Thursday, April 30, 2009

Educated isn't always smart

On this Law Day we turn to this edition of "What's wrong with this picture."

Up in Ashland County a young alleged auto thief was on trial. The judge, Robert E. Eaton, refused a defense motion to strike one of the prospective jurors: his mother.

The judge said he could find no legal reason to do so. The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in reversing the conviction on appeal, essentially said: "Duh."

Well, they didn't exactly say "duh" but pretty close: “A presiding judge’s mother sitting as a juror is a special circumstance so fraught with the possibility of bias that we must find objective bias regardless of the particular juror’s assurances of impartiality.”

The problem was so clear that you have to wonder why it took the state's highest court four months to issue its opinion.

The court didn't just slap up the judge but also whacked the district attorney who prosecuted the case for objecting to removing the judge's mom from the jury panel for cause. The court said that the prosecutor in a case like this should have joined in the request in the best interests of justice.

Ya think?

Maybe "duh" isn't erudite enough for some of my readers so I'll expand it to two words: "No brainer."

What would Yogi Berra and Lee Iacocca say?

There used to be a saying here that when the auto industry caught a cold, Kenosha got pneumonia.

It's been a long time since the glory days when cars were actually built in Kenosha. Truth is, though, the days weren't all glorified. Periods of economic uncertainty were not uncommon.

But before we rush to quote Yogi Berra that it's just "deja vu all over again" please consider the one thing American Motors and Chrysler never did: sought bankruptcy protection.

The bankruptcy bombshell is no laughing matter. Lee Iacocca worked hard in his stint as Chrysler's CEO to avoid taking the dip. His government backed loan guarantees were satisfied and Chrysler became profitable.

That was then. This is now.

Yes, I know we're in an economic crisis but it's always easy for the folks running auto companies to blame someone or something else.

Frankly, Chrysler's products aren't much to write home about. I've owned several and have become increasingly displeased with build quality and performance and low resale values. This experience is repeated whenever I rent a Chysler made product.

In short, the designs are great but it's like putting a $400 suit on a terminally ill patient: looks great but that's about it.

This is unfortunate because I truly want to support the home team -- and have done so several times in the past.

My five year old Honda has been in the shop fewer times than my three year old Caravan. Enough said.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Character STILL matters

It's almost a month since the race for judge in Branch 8 of Kenosha County Circuit Court was decided but something came to my attention earlier this week that mandates further scrutiny.

Before continuing I must point out that I have more than 40 years experience with elections and certainly know that the heat of battle reaches a flash point immediately preceding election day and plummets the day after. Campaign rhetoric and posturing are to be expected and, quite frankly, I tend to tune out most campaign stuff a few days before the election because if it was important, it would have been brought to the table with sufficient lead time for a meaningful discussion.

What happened in the most recent contest for Circuit Judge in Kenosha is so severe that it cannot be trivialized into "let sleeping dogs lie." What I am about to write may well subject me to criticism and perhaps even retaliation but it must be said. As Sir Edmund Burke once noted, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. I cannot sit on the sidelines and do nothing.

It's no secret that I pretty much sat out this election. I was much more concerned with Pleasant Prairie village races and, as I wrote on March 22, I had no strong feelings about either of the two judicial candidates.

In the February primary I voted for David Wilk, an honorable attorney active in the community whose reputation is impeccable. While there were many fine candidates, I had concerns whether Fred Zievers was truly a serious candidate and I wasn't comfortable with Chad Kerkman's wife being a state legislator at the same time he might serve as judge. Greg Guttormsen is a fine man and a friend but he joined the race too late for his candidacy to be fully vetted.

As we all know, Zievers and Kerkman survived the primary. I was truly undecided until I received a Kerkman campaign flyer in the mail which, I felt, went too far. The flyer depicted a surgeon and implied that electing Zievers to preside over a court in which family law cases would be heard would be like having an inexperienced surgeon perform your surgery. I knew this crossed the line as Fred Zievers was handling family law and other types of cases when Chad Kerkman was still in high school. So my vote went to Zievers.

But Chad Kerkman won the election and I immediately congratulated him.

That was then. This is now.

It came to my attention Monday that just before the election a rather glitzy anti-Zievers ad was posted on a popular local blog, Stepping Right Up, hosted by Kenosha alderman and local Republican chair Kathy Carpenter.

The "ad" (which I actually didn't see until today) depicted a black-eyed and puffy faced woman and implied that Zievers had twice threatened his ex-wife. This was certainly news to me as I've known Fred Zievers for nearly 30 years and "wife beater" would never be a description I would use to describe him. I've also known his ex-wife and suffice to say that she has had a number of challenges in her life, some of which may be a matter of record, and but for the attack on Fred it would never be necessary to even think about them.

I also know Fred Zievers to be a devoting and caring father who raised a wonderful daughter. While Fred's views on domestic violence could be more enlightened, I also know that he donated his legal services to assist some domestic violence victims.

To my knowledge Fred Zievers has no criminal record and has never been charged with or convicted of any crime and that includes any acts of domestic violence.

So, while Chad Kerkman may not have posted this misleading 11th hour piece of mudslinging trash, he also did not repudiate it prior to the election. Further, it's a matter of public record that his wife, Samantha Kerkman, a Republican legislator, purportedly made a public records request to get any police reports in which Fred Zievers may be mentioned. How convenient.

And how even more convenient it was that this sniper attack made its appearance on the blog of the county GOP chair!

Of course, there was no direct linkage to Chad Kerkman -- and for good reason.

Wisconsin's Code of Judicial Conduct states: "A candidate for a judicial office shall not knowingly or with reckless disregard for the statement's truth or falsity misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent. A candidate for judicial office should not knowingly make representations that, although true, are misleading, or knowingly make statements that are likely to confuse the public with respect to the proper role of judges and lawyers in the American adversary system."

This code also says: "While holding the office of judge or while a candidate for judicial office or a judge-elect, every judge, candidate for judicial office, or judge-elect should maintain, in campaign conduct, the dignity appropriate to judicial office and the integrity and independence of the judiciary. A judge, candidate for judicial office, or judge-elect should not manifest bias or prejudice inappropriate to the judicial office. Every judge, candidate for judicial office, or judge-elect should always bear in mind the need for scrupulous adherence to the rules of fair play while engaged in a campaign for judicial office."

And further: "A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities. A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."

This may seem like heady stuff, but it's also very important especially as judicial campaigns become slimier with each passing election.

Nearly 20 years ago I was in a six-way judicial primary in which all six candidates conducted their campaigns with honesty, dignity and integrity. We debated qualifications and issues but never even came close to going below the belt. During the course of this campaign and thereafter we all became friends. That's the way nonpartisan judicial campaigns should be conducted.

Honor and respect are attributes that are earned by honesty, fair play, scholarship and integrity. Winning a judicial election -- especially one won at all costs -- does not necessarily make a person honorable.

That said, the blame doesn't stop with the candidate. Cartoonist Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo, once penned the phrase, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Evil in these election campaigns triumphs because good people don't stand up and demand better conduct from candidates. Instead there's often a tendency to reward the despicable. That will continue to be the case as long as we say and do nothing. Judicial campaigns run amok are anything but judicious.

Finally, one would have hoped that Kathy Carpenter would have been more responsible in screening the content of her blog. True, there's a fine line between legitimate expression of diverse opinions but this was well beyond that. She should have known better. (The offending post has since been removed.) And, if indeed this was done without Chad Kerkman's knowledge, then it would have been incumbent upon him to not only demand its removal and apologize but to immediately and publicly repudiate the post. (You'll recall how swiftly and unequivocally last year Barack Obama made it clear that Sarah Palin's family was off limits in the campaign and that any of his staff would be fired if they violated that policy.)

At the end of the day, Lady Justice must have had to remove her blindfold. That's because it was soaked in tears.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Friday is Law Day

One of the interesting annual privileges is when I get to talk to high school kids on Law Day, May 1. I both love and loathe the task.

I love it when I can spend quality time and engage in dialogue with impressionable young minds. I loathe it when I'm expected to lecture young folks because they often wind up with the impression, at least partially correct, that they're being talked down to.

This year I only have about five minutes to work with so what do I tell them about law?

To keep it brief, I came up with an interactive engagement to have them offer up three very basic principles of why we have laws.

To paraphrase Chris Rock, laws are like hints -- you know, "I wouldn't do that ____ if I were you."

We can, however, look at our laws as serving three prime objectives.

Number one: protection. We want the dangerous dirtbags in our society taken out of circulation. That's a no-brainer.

The other two may a bit more difficult for young minds.

For example, ever hear the phrase, "Law and order?" What does that mean?

Another prime reason for laws is to ensure predictability and order in the everyday affairs of life.

This weekend I'm flying to San Francisco. When I get there I want to rest assured that the drinking water in the fountains at the airport is safe to drink. I want the gallon of gas I put into my rental car to be just that -- a full gallon. I want to be sure that approaching traffic will stop for a red light and won't drive the wrong way on a freeway. I want the food in the restaurant to be pure and safe to eat. If I get sick, I want to know that the EMT's on the ambulance crew and the physicians at the hospital meet minimum standards of competence.

In short, laws enable us to ensure that mundane but necessary parts of everyday life remain predictable and safe. That's the "order" in law and order.

Finally, laws allows us to peacefully resolve disputes

In our society government takes up (or at least it's supposed to take up) the cause for the underdog. Our legal system is designed to allow the comman man access to the courts to resolve disputes.

So, if you're ripped off, the law should allow you to seek redress through the courts.

That's also the smart thing to do.

Happy Law Day!

Who's the bigger whore?

You've got to love politics to appreciate the squirt gun standoff between the Republicans and Democrats over the defection of Arlen Specter from the GOP.

The first volley I received was a jubliant E-mail from Senator Bob Menendez coupled with a plea for money to help Senate Democrats in the next election.

Moments later there was one from GOP chair Michael Steele whose double speak suggests that Specter never really was one of us and then, literally, likens him to Benedict Arnold. (If he was never really one of us, then how could be be a traitor?) Oh, by the way, send money so we can stave off the Senate Democrats.

It's as if the sandbox isn't big enough for these nitwits whose arguments seem to boil down to a couple of prostitutes battling over who's the biggest whore. Neither have much credibility.

We're not stupid -- at leasts some of us. Can the canned crap and get down to this nation's real problems.

As for Specter, I agree with Steele that he's turned his back on the Republican party just at a time when the party needs diversity of thought. But Specter's credibility shot down to negative numbers when his professed exit for philosophical reasons was coupled with an uncanny admission that he might not be able to get reelected as a Republican.

Even though Steele's hands are far from clean, he was right to call Specter out on this. You'll probably not hear much of a retort from Specter because, after all, it's his own words that did him in. He really didn't need Steele's gratuitous help.

Arlen's right -- and wrong

Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter shook the Senate up today with his announcement that he's joining the Democrats.

The explanation he gave was plausible enough: the GOP has moved too far to the right. "As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party," Specter said.

Fair enough. In this respect, Specter is correct in that there are those who beat their chests and proclaim that the Republican party belongs only to conservatives and in so doing they reject and trivialize the history and honor of the GOP. Shame on them.

Predictably, Republican party big-wigs turned on Specter like rabid pit bulls. National chair Michael Steele said in a written statement:"Let's be honest -- Sen. Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record."

Steele went on to inappropriately bash Specter as a Republican in name only and the perjorative "left-wing" labeling is sophomoric pandering.

But beyond that Steele's core comment is absolutely on target. Catch this quote: "In the course of the last several months ... I have traveled the state and surveyed the sentiments of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania and public opinion polls, observed other public opinion polls and have found that the prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak." Michael Steele didn't say that, Arlen Specter did.

So just last month Specter says he's sticking with the GOP because the party needs men and women of diverse beliefs and, when the political waters seem to get bouncy, he jumps ship. Michael Steele is right on that score -- Specter didn't just leave the GOP on principle.

If Arlen Specter wants to reform the GOP, there's a lot of work to be done. The harvest may be great and the laborers few but he'd be a man of greater integrity if he stood up for the principles of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan instead of running from them.

I don't care if Specter is left-wing, right-wing or center-wing. Today he's chicken-wing.

No excuse

Have you driven Kenosha streets lately? Have you seen potholes being repaired?

Try, for example, Pershing Blvd. Or fill in the blank of an important street near your home.

Taxes around here aren't cheap. The very least the city could do is make the streets safe.

A writer to the Voice of the People in the Kenosha News last week lamented about how the streets are unsafe for motorcycles and bicycles. He's right.

Bosmo and the 17 rocket scientists need to be more proactive about this even if it means going to the store, getting some patch and putting it down themselves like one Chicago neighborhood recently did.

Enough is enough.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oklahoma City: 15 years later

A conference brought me to Oklahoma City this week, just in time for the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Federal Building on April 19, 1995 in which 168 Americans perished at the hands of domestic terrorism.

Although ill today, I would consider it in appropriate for any able-bodied American in Oklahoma City not to come to the memorial at the site of the bombing to pay respects to these victims, the survivors, the rescuers and their families.

The outdoor memorial at night is impressive. Notwithstanding the commanding architecture one finds stark symbolism in the remainder of the chain link fence that was erected to protect the site after the bombing.

Friends, family and the community put trinkets of appreciation on the original fence and continue to do so with what's left of it today. Most compelling are the laminated biographies and pictures of victims left by their friends and families to tell the stories of real people who were victims and not just statistics. I found myself weeping as I read as many as I could before I was too moved to continue.

The memorial is worth a visit and homage.

Next to it is a museum ($10 admission) and store about which I have a great deal of concern. It seems tacky and unpatriotic to commercialize, in any manner, the suffering of 168 families. Memorabilia available for sale include T-shirts, picture frames, ties, Christmas ornaments and so forth.

Not only doesn't this seem right, it's replusive.

No doubt the folks trying to run the museum and its educational programs have good intentions but it's simply wrong that a nation with the resources to spend countless billions fighting international terrorism can't afford a few million to honor those victims of home-grown terrorism. Shame on us. Shame.

This is beyond tacky. It's disrespectful and downright wrong.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Occupational hazard

A man suspected of robbing a Fox Point bank was shot to death in Glendale on Thursday morning during an exchange of gunfire with police.

I've never been a fan of capital punishment -- there are solid reasons to oppose it -- but this isn't capital punishment. It's an occupational hazard for any scumbag who robs a bank and then shoots a gun. By those acts he earned the opportunity to have his ticket cancelled.

There's something you MUST do

If you haven't seen this you must do so.

If you have, then see it again.

Wow. 17 million people have watched the You Tube video alone -- as of midnight Thursday.

Why is this woman so popular?


She's the triumph for any kid who was called "four eyes" in grade school or was the last to be chosen for the baseball team. For most of us, she is the face of victory and ideals that most of us have long forgotten.

Britain's Got Talent judge Amanda Holden paid appropriate homage when she said it was a "privilege" to listen to Susan Boyle. And, as Amanda Holden is one of the UK's best and brightest stars, that's really something.

At a time when so many things are wrong in this world there's finally something that's right. Someone that's right.

God bless you, Susan Boyle. You go girl!

Hypocrisy on Capitol Hill? Stop the presses!!!

Norm Coleman will appeal a three-judge panel's ruling in Minnesota that Al Franken is the winner of the Minnesota election for U.S. Senate.

A lawyer for Republican Coleman announced Tuesday that he would appeal Monday's lower court ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court within the allotted 10 days.

The panel had ruled that Democrat Franken won a 312-vote victory and rejected Coleman's arguments that errors or irregularities in the vote counting had violated equal protection standards.

Franken urged Coleman "to allow me to get to work for the people of Minnesota as soon as possible" in remarks to reporters on Monday evening.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, though, said that Coleman was entitled to take his case to the Minnesota Supreme Court before the state's Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, certifies the election.

Harry Reid is right -- the rule of law should prevail. But apparently that message hasn't filtered down to his Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC).

Twice this week I've received "invitations" from the DSCC to sign a petition urging Coleman to give up his challenge. Apparently J.B. Poresch, the DSCC flak, hadn't read what Harry Reid said.

The chances for a Coleman victory admittedly are dim but those who blame him for undertaking a lawful challenge thumb their nose at our very constitutional system and the rule of law.

If there's any blame it should fall squarely on Minnesota election officials and courts that have taken so long to resolve this dispute but no American should ever attack another American for exercising due process of law. If we allow that, the danger is farvgreater than whether Minnesota temporarily has only one vote in the U.S. Senate.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Feels like the bunny came out, saw his shadow and there will be six MORE weeks of winter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Babymama? Babydaddy?

I was reading some witness statements yesterday and was shocked by the increasing use of such "words" as "babymama" and "babydaddy."

Perhaps this world would be a better place if there were more fathers and mothers. Perhaps.

Enough said.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"It's waaaay better than fast food, dude. It's good s__t."

From the Portage Daily Register comes this item about another abberation in the gene pool:

A Wendy's employee faces two years in prison after he was arrested Monday night on drug charges during his late-night shift.
Christoper P. Simons, 18, of Montello, remains in the Columbia County Jail on a probation hold. He made an initial appearance Tuesday in Columbia County Circuit Court on a charge of felony possession of narcotic drugs and misdemeanor possession of THC (marijuana).
Simons was reportedly working at the grill at 11:40 p.m. Monday night at the Portage Wendy's Restaurant, 2920 New Pinery Road, when police responded to a report of employees smoking marijuana in the dining room of the restaurant, according to police records.
Police discovered marijuana in a cellophane wrapper and four hydrocodone tablets in Simons' pockets during a search, according to a criminal complaint.
Simons reportedly admitted he did not have a prescription for the hydrocodone, the complaint stated.
The dining room was closed to customers at the time; Wendy's serves customers at the drive-through between 10 p.m. and midnight.
Simons pleaded no contest in March to misdemeanor charges of theft, criminal trespass to dwelling and criminal damage to property following an incident in June. He was sentenced to four months in jail with work release as part of a one-year probation sentence.
Simons is scheduled for a pre-trial conference on the charges May 13.

Dairyland Greyhound Park claims another loss

Cue the crocodile tears as Dairyland Greyhound Park's management whines about how they lost $3.44 million last year.

The news reports don't say whether the management company that actually runs the state's last dog track also lost money and, as I recall, the management company has ties to the track's owners. But I digress.

Roy Berger, the track's manager who's been there since the beginning, is quoted as saying: "There is nothing short of added gaming that would help us get out of our fiscal hole."

That's code-word talk for turning the track into the Indian gaming casino which was deep-sixed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

But we've heard it all before, haven't we?

When Dairyland was bidding for the track's license, they promised the earth, sky, moon and the Garden of Eden and we didn't even get the Amtrak station they also promised.

When revenues started to falter they said it would help to allow "simulcasting" (a form of off-track betting) at the track. But it wasn't enough.

Now the same folks who have failed to keep their promises come up with more fancy stories to bamboozle us.

Who do these people think they are? The Kenosha school board?

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

From the "yeah, right" department comes word that Dr. Steven Armus, a Kenosha dermatologist, says he was transporting nearly one ounce of cocaine to help out some friends.

Now folks, this is a 48-year-old man, not a 16-year-old boy. You might expect a stupid explanation like that from a teenager.

And Armus had more than four grand on him at the time. He said it was for hsi vacation. Has he ever heard of American Express? Or Visa?

Not to mention that Armus first said he doesn't do coke because he's a doctor and then admitted he'd recently used some.

Armus, who is facing a criminal charge of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, is, of course, presumed innocent under the law but you have to shake your head at his explanations.

The sad reality of this, folks, is that drug abuse isn't just for poor folks in the 'hood. (Since Eugene Kane, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist in charge of victim mentality, missed this one I thought I'd say something he might say and, had Eugene done so, he would have been correct -- for a change.)

Kenosha: Bosmo and the 17 rocket scientists need to be launched

It seemed last month like the city of Kenosha had its pothole repair truck out but now it's conspicuous by its absense.

Perhaps Bosmo the Bosmanian and the 17 rocket scientists think they can just fill these potholes (try driving 60th Street, for example) with bicycles and subcompacts.

For what the city collects from property taxpayers you'd think the streets would be in pristine condition.

Well, maybe not pristine, but at least acceptable.

Hopefully voters will remember at election time these city officials who can't deliver basic services competently.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fire! Check out these Best Buy recalls

Potetially dangerous fire hazards are the reason for two recently announced recalls of Chinese made products sold exclusively at Best Buy:

Buyer beware!

Minnesota: The rule of law should prevail

For some unknown reason I'm on the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's mailing list.

As such I got yet another E-mail urging me to contact Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) to encourage him to give up his election recount challenge and let challenger Al Franken (D) be seated as Coleman's successor.

There are several problems with this request but I'll cut to the chase.

First, I know Norm. When he wants or needs my advice, he knows where to find me.

More important, though, is that there is a legal process in Minnesota that may be taking longer than most folks would like but it's Minnesota's legal process.

The Democrats bang up on Norm over his challenge but he is following due process of law. That is takes Minnesota so long to count and recount ballots is the state's problem, not Norm's, and he shouldn't be pilloried for exercising his due process rights. If we take them away from Norm they can be taken away from anyone.

Does Minnesota need to clean up its act and have a more efficient and accurate method of counting ballots? You betcha.

Is Norm Coleman to blame? Nope.

As for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and their cohorts, chill out. There may well be a good shot that Franken is seated as Minnesota's other senator but it should happen, if at all, pursuant to the rule of law, not the whim of any political operation.

Pleasant Prairie: John P. Steinbrink, jr., has a new job

It's Public Works Director. Read more here.

Congrats, John.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Iowa has balls

Last week the Iowa Supreme Court shook the nation when it unanimously declared the ban on gay marriage violated the state constitution and even the state motto of "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain." (Seriously.)

Now the Des Moines Register reports that the state has yanked the liquor license of a bar that flagrantly violated the Iowa clean indoor air law.

I'd bet you'd see gay marriages in Wisconsin long before anyone would have the balls to take away a liquor license for not being smoke free.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Circuit Court: Welcome Judge-elect Chad Kerkman

In a triumph of youth over experience and western Kenosha County, Chad Kerkman garnered 51.37% of the vote to become the county's newest judge.

Kerkman ran a spirited race against courthouse veteran Fred Zievers. Chad had a commanding lead in the western county vote. The gap narrowed as urban votes came in but it wasn't enough to change the trend.

Congrats, Chad!

Pleasant Prairie: Thanks for keeping Clyde on your side

In the only contested village race:

Pleasant Prairie Trustee
5 Polls Reporting out of 5

Clyde R. Allen -- 1163 (55.73%)
John Roscioli -- 913 (43.75%)
Write-in -- 11 (0.53%)

Congrats to Clyde, Sue. Ray and John and Colleen Braig. Staying on the high road was the right thing.

Clyde's totals beat his first run two years ago against incumbent Jeff Lauer in which Clyde received 53.46% of the vote.

And best wishes also to John Roscioli for his service to the village. There's still work to be done to reform the composition of the Kenosha Unified School District Board and John may well be part of the answer.

It's Election Day

As one of my favorite ties says: "Didn't Vote? Don't bitch!"

Weekend in Ohio

It was good to get away for a weekend at Hocking Hills State Park which is about one hour southeast of Columbus, Ohio.

Hocking Hills has several waterfalls, including the Upper Falls in Old Man's Cave which I shot in black and white for this image.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The dignity of work

The various economic stimuli proposed by the Obama team needs to look back at another time when this country was reeling to recover from the Great Depression.

Most Americans today are too young to remember the WPA and PWA but the legacy of these initiatives can be seen in the infrastructure improvements that still exist today.

A good portion of this nation's infrastructure is crumbling. If people need work, then priority should be given to those projects through something similar to the WPA and PWA. Let's rebuild America.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Kenosha News endorses Zievers for judge

The Kenosha News endorsement of Fred Zievers for Circuit Court judge sums up the dilemma facing many voters: two fine people but only one can be elected this time around.

I've been reluctant to make any endorsement. I've known Fred and Chad and their families for a very long time. I must say that I haven't been swayed either way by the litany of letters to the newspaper written on behalf of each.

I'm also somewhat amused that two men who have spent most of their careers as criminal defense attorneys seem to have rediscovered their prior service as prosecutors now that they're judicial candidates.

Oh well, we all know nobody gets elected judge by promising to be soft on criminals.

Clyde Allen: Integrity and servant leadership in Pleasant Prairie

A young Iowa police officer was getting flustered over the seemingly trivial and irrelevant questions being hurled his way by a defendant's attorney.

Later, Judge Larry Conmey took the officer aside and explained, "If your case was weak, he'd attack it. But because it's strong the only thing he's left with is to kick your shins."

That lesson imparted on me more than 30 years ago came to mind as I size up the race between incumbent Pleasant Prairie village trustee Clyde Allen and newcomer John Roscioli.

At first Roscioli's campaign seemed confusing. For two months he didn't articulate why he felt he'd do a better job on the village board. Even his more recent campaign mailing -- a very attractive card -- is short on everything except some brief generalities.

Contrast that with Allen who, when he ran for his first term two years ago, announced his candidacy with a pledge to end the bickering that wounded the village board in those days and presented his lengthy budget management experience in both the private and public sectors.

Allen's campaign flyer was a simple sheet, not flashy like his opponent's. On Allen's web site he lists the promises he made when he was the newcomer and assesses how well he's delivered on them. Allen's message has been consistent since day one.

As a village trustee, Allen hasn't been afraid to stand up for what he believes but has been able to disagree without being disagreeable. This carried over to his campaign where he has taken the high road and not attacked Roscioli.

The same level of integrity and character cannot be attributed to Roscioli who in the past several days has used his blog as a weapon to fire pot shots at Allen. The issues he finally discovered (it's still puzzling how they were not put on the table when he became a candidate) range from a false accusation that Allen supports gambling and alcohol at Pleasant Prairie Family Days (Allen never introduced or supported any such legislation) to attacking concerns Allen expressed about the financial impact of special assessments and his questioning whether the interest the village charges on them could be modified (not unreasonable when interest rates have fallen).

Reading Roscioli's newfound issues reminded me of Judge Conmey's lecture. If Allen had fatal flaws, Roscioli would have gone for the jugular long ago and may well have been justified in doing so. Instead he whines on about issues that may be interesting but, on balance, ignore the larger picture.

Beyond that, Roscioli stooped to numerous personal attacks and innuendos. For example, he falsely accused Allen and his supporters of saying that another village trustee was running his campaign when, in fact, that trustee, shortly after Roscioli announced his candidacy, made it a point to approach Allen and say that wasn't so.

Roscioli goes on to attack, without foundation, Allen as egocentric, smug and hypocritical. He also falsely accused Allen of not supporting Village President John P. Steinbrink, sr., in the last election when, in fact, Allen did so and had a Steinbrink sign in his front yard. (More important, who cares who Allen supported for village president? What does it matter?)

Roscioli's penchant for false accusations, innuendos and personal attacks clearly demonstrate that he lacks sufficient integrity and good character to serve in public office. His penchant for these and other trivial pursuits raise the question of, if elected, what kind of trustee he would be. This is important.

The reason this is important is because of the previous board where there were the three so-called "good old boys" verus the two newcomers who came aboard ostensibly with good intentions but they got lost in the "us vs. them" tussles that voters finally got sick of.

The reality is that factionalization of the board didn't serve the public and in saying that I do not assess whether one side or the other was more at fault. It doesn't matter because it's bad whether it's the "good old boys" or the newcomers. The voters saw through that and elected two trustees who demonstrated that they can be independent and yet work together with the rest of the board.

If Roscioli is elected, would he be a "good old boy" or part of another faction? It's an interesting question for which I have no answer. When someone is loose with the truth it's hard to know where they really stand.

Roscioli kicks Allen's shins again by accusing him of taking credit for the successes of village staff and to some extent this is true. It's also normal.

The elected village board provides guidance to the staff and administrator (manager). This is especially true in communities that have a "council-manager" form of government. It is absolutely normal and routine for elected officials to tout the accomplishments of the staff. The flip side of this is that when staff fails to do a good job the elected officials take the heat. You can't have one without the other.

In fairness, Allen praises the accomplishments of the board and staff. Further, his 34 years of day-to-day budget management experience -- most of it in government service -- does exceed that of the rest of the board. Roscioli suggests that Allen's touting his legitimate experience is an offense to fellow board members and village staff and, if true, then it's their problem. The Kenosha News wisely took note of that experience when it endorsed Allen's reelection.

None of this is to say that Allen is a perfect person or immune from any criticism of his village service. But at the end of the day the decision is which candidate to vote for. For me, Allen's pluses overwhelmingly outweigh the minuses and his superior government finance experience is something too valuable to part with at a critical time. He's earned reelection and my support. Further, by staying on the high road he has earned my respect and should get yours, regardless of who you vote for.

As for Roscioli, I am very disappointed in him. Yes, it was not likely that he would earn my vote, but he has lost something more important: my respect.

There's nothing wrong with John Roscioli exercising his right to seek the honor of public office. His interest in public service should not be questioned absent evidence that he is doing so for improper motives.

If Roscioli had beefs with Allen's performance, fine. That's his right. But as a voter I also have the right to question the capability of a candidate who enters a race without defining why he's a better choice and then waits two months to disclose his issues. Beyond capability there's character. Allen's campaign in this race, as it was two years ago, stayed on the high road. Roscioli's did not. If he was the superior candidate, there would be no need for sniping and personal attacks.

It is possible to run an issue-oriented campaign and stay on the high road. I know. In 1990 I was a candidate for circuit judge. There were five other candidates in the primary: Mary K. Wagner, Paul Wokwicz, Bev Jamois, Sally Yule and Robert D. Zapf. All of us stuck to the issues and conducted our campaigns with pride and integrity. It could -- and should -- happen again.

Who's laughing now?

Career government officers can be forgiven for engaging a head spinning these days.

After all, it wasn't all that long ago that we heard manta after mantra about how government is mismanaged and needs to be run more like a business.

Certainly there were instances where this was true -- especially when red tape tied up simple decisions and procurement practices wasted taxpayer dollars.

But the rub is that there seemed to be some perverse thinking that government always got it wrong and big business always got it right.

We now now that wasn't always true. After all, when their party train derailed, where did the mavens of corporate America turn for a bailout?

This is not to suggest that government is beyond criticism and perhaps one of the most compelling attacks has to be on whether it should bail out "free enterprise" (particularly when so many corporate executives have played around with taxpayer bailout dollars). And what happened to postage rates and service when the Post Office Department became the United States Postal Service?

There are, of course, parallels between management in the private and public sectors but there are also necessary differences. Those differences need to be respected, not abused.