September 24, 2010

SC Johnson warns of internet job offer scam

SC Johnson sent out a press release today warning people about a fake employment offer found on the internet -- $25 an hour! ... available only  after you spend $279 for training software. Alas, the job is in the Too Good To Be True Department:
SC Johnson is Aware of Fake Employment Offers

SC Johnson was made aware today of a fake employment offer, allegedly from our company that has appeared on the internet. This scam falsely promises a $25 per hour data entry job, after the applicant pays $279 for training software. SC Johnson would like to make it very clear that we are in no way associated with this offer, and anyone seeing the ad should ignore it, or report it to the website where it is being posted. SC Johnson does not require any software or similar type purchases as a requirement for employment.

SC Johnson is alerting the public to this scam, because as a family company we take seriously our obligation to help protect the public from fraud, especially given the nature of the fraud and the number of Americans currently seeking employment.

Kelly M. Semrau, SC Johnson spokesperson

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Fundraiser set for 4-year-old fighting brain tumor

The story on little Fischer Hansen's website gets straight to the point:
He's four years old. He loves fire trucks and wants to be a firefighter when he grows up. He has loving parents and a baby sister named Addison.

Life appears good. But it's not.

For Fischer Hansen, life right now is anything but good. In fact, he's fighting for his life - and all those near him are fighting with him.
Cutting right to the chase: a large cancerous brain tumor was removed from Fischer in July. (We'll skip over the year it took for doctors to find it -- you can read all that on Fischer's website.)  He is now undergoing radiation treatment and faces nearly a year of chomotherapy.

Fischer's website continues:
Life has changed forever for this family. The family carries insurance but has already learned much of Fischer's medical costs will not be covered. Also, both parents are spending considerable time away from work, with unpaid leave, to care for Fischer at home and to be with him during his treatments at Children's Hospital.

And little Fischer, once a happy-go-lucky little boy who loves fire trucks and wants to be a firefighter, is now fighting for his life.
Friends of the family -- Dad, Erik, is a graduate of Case High School and UW-Whitewater and the co-owner of Lakeshore Lawn Service, and Mom, Michelle, works at Kohl's headquarters in Menomonee Falls -- have organized a fund-raiser for Fischer.

They're teaming up with the Yardarm for an event on Oct. 23, from noon to 6 p.m. to be held outside the restaurant, 930 Erie St. The street will be closed off around 12:30 p.m. and there will be food, beer, raffle items, bands playing German music to '90s music. A Piper will play his bagpipe.

Fischer,who just turned 4 on Sept. 1, dreams of becoming a firefighter when he grows up, so there also will be a firetruck with a couple of firemen.

The Yardarm is also donating 10% of  all fish platters between Monday, Oct. 18, and Sunday, Oct. 24, to the Fischer Hansen Fund, established by the North Cape Lutheran Church. Tax deductible donations to help pay Fisher's medical expenses can be sent to North Cape Lutheran Church, 2644 124th St., Franksville, WI 53126. Checks must be made payable to the church, with Fischer Hansen on the Memo line.

Everyone is invited to the Yardarm fundraiser.

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Ryan skips roll out of GOP's 'Pledge to America'

Rep. Paul Ryan is becoming such a big political star that what he doesn't do is news. 

The Christian Science Monitor has a story out today asking why Ryan wasn't at the Republicans rollout of their "Pledge to America" campaign platform. Ryan's spokesman says it was just a scheduling conflict, but CSM wonders aloud if it's a sign our Congressman isn't supportive of the document. They write: 
But reaction in the conservative blogosphere has been less than enthusiastic – one columnist called it a “pledge to do nothing” – and Ryan’s absence raised questions as to whether one of the GOP's rising stars is truly happy about the most important GOP document of the campaign season.

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September 22, 2010

Trinity, 4-year-old Bulldog, looking for a home

Hello, my name is Trinity. I was surrendered to the animal shelter because my owners could no longer care for me.

Countryside Humane Society has been my home since the beginning of August. I am a four-year-old female American Bulldog. I am good with children 8 and older.

I'm a pretty calm dog when I'm around people, but when I see other dogs I want to play. I like to go for walks and I'm very curious about what you're doing. My adoption fees would include all of my vaccinations, spay, microchip and more. Will you be my forever home?

Come see me at at the Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Rd., or call me at 262-554-6699.

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Joint dispatch will save Racine money, official says

Update: Not surprisingly, the Executive Committee approved the joint dispatch agreement. City Administrator Tom Friedel said the agreement would result in savings, but contracts and unknown costs make it difficult to peg the savings. The JT reports today the savings could be a half-million dollars per year. If true, that'd be a big help to a city that's going to have to cut services and/or raise taxes to balance its 2011 budget.

Here's Friedel's note to us on estimating savings from joint dispatch:
There are numerous variables that make it difficult to produce a firm number. Although we are confident that there will be savings, the requirement for the city to bargain the impact of this change to an existing contract and other variables make it imprudent to give you an estimate. 
Original post: The city may be close to turn over its police and fire 911 dispatch center to Racine County.

Racine's Executive Committee will meet Thursday at 5 p.m. to discuss two ordinances that would combine the city's dispatch center with Caledonia, Mount Pleasant, and Sturtevant into an operation run by Racine County. Dispatchers would be located at the county's dispatch center at Ives Grove and at the City of Racine's dispatch center at the Racine Police Department.

The city would pay $1.3 million for the system for the 2011 fiscal year and $1.4 million from 2012 to 2020. The city budget about $2 million for joint dispatch in its 2010 budget.

Here's the first of two ordinances the Executive Committee will consider in open session on Thursday:

Mayor and City Clerk be authorized to enter into an Agreement with Racine County, Village of Sturtevant, Village of Mt. Pleasant and Town of Caledonia to consolidate dispatch services
Whereas, the City of Racine, Village of Sturtevant, Village of Mt. Pleasant and Town of Caledonia (the “Municipalities”) and Racine County currently have issues related to dispatch services and equipment that must be addressed without significant additional delay; and
Whereas, the residents and referenced “Municipalities” would be best served by one agency providing dispatch services county-wide; and 
Whereas, an intergovernmental agreement and detailed contract has been developed to the mutual satisfaction of all parties.
Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Mayor and City Clerk be authorized and directed to enter into an Agreement with the other “Municipalities” for the purpose of consolidating dispatch services for all the “Municipalities” pursuant to Sections 61.65 and 66.0301 of the Wisconsin Statutes.
Fiscal Note: This agreement will result in a reduction in the cost of personnel and equipment while improving services for the city law enforcement and EMS providers.

And the second ordinance:

Mayor and City Clerk be authorized to enter into an Agreement with Village of Sturtevant, Village of Mt. Pleasant and Town of Caledonia to share in the cost of a joint dispatch center

Whereas, the City of Racine, pursuant to Sections 61.65 and 66.0301 of the Wisconsin Statues, has agreed to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Racine County, the Village of Sturtevant, the Village of Mt. Pleasant and the Town of Caledonia, under the terms of which Racine County will establish a joint dispatch operation; and
Whereas, under the terms of the referenced Agreement, the Village of Sturtevant, the Village of Mt. Pleasant, the City of Racine and the Town of Caledonia have agreed to share in the cost of the joint dispatch operation.
Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Mayor and City Clerk be authorized and directed to enter into an Agreement to pay the City’s agreed upon share of Racine County’s joint dispatch operations costs, commencing in the 2011 fiscal year.
Fiscal Note: This agreement will provide payment for the cost of joint dispatch services provided by Racine County, in a fair and equitable manner that will result in reduced dispatch service costs for City of Racine taxpayers.
The City’s fixed share cost for the 2011 fiscal year will be $1,301,326.00. The City’s fixed share cost share for fiscal year 2012 through 2020 will be $1,401,899.00. The $1,401,899.00 share will thereafter be reduced by 10% on an annual basis between 2021 through 2029.
In fiscal years 2011 and 2012 only, there will be additional transition costs.
The Executive Committee is run by the mayor and composed of the committee chairman and the City Coucnil president. Most members of the City Council attend the meetings.

As a side note, here's a 2001 article suggesting joint dispatch in Racine County is close to a done deal.

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City balks at backyard chicken ordinance

Sue DeKuester 1, Backyard Chickens 0.

That's the score after the city shelved plans to pass an ordinance that would allow city residents to have chickens in their backyards. DeKuester led the opposition and successfully organized a movement against the plans. Support for the chickens largely fell apart in recent months.

Alderman Greg Helding said he would consider reintroducing the bill at a later date.

Here's the JT story.

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September 21, 2010

JT readies story on city's case against Park 6

The Journal Times is ready to publish a story tomorrow investigating the city's case in favor of revoking the liquor license the controversial night club Park 6.

People interviewed for the story say the newspaper acquired emails from city officials talking about Park 6. The emails suggest the city had made up its mind early on about suspending the Sixth Street club's license instead of revoking. That's a story we reported last month.

The story may also focus on email comments made by members of the City Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee, including some comments that may be embarrassing in public.

The crux of the article, expected to hit tomorrow, is the city's case against Park 6's liquor license. Park 6 owner Thomas Holmes, and his attorney, claim at least half of the city's claims against the bar can be refuted. For example, two underage drinking tickets tied to the bar were tossed out of municipal court. The city also claimed Park 6 was responsible for fights on Sixth Street early one morning, but Park 6 had closed two hours before the fights occurred.

Despite Park 6's arguments, city supporters say several claims stand against the bar, which has had several potentially dangerous incidents in recent years. They also wonder if Holmes' claims are so strong why he agreed to a 45-day suspension of his liquor license instead of taking his case to a due-process hearing.

Look for the JT's investigation to hit tomorrow's paper.

Update: Or maybe not.

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Racine Unified moves forward with move to new building

The Racine Unified School Board voted Monday to borrow nearly $6 million to move its central office to the former Surgitek campus at 3037 Mount Pleasant St. After voting 4-3 last month to approve the move, the board voted 7-2 in favor of borrowing the money to pay for the move. The move is expected to generate $19 million in savings for the school district over the next 20 years.

Here's the JT story on last night's meeting.

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State Republicans, Tea Party groups planning 'voter suppression' during fall elections, liberal group says

One Wisconsin Now, a liberal advocacy group in Madison, said Monday it uncovered a conspiracy by conservative parties in the state to suppress minority and college student turnout during the Nov. 2 general election.

The group says they have recordings of a leader of the Tea Party movement laying out plans to reduce the number of traditionally Democratic voters who can cast ballots on Nov. 2. Tea Party groups, the Republican Party of Wisconsin and Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin are allegedly working together on a "voter caging" effort.

The non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice outlines the process of voter caging:
Voter caging is the practice of sending mail to addresses on the voter rolls, compiling a list of the mail that is returned undelivered, and using that list to purge or challenge voters registrations on the grounds that the voters on the list do not legally reside at their registered addresses. Supporters of voter caging defend the practice as a means of preventing votes cast by ineligible voters. Voter caging, however, is notoriously unreliable. If it is treated (unjustifiably) as the sole basis for determining that a voter is ineligible or does not live at the address at which he or she registered, it can lead to the unwarranted purge or challenge of eligible voters. …Moreover, the practice has often been targeted at minority voters, making the effects even more pernicious. [Brennan Center, “A Guide to Voter Caging,” 6/29/07]
One Wisconsin Now said Monday it obtained an audio recording it has verified as authentic from a June 16, 2010 meeting between the leaders of the state’s Tea Party movement, led by Tim Dake, head of the GrandSons of Liberty. Dake serves as a regular spokesperson for Wisconsin’s Tea Party organizations and is widely viewed as the movement’s Wisconsin leader. The full audio, available at One Wisconsin Now’s voter protection website,, details the plans.

According to the statements made on the recordings, Dake lays out the plans, detailing contact between himself and Reince Preibus, the Republican Party of Wisconsin Chair and Mark Block, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin:

The Republican Party of Wisconsin will use its “Voter Vault” state-wide voter file to compile a list of minority and student voters in targeted Wisconsin communities.

Americans for Prosperity will use this list to send mail to these voters indicating the voter must call and confirm their registration information, and telling them if they do not call the number provided they could be removed from the voter lists. 

The Tea Party organizations will recruit and place individuals as official poll workers in selected municipalities in order to be able to make the challenges as official poll workers.

On Election Day, these organizations will then “make use” of any postcards that are returned as undeliverable to challenge voters at the polls, utilizing law enforcement, as well as attorneys trained and provided by the RPW, to support their challenges.

According to the recordings, Dake told the assembled Tea Party members he leads:
So, what we’re hoping is that the various groups in the coalition plus Americans for Prosperity and Mark Block, who has been in on this, and the Republican Party, and this is coming all the way from the top: Reince Priebus has said, “We’re in.” And there’s a reason why these guys are volunteering to work with us. They have access to what they call Voter Vault, you know the records of voting. They can go in there and look for lapsed voters. They can go in and compare lists of voters and say, “Oh look at this. This person is registered in this county, this county, this county, and this county.” And do something about this. So we’re talking about a broad based support behind this idea. What they’re offering is training.
Dake continues in the recording to outline the plan:
[RPW is] offering to do the training; it’s not going to cost anything, but what we’re looking at is statewide getting our groups involved, getting people, like my group has a 2,700 person email list. We want to hit that and see how many of these people we can get involved in this one project. The idea being at some point to go in on September 14 and November 2 and have these people involved and doing poll watching and checking. There are some consultants that have offered to step up, “We’re Watching” is stepping up; attorneys from the Republican Party.
Later in his presentation, Dake adds:
Okay, poll watchers what you can do is you can call in a lawyer. The Republican Party, this is one of the things they’re offering, they’re saying they’ll have their lawyers standing by so that if you call, let’s say you’re poll watching in say Hales Corners and you see something really fraudulent, they will send a lawyer out right away and be able to say, “Here’s the deal, here’s the law, this is what we expect.” Bring the police in and make your complaint that sort of thing. So, we’ve got that. You can challenge voters through the precinct captains. This is one of the things they will teach you how to do and anybody can challenge a voter. And since the voter law did not get passed this year that could hit you with $100,000 and three years for unsuccessfully challenging a voter, we can still do this.
Dake is interrupted at this point by an unidentified coalition member who shouts, “Hallelujah.” Dake adds, “Yes, everybody gets to take credit for that.” He goes on to outline Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin’s role and how to target law enforcement:
So we’re talking about AFP is willing to fund doing a mass mailing to registered voters on this, about getting them involved with this, making sure that their information is current, because people periodically need to go back and check. I found, before we bought the house we lived in. Four years ago I lived in a brand new condo, the first people to live in it. I went to vote and found twelve people registered at my address. My wife and I are the only people to have lived there. Yet, there were twelve people registered to vote. I couldn’t believe it. They said, “Wow, you must have a big family.” And I’m looking at names and going, “No, there’s nobody named ‘Nguyen’ and ‘Din’ and that sort of thing in my family.” So that’s the kind of thing we need to clean up and people need to be aware of. Go in and check who else is registered at your place and ask to have them tossed off. Work with the media on this and district attorneys. Try to get them involved early and fired up about this and say look, “We know you’re shorthanded, we’re hands, we’re boots on the ground. We will help you, just bring the weight of the law behind us.” One of the things we’re going to do is take these addresses that people give and we want to send out a postcard that says, “You need to call and confirm this. And if you haven’t called, well then it could get tossed out.” We’re also looking for when you send these cards out is they’ll come back if it is an undeliverable address.
Other quotes from One Wisconsin Now's recordings:
"[Y]ou run into the racial thing. You have people screaming, ‘Oh, you’re denying the minorities the right to vote.’ No., we’re denying their right to vote multiple times." [Tim Dake, GrandSons of Liberty]
"Work with the media on this and the district attorneys. Try to get them involved early and fired up about this and say look, ‘We know you’re shorthanded, we’re hands, we’re boots on the ground. We will help you, just bring the weight of the law behind us."[Tim Dake, GrandSons of Liberty]
"I was a poll watcher from 2000 to 2006 and if you’ve got a university in your county, or your city, students will come down in droves and then they will all vouch for each other. I had this one kid come in five times with five separate groups of people and this person brings in students, they’re usually from Minnesota or wherever up by Eau Claire, and you go, ‘Do you live here?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well do you have anything that shows your address?’ ‘No.’ Then that one student says, ‘I vouch for her, I vouch for him.’ And they all vote." [Shane McVey, Eau Claire Tea Party]
"This is apparently a very effective deterrent, just having people standing there. Poll watching tends to discourage people when they know someone is looking." [Tim Dake, GrandSons of Liberty]
"It’s just having people who have the courage and conviction because in our society we have been ‘wussified’.... [T]hey try to claim intimidation and they'll bring a whole bunch of people. If you do challenge a vote like three people will surround you and they’ll all start getting in your face and threatening you with legal action and all that stuff. You just have to be strong willed and be able to take that stuff.” [Shane McVey, Eau Claire Tea Party]
The full recordings, as well as a transcript and other information, are available at One Wisconsin Now’s voter protection website:

September 20, 2010

Racine housing program creating lead hazard, city employee says; Stimulus project may violate lead-safe practices

Bill Bielefeldt, a housing technician for the city of Racine, stands with an award he received from the Wisconsin Rental Housing Legislative Council for his work on lead-safe practices. Bielefeldt alerted the state Department of Health Services about unsafe lead practices on city-owned homes.

A city program meant to improve neighborhoods may be endangering children.

Racine's Neighborhood Stabilization Program is under investigation by the State Department of Health Services after a city employee flagged dozens of potential lead paint violations on city-owned homes.

The NSP, funded by $3.4 million in federal stimulus, is designed to renovate and sell rundown homes in foreclosure. The city bought 23 homes with federal money over the summer and is renovating 17 homes. Work is underway to renovate the homes, but contractors may be violating several regulations in the process, according to Housing Technician Bill Bielefeldt and local contractors.

Toxic lead paint chips were found on sidewalks and in yards next door to city-owned homes. Lead paint can lead to brain damage in children. There are stringent city and state guidelines to safely remove and dispose of lead paint from homes. The city isn't following its own rules, said Bielefeldt, who has turned whistleblower last week in hopes that the city will enforce its lead-safety guidelines.

"Those rules are in place for the children," Bielefeldt said. "They have enough disadvantages. They don't need an unhealthy environment."

Bielefeldt stepped forward after being suspended without pay by City Development Director Brian O'Connell. Bielefeldt, who has worked for the city for 12 years, said city officials suspended him for "gross negligence" on Sept. 10 for his work on the NSP. He said the real problem is an ongoing personality conflict with his bosses, who have made repeated attempts to undermine him and his work, and a department that's overworked with too many programs going on at once.

After being suspended, Bielefeldt turned whistleblower. He sent 76 photos to the Department of Health Services on Sept. 16 documenting potential lead paint violations. They include photos of lead paint chips scattered around the exterior of a city-owned home at 1124 Irving Place. Lead paint chips were also found outside of 1841 Villa St., 1706 Maple St., 1537 Thurston Ave., and 1435 Blaine Ave. RacinePost confirmed paint chips outside of all four homes on Sept. 17, and witnessed lead paint tests on chips recovered from each of the houses.

Photos submitted by Racine Housing Technician Bill Bielefeldt to the state Department of Health Services alleging unsafe lead practices at homes owned by the City of Racine.

O'Connell confirmed Monday the state was investigating some properties, but said he had not seen a complaint. He was not aware of the homes in question until notified by RacinePost.

O'Connell said all contractors hired by the city were required to be lead-safe contractors and work in lead-safe manner. The city checked all contractors to ensure they were lead-safe certified.

"It's what we require," he said about lead-safe practices. "I do not expect the state to have a problem with this department."

During a tour of homes on Sept. 17, RacinePost also witnessed investigators from the state Department of Health Services investigating the home at 1435 Blaine Ave. The investigator declined comment on the investigation.

Shelley Bruce, supervisor of the DHS' Asbestos and Lead Program, confirmed in an email that the state is investigating the city-owned properties. She wrote to Bielefeldt on Sept. 17:  

I've tried to contact you a couple of times by phone this morning but you don't
answer and your phone does not take voicemails.  So, I'm just writing to let you
know that I got all the photos with the street addresses.  Thank you.

We are pursuing an investigation of these properties and I appreciate your

Shelley Bruce
Supervisor, Asbestos & Lead Program
Bureau of Environmental & Occupational Health
An investigator from the state Department of Health Services at 1435 Blaine Ave. on Sept. 17.

Bielefeldt and other local contractors who follow lead-safe rules said some contractors working on the homes are violating safety policies. Rules require contractors working on homes built before 1978 to assume the home has lead paint. They have to lay down plastic 10 feet from the edge of the home and then create another buffer zone around the plastic when removing paint and siding from homes. They then have to use a special vacuum to clean the plastic after each use. Contractors are also required to wear plastic suits and masks while working and dispose of them after each use. There are similar rules for work inside of houses.

Not all contractors violated the rules. During RacinePost's tour on Sept. 17, a contractor at 1706 Maple St. had plastic down along the side of the house he was working on. However, the contractor was not wearing plastic protective gear and paint chips were found around the home.

A contractor with plastic down alongside 1706 Maple St.   

Paint chips around the exterior of homes, including at least five that tested positive for lead, shows contractors were not following rules, Bielefeldt said. The shoddy work exposes neighborhoods to lead paint hazards that is particularly harmful to children 6 and under, he said. At one home RacinePost visited last week five children were playing in a front yard next door to 1435 Blaine Ave. where paint chips were found on the sidewalk.

City of Racine officials, particularly in the Health Department, take lead paint threats seriously. They have a local program to remove lead paint from homes, and doctors routinely report cases of lead poisoning to health officials for investigation.
(Above) 1124 Irving Place.

It's embarrassing that the city isn't following its own rules and concerns, Bielefeldt said.

"I would be just as much at fault as they are if I didn't report that," he said. "I didn't just go blindside them. I told them about this, and they chose not to do anything."

Bielefeldt is one of the city's chief advocates for lead-safe practices. Along with a local advisory group, he serves on a state committee for the Department of Health Services and received an award from the Realtors association for working to make homes lead free.

Despite his credentials, Bielefeldt's concerns went unanswered in his own department. The city suspended Bielefeldt without pay after he started to raise questions about lead-safe practices at the city owned properties. City Development officials, including Director of Development Brian O'Connell, acused him of "gross negligence" in working with the NSP. Bielefeldt said he expects to be fired.

After being suspended, Bielefeldt documented what he says are a series of major contractor violations on city-run projects, including lead-paint contamination. Using his contacts with the state, he notified the Department of Health Services and investigators are now reviewing the program.
Sign on the door at
1124 Irving Place.

O'Connell said his department, and the City of Racine, are leaders in removing lead from homes and following lead-safe practices.

"Contractors are required to be lead-safe contractors and work in a lead-safe manner," he said. "That's in our specs."
The state investigation is potentially disastrous for one of Mayor John Dickert's signature programs. The idea was to create a revolving fund of money with the city buying up homes in foreclosure, renovating them, selling them and then using the money to buy more homes. Dickert, a former Realtor, has said he hoped the program would improve the city's housing stock.

Now, the city is facing major violations for creating potentially hazardous conditions. The city's response to Bielefeldt?

It sent two uniformed police officers to Bielefeldt's Mount Pleasant home just before midnight on Sept. 17 to deliver a letter saying Bielefeldt was prohibited from all of the city's NSP sites.

Bielefeldt said it's clear the city was trying to intimidate him.

"What are they doing pulling officers off the street to be mailmen?" he said.

Here's the letter the city delivered to Bielefeldt just before midnight:
Mr. Bielefeldt;                                               
    It has come to my attention that you have been on city-owned property
without authorization.  Pursuant to your suspension of emploment beginning
September 10, 2010, you have been relieved of your duties as a Housing
Technician as of that date.  Be advised that You are not to enter any city-owned
property under the control of this department, including but certainly not
limited to any homes that are now or are in the future in the Neighborhood
Stabilization Program.
    Further, you are not to contact any property owners participating in the
city's loan program or any related programs, such as downpayment assistance, and
you shall not represent yourself as a current City of Racine employee during the
course of your suspension and/or upon termination.  As was said to you on
September 10, 2010, any requests for information from this department must be
made directly to me for response.
    Failure to comply will result in the city seeking all civil and criminal
remedies available to it..

 Brian F. O'Connell
 Director of City Development
c:      Scott Letteney, Deputy City Attorney
O'Connell declined comment on the letter, saying it was a personnel matter. He said he did not instruct police to deliver the letter in the middle of the night.

Five positive lead tests of paint chips collected outside of five homes owned by the City of Racine.

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September 19, 2010

Racine's 175 Years: Medal of Honor links two heroes

By Randolph D. Brandt

Though from the same small town of Racine, Maj. John Jerstad and Pvt. Harold C. Agerholm probably didn’t know each other.

They were born seven years apart, went to different schools, lived in different neighborhoods.

But courage has nothing to do with age or class or geography. When it came down to it, both men were willing to sacrifice their lives to try to save their comrades and their country.

And so both were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest decoration for valor, in actions during World War II that occurred a world apart.

Their names are forever linked by their courage, and by Jerstad-Agerholm School, which opened in 1952 named in their joint memory.

Jack Jerstad died in a bomber flying at rooftop level to accomplish one of the most desperate missions of the war in Europe. Harold Agerholm died while saving 45 wounded Marines on the island of Saipan in the Pacific.

Jerstad attended Washington Park High School and, after graduating in 1936, went on to Northwestern University. He participated in Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts and, while in college, he returned to Racine to run a children's day camp in the summer. After graduation in 1940, he taught school for a year in La Due, Missouri, before enlisting in July 1941 as an aviation cadet.

Agerholm attended the Racine public schools. After working for five months as a multigraph operator for the Rench Manufacturing Company, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve on July 16, 1942

Agerholm received his recruit training in San Diego, California. Upon completion of his training he was assigned to Headquarters and Service Battery, 4th Battalion, 10th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. He embarked for overseas duty on November 3, 1942, and went to New Zealand, where he trained with his battalion.

He was promoted to private first class in January 1943, and became the battery storeroom keeper. He took part in the fighting on Betio Island and Tarawa in November 1943. From Tarawa he went to the Hawaiian Islands with the 2nd Marine Division, where they trained for their forthcoming operation on Saipan.

Randolph D. Brandt is the retired editor of the Journal Times, and a member of Phi Alpha Theta, recognizing conspicuous scholarship in the field of history.

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Maj. John Jerstad led fateful Ploesti raid

Fire Over Ploesti by Roy Grinnell, National Guard Image Gallery

By Randolph D. Brandt

Maj. John Jerstad could have just gone home to Racine and nobody would have faulted him.

After all, he’d already earned rapid promotion in the U.S. Army Air Corps, a chest full of medals for bravery  -- including the Distinguished Flying Cross -- and finished far more than his required 25 bombing missions; so many, indeed, that he’d lost count himself. He’d more than earned his ticket back to the states.

Instead, Jack Jerstad signed on as operations officer for the 93rd Bombardment Group to help plan one of the most dangerous and controversial bombing missions of World War II, the Aug. 1, 1943, raid on Hitler’s main gas station, the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania.

Planning would have been plenty for an operations officer, but Jerstad also volunteered to fly the mission, and in a quirk of fate wound up in the cockpit of the lead Liberator bomber that pointed the way for the entire 9th Air Force composite wing to blast the Ploesti oil installations with 500-pound bombs dropped from tree-top level.

Jerstad paid for the mission with his life, and earned the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, one of two Racine men so recognized during the Second World War.

Jerstad’s was one of five Medals of Honor earned that day over Ploesti, the most Medals of Honor ever conferred in a single military operation, all but two of them posthumously.

The Ploesti raid was a long shot from the start. The 178, four-engine B-24 bombers, known as Liberators with their 1,750 crewmen, were expected to fly 1,200 miles from Benghazi in the North African desert, across the Mediterranean Sea into the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe. At the last minute, they got lost, taking a wrong turn at the beginning of the bomb run, heading toward Bucharest instead of Ploesti.

That’s when Jerstad and his boss, group commander Lt. Col. Addison Baker, noticed that Ploesti – the target -- was still to the north. They broke off from the larger composite wing and pointed their Liberator bomber, nicknamed “Hell’s Wench,” toward the target, taking the rest of the planes of the 93rd group with them.

Technically, they were disobeying orders, breaking formation, but they actually were leading their group, at least, toward the real target.

The remaining bombers of the main attack force finally realized they’d made a mistake, turning back toward Ploesti and following Baker and Jerstad’s lead into the actual target zone.

The B-24 was designed as a high-altitude bomber, but for this mission, pilots were ordered to drop to the deck, flying their bomb runs so close to the ground to avoid radar that they tore off rooftops, clipped trees and, in several instances, nearly digging furrows in farm fields with their wingtips.

The bombers were hard to manage at such low altitude, so it took two pilots to control one; in the case of “Hell’s Wench,” both Jerstad and Baker had to manhandle the rudder pedals and the wheel-stick in order to fly the plane.

Due to faulty intelligence, they didn’t know they were flying into one of the best-protected targets in Europe, a gauntlet of anti-aircraft batteries, ME109 fighters, even small arms fire that registered deadly effectiveness against such low-flying aircraft. The Americans were flying so low that some of the German flak towers were actually firing down on the bombers as they passed by.

For the enemy, it was a turkey shoot. One American later compared it to Tennyson’s poem, Charge of the Light Brigade. ("Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, cannon in front of them, … into the jaws of death, into the mouth of hell, rode the six hundred.")

American losses were staggering: 54 planes, along with 500 airmen, dead, wounded, captured or missing, the result of the low-level approach and a largely uncoordinated attack, despite months of planning.

As it turned out, Jerstad, Baker and the crew of Hell’s Wench were in the lead, guiding the rest of the bombers to the target; thus they also were among the first casualties.

Hell’s Wench sliced into a barrage balloon cable, crippling one wing, then took a direct hit from a German 88 in her plexiglas nose cone, along with probably dozens of other small- and large-caliber rounds. The cockpit was a mass of flame, but Baker and Jerstad kept flying toward the target anyway.

Historian Duane Schultz describes the final three minutes of Hell’s Wench’s existence, in his recent book, Into The Fire: Ploesti, the Most Fateful Mission of World War II:
 “The two men held the plane on course even after they jettisoned the bombs.  There was no need to go on the target then, except to lead the formation there. And for that, they somehow kept Hell’s Wench going.”
But it wasn’t over. In a last ditch attempt to save the crew …
“… Baker and Jerstad pulled their plane up in a climb to 300 feet. At that point, a few men – variously reported as three or four – jumped out, their bodies afire, flames spreading out in the wind. The plane slued over its right wing and plummeted to the ground, missing a bomber in the second element by a mere six feet.”
Everyone aboard Hell’s Wench died that day.

Both Baker and Jerstad were awarded the Medal of Honor: Jerstad for volunteering for a mission he didn’t have to fly; both, for taking the crippled Hell’s Wench into the maelstrom rather than trying for a crash landing in an available open field; and, finally, for climbing out of their dive to 300 feet, in their vain attempt to give other crew members a chance to bail out.

The Ploesti raid was such a near thing it might not have come off at all had Baker and Jerstad not independently decided to swing Hell’s Wench toward the target to initiate the attack.

But it did come off, thanks to their bravery and initiative, thus reducing Ploesti’s oil refining capacity by 40 percent, at least for a few weeks.

The raid was supposed to have shaved six months off the length of the war, but it didn’t. In the end, it barely made a dent in Hitler’s war-making capacity. Ploesti was repaired, back up and running, fueling the panzers on the Eastern and Western fronts.

Jack Jerstad never made it home to Racine, and the air corps never again tried a major hedgehopping bombing raid like Ploesti.

It just cost too much.


Randolph D. Brandt is the retired editor of the Journal Times, and a member of Phi Alpha Theta, recognizing conspicuous scholarship in the field of history.

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Racine's Marine hero, Harold Agerholm, saved 45

By Randolph D. Brandt

Maj. John Jerstad was one of two Medal of Honor recipients from Racine recognized for heroism in World War II.

Marine Private First Class Harold C. Agerholm also received the nation’s highest military honor, again, posthumously.

It’s said that everyone can be brave once, but Pvt. Agerholm was brave at least 45 times.

Over the course of three hours, on Saipan in the Mariana Islands, fighting against the Japanese, that’s how many fellow Marines he saved as he repeatedly braved enemy fire to retrieve wounded comrades on the field of battle.

Agerholm landed on Saipan three days after D-Day. With the battle for the island raging for three weeks, the enemy launched a vigorous counter-attack on July 7, 1944. When a neighboring battalion was overrun, Pvt. Agerholm volunteered to help evacuate casualties. For three hours, he used a commandeered ambulance to single-handedly evacuate 45 casualties while under intense Japanese fire.

On his final run to evacuate fellow Marines, he was felled by a Japanese sniper.

The United States Marines and the U.S. Navy didn’t forget Private Agerholm’s sacrifice.  In addition to the Jerstad-Agerholm school in Racine, two other significant memorials carried Private Agerholm’s name.

There’s the Harold C. Agerholm Memorial Gun Park at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and the destroyer USS Agerholm, left, commissioned in 1946 and decommissioned in 1978, after earning four battle stars for Korean War service and eight for tours off Vietnam. It later was sunk in missile practice exercises.

Randolph D. Brandt is the retired editor of the Journal Times, and a member of Phi Alpha Theta, recognizing conspicuous scholarship in the field of history.

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