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Life after Smith Bros. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 February 2012 16:43

News that the former home of an iconic restaurant will house a major retail outlet replaces the shadows of a once declining downtown with rays of sunshine

The news that a Duluth Trading Co. retail store will occupy the entire first floor of the Smith Bros. building in downtown Port Washington was judged by Ozaukee Press editors to be the most important story in last week’s newspaper, worthy of a banner headline at the top of page one. Here’s why:

    Duluth will transform an iconic building that for the past five years has been perceived as a sign of a struggling business district into a symbol of progress and commercial vitality. For decades the home of the popular, nationally known Smith Bros. Fish Shanty restaurant was synonymous with Port Washington’s prosperity and nautical appeal. But as a mostly vacant building in a prime location, it cast a shadow on the downtown. The Duluth store will cast sunshine. The shadow will be gone.

    Duluth is a profitable company with a solid record of success as a mail-order niche clothing marketer, not to be confused with a start-up retailer operating on a dream, a wing and a prayer. Duluth will be in Port Washington for the long haul.

    Duluth gets it about Port Washington. Company executives made it clear they did not choose Port just because a large retail space was available, but because they are confident the community’s character, history, natural beauty and incomparable downtown lakefront will contribute to their store’s success.

    Duluth will bring people to Port Washington. The store in the Smith Bros. building will be the firm’s second outlet. The first is in Mount Horeb, also in an historic building. It has become the town’s leading tourist attraction, said to account for more than 40,000 visitors a year.

Duluth promotes the charms of that southwestern Wisconsin community as well as its store. The visitors brought here by the Duluth store will also be customers of other Port Washington stores, restaurants and various businesses.

    Duluth will bring new stores to Port Washington. Vacant storefronts gained appeal overnight with the announcement of the coming of an anchor retailer that will serve as a downtown business magnet.

    Port Washington deserves Duluth. While the Duluth coup was scored in large part because of the dogged efforts of a local real estate agent and the Duluth CEO’s vision of the city as the right place for the store, it is nonetheless a reflection of the efforts of a small town that refused to accept the decline of its downtown and has worked relentlessly to reverse it. Notable among those efforts were the city government’s decisions to redevelop the waterfront into a unique asset—name another community that has a marina, harbor walk and maritime park in the heart of its downtown—and the rebuilding and streetscaping of Franklin Street.

    The original products of the Duluth Trading Co. were work clothes. That’s fitting. Port Washington has worked hard for this day.

How to restore high court’s integrity PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 February 2012 17:30

Obscene amounts of special interest money threaten to politically corrupt the Wisconsion Supreme Court; the remedy is to appoint justices

A wise decision came out of the Wisconsin Supreme Court last week. If it is heeded, it could one day restore confidence in the state’s highest court as a fair arbiter of justice.

    No such confidence exists today. The court is perceived as a political playpen in which some justices are bound more by the influence of special interest money than by fundamental rules of judicial impartiality.

    The decision was not a ruling handed down in a case, but rather it was the decision by two respected members of the court to speak out in favor of merit selection of justices instead of direct election.

    Justices Patrick Crooks and Ann Walsh Bradley said alternative methods of selecting justices should be considered to counter the influence of money in judicial campaigns. Neither used the word “corrupt,” but it was clear that they were acknowledging what has been obvious to many observers—that election spending is corrupting the Supreme Court.

    Both justices, centrists with long tenure on the court, had formerly defended direct election of court members.

    Now, they told the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, they think it’s time to explore other options because election spending has contributed to divisiveness on the court and is undermining its integrity.

    They are right.

    This is a court that became an embarrassment to the state as the scene of a scuffle between a male justice and a female justice that was investigated by authorities as a potential assault case.

    The justice-versus-justice combat has since been eclipsed as a source of nationwide contempt by the latest dubious behavior by Justice Michael Gableman, which recently earned a scolding editorial in the New York Times.

    This time it’s not about Gableman’s vile election campaign that nearly got him sanctioned by his own Supreme Court for violating the state judicial code. Now it’s about his failure to recuse himself from hearing the case that determined the legality of Wisconsin’s controversial limits on collective bargaining, even though he got free legal services from a law firm involved in the case.

    The perception is that he owed the law firm a favor, and if so he delivered it by voting in favor of the side argued by the firm that had represented him at no charge. The court upheld the Act 10 legislation by a 4-3 vote.

    Justice Bradley said last week that she favors changes “to repair the elective methods through meaningful and constitutional disclosure rules and meaningful recusal rules.” She added that this remedy might not be forthcoming, and the way justices are chosen might have to be changed.

    Make no mistake, money is the root of the evil afflicting the court. In the 2008 election between Gableman and incumbent Lewis Butler, a total of $6 million was spent, of which $4.8 million came from special interests. In the 2011 race between incumbent David Prosser and JoAnne Kloppenburg, special interests spent $4.5 million, twice as much as the candidates raised themselves.

    Much of the special interest money came from out-of-state groups bent on influencing policy and laws in Wisconsin in ways that further their agendas.

    One way to counter the influence of money in judicial elections is merit selection of justices, in which panels select qualified aspirants for judicial seats.

    Wisconsin is one of only 22 states that directly elect Supreme Court justices. Most of the other states use variants of merit selection. Twelve states allow voters to decide whether appointed justices should be retained when their terms expire.

    Direct election of justices sounds like the right thing to do. A survey taken last July by the non-partisan Justice at Stake organization found that 59% of people queried in Wisconsin opposed appointment of justices; only 23% approved.

     That shouldn’t be surprising. This is a democracy, after all, and the people should be in control of who serves on their courts.

    The problem is, with direct election they’ve lost that control to organizations that can afford to spend millions to buy influence on the court.

    Two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices have seen the light. It’s time for us all to open our eyes to it.

Uncle Sam and his city cousin want you PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 08 February 2012 15:28

When government can’t or won’t do its job, organizations, companies and citizens can fill the void; Port Washington has opportunities waiting

    The proposal to build an 80-foot observation tower on the high point of Port Washington’s Upper Lake Park has prompted a useful community discussion on how funds raised by civic-minded groups and donated by individuals could be better spent.

    Many people who think the tower does not belong in the park are nonetheless impressed that the group proposing it wants to raise a considerable amount of money to finance a public amenity, and alternative projects have been suggested. One, outlined in a letter to the editor in last week’s Ozaukee Press, involves a Port Washington icon, the lighthouse at the end of the north breakwater.

    The lighthouse is a widely recognized symbol of Port Washington and also a symbol of the creeping austerity in government institutions that is becoming the norm. The lighthouse is federal government property and serves an essential public need as a navigational aid. Yet maintenance of the structure is lagging, and with spreading rust it’s starting to look worn.

    You can get an idea of what a burden the feds think lighthouse maintenance is from the fact that a number of fully functioning lighthouses have been leased to private parties, in some cases as residences with terrific water views.

    The Press letter writer made his point well: The lighthouse, noteworthy for its distinctive art deco design, is Port Washington’s civic symbol, memorialized in the city logo, and it shouldn’t be allowed to look shabby. It would be a meaningful boon to the city for the Friends of the Tower, or another organization, to pay to have it painted.

    The old government services paradigm is becoming obsolete at all levels of government. It used to be taken for granted that when something under the aegis of the government—federal, state or local—needed doing, it was done, and the taxpayers paid for it. Now the idea that government can’t stretch tax dollars far enough to take care of all of its responsibilities is taking hold, and people and organizations that don’t want to see facilities valued by the public deteriorate as a result are encouraged to step up.

    Port Washington has several such needs connected with its most valuable asset, the lakefront. The very breakwater on which the lighthouse sits is deteriorating, with little or no hope of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doing its duty to maintain it anytime soon. Only the Corps can handle structural issues, but the broken ladders and missing life rings on the pier are a serious problem that lends itself to fixing by local sources.

    Here is a contribution that could save lives while at the same time improve the city’s image as a place for visitors and residents to get close to the magnificence of Lake Michigan. Fishermen and lake lovers walk out on the breakwater the year around. The lack of safety equipment is sure to lead to something bad.

    The shamefully neglected entrance to the north beach is another crying need for a group to step in and do what the city should have done years ago. Why the city has turned a blind eye to this blight is a mystery that apparently won’t be solved soon. The wide, sandy beach below the Lake Park bluffs is one of the city’s most  heavily used recreational areas, visited by thousands each year. But to get there people have to transit a pitched walkway that is rough with broken asphalt, crushed stone and concrete rubble and is frequently awash in mud, or as it was last week, covered in treacherous ice.

    In the spirit of the generous gifts made in the past to the city lakefront, including fish cleaning stations, a lakeside pavilion and a contribution that helped create the splendid downtown park jutting into the harbor, a service organization, or even a corporate donor, has an opportunity at the north beach to make a gift of enduring value by providing an attractive and safe entryway to what is surely one of the most beautiful places in the city.

    Recognition is part of this new dynamic of private sources helping government to do its job. An element of the beach entrance improvement would be the erection of a proper sign welcoming the public to this place and crediting those whose generosity made the beach easier to enjoy.           

    And wouldn’t it be nice to see plaques at the  foot of the breakwater and on the lighthouse recognizing local organizations for their good deeds there?   

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