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Citizens deserve a gun-free city hall PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 November 2011 18:23

Fears that signs banning guns in Port Washington’s seat of government would invite violence fail the common sense test; it’s the presence of guns in city hall that would compromise safety

If a Port Washington alderman’s fantasy world were real, a police officer, preferably armed with an M-4 assault rifle, should be stationed in the Common Council chamber during every meeting and aldermen should get hazardous duty pay because their job is so dangerous.

That isn’t the real world, but here’s how the notion of the danger of aldermanic service got started: Ald. Joe Dean said at the Council meeting last week that signs banning guns in city hall should not be posted because they would tell “the bad guys that we (city officials) are lambs preparing for slaughter.” He went on, “We don’t want a Columbine situation here where the only person armed is a bad guy.”

Slaughter? Columbine? All those bad guys? Does anyone besides Dean, and Ald. Dave Larson, who pretty much seconded his fears, really associate those words with the Port Washington city hall? Are officials’ lives suddenly in jeopardy in the house of Port Washington’s city government?

If they are, it would have to be suddenly, because, as far as can be determined, never in the 71 years Ozaukee Press has been covering city hall has a threat to the safety of aldermen, the mayor or other officials by an armed person been reported.

What has changed to make an alderman now fear gun violence at city? Apparently it’s the concealed-carry law that took effect Nov. 1.

The state Legislature erred in not including in the law a provision to keep concealed weapons out of government buildings, but the legislation does allow that to be accomplished by posting signs prohibiting firearms. That simple expedient would maintain what had been the sensible status quo under state law for many years—no guns (except when carried by police) in government buildings.

Dean, a former Port Washington mayor, has expressed enlightened views about a variety of issues facing the city, and his shooting-spree scenario was perhaps just an overly dramatic endorsement of the often heard argument that the world would be a safer place if more law-abiding people carried guns. He also said, referring again to “bad guys,” that “it would be nice if they had to wonder who of the law-abiding citizens in the room had a gun.”


Still, it was surprising to hear Dean and Larson express so much concern for the safety of city officials, when the safety of the public in the buildings owned by the public for the exercise of government is the real issue.

Only in a fantasy world where government officials are endangered lambs could prohibiting guns make city hall dangerous. In the real world, it is allowing guns in city hall that could make it dangerous.

One of the problems with guns among groups of people is the possibility of the unintended discharge of deadly weapons. It’s not an unusual happening. Last week a handgun dropped accidentally on the floor of a Milwaukee shopping mall discharged. The owner of the gun was a police officer.

When guns are in the pockets and hidden holsters of less competent and well trained gun owners, the odds of such accidents rise, especially since the requirements for training to qualify for concealed-carry permits in Wisconsin have been relaxed. A gun at hand also increases the chances that a disagreement or misunderstanding will turn deadly.

Citizens have a right to assemble at city hall to observe or petition their representatives, and they should be able to do so without fearing they could become victims of gun handling negligence in a room full of guns.

As Ald. Paul Neumyer, who as a retired police officer and current county sheriff’s deputy knows a fair amount about guns, pointed out, the impact of guns in city hall would be a “chilling effect” on the public process of government.

Mayor Scott Huebner, City Administrator Mark Grams and Police Chief Richard Thomas have also voiced sensible views on the need to keep public facilities free of guns.

In their real-world view, posting signs prohibiting guns is not an invitation to mayhem, but a prudent gesture on behalf of keeping public places safe for the public.

The Common Council should see to it that guns are not allowed in city facilities, including the swimming pool, the ice skating warming building, the senior center and city hall.

It’s not likely that armed guard will be needed either.

 
Main Street banks and Wall Street banks PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 02 November 2011 18:59

Don’t confuse the solid institutions that help make our communities thrive with the predators whose unregulated financial trickery helped trigger the recession

The president of the Wisconsin Bankers Association recently sent out an op-ed article lamenting the fact that the word “bank” has become a pejorative term people associate with some of the worst culprits in the Great Recession.

Rose Oswald Poels wrote that “in Wisconsin you can’t call yourself a bank unless your deposits are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance corp. Traditional banks are insured depositories and lenders. Investment banks are the Wall Street traders.”

She’s right, and it is unfortunate that the word that has always described the solid institutions residents of the small towns of Ozaukee County rely on for their checking accounts, car loans and mortgages and as safe places for their savings is now used so loosely it also refers to the likes of Citigroup.

Citigroup is only one of a rogues gallery of investment banks that very nearly brought down the global financial system in 2008 with their unethical if not illegal exploitation of exotic mortgage derivatives, but we mention that company because it’s back in the news.

In October Citigroup was fined $235 million for selling packages of mortgage-backed securities that were essentially worthless and then profiting enormously by buying credit default swaps that paid off when the mortgage securities failed.

Citigroup’s machinations were typical of the abuses that led to the failure and subsequent bailing out at taxpayer expense of a number of investment banks and a financial crisis second in severity only to the Great Depression.

Citigroup was held only somewhat accountable. Incredibly, it was allowed by the Securities Exchange Commission to pay its fine without admitting wrong doing. Overall there has been little accountability for the misdeeds that contributed to the recession that cost Americans significant amounts of their life savings and, in many cases, their livelihoods.


Executives of the bailed-out investment banks were awarded obscenely generous bonuses by their boards of directors. The investment banks continue to spend billions—far more than any other special interest group—to lobby Congress to prevent reform of the system that caused the collapse.

The lobbying pressure appears to be working. The response of Congress to the investment bank scandal was the Dodd-Frank Act, whose regulations affecting the practices of investment banks, while better than nothing, are too mild. Even so, there is a movement in Congress to repeal the law.

Deregulation of the financial industry, which started in the 1980s and was facilitated by both Democratic and Republican presidents and members of Congress, is what got the U.S. into this mess. It is what allowed Wall Street shysters to cook up schemes to sell toxic mortgages and profit when they went bad.

Now Dodd-Frank, the one modest attempt at regulating risky derivative securities that emerged from the wreckage of the recession, is under attack from a number sources, including some Republican presidential candidates. One of them, Rep. Michele Bachmann, has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would repeal it.

Critics of the Dodd-Frank regulations claim they are job killers. Americans who lost their jobs because of a recession that was caused in part by an unregulated financial industry must find that amusing in a sick way.

In her defense of depository banks, the head of the Wisconsin Bankers Association included a veiled complaint about Dodd-Frank, describing it as an increased regulatory burden.

That is probably true to some extent, but there has been no groundswell of complaint by community bankers that the law is discouraging them from making loans to qualified business owners.

In any case, some increased hassle in dealing with regulations is a small price to pay to rein in the Wall Street banks whose reflected shame has damaged the image of the Main Street banks that are community assets.


 
The great honeybee menace PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 26 October 2011 21:10

Condemning a family’s beekeeping hobby as an endangerment to public safety gave a false impression of Port Washington as intolerant and uninformed

Kudos to the members of the Port Washington Common Council and Plan Commission for their rational response to the great honeybee menace.

When a Port Washington woman appealed for relief from the city attorney’s warning to her family to end their beekeeping hobby or face legal consequences, the aldermen were sympathetic. The Plan Commission followed suit with a recommendation that an ordinance specifically allowing beekeeping in the city be passed.

The Council should now settle the matter with an ordinance that protects the right of citizens to engage in the environmentally friendly activity of honeybeekeeping without interference from authorities.

And then, one more thing for the aldermen to do before the subject is closed: Have an earnest discussion about setting a tone for city governance that rejects nitpicking intrusions into the lives of residents to enforce conformity with arbitrary and unnecessary regulations, and then see that the city attorney gets the memo.

Besides uplifting local attitudes about the city government, that might help burnish Port Washington’s image, which is currently a bit tarnished in the area of tolerance, thanks to the fiasco of the beekeeping crackdown and the lawn-mowing flap that preceded it.

After Ozaukee Press reported last week that City Attorney Eric Eberhardt had declared the beehive maintained by Mike and Bethel Metz and their children “a public nuisance endangering health and safety” and ordered it removed by Oct. 24,  the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an opinion column suggesting that the city was foolish and out of touch. A number of websites made the same point.

This is not the kind of PR the city is looking for, but the harassment by a city official of a family trying to do the right thing by keeping bees as part of a national effort to sustain declining bee populations in order to pollinate crops certainly invited it.


It’s widely understood that honeybees are desirable and their concentration in hives, especially the pod type provided for the pollinators by the Metzes, presents no threat to humanity. What is not understood is why this benign family project was the subject of a threatening notice that left Bethel Metz, in her words to the Common Council, “confused, angry, upset and, frankly, heartbroken.”

There had been no complaints of threatening behavior by the bees. There was no ordinance prohibiting beekeeping, though the city attorney maintained it could not go on without an ordinance saying it was allowed. Bethel Metz said she asked before buying the bees whether there was a prohibition against beekeeping, and was told by city hall that there wasn’t.

In short, there was no reason to apply the heavy hand of city authority.

If this sounds familiar it’s because there is some resemblance to the lawn-regulating ordinance introduced last summer. Before the Council instructed the city attorney to modify it, this potential law would have had the effect of making some of the city’s prettiest residential properties illegal—those with yards filled with flowers and foliage—and required them to be replanted in grass clipped to a specified length. Not surprisingly, this nonsense also generated some dubious publicity, as Milwaukee television stations entertained their audiences with coverage of Port Washington’s misguided attempt at lawn regimentation.

No one is suggesting this is evidence of some sort of Robespierreian reign of terror. The city attorney no doubt means well and the efforts to banish unregulated honey bees and lawns thataren’t planted in grass are probably just manifestations of a desire to maintain a really orderly city. It can also be said that the beekeeping and lawn intrusions directly affected only a few families.

But even so, every resident should be affronted, for these attempts at regulating harmless behavior feed a perception of Port Washington as provincial and unaware of progressive ideas about living in the 21st century.

That is not the Port Washington we know. We think of this city as a culturally and economically diverse community that welcomes and appreciates the type of citizens who care enough about the planet to keep bees and create yards full of plants instead of grass.

Send that memo.

 
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