May 29, 2010

Root River revived!
A great day on Racine's river

Hundreds of people turned out Saturday for the "Root River Revival" at the REC Center off of West Sixth Street. Perfect weather greeted the event, which kicked off the paddling season on the Root River. It was also an opportunity for the REC to dedicate its new deck, get kids fishing and to share information on everything from invasive species to eating healthy. Here's photos from a great Saturday ...

Rotary West donates a check for $10,000 to pay for the REC's new deck.

Workers and volunteers who helped build the new the REC's new deck.

The revival offered free kayak and canoe rentals from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Click here for rates during the season.)

Kids fished free on Saturday.

View from the railroad bridge near the REC.

The DNR donated a fishing game for kids to practice in the parking lot.

Johnson Bank donated a tent for exhibitors.

A marine toad from Bermuda. It's similar to Wisconsin toads, just 3x as big.

LZ Lambeau a prelude to Memorial Day

Veterans' organizations held a homecoming for all Wisconsin Vietnam Vets last weekend in Green Bay.

LZ Lambeau consisted of a motorcycle ride for the 1,100+ who died in Vietnam, an opening ceremony by the eight Wisconsin Tribes, Laotians who live in Wisconsin, and Viet vets. There were military displays around the grounds, a map veterans could sign showing where they were in country.

There was a book signing by Wisconsin vets who participated in the documentary and book about Wisconsin veterans, and the mobile Vietnam wall memorial. 

Dan White of Racine was there, and took some terrific pictures, which he shares with us as a prelude to the Memorial Day weekend.Click the link above for his slideshow.

May 28, 2010

Downtown Trolley begins running in June

The Downtown Trolley begins its 19th year of summer service the day after Memorial Day, making continuous loops along the lakefront from the Racine Zoo on the north to 7th Street on the south.

Hours of operation are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; and 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. No trolley service is provided on Monday. Perhaps the best deal in town, the 25-cent fare per person is half of the adult fare charged back in 1991 when the trolley first started. Residents, downtown workers, visitors and boat owners use the shuttle service to get to a variety of destinations, including restaurants, pubs, shops, the art district, the Racine Public Library, museums and the Racine Zoo. 

"The Downtown Trolley is one of Racine’s gems, giving locals and visitors a convenient, inexpensive method to visit many of Racine’s major attractions while experiencing a touch of street car nostalgia," says Stephen Rogstad, Executive Director of Professional Transit Management of Racine in charge of the trolley and the BUS.

Brochures containing the trolley route map, a schedule of trolley stops and scheduled Downtown events are available from merchants, Real Racine at Hwy 20 and I-94, the Downtown Racine Corporation at 425 Main St. and from the Belle Urban System (BUS) Operations Center, at 1900 Kentucky Street, or by calling the BUS at (262) 637-9000.

The fountain (cont.)

So there we were, minding our own business Wednesday afternoon, sitting on one of the benches around the Laurel Clark Fountain. It was a sunny day -- 82 degrees, said the bank sign I encountered later on Durand  -- and every so often a family would wander by.

The kids would run up to the fountain, dipping a sneakered or barefoot toe into the water's edge while Mom or Dad, or both, would walk over to the Keep Out of Fountain signs. By then, the smiling kids would have run to the one of the spouting geysers, sticking their hands in it to divert the flow.

And then mother, or dad, would say something quietly to the kids, the smiles would disappear and everyone would slowly, and sadly, walk away. Nobody lingers at the fountain any more.

On Wednesday, the only kids making full use of the fountain were two older boys, who ran through it on their bicycles a couple of times. I felt it was my civic duty to warn them about the police van sitting a couple of hundred feet away in the boat ramp parking lot, with a good view of what was going on.

"There's a $75 fine if the cops catch you doing that," I said.

"They have to catch us first," one of the youths said, as he took a final run-through on his bike, attempting a handstand through the water jets.

And then they were gone.

The police van drove by exactly four minutes later, catching only a little girl standing wistfully outside the fountain's edge, barely dampening the sole of her flip-flops.

Municipal judge sues city over deputy clerk appointment

The city is being sued by an unlikely source: Its own municipal judge.

Judge Mark Nielsen filed suit against the city and AFSCME Local 67 in February over the appointment of a deputy clerk. The case revolves around two applicants for the job in Racine's municipal court. Nielsen interviewed both candidates and selected an employee from the Racine Police Department for the job. Local 67 opposed the hire because the applicant didn't follow property procedures in applying for the job. That left only one candidate, who the union said should get the job.

Nielsen disagreed, arguing the union's rules shouldn't overrule his authority to appoint a deputy clerk.

"The process of collective bargaining, however, does not empower the City administration to barter away the authority of a judge," Nielsen wrote in court records.

The result is that two city employees - both applicants are Local 67 members - are in limbo until the case is resolved. Judge Richard Kreul is presiding over the case.

Deputy City Attorney Scott Letteney is representing the city and Attorney Aaron Halstead is representing AFSCME.

May 27, 2010

Property Transfers: Mount Pleasant apartments sell for $1.1 million; Open Pantry for $438K

An apartment building in Mount Pleasant sold for $1.1 million earlier this month.

The two 8-unit buildings at 1101 Prairie Drive was listed by Steve Anderson and Adam Williquette of MLG Commercial. The buildings, built in 2006, have a combined total of 15,800 square feet. They were listed for $1.28 million.

The sale was the highest price in Racine County for the week of May 17, according to property transfers.

The largest sale in the city of Racine was the Open Pantry gas station at 611 W. Sixth St. The station sold for $438,000.

Also, an apartment building at 2500 Jacato Drive sold for $195,000.

The most expensive home sold in the city during the week of the 17th was at 3601 St. Clair St. for $157,900.

See below for the complete list of Property Transfers.

Property Transfers, 5-17

Youth As Resources elects new board officers

Youth As Resources, a community investment committee of United Way of Racine County, has elected the following officers for its 2010-2011 program year:

Board Chairperson - Shan Sivanushanthan, Case High School; Adult Co-Chair - MaryBeth Kallio, United Way of Racine County; Secretary - Jenny Craig, The Prairie School; and Historian/Service Project Leader - Milan Myers, Walden III Middle School.

These board officers will lead a group of 24 youth and adult members who are responsible for awarding grants to youth-designed, youth-led community service projects throughout Racine County. During the 2009-2010 program year, YAR awarded $9,373 to 11 community service projects that were completed by youth groups from a variety of organizations, including schools, churches, and scouts.

To learn more about Youth As Resources, youth and adults are encouraged to contact program coordinator Jessica Safransky at (262) 898-2251.

'Root River Revival' this Saturday at REC Center in Racine; Free paddling and activities

The third annual "Root River Revival" will be held Saturday, May 29 at the REC Center in Racine.

The community event is the kickoff to the 2010 paddling season. It will feature free kayaking and canoeing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and activities from noon to 3 p.m.

At noon, REC (short for Root River Environmental Education Community Center) officials will dedicate the new Racine Rotary West Deck, which was built by volunteers from the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship with money provided by the Rotary West.

Along with the free paddling, activities include:

Backyard Bass
Fishing (adults must have license)
Bug crafts
Face painting

On the Deck:

12pm - Deck Dedication
12:15 - pm John Graznow and Co. (music)
1 pm - Walden III Battle of the Bottles
1:15 - pm Macyn Taylor (music)
2 pm - Walden III Bottle raffle
2:30 - Home made rockets

Inside the building:

12:15 - What is Sweetwater Organics? Learn about Milwaukee’s commercial aquaponic experiment.
1:15 - Story of bottled water (video clip)
2 pm - Live animals
3pm - Story of bottled water (video clip)

    Mason leads legislative committee on infant mortality

    Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, was appointed to lead the Legislative Council Special Committee on infant mortality, along with Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit.

    “Wisconsin’s high infant mortality rate is one of the biggest shortfalls in our state,” said Mason. “Every community should be able to provide the resources to ensure that babies live to see their first birthday. The goal of our committee will be to find those resources and make them work effectively in Wisconsin.”

    The infant mortality rate is the number of babies per thousand who do not live to see their first birthday. “Our African American infant mortality rates are the highest in the U.S., approaching 28 deaths per thousand. That is a rate that falls between Nicaragua and Kazakhstan; we have to do better,” Mason said.

    Study committees are established by the Joint Legislative Council to examine major issues and problems. In the previous two state budgets, specific grants have been given to Racine to begin to address infant mortality.

    Johnson Bank rated 'weak' despite posting state's highest 1Q profit

    Johnson Bank was the most profitable bank in Wisconsin last quarter, but it still made a "watchlist" of banks that are potentially in trouble.

    The Racine-based bank received a "D+," or "weak," rating from Weiss Associates, a private company that researches U.S. banks. Weiss' list is spreading around the Internet and raising the public's concerns about the stability of hundreds of banks nationwide.

    Weiss' list drew a strong response from Kurt Bauer, president/CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association.

    “The public and media should not place any credibility in ratings of federally insured depository institutions prepared by private companies," Bauer said. "The only accurate ratings for financial institutions are issued by government regulatory agencies, and they are not made public out of fear that they could unnecessarily alarm depositors."

    Johnson Bank's rating should be put in context. The J-S reported last week that Johnson Bank reported a profit of $5 million last quarter, which was the highest in the state. The $5 million in profit is a pittance compared to the bank's $5.6 billion in deposits, but many other banks lost money last quarter.

    M&I Bank, which has $50.25 billion in deposits and lost $116 million in the first three months of the year, received a "D" rating on the Weiss list. Kenosha's Southport Bank, which has $425 million in deposits, received a rating of "E-," which was the list's lowest rating aside form failure. Associated Bank, of Green Bay, which had $22.6 billion in deposits, received a "D" rating. 

    The list has spread across the Internet this week as Weiss's list of 2,259 U.S. banks that are weak or near failing was released. Ninety-eight Wisconsin banks made the "watchlist." Weiss also released a list of "strong" banks, which included 30 from Wisconsin. None of the strong banks were in Racine County.

    Nationally, it's been a rough year on the banking industry. Thousands of bank have lost money and 73 banks have failed this year

    Johnson Bank referred comment on Weiss's watchlist list to a prepared statement by Bauer. Speaking for the industry, he called the private list "sensational." 
    "The private company ratings use arbitrary and often simplistic formulas based solely on information that is publicly available, which provides a narrow snapshot rather than a complete picture of the institution in question," Bauer said.
    "The ratings may also be influenced by the business interests of whoever is calculating them. That is why these ratings are flawed and misleading at best, and dangerous and irresponsible at worst."
    "Use of these ratings by the media is sensational and a disservice to the public,” Bauer said.
    Another banking insider pointed out that the FDIC does not make its "troubled bank list" public. The public lists are created by private agencies that are the same ones that were praising Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs before the crash.

    The private agencies now seem to have swung in the other direction, the insider said.

    May 26, 2010

    Caledonia has state's lowest unemployment rate

    Caledonia has the lowest unemployment rate in the state, according to April numbers released this week by the Department of Workforce Development.

    The City of Racine had a slight drop in its unemployment rate, falling from 16.5 percent in March to 16.4 percent 14.8 percent in April. The city added an estimated 400 jobs over the last month. The city has about 2,700 fewer jobs than it did in April 2009.

    Racine County's April rate fell from 10.5 percent to 9.9 percent. Statewide, unemployment fell 1.6 percent from March to April, but had 46,665 jobs fewer than in April 2009.

    Click here for the state's unemployment release.

    City takes another run at developing Walker site

    Walker site, take two. 

    The city is preparing to make another run at building on 10 acres of land just north of the Root River along Lake Michigan that is the former home of Walker Manufacturing. The new proposal is scaled down from the pre-bubble ambition of Pointe Blue, a $200 million development that fell apart in 2007, but still aims to build 370 residential units over the next decade. 

    Unlike Pointe Blue, the $74.1 million proposal probably won't be built by a single developer, City Development Director Brian O'Connell said. Instead, it will likely resemble the successful Gaslight Pointe development, which resulted in a handful of successful high-end residential developments along the lake front. 

    The city is hoping for the same for the Walker site. But before it can begin courting developers, it has some work to do cleaning up the property. 

    The former manufacturing site is polluted and needs to be remediate before new construction begins. The site also needs roads and utilities to attract builders. The city plans to lean on successful past developments to pay for the needed improvements, which are expected to cost $15,551,000. 

    On Wednesday, city development officials laid out a proposal to extend the life of the tax increment district used to pay for Gaslight Pointe to pay for work on the Walker site. TIDs allow the city to use property taxes from a specified area to pay off loans taken out to spur new development. They usually last 30 years. 

    The Gaslight Pointe TID was set to expire in June - meaning property taxes in the TID would be distributed to all local governments, not just the city - but the state Legislature passed a law allowing the city keep the TID open for another 10 years. Since all of the loans taken out to build Reefpoint Marina are paid off the TID is making money. The city plans to use that money to pay for the needed improvements on the Walker site, which is also a TID. 

    They're hoping lake front development begets lake front development.

    "We're creating opportunity to move forward," O'Connell said. 

    Two city committees heard about the plans on Wednesday. The Standing Joint Review Board - composed of representatives from Racine Unified, Gateway, Racine County, the city and the public - met to consider changes needed to begin work on the Walker site. The board is charged with reviewing the city's TIDs.

    While supportive, the board held off a vote Wednesday until the City Council makes a decision. The council's Plan Commission also met Wednesday to consider the proposal, but held off on a vote to give commission members a chance to read through the agreement. 

    City officials also noted any development ideas now are merely conceptual. While housing worked on Gaslight Pointe, the Walker site is open to any style of development as long as it generates enough property tax value to pay off its loans and return the highest possible value to taxpayers.

    During a public hearing on the city's proposed changes to the Walker site, city resident Tim Zikwoski suggested the city pursue a hotel, convention center and water park for the site, which is located near North Beach, the marina and Downtown. "We need something to draw people into Racine," he said. "... this is a real diamond in the rough. Hotel developers wouldn't pass it up."

    City Development Director Brian O'Connell said housing, particularly on the lake front, fit the city's long-term plans for upscale development that pays a high-level of property taxes. While the current housing market is flooded with homes for sale, new construction on the lake would offer a different type of housing that would be appealing on the market.

    O'Connell added that new construction would occur in stages to allow the market to fill demand. A development may come in and build 30 units and as they sell another developer may go ahead and build another 40 units. Over an extended period of time the area will fill up with new construction.

    It's a different approach than developer Scott Fergus had proposed for Pointe Blue. Under that proposal, Fergus would have cleaned the site, built the utilities and built an entire residential and commercial development at once. It would have been a massive project for the city - arguably the largest in Racine history - but the housing market collapsed, Fergus lost his financing and Pointe Blue never became anything more than a sign posted on the site.

    Bill Pugh, who lived in the Coast Guard house near the Walker site for 16 years, called the old development "Pointe Blah." While that deal fell through, he said, the city needs to do something in the area.

    "Anything you can do to improve the neighborhood down there will help everyone," he said.

    A few other notes on the city's plans for the Walker site:

    * The Walker site is technically called TID 14. The city has spent $83,000 in the district, so far.

    * Plans for TID 14 include $10 million in developer incentives designed to attract projects. The money is about half the $20 million in incentives budgeted under Pointe Blue. The incentives would be paid for by development on the site. Plans calls for developers to invest $64 million in the site to receive the $10 million in incentives.

    * Without the incentives, the city will spend about $5.55 million preparing the site for development. Most of these costs will be covered by money from the Gaslight Pointe TID, which, under state law, can pay for improvements on the Walker site for five years.

    * Plan Commission members plan to meet on Tuesday before the City Council meeting to discuss the proposal. They called the special meeting to give members a chance to review 30-page plan, which they received shortly before Wednesday night's meeting.

    * Former state representative and County Board member Jim Rooney, who lives near the site, cautioned the Plan Commission against too much density. "We need to preserve and protect our waterfront," he said.

    Regency Mall sues city for $443,000

    Regency Mall is suing the city for $443,000 in excessive property taxes.

    According to court documents, the mall claims the city overassessed its properties at 5700 and 5502 Durand Ave. in 2009. The city assessed the property at $53.5 million. The mall believes its worth $34 million, according to records.

    The $19.5 million difference equals $443,464.80 in property taxes. The mall wants the city pay back the difference plus interest and court costs.

    Judge Richard Kreul  is presiding over the case.

    Attorney Alan Marcuvitz of the Milwaukee-based firm Michael, Best and Friedrich filed suit on behalf of Regency Mall against the city on April 29.

    Attorney John Bjelajac, who is representing the city, filed a response on May 11 asking the court to dismiss the claim. 

    Regency Mall's property tax bill, which is split between Racine Unified, the city, the county, Gateway Technical College and the state, was $1,216,686 in 2009.

    Regency Mall is listed as "Racine Joint Venture II LLC" in court records.

    May 25, 2010

    Committee says no to waivers
    for UNIT inspection fees

    The Public Works Committee rejected a proposal to give city residents a one-time pass on UNIT violations.

    The committee unanimously opposed Alderman Eric Marcus's request Tuesday night to give residents 24 hours to fix problems identified by the city's Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team. Marcus proposed residents be given a grace period once every 12 months to shovel snow or pick up garbage.

    The committee, chaired by Alderman Greg Helding, opposed Marcus's waiver request, but pushed forward with the second half of his proposal. They voted unanimously to add inspection fees for all UNIT violations to the municipal code. They also asked the City Attorney's office to include an appeals process for the inspection fees in the ordinance. Marcus had an appeals process in his request.

    Following the meeting, Marcus said he had reached a compromise to include the one-time waiver on in the proposal, but at the last minute the compromise fell apart. He had initially wanted to give property owners 24 hours after they receive an inspection fee to fix the problem without having to pay.

    Marcus' efforts are driven by an incident in his district, on the city's near south side, last winter. Residents on Main Street and Wisconsin and College avenues received "inspection fees," essentially fines, for failing to shovel their sidewalks within 24 hours of a snow storm. However, the day after the snow temperatures dropped below zero and many people stayed inside rather than shovel. 

    Marcus, who wasn't on the City Council at the time, was one of the residents who received the $50 inspection fee. He appealed the fee to Chief Building Inspector Rick Heller and got it waived. 

    Now, he's trying to build leniency into the city's UNIT, which issues fees instead of citations because citations are handled in municipal court. Inspection fees don't go to court, making it more difficult for homeowners to contest them.

    The committee's vote now goes to the City Council for approval. The City Attorney's office would then draft an ordinance, which will come back to the council for a vote.   

    Money for library's Sunday hours
    may pay for police bike patrols

    Money set aside to open the library on Sundays may now be used to pay for extra police bike patrols this summer.

    The Finance and Personnel Committee voted Monday to transfer $33,000 from the Racine Public Library back to the city's general fund. (Technically, the money was transferred from the library's Sunday Contingency Fund to the city's contingency fund.)

    The City Council approved the money as part of the city's 2010 budget to allow the library to open on Sundays during the school year. But the Library Board decided not to use the money, and Alderman Greg Helding pushed to reclaim it for another use.

    The committee put off a vote on Helding's proposal last month to give the Library Board another month to consider using the money. The board passed again, and the committee voted 3-0 on Monday to reclaim the money.

    Police Chief Kurt Wahlen attended Monday's meeting and was prepared to speak in favor of using the money for bike patrols. But the committee held off on transferring the money to the police department until the proposal could be properly noticed.

    The proposal will likely come back to the committee next month.

    Racine Unified turns to students for ideas on improving schools

    Racine Unified officials turned to an obvious, but often ignored, group on Tuesday for ideas on how to improve the area's public schools: students.

    About 100 high school students were brought together at Gateway Technical College to discuss key issues facing the district and to brainstorm solutions to address problems such as engaging students in math and improving school safety.

    The students represented all of the district's high schools and were nominated by teachers, counselors and principals. The group was racially and academically diverse. Some students were college-bound high-achievers, while others had a record of discipline problems and struggles in classes. The summit was designed to bring them all together to comment on how schools are run and what can be done to fix them.

    Here's a list of ideas the 11 groups shared in PowerPoint presentations they created based on discussions in small groups:

    • Closer relationships with teachers. Students wanted teachers to be more available for questions and to show a greater interest in their lives outside of class. One group suggested teachers should be available by email. 
    • More study groups and opportunities to learn before or after school, or during free periods like lunch. If these programs do exist, more should be done to ensure students know they are available. 
    • Harder classes. Several groups actually mentioned this. They said even advanced classed were too easy and didn't challenge them. They want to be pushed and really learn. 
    • Teach everyone. It bothered some groups that some teachers ignored certain students or seemed to give up on them. They want to see teachers helping everyone.  
    • Consistency on classroom rules. Teachers can be lax one day and tough the next. One group said toward the end of the year teachers try to reel in students for things they've gotten away with all year. It shouldn't work that way. 
    • Progressive learning. One group said they felt math teachers rushed through material at the end of semesters to try and fit everything in, but left some students behind who didn't understand the lessons. It gets worse when students don't understand and are unable to finish their homework. Instead of helping them, teachers tend to penalize them for not finishing the assignment. 
    • College tours and planning are helpful in motivating students and helping them look ahead at their careers and lives. 
    • Online grades. A group asked for grades and assignments to be placed online so they could keep track of how they're doing in each class. 
    • Safety. One group got the biggest response in the afternoon when they suggested Park High School wasn't safe. Some in the audience disagreed that Park was unsafe, while others said more high schools were unsafe. 
    • Block scheduling. One group thought switching to 90-minute classes would help give teachers time to teach and students time to apply what they're learning with the teacher nearby. 
    • Students wanted more flexibility over their schedules. 
    • They were at something of loss on what to do about discipline. Some students act up in class specifically to get thrown out of class. Conferences and suspensions can help get students' attention, but laying out expectations early on and getting parents involved may also help. 
    • Student evaluations. One group suggested students evaluate teachers at the end of a class. 
    • Progress reports. A group suggested students are evaluated in different subject areas at the beginning and end of a class so teachers know where they're at and can help them make improvements. 
    Following the Summit, Parker said he was impressed at how students, many who didn't know each other, came together and quickly jumped into meaningful discussions about Racine's schools. The students were divided into groups of nine and given about three hours to breakdown pre-assigned questions into ideas they could report back to the full group. 

    "I'm amazed at how well they meshed," Parker said.

    In his closing remarks to students. Superintendent James Shaw (right) said he was impressed students cared enough to take part in the summit. 

    While he cautioned the students that not all of their ideas could be implemented, at least immediately, several were already being worked on. The district is upgrading its technology with 8,000 new computers this summer, and it's implementing a data warehouse to track students' test scores across grade levels. These, and other improvements, are designed to help students connect with learning at an early age and carry it through the rest of their lives. 

    "I hope you see education and learning is never done," Shaw told the students. "Being around you young people is a learning experience for me." 

    Marcus jumps right into City Council job

    Alderman Eric Marcus has hit the ground running as one of the City Council's newest members.

    In his first two months representing the second district he's pushed two major ordinances - one to protect the city's historic artifacts and another challening UNIT inspection fees - and installed a blogging system for City Council members on the city's website (he's the only one to use it).

    Marcus (above) may not be done. He's mulling ideas on how to create jobs and protect the historic nature of his district, and the one-time School Board candidate has some ideas on education, too.

    As for success, Marcus is still looking for his first win. His landmarks ordinance, which he started working on before getting elected, got delayed Monday night and the UNIT fees proposal gets its first look tonight.

    Regardless, it appears Marcus will play big role in shaping the city's legislative direction in coming months.

    James DeMatthew will challenge Rep. Turner in primary

    For only the third time in his 20-year legislative career, Bob Turner will have a primary election opponent.

    Turner, who also served on the City Council from 1976-2004, was first elected as representative of Racine's 61st Assembly district in 1990 after a four three-person primary (John Dickert was one of his opponents). The next time he had a primary opponent in the heavily Democratic district was 2002 (again it was John Dickert). Neither have Republicans chosen to challenge Turner. He had Republican opposition once: Stella Young challenged him in 1992.

    Well, this year Turner will again have an opponent, and it's not Dickert. Investment advisor and financial planner James R. DeMatthew filed a declaration of candidacy with the Wisconsin State Election Board. He will oppose Turner in the Sept. 14 primary.

    This will be DeMatthew's first attempt at public office. Although he filed his candidacy papers last week, he has not yet issued a formal candidacy announcement.

    "I want to see some things change," he said. "I'm looking for a new Racine, not the status quo." DeMatthew promised a fuller explanation of why he's running within the next week.

    DeMatthew, 48, is a lifelong Racine resident and "a Democrat all my life." He's a graduate of UW-Whitewater, with a degree in political science. He worked for 14 years for the Social Security Administration, and for the past 10 years has been an investment advisor with DeMatthew, Gorichanaz and Associates, located at 5402 Douglas Ave.  He's married; he and his wife, Kathleen, have two children, a boy and a girl, ages 18 and 16. Kathleen has served on the city's Water Works Commission and Wastewater Commission since 2006.

    DeMatthew's older brother, Dan, who was the Racine Police Department's support services manager, was seriously injured in a bicycle accident last August. Another brother, Jeff, is an attorney with Becker, French and DeMatthew.

    May 24, 2010

    Affirmative Action: City close to updating 37-year-old housing discrimination ordinance

    A city committee will have new power to investigate and fine incidents of housing discrimination under an ordinance that's headed to the City Council.

    The Finance and Personnel Committee voted 3-0 Monday night to give the city's Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission remarkable new powers. Under the ordinance, the volunteer commission will be able to hold hearings on housing discrimination complaints and fine landlords or homeowners up to $25,000 for violating discrimination laws.

    The ordinance essentially localizes housing discrimination complaints that had been handled by the federal government in the past. Federal complaints took months, even years, to resolve. The local ordinance should give city residents a faster resolution to housing discrimination complaints, officials said.

    Monday night's vote was a long time coming for Ron Thomas, chairman of the city's Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission. He's waited 17 years for the city to grant the commission some teeth in enforcing discrimination laws. The proposal would update an ordinance that is 37 years old.

    "This brings us a heckuva lot closer to today's climate," Thomas said, adding: "Let's get this on the books so we can be a commission that can do something other than mediate, which doesn't work in every case."

    Under the ordinance, complaints about housing discrimination in the city could be filed directly with the Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission. The commission would then form a three-person subcommittee to hold a hearing on the complaint, complete with witnesses and testimony. The committee would then make a ruling, which would serve as  recommendation to the full commission. The commission will make the final decision and levy fines for violations.

    Assistant City Attorney Scott Letteney, who sits on the commission and wrote the new ordinance, said the proposal gives the commission a "stronger enforcement mechanism."

    "It has more authority and strengthens its ground so we can fight discrimination in housing," he said.

    "The purpose isn't to take lots of money from people," Letteney added. "It's to end discrimination."

    While happy with the new ordinance, Thomas said it was the commission's second choice. It's first choice was to get the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development to sign off on the ordinance and give the city full authority to handle discrimination complaints. But HUD officials sent back the ordinance last year with minor changes - the ordinance almost exactly mirrors federal law on housing discrimination - and now simply won't make any decision on the proposal. Rather than wait for HUD, the commission is attempting to push forward the changes on their own.

    Racine would be the only city in the state to take this step, Letteney said.

    (Incidentally, and perhaps ironically, the city was making more progress under the Bush administration than they have under the Obama administration. The transition between the presidencies setback work for months, even years, and the city has received little contact from HUD on the ordinance.)

    Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II said he would support the ordinance with the public's understanding that discrimination doesn't mean it only helps one group of people. The ordinance actually prohibits discrimination by age, sex, race, color, veteran's status, disabled veteran's status, religion, disability, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, familial status or economic status.

    "I hope people clearly understand this is for all 80,000 people in the City of Racine," Shakoor said.

    Read the proposed ordinance below:
    Racine Finance and Personnel Committee Agenda 5-24-10

    City moves to revoke Park 6's liquor license

    Park 6 owner Thomas Holmes in 2008, shortly after the bar opened at the corner of Park and Sixth streets. 

    The Park 6 on Sixth Street is in danger of being shut down after a shooting outside of the bar last weekend.

    The City Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee voted unanimously Monday to begin the process to revoke the controversial bar's liquor license. Alderman Bob Mozol made the motion.

    "Every day this place stays open increases the chances of someone getting killed here," Mozol said.

    A security guard was shot in the leg early Sunday morning on Sixth Street. Three suspects were arrested in Kenosha about 45 minutes after the shooting.  No charges have been filed.

    The Public Safety Committee strongly backed Mozol's lead.

    "This is impossible to ignore," said Alderman Aron Wisneski, chairman of the committee.

    Alderman David Maack said, without city action, "We're going to have a major problem."

    Alderman Jim Kaplan said Park 6's owner hasn't followed through on steps to reduce the potential for problems. "We've been promised so many things and none of them have been followed through on," he said.

    Alderman Eric Marcus said he agreed with Mozol. "We need to take action before someone gets killed," he said.

    The committee also reviewed three police incidents at Park Six on May 7 and noted the police department's Gang Crime Diversion Task Force monitored a private party at the bar. Past incidents, plus the shooting, give the city a strong enough case to rescind the license, Wisneski said.

    The only debate the committee had was whether to revoke the license or simply not renew it when it comes due on July 1. City Attorney Rob Weber said both processes have the same timelines and, essentially, the same potential outcomes.

    The committee's decision now goes to the full council for approval. If it's approved, the city's prosecutor will build a case against Park 6 and then serve them with revocation papers.

    If the license is revoked, owner Thomas Holmes can't apply for another liquor license in the city for 11 months and another business can't apply for a liquor license at the Park 6 address, 500 6th St., for 11 months.

    Holmes did not attend Monday's committee meeting.

    See photos of Park 6 here.

    Zoo's lion cubs --- Badu and Zuka -- debut

    Racine Zoo's two-month-old lion cubs peer out Thursday morning

    UPDATE, May 29:  (African) Drum Roll Please….

    The Racine Zoo has given its two Transvaal lion cubs names with an African theme, paying homage to their heritage. The male cub is Badu and the female is Zuka. The names were chosen by the Zoo’s carnivore specialists from 683 submitted entries. Connor Becker, 9, submitted the name Zuka, while Ellen Billman, 29, submitted Badu.  They each received a gift basket.

        “We were thrilled with the number of entries and the thought so many people put into their submissions.  They were looking for names that would live-on with the cubs as they will someday move to other zoos,” said Jay Christie, Zoo president. The names were announced Saturday as part of the “Baby Shower” in honor of the cubs. Today is the first day the cubs are available for viewing by the general public.

    UPDATE, May 27: Once again, the Zoo tried to show off its two new lion cubs, this time with mixed success. The cubs got as far as the doorway into their display cage in the Zoo's Vanishing Kingdom main building this morning -- but would not go any farther.

    Nonetheless, the Zoo is confident they'll be ready for their debut tonight, at a members-only event that will be attended by at about 750 people. Animal care specialist Theresa Donarski said the lions are more active in the afternoon -- and they'll also be hungry for the fresh hamburger zookeepers have put out.

    Although they're only two months old, Donarski said there are clear personality differences between the two cubs. "The female is more vocal, sassy; she's more adventurous and goes after the meat first. The boy is more relaxed and follows his sister." Donarski can tell the two apart instantly; she says the female is darker. Both cubs, she says, take after their parents, Elsa and Aslan, both in coloration and temperament.

    The cubs each weigh about 9.6 kilograms (21 pounds).

    "We really enjoy them," Donarski said. But she made clear they're not just large kittens. When zookeepers have to pick up the cubs, they wear thick leather gloves because the cubs have big teeth. "They're not tame, even though they've been around people since their birth." 

    The members event takes place tonight, Thursday, May 27, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The cubs go on public display Saturday.

    Original post:

    The Racine Zoo has a problem: An over-protective mother.

    Mom is Elsa, the lion, so this could get serious.

    The zoo is planning a "baby shower" in honor of Elsa and Aslan's two cubs, born March 16. The party will be Saturday, May 29, starting at 10 a.m. when the cubs first go on public exhibit.  Party festivities are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. and will conclude at 2:30 with the announcement of the cubs' names.

    If Elsa cooperates, that is. So far, the Zoo has tried to separate Elsa from her cubs on three separate occasions, to let local newspaper, web and TV journalists in to take their picture. No luck. (Picture at right is as close as I got.) Despite piles of fresh hamburger placed outside, Elsa has refused to leave the cubs alone. Zookeepers even had trouble separating her from the cubs for a visit from the veterinarian. Although keepers managed to get Elsa into a separate cage -- where she could see the cubs through the bars -- she was agitated and upset. It was a quicker-than-usual vet visit, because no one wants to upset mother.

    But back to the "baby shower." Families visiting the lion cubs Saturday are asked to donate a new baby care item -- in return for one free admission for each group. The donations will be given to local charities that support children.

    “We hope that Elsa cooperates with our plan. We know the public is anxious to meet the Pride of Racine," said Jay Christie, president of the Zoo. "We will have extra staff to remind spectators to be quiet as the noise associated with the crowd could make her tentative; they will also escort a limited number of people to rotate by the exhibit to see the pride.”

    Picture taken about a month ago, by Zoo staff

    The party will feature O & H Danish Bakery cake, games for children and activities to entertain Zoo guests as they wait in line to see the cubs, whose exhibit will be inside the Vanishing Kingdom historic main building.

    The cubs’ names will be announced by Christie and Tom Mahoney, president of Johnson Bank. So far, the Zoo has received over 500 emailed entries to the Name-the-Cubs contest, plus an as-yet-uncounted number turned in directly to Johnson Bank. The contest ended today; the cubs' names will be selected by the Zoo's animal care staff -- but don't expect any silly or purely local names to make the cut. Naming a lion is serious business, especially when one realizes that the full-grown cats will probably be given to some other Zoo in two years, as was done with Elsa and Aslan's previous four cubs: Jabari, Kwame, Bomani and Kya. The Zoo works with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan to help ensure the survival of selected wildlife species. Each member manages the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy and sustaining population. 

    Elsa and Aslan's last litter went on exhibit in December 2007 -- and a large crowd waited in the cold to see them. "With hopes of great weather this weekend," said Megan Frazer, the Zoo's special events manager, "we are expecting a large crowd, so activities to help pass the time" are scheduled.

    After Saturday's party, the cubs will continue to be exhibited daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  The Zoo's hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for children 3-15, and free for children under 3.

    Signs of the times...

    Alas, the picture above is not what it seems.

    Although mightily tempted by the cooling water jets, the toddler above stayed out of the Laurel Clark Fountain downtown, oblivious to the fact that last year kids had a grand time running through it on hot days like today.

    But now the city has given in to a new state regulation requiring kids to stay out -- choosing not to challenge the new rules imposed from afar. To the adults at City Hall, this issue is nowhere near as important as extending the time limit for TIF districts, something they hired a lobbyist to get changed last year.
    Earlier: 11 ways to save the fountain

    Hispanic business leaders inspire fifth-graders; Prof says ESL already have skills to succeed

    Fifth-graders from English-as-a-second-language classes at Roosevelt, Fratt, Red Apple and Jefferson Lighthouse elementary schools took part in the third annual Hispanic Professional Tour on Monday.

    The students met with nine Hispanic business leaders during the tour, which is designed to motivate the 10 and 11-year-olds as they head into middle school next year, said Kay Bedoian, an ESL teacher at Roosevelt Elementary.

    Rodney Ramos (right), a professor of interpretation and translation at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, spoke to the students about the importance of education in getting a good-paying job when they get older. He told the students, most who are native Spanish speakers, that they already possess language skills that will help them when they get older.

    He recalled moving to the United States when he was in seventh grade not knowing a single word of English. Ramos said he learned fast to avoid being sent back a year in school. One teacher told him if he spoke a word of Spanish in class she'd smack him with a ruler. He passed an English competency test just 25 days after moving to the U.S.

    Ramos continued to learn English and went on to become a translator and then a professor. He tried to impress upon the students that learning English now will help them land high-paying jobs as adults. English-Spanish translators make $50 per hour, and people with strong language skills can earn between $100 and $300 per hour, if they finish their education, he said.

    "Some skills you already have can be the key to controlling the future," Ramos told the group of about 40 students.

    Ramos spoke to the fifth-graders at the Kurt Sports Complex, which is the new home of the Hispanic Community and Resource Center. Marie Black, head of the new center and of the Hispanic Business Alliance, organized the first Hispanic Professional Tour in 2007. She work with Bedoian on this year's tour.

    Students were broken into groups of about 10 and met with nine different Hispanic professionals over a two-hour period. The professionals included: Ramos, Linda Ayala, senior vice president of Johnson Bank; Gabby Brossman, Brossman Meats; Lydia Chairez, commercial deposit services, Johnson Bank; Domingo Cruz, attorney; Terrie Garcia, RN of Marquette University; Georgia Herrera, attorney; Aidiana Lira, Children Service Society; Rey Lozano, manager In-sink-erator; Juanita Perez, customer service, Johnson Bank; Dr. Jaime Quezada of Wheaton Franciscan; Alfredo Sandoval of UW-Parkside; and Blanca Webers, owner of Casablanca Restaurant.

    Bedoian (left, with Ramos) said she was impressed with the powerful stories the speakers shared with the students. Lozano, of Insinkerator, shared he was first Hispanic supervisor Insinkerator in 70 years. The key to his success? He had a college degree while other applicants for the job did not.

    "They shared really loving kinds of threads," Bedoian said.
    Bedoian said she hopes to include more students in next year's professional tour and keep the annual event growing.

    "I wish I had 100 students sitting in front of these speakers," she said.

    Teachers leading student groups this year are Walter Robles and Rosa Tobias of Fratt Elementary; Stephanie Durphy and Bedoian of Roosevelt; Kristin Zimmerman of Red Apple; and Stacey Huizinga of Jefferson Lighthouse.

    The Root River is a family affair

    RacinePost reader Jay Warner sent in these photos of a Canada goose family swimming in the Root River Monday morning. The pictures show 14 of the 17 goslings. Warner points out the second mother or daddy in the foreground of the above picture keeping an eye on the photographer! 

    Heritage Museum publishes history of Root River pioneers

    The Racine Heritage Museum has published a monograph entitled Traveling to Root River: First Person Narratives of Racine Pioneers.  The booklet includes first-person narratives by seven of Racine County’s first settlers, and is based on a chapter in Racine historian Eugene Leach’s unpublished manuscript highlighting the early history of Racine County and the City of Racine.

    Museum volunteer John E. Magerus, Ph.D, who compiled and edited this booklet, provides a biographical sketch of Leach, introducing the man behind the gathering of these histories.  The booklet can be bought at the Museum’s store and features a preface by historian John D. Buenker.

    Eugene W. Leach (1857-1938), right,  was officially appointed Racine County Historian and Custodian of the Historical Museum in 1934.  Prior to this appointment he was well-known for the more than 100 newspaper articles he had written on the history of Racine and southeastern Wisconsin.  He had also published two significant works, a History of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, Racine, Wisconsin (1836-1912) (1912) and Racine County Militant  (1915).  However, his most extensive work, a history of Racine, both the city and county, through the 1920’s, remained unedited and unpublished at the time of his death.

    John Magerus began volunteering in the Museum’s Archives in 2008.  While considering various projects, he happened upon information on the Wisconsin State Historical Society’s website discussing the “Papers of Leach, a Racine, Wis. Historian and curator of the Racine County Museum, including an unpublished manuscript, 'The Story of Racine County—A History.' ”   Magerus went on to discover the manuscript filled 14 archival boxes of manuscripts located at UW-Parkside.  The reconstructed manuscript was 1,371 pages.

    Magerus says that "volunteering at Heritage Museum is a wonderful way to meet fascinating people, learn about the history of this community, and discover treasures to share with others."

    In an effort to make Leach’s work better known and more available to a contemporary audience, a second, complementary volume, Living at Root River: First Personal Narrative of Racine Pioneers will be published in the near future. Other publications based on the work of Leach are planned.  Copies of the first title in the series are available for purchase at the Racine Heritage Museum.

    The Front Porch: Youth Get Ready for the Work World

    By Mark Gesner
    At the age of 17, Steve thought his ticket to a brighter future was wrapped up in a basketball. Jacob believed that after high school he would follow a path into the business world by attending college. Tiara also had her heart set on college and thought the key to her success was getting out of Wisconsin. This is a story about how some plans get redrawn, some dreams get deferred, and other visions get realized in ways never imagined. This is also a true story about how three young adults found their way forward through area workforce development youth employment and training programs.

    Steve’s hoop dreams were dashed when he was kicked off the team for reasons that at the time seemed unjust. The decision left him disillusioned with high school so he changed course and sought a high school equivalency diploma. Soon he became bored with this route, and decided to get his GED so he could head off to college. A basketball scholarship earned him a stint at a university, but after freshmen year, he had enough and began looking for work. Following short gigs working in childcare and an election campaign, he came back home to Racine and starting searching for a job. The search went on for months.

    Jacob’s quest to earn a business degree was delayed when his father’s business started to suffer and home finances were strained. “I wanted to go to school but dad was out of work,” he explained. “I was concerned about my family, and I wanted to make the right choices. I needed time to figure things out so that I could be financially stable.” Eventually, Jacob thought he should enter the work world first and take classes at night – the future was not yet certain.

    Tiara was clear that education was in her future, but as a teenager with few resources, jobs during high school had to be part of her present. She started with working at a fast food restaurant, and then soon found her way into a job working with kids whose challenges were much like her own. The pathway to college was in her reach.

    This is where the stories of Steve, Jacob and Tiara intertwine. Each of these youth found their way to a workforce development youth employment and training program in Racine or Kenosha that propelled them towards a brighter future. Steve and Jacob interviewed and earned spots in the Racine “E3” program where they gained work experience doing landscaping and helping at the Racine Family YMCA. Tiara worked her way into a Program Specialist position at the Kenosha Boys & Girls Club Madrigrano Center. 

    Steve explained that the E3 program was challenging. “It was filled with obstacles in terms of working with peers and having to step up and take a leadership role,” he said.  “I learned about working on a team, how to be more patient, and how to step up when opportunities came up.” Ultimately, not only did he begin earning steady income, but he also earned the respect of his supervisors and peers, who often used the word “integrity” to describe Steve’s strongest attribute. The accolades for Jacob also started coming in.  “I wondered what the older members at the Y would think of me,” Jacob said. “They ended up being pretty cool. They would joke with me and they showed me respect.” 

    Today, Steve, Jacob and Tiara see their youth employment experiences as stepping stones to bigger goals. Steve is enrolling at Gateway Technical College in the new Wind Turbine program, and he ultimately hopes to pursue the new Sustainable Management Degree through the University of Wisconsin – Parkside. Jacob will be going to college to get his business management associates degree so he can help his family’s landscaping business to succeed. “Once I accomplish that, I’d like to start my own restaurant.” And Tiara is about to graduate from college with a BA in social work. She explained that the workforce development program “opened up my opportunities for me to grow. I have been able to develop job skills and people skills that help me now and will help me in the future.”

    Last summer, the Racine and Kenosha youth employment programs employed and trained well over 500 youth ages 14 to 24. Thanks to scores of partners in the private, nonprofit and public sectors, the youth experienced work in manufacturing, landscaping, entrepreneurial business, senior centers and elsewhere. While last summer’s programs were fueled largely by stimulus dollars, the effort was so successful that now various local partners are partnering with county government to sustain the programs. As in the past, the programs will focus youth on getting “work ready” and understanding how education and training figure in to accomplishing career goals.

    Steve, Jacob and Tiara each realize their journeys are just beginning. In fact, Steven and Jacob are actively looking for work this summer and are eager to earn a decent wage to support their educational aspirations. They come equipped with work experience, resumes, state certified work place certificates, and other credentials earned through their workforce development experience. “We have come a long way,” Jacob said. And they have their sights set on going a whole lot further.
    Front Porch Rockers: 

    Kids on Campus:  Do you know a kid between the ages of 6 and 12 who is still looking for something interesting and fun to do this summer? At this new UW-Parkside camp, kids can learn about computers, science and the humanities in the morning, and kick back for some fun in the sun in the afternoon. Learn more at:
    Keyword: child care center.

    Health Club for the Brain: Learn about the power of the web and technology by participating in a day camp for nonprofit leaders. Join UW-Parkside staff for a trip to Bucketworks in Milwaukee on June 8 and give your brain the spa treatment. Learn more at:

    Off the Streets and Into the Workforce:  On June 21st, Mr. Hasan Davis, Deputy Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, comes to UW-Parkside.  to talk with E3 youth about leaving the streets behind and finding a successful career path. He will speak with area mentors in the afternoon to help them guide kids towards more productive futures. The presentations are free to the public; learn more at

    Mark Gesner is the Director of Community Development at UW-Parkside’s Center for Community Partnerships. Contact him at The University will support youth workforce development efforts this summer by hosting worksites in Racine and on campus in Kenosha.