Friday, November 30, 2007

The loneliest job in town

If there was ever a competition for the loneliest job in the community, District Attorney Bob Zapf would be the hands-down winner.

In addition to the fact that few people ever visit the District Attorney's office because they're having a good day, having to deal with "no-win" situations is his lot in life.

A case in point is the tragic death Thursday of a three-year-old boy who apparently shot himself with an unsecured gun that he found in his home.

On the one hand, many people will be saying that the parents will suffer immeasurably for the rest of their lives and there is nothing more that prosecution could do in terms of punishment.

Another segment will cry out that the parents were so reckless that an example needs to be made.

A classic case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't."

Score another boner for Kenosha's rookie fire chief

In the latest chapter of How Not to Win Friends and Influence People, Kenosha's rookie fire chief, John Thomsen, wants to figuratively put a moat around the city and not share the city's hazardous materials unit with other fire departments in the county.

To be fair, Thomsen has some legitimate concerns. As Pleasant Prairie Fire Chief Paul Guilbert pointed out, the HazMat unit's costs have increased while contributions to defray the tab for assisting neighborhood departments have remained flat.

Thomsen's response, however, was bizarre: He simply wrote that expense out of his proposed 2008 budget.

Making sure everyone pays their fair share isn't wrong but it would seem much more prudent and progressive had Thomsen and Mayor John Antaramian worked in good faith to negotiate a solution. A smart fire chief certainly would realize that the day may come when he may have to seek help from neighboring communities and it's wise to keep friendships in good repair.

Perhaps the page that defines "intergovernmental relations" is missing from Thomsen's dictionary and, then again, maybe he just never read it. After all, Thomsen is the brain child behind the myopic and idiotic plan to close and relocate some city fire stations while at the same time defending the indefensible decision to keep the downtown fire station mothballed.

At the rate Thomsen is going, maybe the only fire trucks he should be allowed to play with are the ones made by Tonka.

Wanted: A vision for Kenosha

The Kenosha News -- apparently mirroring comments made here some three weeks ago -- editorially suggests that the folks who want a shot at being Kenosha's next mayor need to do more to define and demonstrate their vision for the city:

It's one thing to complain about particular projects not being done or being done wrong; it's something else - and something a lot more valuable - to give city residents a sense of what the city ought to be and how the mayor can help realize that vision.After 16 years with John Antaramian in the mayor's office, the city of Kenosha is at a turning point. The candidates who want to succeed him need to give the voters in the city an idea of what success might look like.

That's a great idea, of course. So far we've seen a lot of generalities but little substance. While overall that seems unfortunate, in ambivalence there is a nonetheless a measure of value as voters ponder how anyone who can't come up with a plausible vision for the city has the qualifications to be mayor. This is important stuff, not something that should either be concealed or made up on the fly.

And, should any of the gang of six candidates articulate a vision for the city's future, the response hopefully will include some thought on how the city will interface with its metropolitan neighbors. The city isn't an island -- yet.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Exciting game but (gulp) Dallas deserved to win

Both the Packers and Cowboys had great seasons going into tonight's nail-biter but Dallas deserved to win the hard-fought game -- "hard-fought" being the operative description.

Clearly Dallas' offensive line outgunned the Packers' defense and Brett Favre being injured during the game is a testament to how aggressive Dallas was.

Burlington's Tony Romo fired like a machine gun for the Cowboys but his performance, while ultimately the prevailing one, was frequently overshadowed by Green Bay's backup quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who came off the bench to deliver a surprisingly solid performance while under the watchful eyes of the injured Favre.

At the end of the day, however, Dallas had the stronger and more consistent performance and that's what was needed to defeat the Packers.

Nonetheless Green Bay had some bright moments and one must necessarily wonder how Rodgers would have performed with a little more actual game experience.

I've long argued that Brett Favre is Green Bay's most precious asset and yet the Packers organization clearly doesn't do enough to protect him or their investment.

Coach Mike McCarthy predicts a bright future for Rodgers but you also have to wonder whether a quarterback as solid as the young Romo will go on to become the NFL's next Brett Favre.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another reason why this newspaper isn't one of America's best

In the days just before the "no call" list kicked in I got a telephone call asking me if I wanted to subscribe to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

"No, thank you," I said.

The pleasant young woman who called as me why and I explained that the old Milwaukee Journal was once considered one of America's top ten daily newspapers and is not but a shadow of its former self.

"You're not the first person who told me that." the solicitor said.

Fast forward to today's Journal-Sentinel editorial which laments state government's growing debt load and calling on all the players to sit down and work out solutions.

The editorial is, of course, apt.

But the newspaper only talked about the problems and offered no concrete solutions. In so doing the Journal-Sentinel demonstated its own present mediocrity.

My mother used to say it's a good idea not to criticise someone or something unless you can simultaneously offer a better solution. She was right on target. Too bad the poo-bahs over at Journal Square aren't.

Badgers are bound for Tampa

While so much attention has been focused on Thursday night's anticipated NFL bloodbath between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys it's nice to see that the Wisconsin Badgers are bound for the Outback Bowl in Tampa on New Year's Day.

Wisconsin fans will have to wait until Saturday to learn whether it'll be Tennessee or Louisiana State against the Badgers.

Great seasons by Packers and Badgers are good reasons for Wisconsin sports fan to beam with justifiable pride.

Waukesha county "decriminalizes" marijuana possession? Not quite.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel proclaimed that the Waukesha County Board "decriminalized" first offense possession of marijuana by adopting an ordinance which would provide a civil forfeiture not to exceed $1,000.

The newspaper -- as is so often the case when "hit and run" reporters try to report on legal developments -- got it wrong.

The county board approved an ordinance that would allow first offense marijuana possession to be ticketed as a civil offense -- such as speeding -- but adopting the ordinance does not mandate civil prosecution.

The Waukesha County District Attorney has the sole discretion whether to charge marijuana possession as a crime or by way of a municipal ordinance citation. The new ordinance will give the prosecutor another tool. That's all.

County boards in Wisconsin have limited legislative authority. A county board may adopt certain state laws as parallel county ordinances -- such as possession of marijuana, disorderly conduct, retail theft, etc. -- and ordinance prosecutions are civil offenses. But to decriminalize possession of marijuana overall would require action by the state legislature and, because of federal mandates, congress.

Frankly, making first offense possession of marijuana a county ordinance violation is an option that should be used sparingly. Here's why.

The only thing that can be done in an ordinance case is impose a monetary penalty. That's all. So, if someone has a budding drug problem, making them fork over, say, $186 (that's a $50 forfeiture plus court costs) does nothing to address that issue.

So many adult offenders today who have alcohol and/or other drug problems lament that they never had an opportunity for treatment. Rather than collect a token monetary penalty, first offenders (and usually "first offender" really means it's the first time the defendant has been caught) should be compelled to participate in treatment.

If the treatment works, great. If not -- and we all know that you can lead a horse to water but can't make it drink -- we will at least know that the option was available.

Plus, in Wisconsin, a person accused of a misdemeanor who is under the age of 21 at the time of the offense has a chance to have their conviction expunged (sealed) if he or she successfully completes the sentence. Persons convicted of ordinance violations have a rude awakening because that conviction -- even though not a criminal one -- remains of record forever.

Society is better served by steering "first offenders" into treatment, particularly when young offenders have an opportunity to get help and also have their convictions expunged. Just giving them a ticket, collecting a few bucks and walking away from the problem is a farce than benefits nobody.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A sign of higher education?


This sign was posted outside the Administration Building at New Mexico Tech in Socorro, New Mexico. Maybe they have a dictionary somewhere in the adjacent library?

Greetings from Socorro, New Mexico








Dozens of photographers make Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge an annual stop to photograph the migration of sandhill cranes and snow geese. The sunsets weren't too bad!

A weekend of thanks

If I were to write in detail all that I am thankful for it would be an exhaustive post. Maybe someday.

On the flight from Minneapolis to Albuquerque Friday there was a young soldier in uniform going home from Iraq who was seated up in first class.

Those of us surrounding her told her, "Thank you for your service to your country."

She replied politely but a bit nervously, "Thank you." She seemed like she didn't quite know what to say but apparently heard words of thanks before.

I pointed out to her that three decades ago or so it was very seldom that we heard a soldier, sailor, marine or airman thanked and the one time I heard it -- from a Delta agent in St. Louis -- it was music to my ears.

Because of the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform we are able to exercise our freedoms today. Think about it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What's up with this?

A nasty blaze in the Lakeview Corporate Park that apparently started in cardboard proved a quirky one to knock down Wednesday night.

Eventually Pleasant Prairie firefighters -- with help from many neighboring communities -- were able to bring the blaze at Honeywell Securities (which ironically is in the fire alarm business) under control.

The Kenosha News account is very interesting: "More than 100 firefighters arrived to help out from area departments, including Bristol, Paris, Salem, Silver Lake, Somers, Sturtevant, Mount Pleasant, Union Grove, Antioch, Beach Park, Fox Lake, Gurnee, Newport, Waukegan, Winthrop Harbor and Zion. The Racine Fire Bells and the Quad Two Rehab Unit also assisted."

Conspicuous by its absence from that list is the Kenosha Fire Department. Was this a misprint or are there some integrovernmental cooperation "issues?"

Anyway, congrats to the Pleasant Prairie Fire Department and those other agencies that helped out. They deserve a pat on the back.

As for why the Kenosha Fire Department wasn't in the list of assisting agencies -- let's hope that a misprint. Otherwise, there's a crying need for better intergovernmental cooperation. Now.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

LISTEN UP, FOLKS! THIS COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE.

It's weird when news breaks in an ad but that's what happened in today's Kenosha News when Aurora Medical Center-Kenosha announced it's been accredited as a stroke treatment hospital.

That's HUGE news that could save your life.

If you have any reason whatsoever to suspect the possibility of a stroke it's CRITICAL to get to a stroke treatment center within three hours so that intensive treatment can be initiated.

That three hour window is fairly firm.

The good news is that there's a great chance for success if a stroke is arrested and treated promptly.

Kudos for Aurora for taking this step (one many hospitals won't undertake because it's a low profit margin item).

This is something that you should discuss with your family and friends so that if something happens someone will be able to tell the paramedics which hospital you need to be at.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Can things be improving in Baghdad?

Yep, so says the New York Times. While the improvement may be coming in baby steps, if the Times says it's noticeable, it's noticeable.

Pleasant Prairie makes case for mill rate increase

The Pleasant Prairie village government laid out a good case for the property tax increase approved tonight that will raise the village's share of the property taxes on an average home by about $48 next year. The lion's share of the increase will be the Kenosha Unified School District's take ($139) along with a hike in the county levy. The total increase for village residents (before lottery and state tax credits) looks like a little over $200 on the "average home."

The budget analysis can be viewed here.

The village will be adding another police officer and firemedic along with an employee to harmonize the communication between village computers. Another snow plow will be secured. A number of capital projects will be initiated along with road work on 80th Street for which the village will borrow over $2 million. (In future years road work is planned on 85th and 116th streets.)

The good news is that the village is taking steps to fund capital expenditures and more money to set aside for capital improvements will come starting in 2009 when the village's debt service outlay will drop which should free up that money.

Planning and setting aside money for capital improvements is a responsible thing. We all know that things such as squad cars, snow plows, computers and the like have a finite number of serviceable years. In our own homes we plan for these purchases. Businesses wisely "retain earnings" for these future expenses. So it only stands to reason that governmental units should do the same (and invest the earmarked funds to earn interest).

On the flip side, "pay as you go budgeting" is pretty much the same as living paycheck to paycheck. Not necessarily a good idea. So it's good to see the village heading in the right direction.

That said, it would have been more reassuring had village administrator Mike Pollocoff indicated that the village would hold the line against future tax increases. It's understandable that he may be reluctant to be so definitive lest the "loyal opposition" seek to make him eat his words should some calamity occur and property taxes increased. But it still would have been reassuring to have a commitment to do everything possible to hold the line.

One area where they may be some "wiggle room" in the future is the village's reserve fund.
According to trustee Clyde Allen, who has years of finance experience, the reserves should not fall below 15%. Right now it's budgeted at 16%.

The reserve fund serves a couple of purposes. First, it's the village's hedge for catastrophic expenses. More important, it helps to keep the village's bond rating healthy which in turns results in lower interest rates for village borrowing.

Pollocoff also answered a major question when he explained that while theoretically big developments should bring in more tax revenues once they reach fruition the reality is that those benefits will be deferred until the retirement of Tax Incremental Districts used to help lure and support these new developments. This is what happened with the Lakeview Corporate Park where the district was retired early and with a surplus of funds.

Despite the importance of tonight's subject matter, the board meeting was not all that well attended. That's too bad because those who did attend got some good insights into how village finances are run.

Alex Tiahnybok: Citizen Journalist

Former Pleasant Prairie village trustee Alex Tiahnybok made good on his promise to start recording village board meetings.

Alex came to tonight's board meeting with a video camera and tripod which he placed at the side of the room. He plans to put the recordings on You Tube at http://youtube.com/PleasantPrairieWI.

I'm eager to watch the first recording if only to see which is right:

a. Alex;s claim that you can successfully record and broadcast a meeting with a single camera in the room.

b. Others who say that if meetings are going to be recorded and broadcast they should be done right with high quality video and audio.

Perhaps both are correct. My take is that Leno and Letterman have nothing to fear as there won't likely be a deluge of viewers flocking to watch the village board on You Tube.

Nonetheless, it'll be interesting to see how well Alex's initial foray into the world of citizen journalism turns out. If recording and broadcasting meetings has merit, then perhaps some mechanism can be found to do so with higher quality and at minimal cost.

Pundit Nation apologizes

Over at Pundit Nation a barb was leveled at Kathy Carpenter, likening her to a Ku Klux Klan sympathizer because she correctly pointed out on her blog that the Sudanese government had the legal right to expel former U.S. President Jimmy Carter from that country.

Pundit Nation has since removed the point and apologized to Kathy. It was the right thing to do and thus our post here has been modified.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Harry Reid: Slut a wheezeball!

A new report today says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has decided to keep the Senate in session over the Thanksgiving break to block President Bush from making any recess appointments while Senators are out of town.

Oh, spare us the phony virtue!

“I’ve gotta Cleanface in my pocket,” boasted Kansas City Mafia representative Joe Agosto, unaware the FBI was monitoring his conversation (reproduced loosely in the movie Casino). FBI surveillance of Mafia gambling operations in Las Vegas in the late 1970s picked up Agosto making references to an individual he codenamed “Mr. Cleanface” and “Mr. Gillette”. Agosto’s conversations mentioned Mr. Cleanface was close to Nevada Governor-Elect Robert List. After turning state’s evidence, Agosto claimed that Mr. Cleanface was Harry Reid, then chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission and sporting a cleanshaven, boyish look. Agosto’s claims were echoed by former Tropicana Hotel part-owner Deil Gustafson, who testified about Reid’s relationship to Tropicana attorney Jay H. Brown.

Agosto’s testimony led to the conviction of several top Midwestern Mafia bosses, but failed to touch Reid. When questioned after Agosto’s surveillance became public knowledge in mid-1979, Reid admitted to being the subject of the “Mr. Cleanface” references, but denied being paid for any favors. The Justice Department investigated whether Mafia funds had been funneled to Reid through Brown and Mafia attorney Oscar Goodman. A five-month investigation cleared Reid, and 25 years later, Reid is attacking political opponents with slogans like “If we can beat mob, we can fight DeLay-style politics”, and claiming in the process that he “kick[ed] the mob out of Las Vegas in the 1970s."

Did Harry Reid really kick the mob out of Las Vegas in the 1970s, as he claims? Or was he in the Mafia’s pocket, as Joe Agosto claimed? What are the real facts about Reid’s relationship to organized criminal elements in the gambling industry? Is he Mr. Cleanface, or Mr. Dirty Laundry?

Reid has been using the same tactics to project an image of being Mr. Cleanface since the beginning of his political career. He started as a protege of Donal “Mike” O’Callaghan, who served as Governor of Nevada from 1970 to 1978. Reid was elected as O’Callaghan’s Lieutenant Governor in 1970. With support from O’Callaghan, he ran for Senate in 1974 against Republican Paul Laxalt. Reid’s campaign rhetoric accused Laxalt of profiting from association with billionaire Howard Hughes, who had a long relationship with Capone mob representative Johnny Rosselli and had recently secured Rosselli’s assistance in acquiring Las Vegas’ Desert Inn from associates of Cleveland mobster Moe Dalitz in 1967.

Laxalt had indeed taken contributions from Hughes. But what Reid failed to mention was, so had his own former running mate O’Callaghan. And so had Reid himself.

Hughes, like the Mafia, hedged his political bets by adopting a nonpartisan policy towards graft. He sold Laxalt, O’Callaghan, and other politicians on his move into Las Vegas by portraying it as a broomstick for sweeping the Mafia out of the casino business. Then “reformer” Hughes turned around and paid Johnny Rosselli a finder’s fee. Meanwhile handsome profits from the deal went to Moe Dalitz, then a partner in developing Rancho La Costa in the San Diego area. From bases outside Las Vegas the Mafia maintained a lower-profile presence in the city, and the Chicago Outfit and its Midwestern partners were soon creeping back into town by 1974--just in time for Mr. Cleanface to “kick the mob out of Las Vegas," again.

O’Callaghan replaced Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Peter Echeverria with Reid in mid-1977, in the midst of the new Chicago Mafia move into town spearheaded by Agosto. As chairman, one of Reid’s first acts was to approve the sale of the Hacienda hotel-casino (now the site of Mandalay Bay), controlled by a Chicago Mafia front company called Argent Corporation, to former lounge musician Paul Lowden. Reid approved the sale despite objections from the state’s Gaming Control Board alleging the involvement of Lowden with hidden associates from a company based in San Diego.

Also in 1977 Reid and the Nevada Gaming Commission initially approved the deal that allowed Agosto’s associates to skim funds from the Tropicana for two years before Reid decided to “kick the mob out of Las Vegas."

In 1978 Reid’s commission approved applications for new Reno and Lake Tahoe ventures by the Del E. Webb Corporation, named for Del Webb, a Phoenix construction contractor whose Las Vegas buildings had been used by Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky for skimming funds. After the use of Reid’s name by Agosto and his associates was reported by papers in mid-1979, Reid and the Gaming Commission approved transfer of control of the Tropicana from Agosto’s group to the Phoenix-based Ramada hotel chain, which had been founded with initial investment input from Webb.

By 1980 Reid had been cleared of Agosto’s allegations by the Carter Justice Department (then also in the process of bringing about virtually no successful prosecutions in Billygate, Koreagate, ABSCAM, BCCI, or the investigation of cocaine use by Treasury Secretary Hamilton Jordan). Since then Reid has received contributions from various donors connected with the gambling industry, including:

--Moe Dalitz, associated with the Cleveland mob, the Desert Inn, the Stardust Resort & Casino, and Rancho La Costa.

--Irwin Molasky and Merv Adelson, who partnered with Dalitz in developing Rancho La Costa but deny any criminal associations.

--Morris Shenker, an attorney associated with the St. Louis Mafia, Meyer Lansky, Jimmy Hoffa, and the Dunes Hotel.

--Paul Lowden, who after purchasing the Hacienda in 1977 from Argent Corporation purchased the Sahara Resort and Casino in 1982 from Del Webb.

--Ed and Fred Doumani, associated with the Tropicana Hotel, the El Morocco casino, Agosto, and Joey Cusumano, former lieutenant of Chicago Mafia representative Anthony Spilotro; Agosto’s infiltration of the Tropicana was facilitated in 1975 when the Chicago and Kansas City Mafia families conspired to block a Teamsters Central States Pension Fund loan to the Doumanis; when Argent Corporation’s gambling license was revoked in 1979 Argent initially agreed to sell its holdings to the Doumanis; later in 1983 the Doumanis loaned funds to the now-bankrupt Agosto.

--Bart Rizzolo, who along with his son Rick Rizzolo operates the Crazy Horse Too strip club; associated with the Doumanis and Joey Cusumano.

--Kirk Kerkorian, owner at various times of Caesar’s Palace (built with financing from the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund), the Flamingo Hotel (sold in 1970 to the Hilton Hotels Corporation, partly financed in the 1940s by Henry Crown, who also financed Chicago mob associate Jacob Arvey, and later associated with mob lawyer Sidney Korshak), and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (built on the heels of Kerkorian’s acquisition of controlling MGM shares from Edgar Bronfman, son of Lansky bootlegging associate Samuel Bronfman; Bronfman’s son Edgar Jr. has also been a Reid contributor).

--Steve Wynn, a casino developer who used profits from a 1970 deal involving Howard Hughes and Caesar’s Palace to purchase the Golden Nugget; described in a Scotland Yard report as a front man for New York’s Genovese Mafia family.

--Joseph Alioto, a San Francisco politician related to Milwaukee Mafia boss John Alioto; alleged by informer Jimmy “the Weasel” Fratianno to be associated with San Diego Mafia boss Frank “the Bomp” Bompensiero, a charge Alioto denied; implicated in the Koreagate Congressional bribe scandal.

--Tony Coelho, a corrupt former Congressman who in 1997 at the time of his donation to Reid was involved in a business venture with El Rancho, a Las Vegas casino formerly run by Ed Torres, an associate of Meyer Lansky.

While receiving donations from such sources, Reid has remained associated with the two attorneys involved in the Justice Department probe of Agosto’s allegations, Jay H. Brown and Oscar Goodman. Brown has been a regular contributor to Reid’s campaigns since 1982, and his law firm Singer & Brown lists Reid as a reference in one online profile.

In January 2006 Reid and Goodman--now the Mayor of Las Vegas--discussed the possibility of Goodman running for Senate, with Reid describing Goodman to the press as “a very, very strong candidate”. Meanwhile Goodman had recently created a local scandal by throwing a party with a guest list which included Joey Cusumano, legally barred from Las Vegas casinos for his ties to the Chicago Mafia. Goodman’s open association with Cusumano was called by former Las Vegas FBI chief Bobby Siller “an embarrassment to the state, an embarrassment for Las Vegas and an embarrassment for gaming."

Another former Las Vegas FBI chief, Joseph Yablonsky, said of Goodman, “'Mob lawyer' is a title Goodman has relished and promoted over the years, although it's contradictory to his sporadic and inane denials that organized crime exists in the United States. The 'boys' in Chicago, Kansas City and elsewhere must be elated about their guy in Vegas. They're probably thinking 'we'll have some political juice there again.'”

Yablonsky’s last comment could also be applied to Harry Reid. So did Mr. Cleanface really kick the mob out of Las Vegas, or did he just help them move to Washington?

HT: Fedora

Slut a wheezeball!

Deborah Blanks: Part of Milwaukee's problems, not their solution

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl wrote today of a letter and recording he received from a resident of Milwaukee's inner city who captured what she described as the precursor to another fatal shooting. It's poignant reading (and listening).

The letter writer chronicles her pain at yet another senseless round of trash talk by young black men in her neighborhood with nothing better to do that led to another senseless death. What she described -- and her pain and frustration -- are very real. The people who live in the community experience that -- and worse -- almost every day.

Stingl's column is timely. He doesn't mention Milwaukee's incoming police chief but the new chief would do well to pay attention to this and the other signs of a community in a state of siege.

Stingl, however, didn't quite finish his work.

The letter and recording was sent to Deborah Blanks who for the last ten years has been the head honcho at the Social Development Commission, Milwaukee's "community action" agency.

What was Blanks' reaction? She called the letter and recording "chilling reminders of how our society has failed community residents."

And that's not all. This purveyor of "victim mentality" that continues to enslave the poor goes to blame these ills on an ordained "separate but unequal" society: "What was not intended or predicted were the consequences of people whose spirit has been broken. Isolated, alienated and disenfranchised, they have let their anger at society and themselves implode into substance abuse and explode into crimes and violence."

Oh, spare us, dear Ms. Blanks.

It's been under your watch for the past ten years that Milwaukee's violent crime rate has continued to soar. You fail to mention this when you indict others.

The first part of the failed analysis begins with the whine that "society has failed community residents."

Wrong.

It's the other way around, Deborah. The community's residents have failed society. (And, in turn, the slackers have failed the community.)

Maybe you don't remember President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration speech. This one sentence sums it up: "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."

Society owes little, if anything, to anyone. We owe society.

You want to talk about past wrongs? Fine. There's some merit to that but when you talk about the evils of slavery remember that the overwhelming majority of men who were killed trying to end it were white.

And it was a horrible wrong that black men who fought for this country in World War II came home to find that they couldn't have an equal shot at a job, or an education or even to sit down in a restaurant.

Those wrongs caused many of us to become involved in the civil rights movement.

We enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the most sweeping civil rights legislation in history. That was followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a myriad of other laws to correct those injustices at the state, federal and local level.

We threw billions upon billions of dollars into antipoverty programs -- Model Cities, Head Start, Job Corps, to name a few. Unfortunately many of the people who ran those programs often failed to deliver anything except receipts for their own wages.

A local judge says it best: "One father can take the place of a dozen social workers." The impetus for change comes from the bottom up, Deborah. The city, county, state or federal government can't change anyone who doesn't want to change.

When a child enters kindergarten (and we have programs that start earlier than that, too) he or she begins a dozen or so years of free education. Free or reduced priced breakfasts and lunches, too, for the poor. What that child chooses to make of himself or herself in life is up to him or her.

Of course, a good home environment counts. Parents who have and share appropriate values can make a world of difference. That's true -- but even that's no guarantee that a child will turn out as a productive, law-abiding citizen (look at how many affluent people screw up their lives with alcohol and drugs).

Deborah, stop whining and start doing something for the money you've been getting for the last decade. No job? Hey, do you think blowing off your education might have had something to do with that? No education? That's your own fault. No job training? Ditto.

The problem with improving things is that we always expect someone else to do it.

I'd love to be able to have someone else find a way for me to lose weight so I wouldn't have to do it. That's not going to happen.

Change starts from within. "Society" has poured billions of dollars and countless hours into trying to improve things for the less advantaged with checkered results. The failure of our efforts, of course, can be traced to another old adage: "Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime." Of course, the man has to be willing to learn how to fish.

Yes, there have been individual success stories and it would be wrong to deny them. But spare us the "victim mentality" crap. We can't force people to change. We can pass laws, build schools, pay teachers and buy books but that means squat if someone blows off their education.

So, Deborah, maybe it's time for you to get up off your hiney, can the "victim mentality" crap and do something to earn the money you've been making for the last ten years. Instead of blaming everyone else, it's time for you to send the message: "Ask not what society can do for you but what you can do for society."

And Jim -- what kind of journalist are you that you missed all of this? Sheesh.



"

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The privilege of being a Goodfellow

Here in the Kenosha area there are few honors greater than being asked to be a Goodfellow.

For the business and professional community, it's somewhat of a rite of passage.

For a young person with growing responsibilities, the invitation is an acknowledgement that your success is being acknowledged and it's time to join the table of whose who believe it's appropriate to return some of that success to the less fortunate of the community.

Who are the Goodfellows?

The legal title is Kenosha Christmas Charities but it's a decades old consortium of the community's business and professional leaders founded by Kenosha Evening News publisher Ralph Kingsley who come together annually to bring holiday cheer and sustenance to those in need.

Ralph Kingsley sold the newspaper some 45 years ago to Howard J. Brown and today the Kenosha News is no longer an evening publication. But the Goodfellows remains an annual constant.

The modern day Goodfellows collaborate with community agencies to provide help and cheer to 3,000 children. The Goodfellows is the primary financial supporter of "Holiday House," a consortium of community agencies to make food, toys and winter clothing available to Kenosha County's disadvantaged families. In 2007-2008, Kenosha Christmas Charities will provide up to $100,000 in Holiday House funding.

The major fundraiser is the annual Goodfellows dinner and auction which this year is on Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 5:00 p.m. at Marina Shores.

But you don't need to be at the dinner to participate. A contribution in any amount is always appreciated. Further information can be obtained by clicking here.

I'll be sending my check to the Goodfellows this week. It would be great if you could do the same. I consider it a privilege to do so and hope you will feel the same.

And, as Howard Brown says, "Be of good cheer."




o

Friday, November 16, 2007

Tasers: Stunning reality check

It's being likened to the Rodney King video -- the famous beating of a black motorist by some Los Angeles police officers -- and rightfully so.

The ten minute video of a disoriented Polish immigrant who was shot several times with an electric weapon at the Vancouver airport has now been viewed millions of times around the world and the man's death has brought into serious question the continued use of tasers by police in the United States and Canada.

Amnesty International keeps track of taser deaths which they peg at over 270 since 2001. In Canada there were at least 18 since 2003.

Taser supporters make a bizarre argument that tasers do not kill. But they do.

Here is one way: The person shot develops tetany, a physiological condition of muscular exhaustion. It can lead to death by respiratory paralysis, according to John Butt, a forensic pathologist in British Columbia who does private consulting in Canada and the United States.

Dr. Butt isn't entirely opposed to taser use but he says police must know its capabilities and limits and restrict taser use. For example, jolts from the stun gun should not be given too quickly in succession because rapid use might contribute to tetany.

The death of the Polish-speaking man at the Vancouver airport was horrifying and seemingly avoidable. He had reportedly spent five hours on a bus in Poland and 13 hours on a plane, and then been held at Canadian customs and immigration for some hours. He couldn't find his mother, who had waited 10 hours for him in vain. He was lost and no one understood him. He began shouting and throwing things, all within a secure area. The mind boggles that humanity is smart enough to invent the taser but unable to think up a way to intervene in this fraught situation without killing the man.

There's a bit of semantics at play, too. Police and the taser industry claim tasers do not directly cause death. The question should be, however, whether a taser used (often more than once) on a person in a state of delirium, and followed up by severe restraint, may cause death. Death might not have come directly but it's come far too often.

There is also a crucial flaw in the logic (or lack thereof) around taser use. Some police say when someone is in a wild, irrational state of delirium, he might die even when not tasered. What they mean is that (apart from the occasional death from the delirium itself) the death occurs after a neck restraint, hog-tying or asphyxia caused when police officers put their knees on the person's chest. Taser advocates defend tasers by arguing that they are no more dangerous than other restraints. But does that mean tasers are safe? Of course not.

The evidence is mounting that tasers are a very dangerous weapon whose use must be severely restrained. It should be a last-resort alternative to deadly force.

The time has come, too, for more serious review of taser incidents to determine if such force was properly used and, if not, whether criminal prosecution is justified. While that may sound harsh, the problem is serious and police officers must realize that they may be morally and legally responsible for taser abuse.

In fairness to police, it may well be that many officers aren't aware of how dangerous these stun guns really are. Recent events should be their wakeup call.

As one who served in the Army in the Viet-Nam era, I recall well the paradigm shift in Army training after the "My Lai massacre." Soldiers were now instructed that there was a duty to disobey an illegal order. That was a bombshell to veteran military personnel but the Army's message was that atrocities would no longer be tolerated and those responsible should and would be held accountable. Enough said.

Cokie Roberts sums up Fred Thompson

Columnist and ABC/NPR commentator Cokie Roberts did a good job summing up the candidacy of former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson for the Republican presidential nomination.

She says he's not a real candidate but an actor playing a candidate and people for the most part are seeing through that phoniness and not buying the movie.

Well said.

I've had doubts about Thompson from before "Day One." He's never acted like a serious candidate and thus it's hard to get excited about him.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

This ex-cop says it's time to rein in tasers

Once touted as a great alternative weapon for law enforcement, the "taser" -- a high voltage electric stun gun -- is coming under increasing attack worldwide.

The latest questionable incident occurred at the Vancouver airport where a mentally distressed Polish man was electrocuted at least twice -- some witnesses say it was more than that -- by officers who appeared to have done nothing else to try to calm what was visibly not a life-threatening situation.

The video of this runs about ten minutes long and is "graphic."

I'll leave some room for argument that we shouldn't rush to judgment until all the facts are known but many law enforcement professionals around the world who have seen this are shocked that no other apparent attempt was made to deal with this situation.

As the number of deaths related to taser use continue to climb I say it's time to consider the taser as a deadly weapon. Frankly, we got along in law enforcement 30 years ago without them by use of other alternatives: mace (pepper spray), clubs, flashlights and -- don't forget this -- talking.

Yes, talking.

In the old days the use of significant force in law enforcement -- except in cases where required -- was often seen as failure to control the situation by less violent means. Any cop will tell you that someone who is excited, inebriated, stoned or deranged may not always be controllable by mace or pepper spray (mace is tear gas) or even a taser. However, we often dealt with these people by using our heads, not weapons. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. But the generally accepted practice was to exhaust nonviolent (and certainly nonlethal) means first before escalating.

Except in extreme cases I morally can't see the use of electric weapons.

With over three decades in law enforcement I'm far from being a bleeding heart but I see nothing right about risking rewiring someone's hard drive by use of an electric weapon. I can't morally justify doing that to another human being.

Law enforcement agencies were sold a bill of goods by taser manufacturers and their legions about what a great and option this is. And I'll concede that in some situations the taser has a valid place in law enforcement.

But the rising death count resulting from taser use suggests that the risks/benefits analysis has shifted to the point where the time has come to curb taser use.

Working on a good idea

Exactly two months ago it was suggested here that contract policing is worthg exploring to enhance law enforcemenbt services in unincorporated parks of western Kenosha County: http://ragdujour.blogspot.com/2007/09/contract-policing-worth-look-in.html.

Thus it's good to read today that Sheriff David Beth is talking with the Town of Bristol about a contract for additional police services in the town (something the town should have done a long time ago when the Factory Outlet Mall was still around).

Perhaps Bristol will be a good model for other unincorporated areas of the county, especially Salem.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The resurrection of The Village People?

Not quite disco but the "loyal opposition" in Pleasant Prairie is coming online at http://villagingintheprairie.blogspot.com/.

"The Village People" haven't added an audio track to their blog but somehow I can't get "Y-M-C-A" out of my mind.

YMCA...It's fun to stay at the YMCA...

See what I mean? (Guess I'm showing my age!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mike Serpe makes a point

Pleasant Prairie village trustee Mike Serpe came up with a good question at last night's village plan commission meeting.

The commission was considering a rezoning request from US Cellular which would allow it to replace an old "cell tower" with a better one a short distance away.

Serpe, who is the commission's vice-chair, asked whether other carriers could be located on the same tower.

A great question. (The answer was that there may be room for one other carrier.)

There are times when consolidation is a good idea. There are times when it isn't. But in any event Serpe was right to ask that question.

A whole forest of moose droppings...

...to Kenosha Fire Chief John Thomsen for trying to justify the unjustifiable with logic even more stupifying than his proposed fire station closure/relocation plan.

Bear in mind that Thomsen's plan is being pitched on a perceived need to "equalize response times" to fire calls in the city.

Of course, that was never an issue before (1) the downtown fire station was decommissioned and (2) the city expanded westward without adequate provision for public safety services.

But, for just a moment, let's take Thomsen at his word.

At last night's city council finance committee meeting Alderman Ron Frederick questioned why the downtown station wasn't part of the plan especially with population growth downtown and along the city's lakefront.

Thomsen's response: "The numbers show the call volume is somewhat flat in this particular area."

Excuse me. Let's try that one again.

Thomsen said "the call volume is somewhat flat."

So, the pitch is being made to close and relocate other fire stations to "equalize response times" but the "call volume" is why downtown station isn't justified.

Say what?

You'd think a fire chief would be delighted when the call volume is flat. That might mean, among other things, that fire prevention preached by his very own fire department could be working.

But nonetheless we have fire stations in neighborhoods so that when there is a fire or other emergency there will be a prompt response to the call.

That's not to say that the number of calls in a given area is of no concern to the city. A particularly heavy call volume for one station would, for example, indicate a need for increased staff and equipment at that station.

As one police chief put it, "You may only need us 15% of the time. You tell me when that 15% is and that's when we'll work."

The response to Alderman Frederick's question was as lame as the closure/relocation plan. But that hasn't deterred City Administrator Nick Arnold and Alderman Frank Pacetti, chairman of the finance committee, from keeping the embers of this ridiculousness alive.

Pacetti thinks people with support this plan "in droves" if they're "educated" about it.

The people who need to be educated are the ones at city hall who want to play politics with public safety. Shame on them.

As for Thomsen, his retort to Alderman Frederick bring to mind an incredibly stupid telephone call then-Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus received during a "call-in" program on Wisconsin Public Radio.

The caller suggested that the state could save money by letting lesser-traveled roads "go to seed."

Dreyfus told the caller that he should take that idea to the people who live on those road and then "let me know what hospital you're in so that I can come and visit you."

That said, it's really painful to beat up on Thomsen who was, as a captain, a fireman's fireman -- a guy who cared deeply about protecting people from fire and who wouldn't ask his subordinates to do anything he wouldn't.

But Thomsen clearly blundered here. Badly.

True, just because a fire station was built at a particular location 50 years ago doesn't mean it should stay in that exact spot. For example, the old uptown station was a couple of blocks to the west of the present one.

And there is some precedent for consolidating fire stations as was done when the city closed the small 52nd Street and 7th Avenue stations when newer, larger facilities became available.

But the city's streets, traffic patterns and neighborhoods have been fairly constant so having fire stations on Roosevelt and Washington Roads cannot all of the sudden be an illogical or improper situation. However, these stations were all predicated on having a downtown station at city hall as has been the case since the early history of the city.

As the city grew new fire stations were built in new neighborhoods to the north, south, Forest Park and now further west by the airport.

Hindsight being 20-20, more thought could have gone into some of these newer facilities.

Joint facilities with Somers and Pleasant Prairie could and should have been explored. In the case of Thomsen's wise idea to built a new station west of Interstate 94, the city and Pleasant Prairie need to work together to explore whether a joint facility would make sense as both communities are growing to the west.

Further, the downtown station should never have been closed. That was an inexcusable move -- one of the few boners Mayor John Antaramian pulled during his 16 years on the job -- and one which needs to be reversed. The "call volume" argument Thomsen offers to justify keeping the downtown station closed is pure hogwash and it should not be dignified with any serious consideration. (In fairness to Thomsen, the downtown fire station was decommissioned under his predecessor's watch.)

Perhaps the biggest boner here was to drop this bombshell on the community at the last minute without first getting public input and consensus. That was plain dumb.

City Administrator Nick Arnold is a smart guy but smart doesn't always mean common sense. This plan is utterly devoid of common sense -- as was the decision to close the downtown fire station -- and Arnold and his boss, the mayor, should be held accountable. You don't play politics with public safety.

Part of the city's planning for westward growth should have been providing for public safety needs. You don't take care of the west side of the city by giving the proverbial middle finger to the east side which is the functional equivalent of the message sent when the downtown station was closed.

There is honor at times in conceding that an idea isn't as good as it seemed when it was proposed and it takes a lot of character to publicly own up to that. That's what the mayor, city administrator and fire chief need to do here. It's not too late.

Is Eugene Kane beginning to see the light?

Eugene Kane -- the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist that some people love to hate -- wrote several columns recently which seem almost disingenuous with the "victim mentality" he so often embraces.

These columns are great reading:

CAN WE PLEASE STOP GLORIFYING GANGSTERS?

13-YEAR-OLD CARJACKER IS AS SCART AS IT GETS

PAGING BLACK FATHERS: YOUR KIDS NEED YOU

STOP WAITING FOR A MAGIC BLACK LEADER

COSBY KEEPS CALLING OUT WITH NEW BOOK

Though I often disagree with Eugene, I commend him highly for these columns and for what appears to be an attempt to open a broader dialogue. Lord knows we need it.

And Eugene, if you want person-to-person dialogue, give me a shout. I'll even buy.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sgt. Larsen is correct; Cy Costabile is right.

Furniture store clerk and well-known local musician Cy Costabile didn't cave in when a gun-toting robber held up his store in broad daylight.

Costabile kicked the snot out of the dirtbag who made off with a little money and a few reminders of his altercation.

Costabile made a trip to the emergency room to treat his wounds and Sgt. Eric Larsen of the Kenosha Police Department correctly notes that when confronted with a robber, resistance isn't the recommended strategy.

Sgt. Larsen is correct but Cy Costabile is right.

All too often we cave in to the criminals -- and this includes many police officers who are reluctant to use the force the law entitles them to use for fear of a public outcry. Consequently, sometimes altercations with officers are prolonged because they failed to take control of the situation earlier. Plus, when officers are afraid to use the force they're entitled to use, many citizens freak out when an officer rightly does.

At the end of the day the message should be that if you don't want to get hurt or blown away, don't commit crimes because getting injured or killed is an occupational hazard. Don't like to hear that? Too bad.

One thing's for certain: had Cy Costabile lawfully cancelled the ticket of this well-deserving perp, he should have been given the key to the city.

Bear hugs and moose droppings

BEAR HUGS TO:
  • All veterans living and dead. We owe them for the freedoms we enjoy and take for granted. The greatest honor, though, is when we exercise our freedoms in their memory.
  • Pleasant Prairie village trustees Monica Yuhas and Clyde Allen for sticking to their guns when a condominium developer wanted the village board to modify a deal that only 20% of the units could be rented. I'm all in favor of allowing some leeway if future circumstances require but a blank check is a bad idea.
  • Kenosha alderman G. John Ruffolo for speaking out against the lame plan to close and relocate some fire stations. The city shouldn't be playing politics with public safety.
  • The Kenosha News for recognizing, albeit belatedly, the excellent work of Officers Peter Jung and Lt. Mark Hunter of the Pleasant Prairie Police Department and for some recent articles about village issues which suggest an olive branch in the "cold war" between village officials and newspaper management.
  • Bloggers across the state who immediately responded to attempts by embattled Sheboygan Mayor Juan Perez to intimidate a citizen for speaking out against him. The only honorable thing Perez can do is resign.

MOOSE DROPPINGS TO:

  • Kenosha Fire Chief John Thomsen for his lame plan to close and relocate fire stations. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the "response time" problems the rookie fire chief speaks of may be due to closing the downtown fire station. Thomsen's a great firefighter and supervisor but this hair brain scheme needs to go up in smoke.
  • Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian for compromising public safety by closing the downtown fire station. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the city didn't adequately plan or budget for the impact of westward expansion, especially fire and police protection. Playing politics with public safety is a huge no-no. Of course, as a "lame duck" why should he care what anyone thinks?
  • The six mayoral wannabes who so far have been silent about the fire chief's crazy idea. What are they waiting for? The brain fairy to drop down and give them an original thought?
  • The Kenosha city council and administration for failing to improve intergovernmental relations. One part of the fire chief's plan that has some arguable merit is building a fire station west of Interstate 94. Both the city and Pleasant Prairie are growing across "the I" and it would make sense for the two governments to sit down and explore such things as building a joint fire protection facility. But we all know that the city usually has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table. Sometimes regionalism is local power.
  • The Wisconsin Legislature for a screwy law that requires sequestration of jurors in a criminal trial if jurors are imported from another county as an alternative to a change of venue. Judge Bruce E. Schroeder will be moving the entire upcoming Mark Jensen murder trial to Elkhorn because he can't simply bus jurors to and from Walworth County. This makes sense for both the jurors and taxpayers but Schroeder's hands are tied. Sheesh.
  • The honchos at Wal-Mart and Officemax who sicked their legal beagles on web sites that posted advance word of their "Black Friday" (day after Thanksgiving) sales. You'd think these folks would want people to know what's in store so that shoppers can decide which stores to visit. That's just common sense. But if common sense was common, then Wal-Mart would sell it, eh?
  • The southbound end of a northbound equestrian mammal who tried to post an anonymous cheap shot here slamming Pleasant Prairie resident Bob Babcock, jr. Bob and his dad probably attend more village meetings in one year than most of us in a lifetime. I may not always agree with them but we can -- and have -- disagreed agreeably. More people in Pleasant Prairie should try it.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

The most boring store in Wisconsin: American TV

I used to shop a lot at American TV, the Wisconsin based electronics and furniture retailer that grew from a hole-in-the wall on Madison's east side to a small midwest chain.

The impetus for American's growth was the Len Mattioli, the brother of its founder, who took the business that was on life support when his brother died and made it famous because of his nonstop promotional ability.

American TV was the happening place. Mattioli learned the secret of constant promotion, morphing himself as "Crazy TV Lenny" for the various stunts he pulled in his commercials and for his cutting edge marketing ploys, like "giving away" a bicycle with virtually everything American sold.

American's stores were usually packed with shoppers lured by Lenny's antics and crazy-like-a-fox marketing. Savvy shoppers could get great deals by dickering with American's sales staff. If there was ever a real problem, well, there was always Lenny.

In addition to being a marketing genius, Lenny was also the visible representative of American TV. A lot of us did business there just because it was a Wisconsin company employing local folks and there was an identifiable person in charge (as opposed to some faceless corporation). Lenny was American TV.

So, when my new washer and gas dryer were being installed by a moron smoking a cigarette in the basement of my home, one call to Lenny immediately fixed that problem (I think he was even more livid than I was). Try that with Best Buy.

But that was then.

Now, American TV has done a "one-eighty." Lenny hasn't done a commercial in a decade. Its sedate stores are no longer packed nor are they fun to shop at. Prices are as good and usually worse that the competition, selection often isn't the greatest (at one time American even had a full-service photography department) and condescending and patronizing sales staff round out the reasons why I seldom even stop in there.

But the number one reason is the absence of Crazy TV Lenny. For without his visible presence, American is just another faceless entity and one that isn't any fun.

Going up in flames: Kenosha fire chief's plan to close fire stations

Rookie Kenosha Fire Chief John Thomsen's lame plan to close and relocate fire stations isn't sitting too well with at least one powerful alderman.

G. John Ruffolo -- chairman of the Public Works Committee -- is smoking hot over Thomsen's plan to close the northside fire station at 2615 14th Place -- and rightfully so after pointing out that neighborhood is growing. He also has some justifiable concerns about the $100,000 annual contract with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside for fire and rescue services.

Word on the street is that Thomsen -- a darn good firefighter, by the way -- is playing water boy for Mayor John Antaramian who pushed for westward expansion without adequate planning for public safety services. On top of that, the city closed the downtown fire station.

Now Thomsen is bellyaching about how he wants to "equalize response times" but this was never brought up when the downtown station was open. Close that station and, voila, you have a response time issue.

The only part of this hairbrain scheme that has any plausible merit is building a new fire station west of Interstate 94 -- and only if the city sits down with Pleasant Prairie to see if the two municipalities could work out some type of joint facility. Of course, the city isn't well known for fostering good intergovernmental relations or for being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Village board on You Tube? Say it ain't so!

Former Pleasant Prairie village trustee Alex Tiahnybok lamented earlier this week that village board meetings aren't televised and vowed that he'd get some friends to videotape them and broadcast them on You Tube.

Oh-kay.

I can't envision how many people will seize the opportunity to go to You Tube to watch and listen to the village board.

That doesn't mean I'm unsympathetic to the notion of broadcasting board meetings. After all, city residents can watch and listen to the city council and they pay the same on their cable bills.

Of course, while Alex regularly tossed out the idea of televising village board meetings, he never turned that into a formal motion when he was on the board.

There's a division of opinion on whether board meetings should be broadcast. For example, Trustee Mike Serpe believes that if it's done, it should be done properly and not with just one camera set up in the back of the auditorium as Alex once suggested.

Others worry about more grandstanding if meetings are televised.

And then there's the cost factor.

For what it's worth, I think there's an intermediate solution.

How about "webcasting" live audio of the board meetings on the village web site?

It's cheaper, easier and less likely to promote grandstanding.

Pleasant Prairie "cafe" meeting next week -- be there or be square!

Pleasant Prairie officials are seeking public input about the proposed "village green" project which has been years in the making.

A very good summary of the first public input session was just posted on the village web site: http://www.pleasantprairieonline.com/_media/news/Aug%2021%20Cafe%20Results.pdf

It's great to see input being solicited about this important project of which I offer two preliminary observations:

  • I'm surprised a grocery store wasn't listed among the village needs.
  • While a library in the village would be nice, the village green project is fairly close to the existing Southwest library. I think the library should be in the VK Development to serve the far west ends of the village and city.
The next meeting is on November 15, 2007 at 5:45 p.m. at the village hall. Be there or be square!

Scott Barter who???

Oops...I left out Scott Barter's name in my earlier analysis of the people trying to be Kenosha's next mayor: http://ragdujour.blogspot.com/2007/11/boy-am-i-glad-i-dont-live-in-kenosha.html

Maybe that was just a mixup because it seems Scott Barter has always been running for mayor!

Who knows, if the votes are split, 2008 could be his year!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Why not consolidate the Kenosha Fire Department?

Kenosha Fire Chief John Thomsen is a good guy but his costly and secretive plan to "relocate" four city fire stations -- three of them newer facilities -- flies in the face of good logic, public safety and the public's right to know.

Thomsen wants the city to spend about $10 million over five years to "relocate" four fire stations including Washington Park and Uptown and the northside station at 2615 14th Place and the southside one at 8530 30th Avenue.

Details are sketchy about where the replacement facilities would be built but Thomsen indicated that the Washington Park and Uptown Stations would be consolidated.

The first problem with Thomsen's plan is its secrecy. If the city council is being asked to ante up for new fire stations, then the public has every right to know exactly what's being proposed. It's morally wrong to play politics with public safety. There is no excuse not to give the public ALL of the information, period. None.

Thomsen offers some odd explanations. For example, he wants to "equalize response times" across the city.

At first blush that sounds good but it's could simply be a smokescreen.

In perhaps the only unforgivable act during his 16 years as mayor, John Antaramian closed the downtown fire station (leaving only an ambulance crew there). That meant that the Uptown and Washington Park stations had to pick up the slack and undoubtedly response times east of Sheridan Road increased.

The reason this was done was because the city kept gobbling up land and expanding west without hiring enough firefighters. Of course the politicians didn't want to tell the people the truth about this. The downtown firefighters were assigned to other stations to pick up the slack. This, too, was morally wrong and an abdication of responsibility to the safety of the community.

The northside and southside stations are newer but Thomsen wants to close them because he says they're located close to, respectively, Somers and Pleasant Prairie and the city isn't growing to the north or to the south.

In fairness, there were some reservations when those stations were built that maybe the city should have gotten together with Somers and Pleasant Prairie to construct joint facilities. That never happened because, as just about everyone knows, the city isn't known for warmly embracing intergovernmental cooperation. (In that sense, Thomsen arguably could just be trying to rectify earlier screwups.)

However, there is growth in both the north and south parts of the city and relocating those stations makes no sense. The rest of the city shouldn't place its safety in jeopardy simply because the politicians at city hall failed to plan for the city's westward expansion and are too bullheaded to sit down and work out agreements with neighboring communities.

Of course, Thomsen simply may be trying his darndest to make the best out of a bad situation and it may be unfair to skewer him. While he may just be a good guy caught in the middle of this political boondoggle it doesn't make his plan any better. (That's said now because before becoming chief Thomsen was a fireman's fireman.)

In fact, since the city, Somers and Pleasant Prairie are growing together, maybe it's time to consider a metropolitan fire protection district or perhaps even a county fire department.(Remember that tax equity study that shows that the city and Pleasant Prairie send more money to the county than these communities get back in services?)

But don't look for consolidation to happen because, for one thing, the communities would have to decide who would be the chief.

The only thing I can say to that is that at least Paul Guilbert in Pleasant Prairie and Steve Krause in Somers haven't played politics with public safety.

Where's Plan B?

The Kenosha County Board approved the 2008 county budget last night.

Along with a 3.95% property tax increase came a halt on building the $19 million public safety facility on the county grounds at Highways 45 and 50 in Bristol.

There wasn't just one reason for shelving the project but an amalgamation of opponents to moving forward succeeded in blocking it.

The problem is that they don't have an alternative plan -- and the needs underlying the proposed facility still exist.

True, it's no secret that even I have reservations about this. Nonetheless I agree that the sheriff's department needs a west end substation, the medical examiner needs proper digs and Joint Services dispatch needs an upgraded communications facility.

I'm not so sure about whether Emergency Government needs to move out of downtown Kenosha and I definitely know that relocating the dispatch center from the City-County Public Safety Building flies in the face of the very reason the facility was built.

Moving the dispatch center is a crazy idea that never should have gotten to first base. Nonetheless, some creative space utilization will be needed to upgrade the dispatch center and planning should get underway pronto.

Same for the medical examiner. Since the major constituent agencies are based in downtown Kenosha it makes sense for the medical examiner's new digs to be close to them. Moving out to Bristol doesn't make sense. The need, though, still exists.

Sheriff Dave Beth has to be spinning about not moving forward with a sheriff's substation. It's not a "want" but rather very much a "need."

The vast majority of the sheriff's road patrol responsibility is west of Interstate 94 and with the entire country growing it makes sense to have some deputies based in the western part of the county. Future growth trends solidly indicate that this need will only get more intense as the months go by.

However, with the City of Kenosha and Village of Pleasant Prairie poised to move west to, say, County Trunk MB, it also flies in the face of good logic to build at Highways 45 and 50. In short, while the county may own land there, it isn't "west enough" to be effective.

Serious thought should be given to cutting a deal with the Village of Twin Lakes to build an addition onto its new police station to house a sheriff's substation.

Besides legitimately being in the "west end" of the county, the police building was designed for future expansion. It's already staffed around-the-clock. Plus, adding some space for the sheriff's department may ameliorate the recent complaints from Chief of Police Dale Racer that deputies aren't patrolling the west end as often as he'd like.

Regardless of what avenues are taken to solve these problems they are, still, problems that must be addressed and the county board can't just run away from them and hope that they'll go away.

It's rumored that $400,000 has been spent so far on the shelved project. If the county board doesn't like the plan, they need to come up with another one -- and they need to do it NOW.

Late -- but there

The Kenosha News today carried a story about honors presented to Officer Peter Jung and Lt. Mark Hunter of the Pleasant Prairie Police Department.

Cold this be an "olive branch" in the cold war between the village and the newspaper?

Breaking news: Scott Jensen entitled to new trial

Read it here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

How to ruin a blog

With great reluctance I've had to enable comment moderation which means that I must read and approve each comment before it gets posted here.

This is sad because lively but above board discussion is indeed welcome.

Personal attacks and cheap shots are not.

Last night some coward posted a cheap shot aimed at Bob Babcock, jr. It was deleted.

I don't agree with all that Bob said but he did so respectfully and had the courage and integrity to sign his name (unlike the cheap shot coward).

Want to save some money?

Seriously.

By now we all know -- or should know -- that the day after Thanksgiving (called "Black Friday" in the retail business) features some of the best discounted prices anywhere.

In the last couple of years a number of Web sites have popped up with advance copies of "Black Friday" ads such as http://bfads.net/.

There are others but a smart shopper will want to do his or her homework.

(Incidentally, when I was an elected official I would often use Black Friday sales as a way of saving taxpayer dollars.)

Bear hugs and moose droppings

Bear hugs to the Somers Fire and Rescue Association for donating the funds for a thermal imaging camera for the Fire Department.

Bear hugs to Kenosha attorney Katherine Lingle who wrote urging consideration of alternatives to help troubled young people turn their lives around. The criminal and juvenile justice systems shouldn't be the only vehicles to solve a community's problems. One caution, though. Any program must include early intervention and absolute accountability as its components or it's a waste of time and money.

Bear hugs to Pleasant Prairie village trustees Monica Yuhas and Clyde Allen for sticking to their guns when a condominium developer tried to get the board to weaken a requirement that no more than 20% of the 28 units can be rented out. The developer has a point that circumstances could change but if that's the case he should be able to go back to the board and make his case.

Moose droppings to former Kenosha County Medical Examiner Maureen Lavin who appears to be ducking a subpoena to testify in the Mark Jensen murder trial. Getting a material witness warrant issued for you won't look good on a resume. And, by the way, what's with moving the Jensen trial to Elkhorn? The original idea was to have it (or the jury panel) from a place outside the Milwaukee media market. Oh well, hope the folks behind that idea like eating pizza slices from Casey's and the fine cuisine of McDonald's and Burger King. (Local hint: there's a nice bakery on the north side of Elkhorn.)

Moose droppings for those Kenosha County residents who stayed home or otherwise kept silent about the county's proposed 3.95% property tax increase. Maybe speaking out wouldn't have done any good but like one of my favorite specialty ties says: "Didn't vote? Don't bitch."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Boy am I glad I don't live in Kenosha

That's because of the upcoming election for mayor.

John Antaramian is wimping out and not seeking another term.

Antaramian, a former state legislator, has a laundry list of accomplishments over his 16 years as mayor.

Along the way, of course, he's made some enemies and is not above some criticism but at the end of the day all of that's foreshadowed by the progress the city has made. Kenosha is among a handful of cities which have both expanded outward and redeveloped major parts of the central city.

Enter the potential successors of which four could be considered contenders at this time.

First, there's former mayor Pat Moran, a charismatic intellectual who did a good job during his prior stint.

No doubt Moran and John Bilotti, who's backing Pat, helped nudge Kenosha into the future but Moran's views about community growth suggest that he hasn't evolved much since his turn at the helm. This could be a very substantial issue. Turning the clock back shouldn't be an option.

Keith Bosman, a former city council president, wants to take over where Antaramian will have left off.

While Moran is charismatic, Bosman is fairly low-key and there may be some issues with his list of supporters looking a lot like a roster of local union leaders. Not that it's bad to be liked by these folks but shouldn't he have a broader base?

It's too bad one can't merge Moran and Bosman.

Another former council president, Everett Butler is, like Moran and Bosman, a decent guy with a long record of community service.

Butler is a thoughtful, likeable guy but his web site lists only a few one-liners as his issues. It's hard to get a sense of his vision with just a few generalities. Perhaps he'll develop them as election day nears but, hey, it's not rocket science.

The final well-known contender is Michael Bell who still appears obsessed over the shooting of his son by a police officer.

The elder Bell, who has a lawsuit pending against the city, would certainly pose an interesting conflict as the mayor of a city he's suing. That said, his lack of competence and questionable sincerity makes him a dark horse in this race.

A late entrant is computer programmer Maria Perri. Little is known about her or where she stands. Enough said.

Given these choices, being a city voter could be a major challenge this spring.

A proposed devleopment hits a snag

The Pleasant Prairie Village Board last night tabled approval of plans by local developer Steve Mills to built 28 condominum units on the site of a rundown strip mall across from St. Therese Catholic Church.

Mills wants to build four seven-unit buildings on the site which will need over $700,000 in environmental remediation thanks to a dry cleaning business that was once located there.

The snag came when Mills suggested that he'd like relief from a village requirement that no more than 20% of the units can be rented out as opposed to sold as condominiums.

That was enough to set off some alarms on the board and in the audience because apparently the 20% ceiling was part of the consideration when a planning group endorsed the project.

Mills is correct, of course, when he says that extraneous factors could force more than 20% of the project to be rented -- at least temporarily -- but that's really shouldn't cause the board to budge as long as it's willing to work with Mills should than problem arise. In that way the board can stick to its guns and be flexible at the same time.

Why aren't our elected officials blogging?

It's well-known that the best time to campaign for reelection is when you're not a candidate which leads me to wonder why so many elected officials are silent on the Web between elections.

A couple of Virginia state legislaslators wrote this to illustrate why it may be a good idea for elected officials to blog. It's great reading.

In the case of village officials in Pleasant Prairie, blogging would give them another communication tool which may be quite important given their claim that the local newspaper doesn't do the village justice.

Sheesh! For those who don't know what a "gadfly" is...

I direct you to the lead in this story from the December 15, 2005 New York Times:


William Proxmire of Wisconsin, the longtime gadfly of the United States Senate who thrived on exposing frivolous federal spending and dispensed Golden Fleece Awards to spotlight what he considered bad uses of taxpayers' money, died today at a nursing home in Sykesville, Md. He was 90 and had remained a resident of the Washington metropolitan area after he announced in 1987 that he would not seek re-election, ending a colorful Senate career of 31 years

Q.Y.B. -- and be thankful -- geez.

For the past two days it seems like every other person has been complaining about how cold it is outside or how nasty the weather is.

Reality check, folks:

  • Is your home still standing?
  • It wasn't reduced to ashes by a wildfire, was it?
  • It wasn't blown into the ocean by a hurricane?
  • Is your family safe?
  • Do you still have a job?
  • Then what the ______ are you complaining about???????

Wow! Somebody at the Sheboygan Press woke up.

Check this out.

Might be a little late but it's right on the money.

It's easy to understand the frustration with the Kenosha News

It's no secret that there's a big chill between Pleasant Prairie village officials and the Kenosha News.

It's not uncommon for there to be tension between the media and government. In fact, so strong was the ill-will between former Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier and the Milwaukee Journal that we used to joke "the problem is simple: the Journal wants to run the city and the mayor wants to run the Journal."

The proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" for the Pleasant Prairie folks was an article a few months back in which the newspaper implied that village trustees may have run afoul of the Open Meetings Law by being present in their group office (a "bullpen") prior to a village board meeting.

The board members said they weren't discussing village business and there's no evidence to refute that.

Since that time both sides have "dug in" and getting either to budge doesn't seem to be in the cards.

So fast forward to today's Kenosha News account of last night's village board meeting:

  • No mention whatsoever of any discussion about the proposed village budget and property tax increase (Village Administrator Michael Pollocoff promised to get the budget information up on the village website and offered to answer any questions).
  • No mention whatsoever of the lifesaving award given to Officer Peter Jung of the Pleasant Prairie Police Department.
  • The lead story was about a letter from the Attorney General's office to perennial gadfly Bob Babcock confirming that board members may provide an immediate response to comments and questions from citizens instead of waiting until the very end of the meeting when trustee comments are scheduled. That's old news. The newspaper reported it last week and the village board responded by following the suggestion I made here on September 13 that there's nothing wrong with a brief response to a citizen's comment or question so long as no formal board action is taken.
  • The major bone of contention at the meeting -- a condominium developer's desire to dodge a village requirement that no more than 20 per cent of the units could be rented out if not sold -- got second-billing in today's story and even then the short-shrift. The newspaper, which previously editorialized about the number of "unanimous votes" by village trustees, failed to report that new board members Clyde Allen and Monica Yuhas vowed to stick to the 20 per cent requirement. This was the major issue at last night's meeting.
  • The newspaper also printed comments by former village trustee Alex Tiahnybok critical of the board's decision to move the time for trustee comments to the end of the meeting. What was left out of the story is that the reason for that decision is that when Tiahnybok and Jeff Lauer were on the board the bickering and sniping that took place during trustee comments often meant that it was eight or nine o'clock before the board got down to the real business on its agenda. (As the person who suggested that change -- which, by the way is the practice followed by the Kenosha Common Council -- I regret if that inconveniences anyone but it seemed a necessary thing to do.)

There's another failing by the newspaper -- and it's a big one.

If village officials want to make access more difficult then it should be incumbent for the newspaper to do as other news outlets have done in similar situations: work harder to independently investigate and report the news.

When Harold Breier was Milwaukee's police chief the police department only released brief summaries of reported crimes to the news media. That meant that reporters had to respond to the scenes of reported crimes and interview witnesses on their own. That often led to better stories and undoubtedly created better reporters.

Pleasant Prairie is a major community in this county and deserves more thorough and thoughtful coverage regardless of whether there's ill-will between the village government and the newspaper.

County Board budget hearing tonight

The Kenosha County Board's budget hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. tonight

If approved, the proposed budget will result in a nearly 4% increase in the county property tax levy (in real dollars the proposed 5% Pleasant Prairie hike is change by comparison).

The county board's Finance Committee is also recommending putting "on hold" any spending for the proposed public safety facility in Bristol.

The $19 million structure would house a sheriff's patrol station, joint services dispatch, emergency government and the medical examiner.

All four of these entitities have space needs but there's significant debate over whether they should be all housed under one roof in Bristol. That said, it appears that the county has no "Plan B" to address these needs without creating additional problems.

For example:

  • The Sheriff's Department wisely wants a patrol substation in the western part of the county although locating at Highways 45 and 50 may not be "west enough."
  • Joint Services dispatch may need more room but moving it out of the Public Safety Building in downtown Kenosha defeats the very reason the city-county facility was originally built. The dispatch facility should remain a part of and accessible to its constituent agencies, period. It was crazy to suggest otherwise. There may be a need for some creative space utilization in the Public Safety Building.
  • The Medical Examiner needs better facilities -- and soon -- but, again, shouldn't they be closer to the constitutent agencies?

Another "down side" is that taxpayers have spent several hundred thousand dollars on this already.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Pleasant Prairie: The unanimous vote mirage

Former Pleasant Prairie village board member Alex Tiahybok hasn't lost his knack for trying to zing the village board.

Tonight he harped on an old theme: the five-member board has too many unanimous votes (something like 98% between May and the beginning of October).

At first blush it sounds like a plausible beef -- even the Kenosha News said as much when it raised the same sword a few months ago. But it's a flawed argument.

First, the village has a manager form of government.

That means the municipality hires an experienced administrator to run things subject to the guidance and direction of the board.

That's the theory but in practice a good manager usually "runs" the governing board.

The reason for this is that if the manager is doing a good job the board (or council) has much less to do.

Further, in a manager form of municipal government, city councils in particular and many village boards tend to be smaller.

The bottom line is that if the municipality is well-run, then there's less for the governing body to argue about.

That said, there's another dynamic at work in Pleasant Prairie. I witnessed it last night and several times in the past.

In many cases while the final board vote is unanimous, that doesn't mean that there was lock-step agreement right off the rail but that after concerns were expressed an attempt was made to reach a consensus. That means a proposal may be amended or sent back for more work.

Such a thing happened tonight when a proposed condominum development hit a snag when board newcomers Monica Yuhas and Clyde Allen dug in and said they weren't inclined to budge from a standard requirement that no more than 20% of the condo units could be rented out despite the developer's pleas to allow more flexibility.

After considerable debate the proposal was tabled for two weeks to provide time for the kinks to be ironed out.

This isn't glitzy stuff but nonetheless important, especially when the inference is made that there's no real discussion or debate.

Rev. Michael Coleman: Part of the problem, not part of the solution

There's an old saying from the 70's (maybe the 60's, too): "Either you're part of the solution or you're part of the problem."

Rev. Michael Coleman of the Kenosha chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) seems to be part of the problem.

Rev. Coleman's undies are in a bundle because the school board won't rename the Brass Community School -- the elementary school under construction to replace Durkee and Lincoln Elementary Schools -- to honor the late Mildred Brown, who taught in Kenosha schools for 24 years.

I personally agreed that it would make more sense to name the school after a fine educator such as Ms. Brown but I didn't feel there was any "obligation" to do so.

Rev. Coleman thinks otherwise. He believes the school must be named after Ms. Brown or another worthy "minority." And Rev. Coleman plans to pitch his beef to the local NAACP executive board this week.

The problem here is the "entitlement" mentality espoused by Rev. Coleman. There is no obligation to name this school after anyone. The local NAACP has far bigger issues to deal with.

That said, Brass Community School is an awfully boring moniker. I liked the idea of naming the school after Ms. Brown. It was a good idea -- not an obligation.