Thursday, March 26, 2009

CEO's need to know what a gallon of milk costs

Michael McDonald, Shopko's CEO, is resigning effective April 3 "to pursue another opportunity."


If any of the shareholders want to know what's wrong with Shopko, they need only walk into a Target and a Wal-Mart.

Shopko's prices are typically higher, merchandise selection narrower and merchandise quality often lacking.

Maybe Shopko's next CEO should walk into a Target and a Wal-Mart. Come to think of it, maybe the entire board of directors should do so.

Ed Flynn: Even a smart guy can make a dumb move

By virtually all accounts Ed Flynn had been doing a great job as Milwaukee's police chief: smart, media savvy, good management skills and the first chief in ages that has the support of rank and file cops.

But then he pulls an apparent boner by reassigning all seven district captains, a move that's bound to raise eyebrows.

Let's put this into perspective.

For the average Milwaukee citizen, the district captain is the chief of police of that neighborhood. And, to his credit, Chief Flynn immediately after taking office empowered the distict captains to take ownership of the crime fighting strategies in their respective districts.

It was a bold move and the right one. So that's why eyebrows raise when all seven captains are being replaced. It may well be that some of the moves are needed for good reasons, such as retirements, but the appearance is that there's something wrong with the Milwaukee Police Department.

For a smart, media-savvy guy you'd think Ed Flynn would have figured out that appearance often trumps reality. You'd think.

As an old friend once said, "If common sense truly was common, you'd buy it at Wal-Mart."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some kind words for "Tony the Taxer"

When my dear friend and mentor, the late Lee Sherman Dreyfus, became governor in 1979 he did so after campaigning that the state budget surplus should be given back to the taxpayers.

Sensing the populist governor's appeal was a hit with voters, Democrats running the show in the legislature complained that Dreyfus wasn't going far enough in his plans to return the surplus. So Lee pulled a one-up on them and said, fine, you guys come up with a plan. They did -- and gave back even more.

The down side was that the state's economic fortunes reversed and the new governor, Tony Earl, wished he had that surplus to cover the rainy day.

So Tony sucked it up and called for a temporary income tax surcharge to cover the defecit. His opponents, including Assemblyman Tommy Thompson from Elroy, called him "Tony the Taxer."

Well, the economy turned around and the surcharge was removed earlier than planned. Tommy became governor and Tony went back to practicing law.

Tony took a political hit for trying to do the right thing and, in the end, his choice turned out to be wise. Maybe we could learn something from that approach. Maybe.

Legislature needs to practice what it preaches

Not all that long ago the Pleasant Prairie village board had two identifiable factions -- Village President John Steinbrink, sr., and fellow incombents Steve Kumorkiewicz and Mike Serpe vs. newcomers Jeff Lauer and Alex Tiahnybok.

Suppose President Steinbrink wanted to discuss some upcoming village business behind closed doors with Serpe and Kumorkiewicz. No doubt their opponents, if they caught wind of this, would beat a path to the District Attorney's office to complain that this secret closed meeting violated the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law.

The very next day State Representative Steinbrink could get behind closed doors in Madison for a secret caucus with his fellow Democrats in the Assembly and, guess what? It's legal.

That's because the legislature exempted itself from the very law that city councils and village, town and school boards throughout the state must obey. In so doing they violated their own expressly stated spirit of the Open Meetings Law found in Wis. Stat. s. 19.81:

19.81 Declaration of policy. (1) In recognition of the fact that a representative government of the American type is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the policy of this state that the public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.

(2) To implement and ensure the public policy herein expressed, all meetings of all state and local governmental bodies shall be publicly held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public and shall be open to all citizens at all times unless otherwise expressly provided by law.

(3) In conformance with article IV, section 10, of the constitution, which states that the doors of each house shall remain open, except when the public welfare requires secrecy, it is declared to be the intent of the legislature to comply to the fullest extent with this subchapter.

(4) This subchapter shall be liberally construed to achieve the purposes set forth in this section, and the rule that penal statutes must be strictly construed shall be limited to the enforcement of forfeitures and shall not otherwise apply to actions brought under this subchapter or to interpretations thereof.

Pretty strong language -- except that buried beneath this lofty language are several exceptions including one that permits legislators to meet in secret partisan caucuses. That means that what Village President Steinbrink couldn't get away with legally in Pleasant Prairie is perfectly legal when he puts on his legislator's hat in Madison.

Bear in mind, folks, that caucuses are power meetings where the parties formulate their policies and attack plans and, in essence, often predetermine how the legislature is going to handle the public's business. Sure, it's mandatory that the public gets to see the dog and pony show on the floor of the Assembly and state Senate but the wheeling and dealing where the public's business is really vetted is done behind closed doors.

The Wisconsin State Journal says it's high time the legislature end this double standard but don't hold your breath. I have a better chance of being the next poster child for Jenny Craig.

Holy Batman!!! Shock of shocks!!!

I actually saw the City of Kenosha's street repair truck out patching potholes today. Really.

Update: Iditarod over

At 7:06 a.m. Kenosha time today Michigan musher Timothy Hunt crossed the finish line in Nome to end this year's Iditarod sled dog race. Hunt was greeted by Nome residents and presented with the Red Lantern award signifying that all mushers are safely off the trail and honoring Hunt's perseverance. Tonight it's Red Lantern banquet time in Nome.

At the right it's Rachael Scdoris at the finish line whom I mentioned yesterday. Scdoris is the legally blind musher from Bend, Oregon who denounces the notion of "disability" as tantamont to "unable" and, as she says and has demonstrated, "I am by no means unable."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lessons from the Iditarod

There's a saying in Alaska that once you leave The Last Frontier a part of it never leaves you.

It's true.

As anxious as I am to get home I am also anxious to get back and experience what makes Alaska quirky, interesting and fun.

One of the things I long to experience someday is the Iditarod -- the annual 1,150 mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome that commemorates a much more serious endeavor in 1925 when relays of mushers and their dogs risked their own safety to bring life saving medicine to quell a diphtheria outbreak among Nome's children.

The Iditarod is many things today: a competitive race, an endurance challenge, a tourism booster and even an educational outlet as the story of the mushers and the tiny natiive villages along the trail is told to the outside world. Even more rewarding is that this story is as modern as it is old, broadcast around the world by high school students in towns where the entire K-12 school population may be 50 students.

It's now old news that Lance Mackey smoked the competition, arriving under the burled arch in Nome at 2:38 p.m. Kenosha time last Monday to score his third consecutive first-place finish, this year more than seven hours ahead of runner-up Sebastian Schnuelle.

The fire siren in Nome blared and villagers and tourists flocked to the finish line to welcome and cheer Mackey. They did the same for Schnuelle seven hours later and for each musher, coming out in the dark at 4:09 a.m. Kenosha time to cheer legally blind musher Rachael Scdoris and Tim Osmar, her fellow musher and visual interpreter who finished, respectively, 45th and 46th. So far 50 mushers have crossed the finish line in Nome, each with a hero's welcome and each being honored at a community banquet.

For a few mushers, such as Mackey, it's the chase for first place but that's not all the Iditarod is about. Ask 13th place finisher DeeDee Jonrowe, a cancer survivor and Alaska favorite. And then there's the memory of legendary musher Susan Butcher whose battle with cancer was not as successful as her Iditarod career. Then there's the inspiration of Rachael Scdoris, the legally blind young musher from Oregon who disabuses the notion that she's disabled: "To me, disabled means unable and I am by no means unable."

So far 50 mushers made it to Nome but 14 scratched, such as veteran Ed Iten who dropped out for the health of his dogs. There's honor in putting their welfare ahead of your own interests.

It's dark in Nome as I write this -- and dark here, too. But in Nome a red lantern burns at the burled arch, a traditional sign that the race isn't over. Two mushers -- Heather Siirtola and rookie Timothy Hunt -- are still on the trail. The fire siren will sound and people will cheer for them, too, and the last place finisher, probably Hunt, will extinguish the red lantern and collect his prize for finishing last.

A prize for finishing last? Yes, the Red Lantern Award is a recognition that's it's also important to stay in the running even when the odds are against you.

Maybe that's one reason why they say that you may leave Alaska but a part of it never leaves you. Hopefully it's the best part.

No wonder why the state is broke!

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation spent $1.4 million to buy out an "adult" video store in order to make way for the US41 reconstruction project.

That's FOUR TIMES the assessed value of the porn palace.

In the past seven years the state lost 75% of its young prosecutors because of low pay -- often less than their secretaries and the police officers they work with. Gov. Doyle says the state doesn't have the money to pay them a fair salary. He also refuses to hire the 120 or so additional prosecutors that his very own staff says the state needs. But he can shell out $1.4 million for a porn shop.

At that price it makes one wonder if the DOT honchos got to keep any of the merchandise.

KUSD: Marc Hujik said what????

Granted that some folks elsewhere may think us common folk in southeast Wisconsin aren't all that sophisticated but it's tough to swallow when one of our own takes that leap.

Take Kenosha school board member Mark Hujik who, as a candidate for reelection, is trying to deflect blame for the board's costly mistake in buying collateralized debt obligations -- very complicated and risky investments. Not only did the Kenosha Unified School Board buy them but borrowed the money to do so -- kind of like taking the taxpayers' credit card to finance a trip to Vegas.

To be sure the Kenosha district isn't the only one burned by this folly but pay attention to what Hujik said in the New York Times: “I’ve never read the prospectus,” said Marc Hujik, a local financial adviser and a member of the Kenosha school board who spent 13 years on Wall Street.

Folks, what does the announcer say in television ads for mutual funds and similar less risky investments: "Read the prospectus." But Hujik, who advertises his financial planning and asset management services on WLIP radio, didn't. He explained that the pitch man answered all of his questions.

Could this lapse be the reason why none other than the Kenosha Education Association didn't endorse Hujik's reelection bid?

In any event, you can get to the New York Times story by clicking here. It's good reading and, yes, some folks in Kenosha actually read more than one newspaper.

Update: Roscioli tells us why he's running

We noted here that Pleasant Prairie village trustee candidate John Roscioli failed in the more than two months since he became a candidate to articulate a clear (or even unclear) reason for his candidacy.

Tonight John (who has been reading here--yay!) updated his blog. Here's his stated rationale:

"I currently serve on the Recreation commission and the Tourism Board. While the past 25 years were incredible in Pleasant Prairie, the next 25 will be as well. Whether developing relationships with residents or KUSD, monitering the financial concerns of the residents, or keeping the Village about FAMILY, I am looking forward to furthering my commitment to you as a citizen in the Village of Pleasant Prairie. I feel my opponent has mis-stepped in his capacity as Trustee. I would never think of taking the FAMILY out of Prairie Family Days. I also wouldn't make the Village Board meetings my personal forum to air grievances against KUSD, WE Energies, or neighbors as my opponent did. Being a Trustee is about serving the greater good. I am willing to make those tough decisions honestly and fairly to residents."

That's it.

The Wrong Idea and The Right Idea

Gov. James E. Doyle, jr. , a master of doublespeak, says the state's broke and then wants to impose a mandate on law enforcement to track racial data of people stopped by police.

Being concerned about racial profiling isn't a bad notion but at a time when the state's finances are strapped it sure is way down on the list of priorities for government spending.

In the midst of Doyle's folly is some good news which comes from one of our local police officers who made an interesting and cogent observation.

"I don't know how I can honestly do this," he said. "How do I know what someone's racial background is? And, frankly, it's never mattered to me."

The officer went on to note that so many people in our community have diverse backgrounds and it's often hard to be sure.

That's a great attitude -- the way things should be. The officer deserves a bear hug. As for Doyle, a pile of moose droppings.

Memo to Bosmo: Does anyone care about the CITY of Kenosha?

The new Wal-Mart Supercenter is being built in Somers. The new Target went up in Pleasant Prairie. There isn't a new car dealer east of Cooper Road/French Drive. The old Target store at Southport Plaza is vacant. So is the former Jewel/Sentry store there. And the old Kohl's at Pershing Plaza has been empty for years. Same for the old Sentry store on 22nd Avenue south of the Piggly Wiggly.

Businesses moving out. Empty buildings. Not a good sign for a city -- any city. So what is the city doing about it?

From what we can tell, not much.

All hail Bosmo the Bosmanian!

I've been looking for the proper moniker for the new mayor of Kenosha.

After all, John was the Prince of Potholes and Sultan of Slippery Streets. But if John was that, the intensity of this year's suspension-damaging excavations makes him an amateur.

So...all hail Bosmo the Bosmanian...KING of the potholes. If they go unrepaired any longer, he won't have to fix them -- they'll be filled with subcompacts and motorcycles!

Bosmo! Bosmo! Bosmo!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

MYOB, Cardinal George

Francis Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago, has called on the federal government to halt immigration raids.

The plea was part of an overall demand that Congress come up with comprehensive immigration reform.

I've written before about the confusing incosistency of our immigration laws and their haphazard enforcement. I've also said the enforcement should not be utilized as mechanism of prejudice.

But the government has the authority and duty to enforce its laws. That people have chosen to widely to disobey them doesn't mean that they shouldn't be enforced.

Is the Obama administration telling Cardinal George how to run his diocese? Of course not. The good cardinal should follow suit.

Like the sign inside the old Shakey's said: "Shakey's made a deal with the bank. The bank doesn't make pizza and Shakey's doesn't cash checks."

Pleasant Prairie: Keep Clyde on your side

The two newcomers on the Pleasant Prairie village board -- Clyde Allen and Monical Yuhas -- are up for reelection next month. Yuhas is unopposed while John Roscioli is taking on Allen.

For me, it's an easy call: Clyde Allen, whom I supported two years ago, gets my support again (as does Monica Yuhas).

Clyde and Monica have worked hard to learn their jobs and they have demonstrated that they can, when necessary, break rank with the three veteran board members. Clyde has extensive experience in local government finance which was in short supply among trustees. He's been willing to listen to ideas, weigh them and make reasoned decisions (of which I haven't always agreed).

The contributions made by Clyde and Monica over the past two years are in stark contrast to the bombastic antics of the trustees they replaced, Alex Tiahnybok and Jeff Lauer. That's not to say that Lauer and Tiahnybok were always wrong -- they weren't -- but they played the "victim card" too often and failed to get serious about the business of governing. By contrast, Clyde and Monica have demonstrated a rational, mature approach to their responsibilities. They still have things to learn, of course, but I think they've earned the opportunity to do so.

This brings me to John Roscioli, a fine young man making his first bid for public office.

John serves on the village recreation commission and is a member of the Kenosha Convention and Visitors Bureau. He's spoken on quite a few occasions at village board meetings and very well may be a rising star.

It's unclear why Roscioli is running for village trustee. Several times I've looked at his campaign blog and have yet to come away with a clear (or even unclear) sense of why he's running for village trustee at this time. Frankly (and it's hard to say this because I like John), if you don't have and articulate a clear sense of your candidacy when you become a candidate, it's a little late to even attempt to do so less than three weeks before the election.

That said John may be in the race to get his name before the voters which isn't all that uncommon for rising stars and those that want to be. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Likewise questioning why a candidate is seeking public office isn't the same as saying or implying that he or she has no business doing so. Those who would say that impugn our constitutional democracy.

As a friend and supporter of Clyde's I am admittedly somewhat biased in his favor. It would take a lot to get me to change my mind and I would be foolish and disingenuous to conceal that. I obviously hope Clyde is reelected.

I also hope that John continues his involvement in village affairs and develops and hones his message as to why he wants to be a village trustee. He may do well to look at Clyde's first campaign where some noteworthy goals were clearly articulated. In this campaign Clyde built on those goals to demonstrate how he's met or exceeded them. Hopefully John will do the same should be decide to stay politcally active.

KUSD: Throw (most of) the bums out!

The primary election results spoke volumes.

Three incumbents -- Eric Olson, Pam Stevens and Marc Hujik -- are trying to keep their seats on the Kenosha Unified School Board.

In the primary vote last month, only Stevens finished in the top three. The occasionally caustic Olson and Hujik, a financial consultant who sidesteps admitting blame for the district's financial mess, came in, respectively, fourth and fifth.

The top vote getter was Carl Bryan, a teenager who recently graduated from Bradford High School.

By the way the incumbents have spoken since the primary you'd think they didn't get the significance of that vote.

In plain English, the voters are upset. This school board not only made an ill-advised risky investment, they actually borrowed money to do it! Kind of like asking taxpayers for a loan so that the board can go to Vegas and shoot craps.

And Hujik? He's the guy who advertises his financial planning services on the radio. You'd think he'd be looking out for taxpayers.

I'll probably vote for Stevens because some continuity may be necessary but as for the remaining incumbents the choice is clear and simple: Throw the bums out!

Which one of your children do you like the most?

That's what I think when I'm asked -- as I often am -- who I'll vote for in the upcoming circuit court election.
I say that because I've known -- and worked both with and against -- Fred Zievers and Chad Kerkman for years. Both are fine people with significant roots in the community.
Both Fred and Chad tout their experience as prosecutors but that's somewhat of a distortion. Chad's stint was brief and Fred's ended nearly three decades ago. Both of them have spent much more time defending criminals than prosecuting them.
I'm not one to hold service as a prosecutor as a litmus test on whether someone is a better candidate for judge. It's not uncommon for prosecutors to tilt the other way when they become judges and the same applies for defense attorneys who should have a keener insight as to when a criminal is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
Experience is also a fleeting thing. Some folks say Chad's too young. Other say Fred's too old. What all of this says to be is that this is but another good example of why Wisconsin needs to reform the judicial selection process so that we get the best and the brightest.
I am still undecided and the way both candidates have been avoiding substantive discussion of the real issues means I'll likely throw a dart to see which one gets my vote.
There has to be a better way.

Remember Archie Simonson?

I suspect few people remember Archie Simonson.

Archie was a judge in Madison who ran off at the mouth in a 1977 sexual assault case. Simonson's comments on provocative dress and sexual permissiveness and their effect on a male's sexual response, along with the relatively light sentence he imposed, received wide publicity in the news media and were met by immediate outrage in the community, which eventually led to Judge Simonson's removal from office in a recall election.

But Archie came to mind as I read the Kenosha News account of the sentencing of former Kenosha police officer Kuritss Kessler who entered guilty pleas to domestic abuse related charges of battery and disorderly conduct. Kessler did so as part of a plea agreement in which other possible charges were not pursued in exchange for his immediate resignation from the force. Kessler's victim recanted much of her story and the charges he was convicted on the charges that were not in dispute.

The newspaper story made it look like the judge was minimizing the scourge of domestic violence. While Judge Wilbur Warren III's comments were likely taken a bit out of context, the same was said in Madison 32 years ago. Nonetheless the comments tacked onto the Kenosha News story are almost unanimous in condemnation of the judge's remarks. Whether the online angst transforms into action remains to be seen.

If anything, the way this community pursues domestic violence cases needs a closer look. They're often very difficult to prove in court as victims frequently recant and law enforcement agencies generally don't pull out all the stops in their investigations. A frequent complaint by recanting victims is that the police misinterpreted what they said at the scene. Local practice is for officers to reduce what victims and witnesses say to writing and then have them sign a statement form. Often victims later say they were misquoted.

Fixing that would be simple and cheap. If officers had digital cameras (preferably with a "movie mode") and $30 microcassette recorders they could record what victims actually said at the scene so that if they pull the recantation stunt the prosecutor merely needs to hit the play button so that the jury can hear what the victim actually said.

The Kenosha and Pleasant Prairie Police Departments along with the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department are in line to get nearly $290,000 in federal grant money under President Obama's stimulus package. Will they spend a few dollars of it to help domestic abuse victims? Time will tell.

Too much going on

I haven't kept this up because there's just too much stuff going on at the day job and home and I can't keep up with everything. Plus, sometimes I felt this was one-sided. I'd rather see a little more interactive chatter. I know people were reading but not responding. It's also difficult to attempt to be a balanced blog. So many people are polarized these days and ignore the fact that the truth is often in the middle.

I do miss the regular readers and responders. I will be publishing some thoughts on issues as they come up in the community and elsewhere.