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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?   

Lake Park tower R.I.P. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 20:01

The Common Council is poised to keep a visually disruptive structure off a high point of the park, but what were parks and planning panels thinking?

The 80-foot Upper Lake Park observation tower is as good as dead.

Rest in peace.

The Port Washington Common Council has not yet officially rejected the tower, but the comments of aldermen leave no doubt that it will not be built on the proposed Lake Park site.

The tower succumbed to the careful consideration of council members. Some of the aldermen went to the trouble of ascending to the proposed height of the structure in the fire department’s ladder truck, an exercise that revealed that the view from the tower would be underwhelming and the view of the tower from afar would be a disconcerting intrusion into lake vistas and the city skyline.

The council will do the right thing and the tower will not be built on the park bluff overlooking the lake and the city, but any satisfaction over this is tempered by the knowledge that if two other city governmental bodies had their way the outcome might have been different.

Both the Parks and Recreation Board and the Plan Commission approved the tower in the Upper Lake Park location with emphatic enthusiasm.

That an anonymous group, known only by its spokesman, with no standing as a non-profit organization or anything else, and no bona fides to offer concerning its ability to complete or finance such a project, was given a quick green light to place an enormous structure on one of the public’s most prominent and valuable pieces of parkland is as puzzling as it is alarming.

Troubling too is the fact that neither the board nor the commission expressed much concern about the aesthetic impact of a massive, utilitarian construct on a park whose natural beauty is widely praised.

This matters because the board is the steward of the public’s parkland. And the commission, by virtue of its role interpreting city codes and ordinances regulating structures, is in effect the steward of the city’s appearance.

The park site proposed for the tower ought to be regarded as sacred ground not to be made available for this use or that just because it sounds like a nifty idea.

The site is near the dramatic lake overlook in the city park created in 1934. Consisting of 63 acres of precious lakeshore land, the park was designed by Alfred L. Boerner, the renowned landscape architect who designed Milwaukee’s Whitnall Park and Boerner Botanical Gardens.

Boerner wrote that his vision for the park was a sprawling green space that would offer vistas, open meadows, wooded areas, playing fields and proximity to the water. 

It is not hard to imagine what Boerner would have thought of a blocky, eight-story tower on the high point of this public green area.

In any case, the great appeal of the park was that the land, bought by the city during the Great Depression for $25,000, came with natural vistas, some of the most magnificent views of Lake Michigan anywhere.

The PWFD demonstration made it clear that a tower would not improve on nature and that its presence would in fact diminish what nature and a gifted landscape architect had given the park.

Several council members have said they would reconsider the tower in another location, perhaps the coal dock recreation area suggested in an earlier Ozaukee Press editorial. There, in the loom of the gigantic power plant, its size and design would likely be inoffensive.

Or, as a more meaningful alternative, if the group calling itself Friends of the Tower still wants to make a generous gift to the city park system (and with an estimated cost of as much a half a million dollars the tower gift would certainly have been generous), it could fund a project to stabilize a portion of the Upper Lake Park bluff and, below it, rebuild and beautify the long neglected entrance to the north beach that is such a splendid feature of the park.

Slinging mud at a school PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 18:49

There was some misbehavior at a Port school, but nothing about it justified the distorted and sensationalized reporting or the anonymous Internet attacks that followed

There was some bad behavior at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Washington last week, a fight between two eighth-grade boys in a locker room. It wasn’t much of a fight. No one was hurt. It was not reported to a teacher, administrator or anyone in authority at the school. It was the sort of scuffle that happens from time to time in every school, big and small, public and private. Yet within hours the school was being attacked on the Internet as a hotbed of bullying.

Thomas Jefferson Middle School was the victim of an unsavory mix of shoddy professional journalism and the undisciplined venting of the homogenized information and opinion that often passes for journalism on the Internet.

A student photographed the fight with a cell phone camera and posted the video on Facebook. Someone told Channel 4 news about it, and suddenly an insignificant scuffle at a Port Washington school was a big-time news event broadcast all over southeast Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee television station sent a reporter to thrust a camera in the face of the school principal so he could explain the awful things happening at his school, lifted the student’s grainy video, ballyhooed the upcoming expose of school violence in a small town in its promo announcements and then gave the story a prominence in its news broadcasts that left the impression serious wrongdoing had been uncovered.

This provoked a number of postings on websites, generally anonymous and highly critical of the school. Some of the attacks on the school were egged on by suggestions on a website that bullying is a serious problem at the school.

Such is life in the new age of information—social networks where anything goes, Internet information providers with no accountability for fairness or truth, a news organization that ignored journalism’s imperatives of judgment and critical thinking, all coming together to sully the image of a very good school.

We are quite sure most school district residents know the following, but we are going to print it for the record anyway:

Thomas Jefferson Middle School is a large but well-organized school that is successful at educating fifth through eighth-graders and is in no way unsafe for students.

School bullying—physical or psychological intimidation of a student by others—is written and talked about a great deal these days and is certainly a bad thing, but is not a chronic problem at TJMS and is not what happened last week.

What happened was a fight, not the kind of mischief you want to see in a school, but not uncommon. What ultimately made it uncommon was that it got on the Internet and television.

The school administration handled it properly. The two students in the scuffle and two who apparently instigated it have been suspended and referred to juvenile authorities.

TJMS administrators feel bruised by the media-manufactured aspersions on the school, but the entire community should be affronted by the sensationalized television treatment and the uninformed and overwrought attacks on the school launched from the safe redoubt of anonymity, a place that is not inconvenienced by those tiresome concepts of responsibility or accuracy.

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