technical College District Boards Association has named State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, its Legislator of the Year.

Mason was selected "for his consistently strong support for Gateway Technical College, for all technical colleges statewide, and for the more than 400,000 students enrolling in the colleges each year."

“Cory Mason understands the central role technical colleges play in the state’s economic recovery and prosperity,” said Paul Gabriel, the association’s executive director. “Rep. Mason has worked tirelessly to create new pathways to prosperity through technical colleges for his constituents and for all Wisconsinites.”

During the legislative session Mason supported new investment in job training at the colleges and increased student financial aid. "He supported budget provisions and led the effort on other bills assisting the colleges and students at a critical time when Wisconsin experienced a boom in both unemployment rates and in technical college enrollment," the association said. Last June, during Gateway Technical College's budget deliberations, Mason urged the board to increase the college's tax levy, to produce enough new money for hundreds of more students to attend. The board did not take his advice.

Gateway President Bryan Albrecht said of Mason: "He believes that colleges like Gateway are a critical resource to developing the technical skills needed to compete in today's workforce.”

The award will be presented at the association’s spring meeting on Friday, April 30, in Racine. The district boards association is comprised of the local governing board members of Wisconsin’s 16 technical college districts.

April 28, 2010

Racine's community garden takes shape

 Walden HS students, other volunteers, worked on garden
 Photo by Nancy Carlson
"Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God ."
-- Thomas Jefferson

More than 160 enthusiastic Walden High School students, along with other volunteers, made major progress Wednesday to prepare Racine's new community garden.

The volunteers -- after trekking from the REC with wheelbarrows and other gardening tools (photo at left by Kandy Meyers) -- worked for two hours laying out the individual garden plots and preparing the paths around the large site at 734 Marquette St., just south of the Riverbend Loft Apartments on Sixth Street. Other volunteers went downtown on cleanup duty.

The Racine Urban Garden Network is accepting applications from the public for use of the 10 x 20-ft. plots. The suggested donation for plot rental this summer is $20.

The approximately 80 plots will be assigned first-come, first-served and will have a layer of compost. Applications can be picked up at the Community Action Agency, 2113 Wisconsin St., at DP Wigley, 234 Wisconsin Ave., or at Mitchell Wagon Factory Lofts, 815 8th St. They can also be requested by sending an email to

RUGN is also looking for volunteers, new members and garden tools, promising to put unused garden tools and other garden items to good use. Pick-up can be arranged. For more information check RUGN's website:

Man fired for falsifying child abuse investigations was unit's 'senior investigator'

County Executive Bill McReynolds and Racine County Human Services Director Debra Jossart dropped a bomb in the JT's lap Wednesday when they announced a child abuse investigator had been making up reports about cases he never investigated.

Read the story here.

The employee, who was fired Tuesday, is Todd O'Brien. O'Brien's LinedIn profile lists him as "the senior investigator on the unit and has handled more that a thousand investigations over that span."

Economy dooms tire-recycler's plans to bring 88 jobs to Racine

American Tire and Recycling isn't coming to Racine, a company official said Wednesday.

"We're still trying to find our direction," said Tom Tomaszewski, sales and marketing manager for American Tire and Recycling. "Racine as we initally identified it is not going to happen."

American Tire and Recycling had planned, with assistance from the city, to open a tire recycling operation at 2301 S. Memorial Drive. The company initially planned to hire 33 workers and 20 truck drivers with the intention of hiring 88 people within 18 months.

Tomaszewski said the economy prevented the company from expanding like it had intended.

"It's a simple fact that the current economic climate makes expansion, even with help, extremely difficult," he said.

The city had agreed to spend $39,600 to cover American Tire's rent for 18 months.

Tomaszewski said he worked with some "very impressive" people to try and make the Racine expansion possible. He complimented Jenny Trick of the Racine County Economic Development Corp. and her staff for their efforts.

"We appreciate the city's offer, but the bigger pieces weren't going to happen," Tomaszewski said.

"Money isn't available from any source," he added.

American Tire is operating at two sites. It's collecting tires in New London, located northwest of Appleton, and shredding tires in Niagara, Wis., which is located on the Wisconsin-Michigan border.

The company is owned by Keary Ecklund, who referred questions to Tomaszewski.

The city approved spending the $39,600 for American Tire and Recycling's rent in December.

New Mt. Pleasant Village Board says no to Milkie

Mt. Pleasant voters spoke -- loudly -- on April 6, soundly booting two incumbents off the Village board and defeating one challenger.

But it appeared that Board President Carolyn Milkie didn't get the message. She attempted at Monday night's board meeting to appoint the three losers -- incumbents John Hewitt and Ken Flones and last-place finisher Todd Stillman -- onto voting positions on village committees.

Not gonna happen.

Milkie's attempt to appoint the three to village committees was rejected by a 4-1 vote of the newly constituted Village Board, with one abstention and one trustee absent. Instead, the new board majority asked Milkie to come up with different nominees for later approval by the board, appointments that don't "contradict the will of the voters."

Trustee Karen Albeck introduced the motion, and was joined by trustees Harry Manning, Gary Feest and Jerry Garski.  Trustee Ingrid Tiegel abstained without comment.  Manning was the lone incumbent of three on the ballot to win re-election on April 6; Feest led the six-man field.

Whether this new board majority will up-end any more village decisions -- for example, something to do with the new $17 million village hall "campus" the two newly-elected trustees oppose -- remains to be seen.

Albeck provided a copy of her motion and explanation to the clerk for inclusion in the minutes. Here's what it said:
Any time individuals put themselves forth as candidates for public office, they are giving the voters an opportunity to do one of two things…. to elect the person, or to not elect the person to be a member of a governing body.

Last year at this time I had the same concerns which I have this evening.

When the voters have chosen not to elect specific candidates, then I feel it is highly inappropriate for those same candidates to be nominated to Village committees. Such appointments contradict the will of the voters. This year, the voters made very clear choices with regard to those individuals that they did, and did not, wish to be represented by. Placing the unsuccessful candidates on committees where they will be voting on and making recommendations for Village action is insulting to the voters and is just plain wrong.

I do recognize that individuals who failed to be elected may have worthwhile knowledge to share at the Committee and Village level. Certainly, they should be welcomed at meetings, and encouraged to share their expertise. However, they should not be appointed to voting member positions.

I am grateful to all of the Citizens who have in the past or will in the future provide their service to the Village on various Committees. However, we all know that there are not a lot of those Committee appointments to go around. We have often talked about the need to involve more people in the Village’s duties and operations. Surely in keeping with that we should be providing opportunities for different people to serve.

Therefore, I encourage other Trustees to join me in approving all committee appointments except the four I listed, and urge the Chair to come forward with different recommendations for those four Committee positions.

Academic Bowl challenges Middle Schoolers

 Trinity Lutheran and Racine Christian teams compete, led by moderator Nick Gasau

Racine Lutheran High School hosted its annual Academic Bowl for Concordia Lutheran, Racine Christian, St. John’s Lutheran, and Trinity Lutheran Schools. The Academic Bowl gives middle school students an opportunity to challenge themselves mentally.

 Events included a spelling bee, history projects, a paper airplane flying contest, and a poetry/writing assignment. School teams also participated in a Quiz Bowl event. More than 100 students competed for ribbons and medals in the various categories.

Winning teams in the Quiz Bowl were Racine Christian for the 7th and 8th grade division and Trinity Lutheran for the 5th and 6th grade division.

Winners of the Spelling Bee were Madeline Michael of Trinity for grades 5-6 and Andrea Weise of Trinity for grades 7-8. Taking first place in the airplane contest were Bodie Reinders of Trinity for grade 5, Jessie Barker of St. John’s for grade 6, Cal Martin of Trinity for grade 7, and Zac Cunningham of Trinity for grade 8.

Supt. Evers recognizes two Racine Reading First schools

Mrs. Sally LeTendre, 1st grade teacher; 21st Century Supt. Dr. Robert Morelan;
State Supt. Dr. Tony Evers; and Mrs. Kathy Heineck, Director of Curriculum

State School Supt. Dr. Tony Evers praised Racine's 21st Century Preparatory School and Janes Year Round School at a conference in the Wisconsin Dells recently for being among 16 Wisconsin schools that served as Reading Best Practices Model Sites during this school year.

Dr. Evers welcomed the schools' staffs to the April 22 event at the Great Wolf Resort. The 16 schools provided 640 teachers from 125 elementary schools, public and private, an opportunity to visit their classrooms to observe the implementation of Reading Best Practices they learned about at four workshops. Reading Best Practices include: fidelity to a core reading program; screening, diagnostic, and progress monitoring assessments; word walls and print richness; classroom libraries; and literacy centers.

“We are celebrating the successes of these programs and districts through their singular focus on raising the reading achievement of all students,” Evers said. “For Wisconsin to ensure that every child graduates with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the workforce and further education, every student must be a competent reader. These Reading Best Practices programs are helping students to become proficient readers.”

Dr. Robert Morelan, superintendent of 21st Century, said, “We are closing the achievement gap especially for our minority students who are achieving above the state average in the proficient and advanced categories in reading. We also appreciate the opportunity to provide professional development to the eight school districts  we support."

Beth Pestka, Kindergarten teacher; Deborah Coca, Janes principal; Supt. Evers; 
Dr. Bethel Cager, Area 2 Supt.;  and Karen Plummer, site coordinator

Janes Year Round School principal Deborah Coca said, "Being a recipient of the this grant has provided our staff  the opportunity to share their expertise with the visiting sites. The  evaluations of the program were very appreciative and positive. The  implementation of the Read First Model has given my staff new teaching styles to provide differentiated reading interventions that help meet the needs of all students with differing abilities. I am so proud  of my staff for their efforts and working on closing the gaps for all students. One of our major accomplishments was reading for our third grade African-American students. We went from 10 percent advanced and proficient in 2008 to 100 percent advanced and proficient this year on the WKCE. "

Celebrating 175 years: Racine's oldest business

Compiled by Gerald Karwowski, Oak Clearing Farm and Museum

What's the oldest business in Racine?

It's a question easier and more difficult than you'd imagine. The easy part is CNH. J.I. Case was building his threshers in Rochester in 1842, and those inventions became the international behemoth that's still in Racine today.

Around the same time Allen Porter was building cabinets and coffins in the village of Racine. His craftsmanship would grow into Porter's furniture, a fixture in Downtown Racine for decades until just this week, when the furniture story closed down.

The second tier of businesses appears to be W.H. Pugh and D.P. Wigley. Pugh traces its roots back to 1850 in the coal business, while David P. Wigley purchased one of the oldest flour and feed businesses in the city in 1893.

Wigley bought Kent & Smith flour and feed, whose start date is seemingly lost to history. Interestingly, the D.P. Wigley site at Wisconsin Avenue and Third Street was known as "Mill Corner" and had grain-related businesses early in Racine's history.

Two other businesses that have been around for much our city's history include Knight-Barry Title Group, founded in 1854 by, Albert Knight, one of Racine County's first clerks and treasurers, and The Journal Times, which first started publishing in 1856.

While these businesses are among the oldest in Racine, it's hard to say if they are the absolute oldest. Most businesses started with different names and were bought and sold as different companies over time. Unraveling the tangle of past business transactions is a real challenge for historians. It also means there could, or should, be older businesses on this list.

Additions or corrections? Add them in the comments.

(Photos-right) The Pugh Marina building, including a marker that reads "Rebuilt 1886." It was the original Racine Water Company pumping station, which was built in 1886.

Potential buyer for Zahn's Building in Downtown Racine?
Plus floor plans for 'new' Walden

We have a few new developments in the idea of turning the former Zahn's Department Store building on Monument Square into Walden III School. First, local real estate insiders say there are at least two people interested in buying the building, including one who has made an offer on the building. No one would talk on the record, but appearently there's some action around the Downtown eyesore/potential jewel.

As for moving Walden to Monument Square, the ideas seems a little more solid than, well, an idea. Patrick Flynn, a Walden parent and active member of the school's Parent Student Teacher Association, sent over floor plans for the proposed school. Here's the plans:

Street Level
Lower Level

Second Floor

Third Floor
Fourth Floor
It's unclear how serious, if at all, Racine Unified is taking this idea. But the parents appear to be putting some resources into the proposal in case the district and city want to take a closer look.

April 26, 2010

'Make us an offer,' the Porters salesman said...

There was an air of melancholy at Porters of Racine today, the final day of the fine furniture emporium's going-out-of-business sale, the end of a 153-year history that during its prime had customers lined up around the block to see its room displays.

The irony is that Porters has been mobbed the last few weeks. Micah Waters, last generation of the store's owners, said -- with a wry smile and gallows humor -- "If we'd had 10% of this business, we wouldn't be closing."

A salesman who didn't want me to use his name said, "It's a shame we're going out like this." He'd been with the store for 18 years and said he won't think of the future until taking the summer off. Another salesman, this one planning to move to Florida, said customers -- even those who didn't shop at Porters before this final, price-busting sale -- aren't yet aware what they will miss. "Where our quality began, other stores' ended. But our reputation scared some customers away."

As customers wandered the store's three floors today, looking for that one final bargain, many shared stories of favorite pieces from past years. And it was hard to have a conversation about fine furniture without someone bringing up the Queen's Bed from the Titanic, which for a while had pride of place in the first floor showroom.

It wasn't really the Queen's bed. The queen -- we're talking about Queen Mary, wife of King George V of England, who took the throne in 1910, two years before the Titanic's maiden (and final) voyage -- never actually slept in it. The bed was in her stateroom on the Titanic but she -- luckily, as it turned out -- did not take the trip.

That original bed, we can assume, is at the bottom of the Atlantic. But a replica of the massive Victorian bed was for sale at Porters, with a pricetag over $20,000. The headboard alone -- ornate carvings, lots of gold leaf and all -- was some four feet by eight feet in size. That's one of the reasons it was displayed on the first floor and not with the other beds upstairs. Its size was also the reason why few could seriously consider it -- your house needed double-wide doors throughout, at least 45" wide, just to get that headboard inside.

And yet, it sold during this final sale. I heard two stories: One said that a couple from Milwaukee bought the bed. Another said the buyer was a Baptist minister. (The stories are not necessarily contradictory.) The price, reportedly, was about $7,500. The bed was at Porters less than eight months, according to a salesman.

That bed was a bargain compared to a beautifully inlaid dining room table and ten chairs on the second floor that I'd been watching (purely out of curiosity!) for a while. It started out at $131,000, and had a sales tag of $112,000. As of this afternoon, no buyer. Ditto for the matching china cabinet with its own $40,000-something price tag. A salesman told me the set had been on display for at least six years, "but although nobody bought it, we sold a lot off of it. It was the kind of thing people came to Porters to see." A customer who saw me looking at it noted that she'd bought her first house for less. Much less.

And so the sale wound to a close. A woman was trying, unsuccessfully, to convince her husband to buy a couple of chairs. A mother and daughter wandered around carrying a cushion from home, trying to match its fabric to a couch, any couch. They weren't having much luck. A man offered $700 for a cabinet that had a $2,700 sale price. The salesman called the stock number and customer's offer in to his manager. After a moment he looked up and said, "Congratulations."

And we had one more happy Porters customer.

Portraits of Porters early owners; that's Ted Gottlieb right, creator of the modern Porters on Sixth Street

City Notes: Alderman Shields off Finance committee

If you fight with the Mayor's office, you better be ready to take some lumps.

Alderman Michael Shields appears to be learning just that when he was yanked off the city's powerful Finance and Personnel Committee and reassigned as the junior-most member of the Public Works Committee.

Mayor John Dickert determines City Council members' committee assignments.

Finance is a plum assignment because it reviews any city issue involving the spending of money. That amounts to just about any major issue that comes before the council.

Dickert added two new members to the Finance Committee. City Council veteran Ron Hart and City Council newcomer Dennis Wiser were each given one-year terms on the committee.

Former Alderman Bob Anderson sat on the committee before leaving the council in April. Anderson declined to seek re-election.

Other Committees

City Council newcomer Eric Marcus was assigned to the Public Safety and Licensing Committee. He replaces Alderman Sandy Weidner, who moves to the Public Works committee.

Plans advance to build two new homes on Highland Avenue

Jan Roland, of Racine Habitat for Humanity, asked the city's Finance Committee to transfer ownership of a former playground at 1221 Highland Ave. (see map below) to allow construction of two new homes.

The city removed out-dated playground from the site, creating a vacant lot. Roland said he saw the vacant site and approached the city about building two new homes.

The city's only thought for the site, which at one time had a home on it, was some type of community garden, said Parks Director Donnie Snow, who supported the homes.

Roland said the new construction would help the neighborhood more than a garden.

"Two single-family homes will be a better use than planting tomatoes," Roland said.

Habitat will use its own volunteers, along with volunteers from Diversey Inc., to build the homes. More than 200 volunteers from the company will work at two sites to frame up homes. Habitat volunteers will finish the homes, which will be sold to low-income families.

The homes would be built in 2010.

View Larger Map

City gives Library a month to decide on Sunday hours

The Racine Library Board has until the end of May to decide if it wants to use $33,000 to reopen on Sundays during the school year.

The city's Finance Committee voted Monday to set a deadline for the board to make a decision on the money, which was included in the 2010 budget for the library to add the weekend hours.

Alderman Greg Helding asked the committee to consider reclaiming the money from the library and putting it in the city's contingency fund, which is used to cover unexpected costs.

"It seems like the library issue is a dead issue," Helding told the committee.

Instead of immediately taking back the money, Alderman QA Shakoor II said he wanted written confirmation from that library that it won't reopen on Sundays. The committee agreed to give the Library Board about a month to make a decision.

The vote was unanimous.

The city essentially shut the book on Sunday hours at the library during the school year when the council approved a new labor contract with the library's part-time employees. The contract does not include Sunday hours and would have to be renegotiated to include the additional hours.

The City Council voted last fall to increase the city's tax levy - the amount of money raised from city property owners - to pay for the additional Sunday hours. Helding said he "regretted" voting to "micromanage" the library's hours.

Alderman Jim Spangenberg, who voted against raising the levy to pay for the Sunday hours during the budget process, said it was clear the library didn't plan to open on Sundays.

"If they were interested, they would have jumped on this," he said.

Alderman Terry McCarthy said any response from the library to use the money to open on Sundays needed to include a specific plan on how they would add the hours. He didn't want the library to just say they were interested in hopes of holding the money longer.

No deficit?

As an aside, Helding responded publicly to Finance Director Dave Brown's claims reported on RacinePost that the city is running a $2 million deficit.

"Contrary to what was reported in some circles, the city is not running a $2 million deficit," Helding said. "We're fine."

Newspaper woes continue; Journal Times shows small gains

Newspapers are continuing to have a hard time keeping and attracting readers, in this internet age. Preliminary figures released today by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the industry's readership monitor, show overall U.S. newspaper circulation fell 8.7% in the past six months, compared to figures released a year ago. Sunday circulation fell 6.5%.

The good news is that both declines are less than what the industry suffered a year ago. 

ABC's figures also show that 24 of the country's 25 largest newspapers lost circulation over the past six months. The one exception: The Wall St. Journal, which today launched a New York edition challenging the New York Times in its own backyard.The WSJ already has more daily readers than any other newspaper in the country, with 2,092,523.

Among the biggest losers: USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, Washington Post and Detroit Free Press -- all down at least 13%. The San Francisco Chronicle brought up the rear, dropping 22.68%.

The Racine Journal Times showed a small gain over the past six months. Sunday's preliminary figure reported to the Audit Bureau of Circulations shows 29,437 paid circulation on Sunday, up seven from one year ago; and 27,892 daily, up 214 from last year's 27,678.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, despite winning a Pulitzer, had a tougher year: Sunday circulation dropped to 328,247, from 361,355 last March. Daily circulation dropped to 186,433, from 203,240.

The Kenosha News gained 326 subscribers on Sunday, ending the past six months with 26,548 compared to 26,222 a year ago. Daily circulation dropped more than a thousand, to 22,917, from 23,938 a year ago.

The Madison State Journal, which last year was bolstered by the addition of the now-online-only Capital Times' roughly 12,000 subscriber base, gave up much of that gain. Sunday circulation is down to 125,039 from 133,794. Daily circulation is 91,575, down from 96,918.

Update: Unified clarifies policy on public use of new tennis courts

Local tennis players were disappointed earlier this month when they went to Case High School to play on the school's new tennis courts and discovered they were locked.

It was surprising because the courts had been open to the public before they were were re-surfaced, along with the courts at Horlick High School, last year with $651,000 in referendum money.

However, a check with Racine Unified Spokesperson Stacy Tapp and a visit to the courts ourselves shows the courts - at least some of them - will be open for public use.

After checking with Case Activities Director Rupnow, Tapp said the district's policy is to unlock the tennis courts when a building engineer is on duty. An engineer is typically on duty from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

The courts are not available for use during school days or when they're being used by the high school tennis teams.

The courts can also be reserved by a group or individual. The fee is $5 per court per hour, including a $25 deposit and a certificate of insurance.

We visited the Case High School courts on April 21 to test if the district was keeping with its policy. We found four of the new courts were unlocked and open for play, and eight were locked. It's unclear if more courts will be opened, as needed, or if the district will keep some locked up. On the day we visited, there was nice weather, but no one playing.

The new courts at Case and Horlick are a coups for local tennis players, who had been struggling to find decent, free courts in recent years. While the city has invested in nice new courts at Lakeview Park, some had complained about the new style of surface that was used. The city also resurfaced the courts at Lockwood Park, but paint is chipping off the surface, obscruring some lines and creating an unattractive appearance.

The new Unified courts were badly needed. They replace courts that were cracked and uneven, creating a difficult playing environment for the district's boys and girls tennis teams.

Update: Here's the official policy for use of Case High School's tennis courts:
Case Tennis Court Usage Policies
1. The Case tennis courts are not available during the school day or during interscholastic events.
2. The second set of four courts labeled D2 will be unlocked for public use. All other courts will be locked for individuals or groups making reservations.
3. In order for an individual or group to secure (reserve) a court or courts, a Racine Unified School District Facility Use Form must be completed. This individual becomes the “responsible adult”. Individuals or group leaders must provide a certificate of insurance. For private citizens, this means a policy that covers you and the group playing.
4. The Facility Use Form should be completed and sent to Mike Rupnow, Activities Director at Case High School. Mike Rupnow will approve the request for availability and send the form to the Racine Unified School District’s Building and Grounds Department for their approval.
5. The “responsible adult” named on the Facility Use Form, may secure a key for the tennis courts with a $25 deposit with Mike Rupnow. The adult will be responsible for the key through the date of reservation.
6. The “responsible adult” will be billed $5.00 per hour per court that is used by the Racine Unified School District’s Buildings and Grounds.