May 11, 2011

Racine Board of Health Considers Banning Smoking in Parks

The North Beach Oasis and city golf courses would be exempt from a proposal to ban smoking in city parks considered by the Board of Health on Tuesday.

Under the proposal, the Oasis is listed as a "city owned and leased food and recreational establishment at North Beach" and included as an "exception" to a change that would ban smoking in city parks, beaches, sports fields, and playgrounds. "Designated areas" on golf courses are also listed as an exception to the ordinance.

On a voice vote, the board decided Tuesday to table the proposal while it gathers more information.

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Wanggaard Bill Restores Full Sentences for Felons

State Sen. Van Wanggaard had some success today. Racine's state senator passed a bill that would undo a plan to release felons early to save the state money. Gov. Jim Doyle was heavily criticized for the plan, which some said gave violent offenders a path to shorter prison sentences

Here's Wanggaard's press release: 
MADISON – Senate Bill 57 (SB 57) authored by Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), passed the Senate today, 22-11. SB 57 corrects a mistake made in the last budget bill, 2009 Act 28, which allows government officials to release convicted felons before the end of their sentences.

“Our society, our judicial system and our crime victims demand accountability for crimes - not early release,” Wanggaard said. “As a former law enforcement officer, I know firsthand that putting felons back creates more crime and therefore more victims. It also forces municipalities to devote resource to apprehend, try and incarcerate these criminals.”

Under the early release program, Department of Corrections employees could release inmates convicted of Class C through Class I felonies from their sentences were complete. Although proponents of early release make claims of costs savings, the Department of Corrections has been unable to identify any savings from the early release program. In addition, these convicted felons have committed additional crimes while on release. Among the crimes committed by those on early release are OWI, theft, drug use, possession with intent to deliver, and rape.
“Protecting our citizens must be our number one priority as a legislature,” said Wanggaard. “The early release program did not save the state any money, and it put dangerous criminals back on the street. I am glad that we have begun the process to repeal this misguided program.”
Senate Bill 57 now goes to the Assembly, which will likely schedule a vote on the bill next week.

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April 6, 2011

Can you spell r-e-c-o-u-n-t?

"Final" number as of 1:41 a.m.: 3596/3630 precincts: Prosser: 733,074; Kloppenburg: 732,489.

For the math-impaired, that's a margin of 585.

For now, everyone's gone to bed, including the AP. Tomorrow, Scarlett, is another day. (Well, OK, today!)

April 3, 2011

City Shuts Down Racine Home Brew Club

We've heard reports over the weekend of a city bust at DP Wigley in Racine. The gist seems to be the Health Department shut down the Belle City Brew Club for drinking home-brewed beer at the store. Apparently state laws says you can only drink home-brewed beer in the home of the person who brewed it.

It seems DP Wigley got in trouble because they were giving away beer in the store, presumably without a liquor license. The Saturday event was a fundraiser for the Racine Urban Garden Network.

More on this as it comes together, including what it means for the local home brew club and for DP Wigley, which sells brewing supplies through its store, Hop To It.

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M&I Banks Says Goodbye to Little White Bank Envelopes

Quirky little story I came across this week at M&I Bank this week (yes, yes, pro-union folks, this is my bank). The company is replacing its little white envelopes at the drive up with reusable plastic cases. The "Cash Caddy"
is billed as a way to protect the environment. I'm sure it doesn't hurt the bank's bottom line, either.

Anyone else notice the change? Will you miss the white envelopes?

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March 24, 2011

Billionaire Curt Johnson charged with sexually assaulting a teenager

Curtis Johnson, an heir of the SC Johnson fortune and one of the richest men in the world, was charged with sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl Thursday.

Johnson, a billionaire, is the former chairman of Diversey Inc. He took a leave of absence last month for an unstated reason. He appeared in court Thursday where he was formally charged. (The JT has photos.)

Johnson's sister, Helen Johnson-Leipold, runs Johnson Financial and took over as chairman of Diversey. His brother, Fisk Johnson, is head of SC Johnson.

Last year, Forbes Magazine estimated Johnson's fortune at $2.1 billion, ranking him the 463rd richest person in the world.

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March 18, 2011

Not so fast!, judge tells Walker and GOP

Was it really this easy?

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi today undid -- albeit temporarily -- Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature Republicans' end run around collective bargaining.

And while all she did was issue a temporary restraining order preventing publication -- and therefore implementation -- of Walker's so-called "budget repair" bill, Sumi said that Dane County District Atty. Ismael Ozanne is likely to win on the merits of his lawsuit claiming violation of the state's Open Meetings law.

"It seems to me the public policy behind effective enforcement of the open meeting law is so strong that it does outweigh the interest, at least at this time, which may exist in favor of sustaining the validity of the (law)," she said, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Walker's lawyers promise to appeal, so hold the celebration. In any case, Judge Sumi said the Legislature has the right to come back into session -- after giving proper notice, of course -- and pass the bill again.

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March 11, 2011

Park 6's window smashed early Friday morning

Someone threw several bricks at the Park 6 teen night club on Sixth Street Friday morning, shattering one of the building's front windows.

Keith Fair, owner of The Place on Sixth across the street, said he heard the damage at about 1:15 a.m. Jim Spodick, owner of the building, pointed out several scrape marks on the glass showing several bricks were thrown at the window before it cracked.

Police were taking pictures of the damage at about 10 a.m.

The incident comes at an interesting time for Park 6, which got its liquor license back last week. However, the club is still operating as a teen club.

JT's Christine Won honored for open records work

Journal Times' reporter Christine Won will be honored by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council on April 20 for her work uncovering payments made to a Caledonia police officer's family and friends for work on police cars. The announcement came out this week as Wisconsin celebrates "Sunshine Week," which focuses on open records and meetings in all levels of state government.

March 10, 2011

All over but the court appeals

It's all over but the court appeals.

Assembly  Republicans shut off debate shortly before 4 p.m., despite a list of legislators wanting to speak, and voted 53-42 to pass the new bill ending collective bargaining for state employees. The vote came after a number of demonstrators were forcibly carried out of the Assembly chamber. (Video here.)

No surprise from Racine lawmakers: Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, voted yes; Reps. Cory Mason and Bob Turner, both D-Racine, voted no. (Complete roll call here.) The Assembly session was immediately adjourned, amid crowd shouts of "Shame," which quickly morphed into chants of "Recall."

Gov. Scott Walker said:
"I applaud all members of the Assembly for showing up, debating the legislation and participating in democracy. Their action will save jobs, protect taxpayers, reform government, and help balance the budget. Moving forward we will continue to focus on ensuring Wisconsin has a business climate that allows the private sector to create 250,000 new jobs."
Vos was quoted by saying, shortly before the vote
Voters made a choice in November by supporting candidates who believe "government actually could shrink.  If this bill passes we show the people of Wisconsin and the people of our country we are not afraid to make tough decisions," he said. Vos said people on either side are entitled to their beliefs, but they "do not have the right to believe people on the other side are evil."
Mason said, in a speech before the vote:
"You may win this vote today.  I promise we will fight you ... Until these rights are restored, we will not surrender and we will not give up on restoring people's rights in the great state of Wisconsin."
After the vote, Assembly Minority Leader, Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said:
"Once again we have a flagrant violation of the rules." Republicans could have invoked an Assembly rule to end the debate, but did not. "They have such basic disregard for the people of this state that they don't follow the rules."
Complaints were filed by Barca with the Dane County District Attorney, alleging that Wednesday night's meeting of the Joint Conference Committee was in violation of the state's Open Meetings Law. Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk filed a similar complaint with the District Attorney, and with the State Attorney General's office. So did Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jay Carney, in response to a question, said:

"The actions taken last night, which divorced the issue of the state's budget problems from the issue of the rights of public sector employees, pretty clearly showed that the actions were not following the principle that we need to all come together and work together and not denigrate or vilify public sector employees, but bring them into the process,"
Here's the Journal Sentinel's comprehensive coverage.

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Rep. Cory Mason let protestors in through his Capitol office window

Racine's State Rep. Cory Mason helped let protestors into the state Capitol, according to this blogger.

Senate vote brings protesters to Monument Square

Wednesday night's surprise Wisconsin Senate vote -- eliminating most collective bargaining rights held by state employees -- brought a quick response Thursday morning. More than 100 protesters marched for over an hour in Monument Square.

Former State Sen. John Lehman joined the march

Jay Warner offered a double entendre from the animal kingdom

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March 9, 2011


Unbelievable!  The Wisconsin State Senate, voting 18-1, has ended collective bargaining for state workers. Sen. Dale Shultz, R-Richland Center, cast the lone "no" vote.

Republicans stripped the collective bargaining rights from Gov. Scott Walker's "budget repair" bill, and -- in less than three minutes -- rammed the new non-fiscal measure through, and then adjourned. Only fiscal measures need 20 senators present. All 14 Democratic senators were still in Illinois, but are said to be heading back to Madison.

Let me say that again. The budget portions of the "budget repair" bill were ignored; only the union-busting portions were passed by the Senate.

If this is Walker's idea of a "compromise" ....

GOP Senators and staff were escorted out of the capitol, through crowds of protestors chanting, "Shame, shame, shame..."

The bill now goes to the State Assembly. Questions of the vote's legality were raised even before the Senate voted; the issue revolves around whether enough public notice for the session had been given in advance. Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said "what they did was illegal" and "they've won the battle but they won't win the war."

“It is a continuation of a pattern of a naked abuse of power," Barca said, promising to ask the Wisconsin State Attorney General to investigate.

Walker issued the following statement after the vote:
"The Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused. In order to move the state forward, I applaud the Legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government. The action today will help ensure Wisconsin has a business climate that allows the private sector to create 250,000 new jobs."
More later, but here's the initial Journal Sentinel story.

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March 4, 2011

Or else, or else, or else, damnit!

This image -- borrowed from the iconic 1973 National Lampoon -- came to mind Thursday night during Gov. Scott Walker's press conference.

As CNN later reported:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday warned 14 absent lawmakers trying to stall his controversial budget bill to return to the state Capitol immediately to vote on the measure, or layoff notices will be sent to 1,500 public employees before the weekend.
"Unfortunately, if we don't have action by tomorrow we have a legal and moral obligation to start forewarning people," Walker said.
I know, it's just the governor and Republican senators' latest "negotiating" tactic -- following a virtual lockdown of the State Capitol, a takeover of Democratic senators' staffers, threatened fines of $100 a day, border guards threatening incarceration, the end of direct deposit and a declaration that the senators are in contempt, or something.

But it definitely makes you wish you had a union to protect you, eh? Even union-haters are coming around, as every nationwide poll in the last few weeks has shown. The latest Rasmussen poll in Wisconsin gave Walker a 52% to 44% drubbing.

Walker's layoff threat is hardly idle, since his budget cuts state aid to municipalities and school districts by more than $1 billion, while at the same time prohibiting them from raising taxes to cover the shortfall. Without new revenue, it's clear that many governing bodies -- just as the private sector has done for the past few years -- will have to shrink their workforce. But Walker's attempt to lay the blame on the 14 Democrats is unnecessarily heavy-handed.

What's next: take their wives and children hostage? (Damn! I didn't mean to give him any ideas...)

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March 2, 2011

Capitol closed off, so Mason takes his office outside

The State Capitol is -- mostly -- closed off. Many entrance doors are blocked; even people with scheduled meetings with their representatives are being denied access. At first, representatives' staffers had to go down to the doors to get their constituents in, but even that was limited. We've even heard of a few state representatives turned back because they forgot their ID's -- or refused, on principle, to show them.

But where there's a will, there's a way. The picture above shows volunteers hauling a desk through the window of the Wisconsin State Capitol office of Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, so he could meet with constituents today -- outside, but alongside, the Capitol.Working in Mason's favor was the fact that his office last session was on the third floor, but this session -- because some Republican favored his old space and Republicans, thanks to their majority, have first pick -- his office is on the ground floor.

So setting up a temporary office outside wasn't that difficult. Mason and a few other lawmakers met with constituents outside this afternoon. No word how long this will continue. The temperature, by the way, was 24 degrees...

"We literally climbed out because we can't get to our constituents," said Mason. "It's taking a long time for me to get in. We're going to take our responsibilities outside and listen to what the public has to say. Even if the governor doesn't want to hear it, we do."

More on the story HERE, from The Progressive.

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March 1, 2011

Top Five Reasons to Attend March 7's Empty Bowls Fundraiser

Racine's Empty Bowls 2011 fundraiser is 11 am. to 2 p.m. and 4-7 p.m. Monday, March 7 at the Masonic Center, 1012 Wisconsin St. Here's five reasons not to miss this great local event: 

  1. Lunch and/or dinner is taken care of. Show up and get soup prepared by Racine's finest chefs. 
  2. It's affordable. Lunch or dinner costs $15 per meal (you keep the bowl), $5 for children under 10 (plastic bowl) or $7 for "soup to go."  
  3. You get a handmade, ceramic bowl designed by local artists and students. See the photos below ... the bowls are beautiful, and so is the effort of the local schools and organizations who create hundreds of bowls for the fundraiser.
  4. All proceeds benefit local charities. Since 1997, Empty Bowls has donated more than $78,000 to hunger and homeless assistance programs in Racine. 
  5. People in our community go hungry on a daily basis. Empty Bowls is an opportunity to help people in need. Bring your kids and teach them there is always an empty bowl that needs to be filled. 

And a big bonus reason ... 

Honor all of the hardwork by volunteers who make this annual event possible. Here are photos of students at St. Joseph School and Walden High School who created and contributed bowls to the event: 

St. Joe's 

And students at Walden ... 

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February 23, 2011

Prank call fallout becomes a firestorm

The fallout from Gov. Scott Walker's prank call Wednesday has become a firestorm.Click the links below to read each of the stories. If you just got back from Venus,  HERE's the original story.  Listen to the call itself here: Part One | Part Two.  Or, go here for a complete transcript.

Letter from State Sen. Tim Carpenter to Gov. Walker
Governor Walker, this tape would make Richard Nixon blush. If the recording and the items discussed by you are indeed your plans, you have no business being in public office  in our State, and should resign.

Is this what Democracy looks like?
"So we're trying about four or five different angles, so each day we crank up a little bit more pressure," Walker said to the man he thought was Koch in the prank call. "The other thing is I've got layoff notices ready. We put out the at-risk notices. We'll announce Thursday, and they'll go out early next week. And we'll probably get 5,000 to 6,000 state workers will get at-risk notices for layoffs. We might ratchet that up a little bit, you know."
-- Jessica Opoien, Iowa State Daily

Sen. Robert Wirch called the information revealed in the conversation "devastating." "This governor cares about right-wing think tanks and the Koch brothers more than he cares what the people of the state think."

Wirch was also glad he found out about the governor's plan to trick them into coming back, admitting that it might have worked. "Candidly, I think we probably would have given the governor the benefit of the doubt, so I'm glad I found out about his real agenda... We probably would have seen it as a breakthrough instead of a trick." 

Asked whether Democrats are now less likely to trust Walker, Wirch replied, "Yes. In a word, yes."
--Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post

Walker said at a news conference Wednesday that he "absolutely" did not include a budget repair bill provision on selling state powerplants as a means of rewarding Koch. Walker noted that the Koch firm had said it wasn't interested in buying the plants.
 --Steve Schultz, Journal Sentinel's All Politics Blog

Scott Walker's 'Dire Consequences'
It's not every day that a governor at the heart of the biggest political story in the United States is humiliated by the revelation that he managed to fall for a prank-call from a blogger pretending to be a libertarian billionaire. But like a good soldier, he ploughed straight ahead.

Wisconsin Dem: Walker has pushed us away from negotiating
State Sen. Chris Larson... called Walker "cocky" and "gullible" for believing that David Koch, the billionaire conservative bankroller, would call him up to discuss political tactics. On a tactical level, however, he called the prank a major blunder on Walker's behalf. "He just gave it all away right there," Larson insisted.
--Sam Stein, Huffington Post 

At the end of the call, the prankster says: "I'll tell you what, Scott, once you crush these bastards, I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time."

"All right, that would be outstanding," Walker replies, adding the standoff is "all about getting our freedoms back."
 --Seattle Times

The blogger behind the Walker prank call
"I joked with [the aide] that my maid Maria threw my phone in the washing machine, and that I'd have her deported but she works for almost nothing," Murphy said. "So I told them it wasn't really possible for them to call me back and I better call him. I thought it was so ridiculous, and there was no way I would get through,"
--Peter Wallsten, Washington Post

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February 22, 2011

Racine mayor sued for slander

A city employee fired late last year sued Racine Mayor John Dickert this week for slander over comments the mayor made on WRJN radio.

Bill Bielefeldt, who was fired from the city's Department of Development in November, filed suit in Racine County Circuit Court on Monday. Dickert allegedly said on the radio that Bielefeldt was "embezzling" from the city. To date, no allegations of embezzlement, which is a form of financial fraud that's essentially stealing, have been made against Bielefeldt.

An insider with knowledge of the situation said the mayor overstepped in alleging criminal action by Bielefeldt. They also said the suit was purposefully filed against Dickert, and not the city, so the mayor would have to hire his own attorney to defend himself. Dickert will not be able to use the city attorney's office in the case, they said.

It's hard to say what, if any, impact the case will have on Dickert's re-election bid. Voters could see it as a messy situation involving a disgruntled employee and give the mayor a pass. But they may also wonder why Dickert was even talking about Bielefeldt in a public forum, much less making allegations no one, at least publicly, has stated.

No court dates have been set in the case, which is being handled by Judge Charles Constantine's court. Bielefeldt is being represented by Thomas Santarelli, a Kenosha attorney who is known as a bulldog in the court room.

Beth over at Racine Uncovered was the first to jump on this story. The JT is also paying attention.


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February 21, 2011

Madison and Lambeau from the air during 'Return to Titletown'

We first met Chris Wawro at the Monument Square Art Fair a few years ago, where he was displaying and selling incredible aerial photos. He takes the pictures while flying his Cessna around Wisconsin, Illinois and other locales.

Chris has a business doing this -- Aero-Fotografik, LLC of East Troy, WI -- but it turns out he sometimes also does it just for fun ... as he did after the Packers returned to Titletown after their Superbowl victory this year and when he flew over the State Capitol.

Chris sent us the video above, and provided the following explanation in answer to our questions:

I had no ticket to the Lambeau party. I viewed the event with at least a little cabin heat going! I felt enough of the cold when shooting through the open window! When it's that cold you have to wear gloves to keep the hands from freezing.

I kept having to wait out the winter storms to shoot night aerials of the Capitol. Wednesday, Feb. 2,  was a beautiful evening and relatively calm but unfortunately the airport was buried in snow with no plow service from the Village of East Troy until Thursday morning. I finally took off Thursday evening and was able to capture some nice shots of the Capitol lit green & gold for the Pack.

After confirming there was no TFR (temporary flight restrictions) in effect over Lambeau Field I departed for Green Bay. Lambeau Field was planned as a stills shoot but I grabbed the Panasonic HDC-TM700 camcorder just in case and am glad I did. When I arrived on site there was another Cessna circling at a lower altitude so I chose to remain higher at 2,000 ft. We were all in contact with the tower and maintained proper separation. After that Cessna departed a helicopter arrived and did an orbit or two then departed. I then had the airspace to myself and completed my shoot.

Stills were captured with the Canon EOS 1Ds MkIII & 5D MkII. Aerial video was shot with the Panasonic HDC-TM700 3MOS Camcorder. Aircraft used was the Cessna 172. Altitude shot from was 2,000-3,000 ft. Solo flights.

Here's a picture of Chris that we took a couple of years ago

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February 20, 2011

Madison Protests: 'This is what democracy looks like'

The Tea Party Protest was drowned out by anti-Walker crowd. 

The pro-Walker demonstrators tried to rally, but they were pretty meager. 

Signs ruled the day at the peaceful protest around the Capitol. 

The weather was beautiful.
These two want a "Paradimes Shift." 

The crowd marching past where the Tea Party rally was organized. It was truly thousands versus hundreds. 

You can see a handful of pro-Walker signs in the background. 

This was pretty much the look of the Walker crowd. 

Even the Walker side had some funny signs. 

Lots of attacks on corporations.

For Harry Potter fans

Inside of the Capitol. They allowed 4,000 people inside of the building at one time. 

"Please don't tea bag our children" 

"Johnny Walker is what we drink. Scott Walker is why we drink."

A silent protest.

This demonstrators directed teachers to actual doctors at the protest who signed notes for sick days taken to attend the rally.