May 15, 2010

RCPJ takes up Palestinian cause on Al-Nakba Day

Elaine Kinch and Pat Chaffee at RCPJ's peace vigil Saturday

Racine was introduced to an unfamiliar word in the protest lexicon Saturday by the Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice.

The word is "Al-Nakba," and it means "the catastrophe" in Arabic -- the day in 1948 when Israel was created and  700,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homeland.

The RCPJ, which has been a monthly fixture at the corner of Highways 20 and 31 protesting the war in Iraq, took up the new cause today, because May 15 is Al-Nakba Day in the Arab world.

Borrowing protest signs from Peace Action Milwaukee, seven members of RCPJ stood for an hour, hoping to educate those driving past. It was a mostly losing battle; what few reactions they garnered with pro-Palestinian signs -- like No U.S. $$$ for Israeli occupation of Palestine -- were more of the thumbs down variety; one driver shouted "Nazi" as he waited for the light to change.

Pat Chaffee took pains to point out, "We're not talking about Jews; we must distinguish between Israel and Jews."

Elaine Kinch said the vigil was about "peace and justice." The creation of Israel forced out more than 700,000 Palestinians. "Today there are 7 million refugees who can't return where they came from."

"When Israel was created, it started ethnic cleansing," she said.

A solution will be difficult, since turning the clock back 60 years to restore Palestinian homelands would displace the European Jews who came when the State of Israel was created on May 14, 1948, by the United Nations' partitioning of Palestine.

Corky Gerard of the Milwaukee Peace Action Coalition, said, "You can't pick and choose which historic claim to support." If you went by history, he said, "Native Americans would probably own your house."

"I don't think there will ever be a peace, because the Israeli government doesn't want it," he said.

Kinch said "you have to divide" Israel to create states for both Jews and Palestinians. Chaffee said this would be impossible, because of the "Swiss cheese" of opposing settlements.

For a fuller explanation of Al-Nakba, go here. Gerard also recommends a documentary film, Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land, about the U.S. media and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

May 14, 2010

Park High students build a car that goes 287 miles per gallon

Washington Park High School’s Design for Industry class competed in Wisconsin’s Energy Efficient Vehicle Association’s 10th annual Super-mileage Competition at Road America May 9-10.

They tested two student built cars in the unlimited class that completed 13 runs total.

Park HS Car #57 took second place in its class with an average of 287 miles per gallon, and a final run of 300.1 mpg!

(photo right) L-R: Seth Muller, Jerrid Orre, Mari Mason, Kyle Erdman, Mr. Caminiti, Justin Helm, Eddie Martinez, Brian Gronholm, and Jimmy Popawski

Former Attorney General sues city over Wilmanor Apartments; Lautenschlager representing Spodick in case

Jim Spodick is taking his $650,000 claim against the city to court, and he has a big-name attorney by his side.

Former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager filed a lawsuit in Racine County Circuit Court Thursday claiming the city reneged on a deal to knock $200,000 off of a mortgage on a low-income apartment building that Spodick had turned around. The complaint alleges Spodick had a deal with former Mayor Gary Becker and City Development Director Brian O'Connell to reduce the mortgage, but the city backed out just before Spodick was to sell the property.

Lautenschlager, who served one term as Attorney General, now works for the Madison-based law firm Bauer & Bach. Daniel Bach, one of the lead partners, is a Racine native.

The suit was delivered to City Hall on Friday and the case has been assigned to Judge Richard Kreul.

Here's the key graph:
That in 2008 and 2009, Jim Spodick had several conversations with city officials regarding the amount  required to pay off the loan. Gary Becker, who serve as mayor of the City of Racine, and Brian O'Connell, who served and serves as Director of City Development, promised Spodick the mortgage payoff amount would be reduced from $675,000 to $475,000 if Spodick could find a buyer for the property.
The city has 20 days to respond to the claim. Kreul will then decide if the case can proceed to trial.

Read our past coverage of the story here.

To recap, the deal surrounds a mortgage Spodick took on in 2006 for the Wilmanor Apartments at 255 N. Memorial Drive. At the time, the low-income apartment building had been through at least three professional management companies, but was deteriorating quickly due to unpaid rent and crime. Becker, knowing Spodick through his work on low-income apartments on West Sixth Street, asked Spodick to takeover the building in hopes of avoiding a default on the mortgage. The default would have been costly for the city because it had received low-income housing tax credits for the property. If the building failed, the city would have had to pay the money back to the federal government.

Spodick and his wife took over management of the building, spent several hundred thousand dollars on renovations, managed the problem tenants and made the apartments profitable. After stabilizing the building, Spodick looked to sell the apartments with the understanding that the city would reduce the mortgage on the property by $200,000 to compensate Spodick for part of the renovations. (Incidentally, it was almost a fluke the city got any money back on the property. Two banks dismissed over $2 million in loans on the property - well more than the apartments were ever worth. The city then fell into first position on the loan, allowing them to collect when Spodick sold the building.

In the lawsuit, Spodick claims he went ahead with a sale assuming the city would reduce the $675,000 mortgage by $200,000. When the city refused the deal, he was on the hook for the money, which cost him an opportunity to buy another building. Spodick is claiming he lost $450,000 because he was unable to complete the purchase.

After the council rejected his request to reduce the mortgage, Spodick filed a claim against the city. The council rejected the claim on Nov. 17, opening the door for Spodick to sue the city.

He'll have a tough case to prove. City Council members argued in November that even if Becker or O'Connell made the deal with Spodick, the council has to give it final approval. But he can also tell a good story about how he helped turn around a problem building and preserved its low-income tax credits, only to lose money in the end.

The wild card may be Becker, who, despite being in prison, could testify in the case. If Kreul allows the case to proceed, Lautenschlager and Spodick may call him to verify their claims of a handshake deal on the property. Then again, it's hard to say how much credibility the former mayor would have under oath.

Dog Park closed for the summer by Highway 38 construction

Dog owners, you'll have to find a new place to let Fido run.

The city's Dog Park on Highway 38 is closed for the summer due to road construction along Highway 38. The work will temporarily close down the entrance to the park and eliminate parking. The good news is construction includes city plans to build an off-street parking lot for the Dog Park. So while the park is closed, for now, it will reopen better forever in late fall.

Here's the official announcement from the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department:
The City of Racine’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department informs you that road construction has started on Highway 38. Only some areas will be open to local traffic. The road construction will effectively close the Dog Park. There will not be any parking available at the dog park starting Wednesday, May 13, 2010. Driving and parking, at the Dog Park, is not an option until the road construction is completed.

People trying to get to the dog park may be ticketed, as they will not be considered local traffic. Individuals with questions, about the Dog Park, may call the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services at 636-9131.
And here's information from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation on the Highway 38 project, which is scheduled to be finished in late October:
WIS 38

Location: County K to Oakwood

Schedule: Late April to Oct. 29, 2010

Length of project: 8 miles

Cost: $6.3 million

Type of work: WIS 38 will be mostly a mill and resurface project with improvements to intersections at Hoods Creek Road, Brook Road. Four Mile Road, Five Mile Road, West River Road Nicholson Road, County H, 6 ½ Mile Road, Forest Hill Road, 7 ½ Mile Road, Caddy Lane, Elm Road and Howell Service Drive. Two bridges at Husher Creek and Tributary to Husher Creek will be reconstructed with new box culverts. Signals will be added at County G. Finally, storm sewer pipes and culvert pipes will be added as necessary.

Traffic impacts: WIS 38 through traffic will be closed during the construction period. The detour route will utilize north WIS 31 to WIS 32 to west on WIS 100. Work on the two box culverts at Husher Creek and tributary to Husher Creek will be staggered to keep one open at all times. Access to homes and businesses will be provided using the nearest side road.

May 13, 2010

RUGN accepting applications for garden plots

The Racine Urban Garden Network is accepting applications for use of garden plots (10' x 20') in the new community garden on the corner of 8th and Marquette. Volunteers from Walden School, Parkside, Sam's Club and RUGN have been busy laying paths and preparing the gardens with compost.

The garden area has been leased from the city for this use and it is the hope of those involved that anyone who has ever wished for a garden participate. The rental fee of $20 can be waived if the gardener cannot afford it and what you plant is your choice. Flowers as well as vegetables are welcome.

Applications are available at DP Wigley, Mitchell Wagon Lofts, Cup of Hope Coffee Shop or on the RUGN website.   

Gardeners must attend an orientation session, either on Sunday, May 16, from 1 to 3 p.m., or Wednesday, May 19, from 6  to 8 p.m.. Both sessions will be held rain or shine in the Root River REC Center at 301 W. 6th St. Master Gardeners as well as RUGN members will be available to answer questions and give out applications. For more information contact

Gateway cuts ribbon at Advanced Propulsion Lab

Nicholas Pinchuk, CEO of Snap-on Inc., speaks at ribbon cutting. 
Others are, from left, Jane Oates, Bryan Albrecht and Gov. Jim Doyle

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held today in Kenosha for Gateway Technical College's Advanced Propulsion Lab.

Among those present were Gov. Jim Doyle and Jane Oates, of the U.S. Dept. of Labor.

"This is a world-class center and you should be proud it is in your community," said Oates, assistant secretary of the Employment and Training Administration. "This facility is at the cutting edge."

The 12,800 sq. ft. lab is at 4940-88th Ave. in Kenosha, at the Horizon Center for Transportation Technology. It will provide training focused on diesel and related “green” technologies.

“Advanced propulsion is an all-encompassing term and this facility will provide training for qualified technicians in many different areas of the transportation industry,” said Gateway President Bryan Albrecht. Students will learn how to mix biodiesel fuel and will be trained on charging stations for vehicles powered by electricity.

Gov. Doyle said, "It is critical that we have workers trained to meet the needs of the changing world of transportation.”

Nicholas T. Pinchuk, Snap-on Incorporated chairman and CEO, said, "This is exactly what we need to compete in the global marketplace.”  Students will train on state-of-the-art Snap-on diagnostics and in a “green garage” sponsored by Snap-on which will use only sustainable or other environmentally friendly chemicals and related processes.

Other features include an engine “run” room for mimicking real-world drive conditions and a hydraulics lab for practicing what they learn.

Doyle signs Mason's 'Green to Gold' loan fund into law

 Gov. Doyle at signing today; Rep. Mason second from left

Gov. Jim Doyle today signed into law Senate Bill 651, which creates a so-called "Green to Gold" revolving loan fund. The $100 million in state and federal funds will be available at low interest to Wisconsin industries wishing to lower their energy costs, make "green" products and create and retain jobs.

“My top priority has been and will continue to be helping businesses create jobs and giving our workers the opportunities to get those jobs,” Doyle said at the UW-Milwaukee bill signing.

The bill, written by Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, and Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, authorizes the Department of Commerce to make loans to manufacturing businesses to adopt energy efficiency measures, retool to manufacture green products, expand or establish domestic clean energy manufacturing, and create or retain jobs in this sector.

Mason said, “This is a huge win for Wisconsin’s struggling manufacturers, for workers, and for the environment. The Green to Gold fund is a smart use of existing resources, and will leverage our state’s manufacturing base and high-skilled workforce to put people back to work, creating clean energy products.”

Mason said he'd heard from manufacturers around the state that they wanted to make their facilities more energy efficient, "but funds are scarce, and it’s hard to get financing these days. The Green to Gold fund addresses this need."

Report: Smoking kills 246 Racine County residents per year

An estimated 246 people in Racine County die every year from smoking, according to a report from the University of Wisconsin Medical School released this week. 

The 2010 Burden of Tobacco in Wisconsin report estimated smoking cost Racine County residents 3,420 years of life and $160 million in health care costs and lost productivity.

Smoking-related deaths make up 16 percent of all death in Racine County, according to the report, which was prepared by UW's Tobacco Surveillance and Evaluation Program. 

The economic impact in Racine County included $99.1 million in health care costs paid for smoking-related diseases and $61.1 million in productivity costs due to sickness or premature death. 

It also noted Racine County residents spent $66.3 million on 16.2 million packs of cigarettes in 2008. 

In 2007, smoking cost every Racine County resident, on average, $498.

Statewide, an average of 7,717 people die annually from direct and indirect smoking, according to the report. The smoking-related deaths account for 15 percent of all deaths in the state.

The report estimated people lost 94,500 years of life from smoking and cost the state $4.5 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity. State residents purchased 374 million packs of cigarettes in 2008, according to the report.

Building Permits: Kurt Sports Complex building $15K wheelchair ramp

The city issued eight commercial building alteration permits in April. They included:

* Kurk Concrete is building a "trussed - overwheel chair ramp" at 740 College Ave., the former YWCA building, which is now home to Kurt Sports Complex. The project's cost is estimated at $15,000. The permit fee was $180.

* Kotze Construction is making basement alterations to Tri City National Bank at 2704 Lathrop Ave. (formerly Bank of Elmwood). The alterations are estimated at $1,400. The permit cost $60.

* Emile Mathis, of Mathis Gallery at 246 Main St., is remodeling his gallery's facade. The project is estimated at $4,000. The permit cost $60.

* Bane Nelson is repairing columns at the Racine Zoo. The project is estimated at $4,370. The permit cost $60.

* Horlick High School is renovating its soccer field bleachers. The project is estimated at $5,000. The permit cost $60.

* Mark Hyde is building a 20x29-foot deck at the REC Center at 1301 W. Sixth St. The project is estimated at $5,000. The permit cost $60.

* Mike Ottelein is renovating an 8x8-foot toilet room at 3208 Washington Ave. The project is estimated at $1,000. the permit cost $60.

Occupancy Permits: The Pit BBQ on DeKoven Ave.

The city issued eight occupancy permits in April for new businesses. The permits included:

* The Pit BBQ carryout restaurant at 1215 DeKoven Ave. The restaurant, former home to BBQ Time, is owned by Loren Buirge.

* Edward Guss is opening a repair garage on at 2513 Fergus Ave.

* Ricos Value City at 1817 State St. The store is owned by Yailin Felliciano.

* Gold Horizon Second Hand Jewelry at 5502 Durand Ave. The store owner is Omar Canpolat.

* 3rd Coast Bicycles at 246 Main St. The bike rental shop is owned by Donald Heckel.

* Silver Choice and Name Buckles Second Hand Jewelry at 5502 Durand Ave. The story is owned by Ahmad Khan.

* Byron Graves Photography at 1503 Washington Ave. The business is owned by Byron Graves.

* Tradewinds Bar and Banquet Hall at 1518 Washington Ave. the business is owned by Gary De Pelecyn.

All permits cost $200, except for Canpolat's, which cost $100.

May 12, 2010

Tourism spending here dropped 11% in 2009

Earlier this week, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism reported a major decline in tourism spending in the state last year.

Travelers spent "only" $12.09 billion in Wisconsin last year, compared to $13.11 billion in 2008. That's a 7.8% drop. Nationwide, the U.S. Travel Association reported a 9% spending decline.

Yeah, but what about here, in Racine County? Well, today we have the answer, from Dave Blank, president of RealRacine, the former Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Blank reports that tourists spent $218 million here in 2009, an 11.3% decline from the previous year.

Even with the decline, Blank says Racine County "held on to 13th place for tourism revenue" among the state's 72 counties. And the bulk of the drop in visitor spending is business travel, "Racine's bread and butter from October through April."

"Certainly, the economic downturn took a toll on Wisconsin's tourism industry," Blank said in the organization's e-tourism newsletter. "People had less discretionary money to spend on their vacations. It also didn't help that the state cut the tourism promotion budget significantly, inviting fewer people to enjoy our attractions, restaurants, lodging facilities and destinations."

Still, optimism abounds: "The economy appears to be gradually recovering and people are starting to travel again. Wisconsin tourism could fare well in this recovery if it capitalizes on such travel trends as closer-to-home vacations and more value-conscious consumers."

Real Racine also announced today receipt of a $39,550 marketing grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism to promote Racine County. This grant is expected to generate $2.75 million in tourism spending.

The money will be used to promote the new RealRacine brand in Chicago.  "The grant will allow us to start the implementation phase of the "RealRacine" brand to the external market," said Blank.

RealRacine's next big event here is the Spike and Splash Festival at North Beach, a weekend combining EVP Pro Beach Volleyball and the U.S. Grand Prix of Watercross. The two events take place on Saturday, June 19, and Sunday, June 20. There is free admission to both.

What McReynolds mentioned -- and ignored -- in his annual address

Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds' state of the county address was notable for what he didn't mention.

Neither the fraud and laxity discovered last year in the county's oversight of the Wisconsin Shares child-care program (a state audit showed that the county's day care certification workers have the highest caseload of all 11 counties audited),  nor the current spate of stories regarding medical care at the County Jail that have led to the state's transferring out of inmates because the health care they receive here isn't good enough (the $29 million jail addition houses roughly 200 fewer inmates than budgeted; Kenosha County recently cancelled an $880,000 contract to house juvenile delinquents here) received even a passing glance -- not a single word! -- as McReynolds addressed the County Board with his annual appraisal of the county's health.

Instead he talked about unemployment, record numbers of foreclosesures and a "bright spot" as real estate transfer fees stablize. He praised three companies that brought a total of 138 jobs into the county -- "I consider jobs for Racine County my Number 1 priority," he said -- and praised county department heads for cutting 387 positions from the county's employment rolls, "51 slots in this year's budget alone."

He congratulated the County Board for scheduling a referendum on transportation taxes, saying, "All our residents should be able to express their views on transit and taxation in a meaningful way." Of course, the referendum is merely advisory, so ...

And he came out strongly for cooperation among local governments "to do something about duplication of services and facilities." He referred to shared buildings, shared land and "consolidation of emergency dispatch services."

Speaking of duplication, McReynolds (or his speech-writers) was apparently so proud of three facts --  that the county has reduced its debt by $143,000, "within our $50 million target;" general fund equity has increased to $45.3 million; and the county's bond ratings have gone up -- that the embargoed .pdf version of his address mentioned those points twice.

Read McReynolds' entire address here. 

(Caveat: We weren't at the County Board meeting where McReynolds delivered his State of the County address. This post is based only on the printed text released by the county. )

May 11, 2010

Celebrating 175 years: The road called Emmertsen

By Gerald L. Karwowski,

We drive cars, ride bikes, jog, walk dogs, dodge pot holes and park on our roads without a thought. However, sometimes while waiting for a traffic light to change or in a line of cars to move we glance up at the sign that bears the roads name and wonder how it came to be. Emmertsen Road was one that I questioned Racine’s long term County Executive Dennis Kornwolf about while we were going to lunch one afternoon before he passed away. Kornwolf said he didn’t know either. But he thought there might be an easy way for me to find out. He recommended that I contact and talk to Myrtle Emmertsen Jacobsen to get the answer.

After tracking down the former Trautwein and Mygatt’s Corners school teacher, I found an interesting 89 year old who said she didn’t have a clue either on why the road bore her family’s name. However, Myrtle suspected because there were only a few houses on the road at the time, her family may have been more popular because of the girls living there.

We may never know the exact reason why the road was named after the Emmertsen family, but at least the family and their home are not lost in time. The photos are still around to give us a glimpse into this part of Mt. Pleasant’s history. Myrtle, who had no children, was thrilled that someone had a interest in her family and preserving their part in our local history.

Emmertsen Homestead, 504 Emmertsen Road. The house still stands today, but all the out buildings have been razed. 

Emmertsen Family: Front from left - Grandma – Emma Emmertsen , granddaughter- Cathryn and Grandpa Hans Emmertsen. Back, granddaughter - Myrtle, Son- Emmert his wife Olga and granddaughter Florence

Hans Emmertsen’s granddaughters at left Cathryn, Florence and Myrtle

Priceless 1921 photo of Florence and Myrtle Emmertsen in a basket.

Update: Moreau MacCaughey writes in to add:
Florence Emmertsen taught kindergarten at Jerstad Agerholm for many years. She lived in the family homestead until her nephew married and moved into the house; she was so pleased to have it continue in the family. The nephew died in an accident at a very young age, and to my knowledge, his widow probably still lives there. Florence sang in the Racine Chorale until her health no longer permitted her to continue. She had many friends around the community.  

Racine Unified exploring new home for its central office

The Racine Unified School District could save $1 million a year by relocating its central office to to the former Surgitek campus on the city's north side.

Unified Chief Financial Officer Dave Hazen said Tuesday the district was investigating the move. The savings would come from reduced energy bills and operations savings, he said.

District administrators met with employee group leaders Tuesday night to present the opportunity and discuss steps needed before the move.

The building - actually, a two-building campus - would provide for more efficient energy use resulting in reduced utility costs and more efficient work flow, Hazen said. The district now houses warehouse and maintenance staff in two different buildings at 2200 Northwestern Ave. One of Unified's central office buildings is three stories and the other a four-story building. The Surgitek campus, located at 3037 Mount Pleasant St., would allow these departments to be housed on a single story and in one building, providing cost savings.

Hazen said the former Surgitek and ACMI Corp. plant had suitable office space in good condition. The owner of ACMI, a medical instrument manufacturer, shut down the plant in 2007, putting 170 people out of work.

Prior to making a recommendation to the School Board, the district will conduct a feasibility study to determine cost savings as well as cost of the potential move. It will also seek input from employees and the business community and have a third-party review of the deal to make sure it actually saves money. 

The early numbers look good, Hazen said.

The cost of the building purchase would be approximately $5 million including moving costs. The move would save the district about $1 million per year and cost the district about $500,000 in loan payments for 10 to 15 years.  The district is also looking into the possible sale of the current central office building, which would offset some of the cost. 

Hazen said he was looking at the potential new home as a business decision. It would help the district save money, which is important at a time when the local school system is dealing with shrinking budgets and growing needs, he said.  

Hazen added the potential move would go through a different process than building or moving a school. While important, schools don't result in savings, he said. Moving the district's central office could free up resources to hire teachers or additional district staff. 

"They're totally different decisions," Hazen said. 

View Larger Map
Map showing the possible new home for Racine Unified's central office.

The district put out a Q&A on the potential move: 

What process is District administration using to ensure that central office relocation will actually save the District money?

     1.  Share information and begin discussions with employee groups and union leaders
  1. Seek private sector help for the feasibility study
  2. Review feasibility study with an external accounting firm to determine actual yearly cost savings associated with the relocation to the Surgitech campus
  3. Review completed feasibility study with Board of Education by July 12, 2010
  4. Ask for Board Decision at the July 19, 2010 Board meeting
  5. Reinvest cost savings into schools  ongoing

How much is this going to cost the taxpayer?
The cost of relocating the District central office will be approximately $5 million and will be paid out of current funding. The funds used to purchase this building would be paid back through the cost savings – which could be up to $1 million a year. No additional funding will be required.

Where is the District going to come up with $5 million to purchase the new building?
The building would be purchase using a loan. The loan would be paid back through yearly cost savings. No additional funding will be required.

What’s wrong with the current central office building?
The current building is energy inefficient with high utility costs. The layout of the current central office building doesn’t provide for operational efficiencies – specifically for our maintenance and operations departments. The District currently houses warehouse and maintenance staff in two different buildings; one is three stories and the other a four-story building. The Surgitech campus would allow these departments to be housed on a single story and in one building, creating operational efficiencies and cost savings. Both the operating and the utility savings could then be reinvested into our schools.

Why is the District considering the purchase of a building for central office when schools are in need of new buildings?
The District is always looking for ways to save costs and create efficiencies.  The Surgitech campus is available now and we believe that the purchase of the campus and the relocation could save the District $1 million in costs annually. If the external feasibility study and audit confirm the savings, administration would recommend to the School Board to move forward so that the District can begin reinvesting that money back into our schools.

Why not move Walden School to the vacant Surgitech campus?
In order to make a building “education-ready,” different standards are required (e.g. heating/cooling, room size, etc.). This would be very costly. In addition, as a school, this building would not see the increased work-flow efficiencies that it will as a central office building. Relocating Walden (or any) School to the new building would not allow for the cost savings we anticipate by relocating the central office there. The end goal is to reduce costs so we can invest this money back into our schools.

Where will the money the District saves go?
District administrators will consider the needs of the District and reinvest the money in a strategic way that aligns with our North Star Vision.

Hollywood Video latest casualty in DVD rentals

Nothing on the tube, think you'll go out and rent a video tonight?

Think again.

Hollywood Video is closing -- victim of the same disease that felled Blockbuster here last month: DVDs by mail. No date has been given for the closure.

Hollywood Video's parent company, Movie Gallery Inc., announced today that it will close all 1,900 of its stores.  In Southeastern Wisconsin, it operated the retail store at 4700 Washington Ave., along with others in Cudahy and Kenosha, and Movie Gallery stores in Lake Genva and Fort Atkinson. The chain sought bankruptcy protection in February, so the closure is not a surprise.

Family Video at 2065 Lathrop is still in business  -- part of a chain once listed as the third-largest movie and game retailer in the country, and soon perhaps the largest. It began in 1978 and has 550 stores in 18 states.

State pulled inmates out of the Racine County Jail over health concerns

The Department of Corrections removed 30 inmates from the Racine County Jail earlier this year over concerns with the facility's health care services, according to a department spokesperson.

Linda Eggert, public information director for the Department of Corrections, released the following statement Tuesday about the Racine County Jail:
On March 26, 2010, Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Rick Raemisch sent a letter to Racine County Sheriff Robert Carlson informing him that the DOC was exercising its right under the terms of our contract to terminate the contract for the long term housing of DOC state prison inmates. Shortly after notification, the DOC transferred about 30 inmates from the Racine County jail back to our Division of Adult Institutions.

The decision to remove state prison inmates from the Racine County jail was not based on a single event, but rather on a culmination of events, including concerns about the organizational structure and staffing patterns of its health care system. Health care staffing at the Racine County Jail remains a concern of ours and at this time the Department cannot justify the long term housing of our state inmates at that facility.

The Department remains open to the idea of reevaluating the status of the contract based on the Racine County Jail’s response to our concerns.
The state is still housing inmates short-term at the Racine County Jail.

The County Board is expected to vote tonight on spending $153,000 to hire a full-time nurse practioner and to double the number of hours a doctor is in the jail to 12. As we reported last week, Sheriff Robert Carlson said the request for additional medical staff was due, at least in part, to the state's decision to remove its inmates.

Here's our story from last week: State raises concerns about county jail's medical staff

Library to renovate and re-carpet adult areas

The Racine Public Library will begin a six-month renovation project this month.

The project includes replacing the carpet in the second floor adult department, creating more floor space by infilling the atrium between the first floor administration area and the adult services department on the second floor, and the creation of a separate teen area and a Racine History Room.

Thousands of books will be moved back and forth during the recarpeting, starting with the fiction collection, which will move to the current seating area near the East windows.

The Library's trustees approved a bid for $246,000, awarded to Absolute Construction of Racine. The cost of replacing the carpeting, which was installed in 1989, is being shared by the city and the library. Other renovation costs are being paid for with the library’s endowment funds.

The following changes may affect library usage:

Beginning May 10, meetings and programs scheduled for the Emily Lee Room will be relocated to the Peg Martin Room.

Asbestos abatement will begin in the northwest corner of the library on May 24. Infilling of the second floor atrium will begin June 1.

Stamp Out Hunger drive collects 77,000 lbs. of food

Over 77,000 pounds of food were collected Saturday by local letter carriers in the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. The amount was up over 10% from last year.

The National Association of Letter Carriers and the United States Postal Service sponsored the drive, -- the largest one-day food drive in the U.S. It provides the Racine County Food Bank with almost 10% of the food distributed to local food pantries for the entire year.

Because of the Food Bank’s emphasis on its “Super Six Most Needed Items” list, volunteers who collected and sorted food from the drive reported that many of the donors took that list to heart, making the food collected even more useful.

Volunteers included representatives from the U.S. Postal Service, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the United Way of Racine County, the Racine Founders Rotary Club, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 767, the Racine Community Action Agency, Two Can Do It Movers, Pro-Build, Pioneer Products, Great Northern Corporation and the Racine Storm youth basketball team and coaches. They all donated their time, and in many cases, vehicles and equipment to assist the Food Bank in this huge undertaking.

The Racine County Food Bank is a United Way Partner Provider that provides food assistance to pantries, shelters and meal programs throughout Racine County, who, in turn, provide an average of over 60,000 meals each month.

'Stamp Out Hunger' food drive up over 10%

Area residents gave their mail women and men a work out on May 8 - and the Racine County Food Bank benefited from all the effort.

Local Letter Carriers and the Letter Carriers Auxiliary banded together with the Racine Postmaster, Station Supervisors and many volunteers to collect over 77,000 pounds of food for those in need in the local community.

The National Association of Letter Carriers and the United States Postal Service sponsored its “Stamp Out Hunger” Food Drive on Saturday, May 8. It's the largest one-day food drive in the nation – and probably the world – and provides the Racine County Food Bank with almost 10 percent of the food that they need to supply their affiliates for the entire year

The total weight was up slightly over 10 percent from last year, and, because of the Racine County Food Bank’s emphasis on its “Super Six Most Needed Items” list, volunteers that collected and sorted food from the drive reported that many of the donors took that list to heart, making the food collected even more valuable to the Food Bank.

Volunteers included individuals and families along with representatives from the U.S. Postal Service, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the United Way of Racine County, the Racine Founders Rotary Club, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 767, the Racine Community Action Agency, Two Can Do It Movers, Pro-Build, Pioneer Products, Great Northern Corporation and the Racine Storm youth basketball team and coaches. They all donated their time, and in many cases, vehicles and equipment to assist the Food Bank in this huge undertaking.

The Racine County Food Bank is a United Way Partner Provider that provides food assistance to pantries, shelters and meal programs throughout Racine County, who, in turn, provide an average of over 60,000 meals each month to those less fortunate in our community.

Racine Unified announces new interim Area 1 superintendent

Racine Unified Superintendent Dr. Jim Shaw named current Gifford Elementary School Principal Steve Russo interim Area 1 Superintendent on Monday. Russo will replace Dona Sens who is retiring after 16 years with the District.

“Steve Russo’s record as a principal in a high performing school and his commitment to Racine Unified, make him an ideal candidate to serve in this interim position and help redesign the RUSD Administrative Service Center,” said Superintendent Shaw.

Russo has been with the District for more than 36 years. He began his career as a teacher at Franklin Elementary for two years years and then at Knapp Elementary for 24 years. He’s been at Gifford Elementary for 11 years, having started as a teacher and then served as an assistant principal. He’s been in his current role as Gifford principal for seven years.

“I’m eager to take on this new challenge,” said Russo. “Dona Sens has been a mentor and inspiration to me for some time. I know it will be difficult to fill her shoes, but I am motivated by this opportunity to serve the entire District.”

As Area 1 Superintendent, Russo will be responsible for the District’s Cluster 1 Schools which includes Case High School. In addition, he will assist the central office team in redesigning the work of central office administrators in supporting school improvement plans, principals, teacher data teams and the achievement of the North Star.

May 10, 2010

11 ways to save the Laurel Clark Fountain

It's hopeless.

That's the word from city officials on the Laurel Clark fountain that was a major Downtown attraction, but is now an elaborate decoration that's off limits to kids. The city is blaming chlorine and a new a state law for shutting down the mega-splash pads. I'm wondering if it's a lack of imagination.

The JT laid out two suggestions in a recent editorial: 1.) Change the state law; and 2.) Ignore enforcement. Those are both good ideas. Here are nine more ways to save the fountain:

3.) Fundraiser - Money was donated to build a fountain to honor Racine's astronaut. Money would be donated to make the needed adjustments to preserve its intended use. One of the most touching moments I've seen in the last 10 years was Clark's husband pulling their son into the fountain at its dedication ceremony. This is one of the best attractions the city has built for children in years. People around the country, even the world, would donate to keep it open to children.

4.) Sell Naming Rights - The fountain was built in Clark's honor, and it's possible a large corporation or private donor would come forward to sponsor the attraction. It could be done tastefully - and effectively.

5.) Charge - If the city needs a lifeguard for the fountain, then follow the zoo's lead and charge a small admission fee. Parents would pay $1 to let their kids splash in the fountain for an hour, and the money would help defray costs.

6.) Talk to Mick Wynhoff - The owner of Pacific Sands says he can use natural ingredients to treat the water without the corrosive effects of chlorine. If successful, it'd be a way to help a local company and save the fountain.

7.) Pepsi Challenge Grant - Kim Wendt and Mitchell Middle School raised $50,000 to rebuild science classrooms with a couple of months of intense effort. Pepsi has a $250,000 category and Racine has a great story about a kids' fountain built for a fallen astronaut to tell. We could do it.

8.) Volunteers - Just find volunteers to do the work and donate the materials. It's a community fountain, so find a community to save it.

9.) BID board - Downtown businesses pay a lot of money into a "business improvement district." Downtown businesses could lead efforts to raise the money needed to save the fountain.

10.) Just pay it - Put the money in the city budget and fix the fountain. When I first moved to Racine the city let the ice rink at Festival Hall fall away. It'd be a shame to see the fountain go the same route.

That said, if nothing else works ...

11.) Shut it down - If the city isn't going to save the fountain, just shut it down. It's a waste of water to run the fountain and keep it off limits to children. Better to leave what was than move forward with whatever is there now.

Maybe one of these works. Maybe a combination works. I just know I've seen Racine do some remarkable things over the last decade. Let's find a way to do one more.

May 9, 2010

Chris Wright to kick-off Assembly campaign May 17

Chris Wright will formally kick off his campaign for the 62nd Assembly District seat now held by Cory Mason on Monday, May 17. The event, free and open to the public, will be held at Mike and Angelo’s, 6214 Washington Ave., from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

“I’m excited about beginning the campaign and getting to meet the people of the 62nd district,” said Wright. “I believe that the leadership in Madison has lost touch with the people they have been elected to represent. I am committed to changing that when I am elected.”

The district consists of Sturtevant, Elmwood Park, most of Mount Pleasant and parts of southern and western Racine.

“I commit to working to improve the business climate, reducing the tax burden and bringing integrity back to Madison,” said Wright.

Wright has been a Sturtevant trustee for three years. Mason has been in the Assembly since 2006.