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Sex offenders among us PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 30 July 2015 14:35

A state law setting uniform standards for sex offender residency is needed; until that comes, the City of Port’s proposed ordinance is a good solution

Passing laws restricting where sex offenders can live has become an act of self-defense for Wisconsin municipalities and towns. So many communities, including every one of the 19 municipalities in Milwaukee County, have such laws on their books that those without them fear they will become magnets for sex offenders looking for homes.

    That helps explain why both the City of Port Washington and the Town of Port Washington are on the verge of enacting ordinances aimed at people on the state registry of sex offenders, even though there is little evidence these ordinances are needed to ensure the safety of the public.

    The problem cries for a remedy from the state Legislature—a statute that would supercede local ordinances and set a state standard for sex offender residency restrictions.

    In the absence of a state law, the City of Port Washington is approaching the issue in a way that makes more sense than banning sex offenders from living in certain areas of the community, as do most local sex offender ordinances, including the one being considered by the Town of Port Washington.

    The city ordinance would prohibit registered sex offenders from loitering near places where children congregate, including schools, day care facilities, parks and playgrounds.

    An official of the state Department of Corrections said at a Common Council meeting last week that the ordinance would work better than housing restrictions that “tell people here is where you can and can’t sleep. A loitering ordinance regulates where a person spends their time.”

    In support of the proposed ordinance, Police Chief Kevin Hingiss told aldermen that regulating loitering is more effective in keeping children safe than residency laws that prevent people convicted of sex offenses from living in certain areas of the community whether or not they pose a threat to children.

    The chief pointed out the fact that “everybody who’s a registered sex offender isn’t someone who’s attacking or had sex with a child.”

    An infamous testament to his point is the case of the Port Washington High School senior who in 1997 at the age of 18 was charged and convicted of a crime for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend. The result of this prosecutorial excess was that he was a registered sex offender until his name was removed from the list by court order after the Legislature made an exception for offenders 18 years old and younger.

     According to Stan Stojkovic, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, only 3% to 5% of the sex offender population has committed crimes against children.     

    Misconceptions nonetheless persist. “In most people’s minds,” Stojkovic told a National Public Radio interviewer, “when they think of sex offenders, they think of a person in the bushes or a stranger preying on children.”

    The Port Washington area experienced the effect of such misconceptions in 2009 when a small group of residents waged a campaign to force a registered sex offender to leave his parents’ home in the Town of Port Washington.

    The vigilante action, driven more by hysteria than reason, included posting the man’s photo with a warning at Possibility Playground, the YMCA and parks and was so strident that a Sheriff’s Department spokesman labeled it “harassment.”

    The harassment fizzled to a deserved demise when Ozaukee Press reported that the man had been listed as a sex offender after pleading no contest to having sex with two 15-year-old girls. He served a one-year sentence in the Washington County jail.

    Six years later, when he was targeted after his residency in rural Port Washington was announced in anonymous emails, he had a job, lived with his  parents, had no further offenses and was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a threat to the public.

    The understandable fear and loathing for the evil 3% to 5% drives the adoption of local sex offender residency ordinances. But the measure being considered by the Port Washington Common Council would do more to protect children from recidivists among that group than prohibitions on residency.

    The council should heed the police chief’s advice and approve this ordinance. It will serve until the Legislature does its duty and enacts a state law that codifies a uniform, reasonable and fair protocol for regulating the residency of sex offenders in communities.

The myth of surplus parks and parking PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 July 2015 19:14

Port Washington’s lakefront parkland is in high demand this summer; selling parking space that goes with it would be a mistake

In the glorious days of mid-summer, it is hard to fathom that only a few months ago there was talk at a Port Washington Common Council meeting suggesting that the city has too much parkland and should consider selling some of it.

    Summertime is park time. Parks, those pretty places where nature is often at its best, are rewards that we denizens of these northern latitudes deserve for enduring long seasons of cold and gray, and the residents of Port Washington and its many summer visitors are taking full advantage of them.

    Port parks have been packed with people, during celebrations and other events, of course, but on almost any day there are folks strolling, picnicking and taking in the views. Far from thinking the city has overindulged in parkland, these park users would be more likely to have kind thoughts of gratitude for the elected officials of yore who had the vision to save the community’s prettiest land for public parks.

    The city “park” that may be the most popular is technically not a park. It is the brilliantly conceived inner marina complex, a downtown magnet for visitors and locals attracted by its busy harbor, the surrounding walkway, the union with gorgeous Rotary Park and the intimate connection to Lake Michigan and its splendid vistas.

    Seeing this parklike place at its best this summer adds dread to the knowledge that the current city government remains intent on selling part of it to a private developer.

    The annals of urban planning are replete with stories of cities that resisted the temptation to reap property tax revenue from valuable land whose natural beauty rightfully belonged to the public. Chicago is a shining example.

    That city is host this summer to hundreds of thousands of visitors attracted in large part by its two newest parks, Maggie Daley Park and Millennium Park, which together cover some 50 acres of land overlooking Lake Michigan.

    These park sites are surely some of the most valuable real estate in the country, if not the world. Yet instead of selling the land to private developers to inflate the tax base, Chicago spent more than half a billion dollars to create a pair of stunning parks that embrace natural beauty, art, walking and running paths and an assortment of attractions ranging from climbing walls to ice rinks.

    It all belongs to the people of Chicago, but is enjoyed by throngs of visitors, with resulting economic benefit to the city.

    On a much smaller scale, Port Washington’s waterfront parks also provide both aesthetic and economic benefits.

    The city government’s plan to sell the parking lot at the north end of the inner marina is based on two dubious premises. The more easily dismissed of the two is the unsupportable notion that selling this publicly owned land overlooking the harbor as a site for a private business operation would somehow benefit the people of Port Washington.    

    The other rationale, whose faulty nature is becoming more apparent as the summer season develops, is that the parking spaces on the site are not needed.

    Empirical evidence suggests otherwise. The lot has been heavily used since Memorial Day. On weekends parking spaces have been difficult to find throughout the entire marina complex, with the marina tenant and launching ramp lots, the parking spaces in front of the former Victor’s restaurant (expected to soon be converted to private use) and the parking lot the city has declared surplus property to be sold all filled.

    All of this waterfront parking space is little used and hardly needed during the cold months, but is well used and much needed during the summer. The city’s heretofore enlightened development of public spaces on its lakefront is a standing invitation to visitors. What sense does it make to invite people to this attraction and then make it difficult for them to find a place to park?

    In the sunlit skies of summer, it is becoming clear that Port Washington does not have too much parkland and does not have too much parking to serve the people using that parkland.

A threatened resource PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 July 2015 16:17

Ag agents such as Ozaukee’s Dan O’Neil have been bringing UW resources to counties for decades; misguided budget cuts are threatening that service

Worries over the consequences of the hundreds of millions of dollars in state budget funding cuts for the University of Wisconsin system have centered on the possibility of teacher layoffs at the various campuses. But the impact of the lost state aid could hit much closer to home for many Wisconsin residents. Counties could lose their UW Extension agricultural agents.

    One estimate is that counties could lose 65 to 80 UW Extension positions. Ozaukee County may be particularly vulnerable because the agent it has had for 33 years, Dan O’Neil, will retire this summer. No one is saying he won’t be replaced, but it’s clear that is a possibility.

    The county-based managers of UW Extension services have always been known as “ag agents,” but the term is a misnomer these days. They still work with farmers, but their reach extends far beyond agriculture into providing practical help that benefits nearly every resident in one way or another.

    O’Neil helps farmers with everything from advice about sheep shearing (at which he was once a champion) to providing information from UW scientists on milk and crop production and finding answers to questions about the increasingly complex business of farming.

    But citizens in any walk of life can get help from the agent and his office staff on an eclectic list of subjects, including anything to do with horticulture and programs provided by the UW Extension to help families in various ways.

    O’Neil’s services will be sorely missed in the organizations he has advised and supported  with hands-on involvement during his tenure, particularly 4-H and Ozaukee Master Gardeners.

    Once an activity mainly pursued by farm children, 4-H clubs now embrace urban, suburban and rural young people and are thriving in Ozaukee County even as the number of farms declines. A 4-H leader quoted in last week’s Ozaukee Press said O’Neil is an essential resource who “is always there” for the leaders and members of the dozen 4-H clubs in Ozaukee County.

    Nowhere has O’Neil’s influence been more  influential than in the Ozaukee Master Gardeners. The president of the organization, Mary Reilly-Kliss, put it succinctly: “Without him, we wouldn’t exist.”

    O’Neil helped found the organization and has guided it as it has flourished as not just a service to train people in the art and science of gardening, but as a public service organization that has beautified communities and institutions throughout the county.

    Gardens tended by the volunteers of the Master Gardeners include those at the Lasata campus for the elderly in Cedarburg, Advocates of Ozaukee, Pioneer Village, Tendick Nature Park, Kuhefuss House Museum in Cedarburg and the Grafton public library.

    In Port Washington, the Master Gardeners have taken responsibility for the public garden in the triangle at the entrance to the downtown at Jackson and Franklin streets. Members maintain the garden and this spring added an array of new perennials purchased with money raised by the organization at its annual plant sale.

    The county agent’s influence on the organization, Reilly-Kliss said, “is immeasurable.”

    Immeasurable too—in a bad way—would be the loss or diminishing of UW Extension services to the people of Ozaukee and other counties because of the extreme funding cuts with which legislators want to punish the UW system.

    For nearly 80 years, the UW Extension has improved the lives of state residents by extending the resources of the University of Wisconsin to the people—on their farms, in their 4-H clubs, their gardens, yards and homes. Reducing funding for those services would take Wisconsin down on the quality-of-life scale.

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