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Such a pretty place PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 23 March 2016 18:19

Such a pretty place, this city called Port Washington.

Built on the tiered shore of a glacier-cut freshwater sea, it captures and shares freely with anyone who values natural beauty a treasure of majestic water views from its hills and through the corridors of its streets.

Like most treasures, this one has had to be defended, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Examples of the latter can be found, like bookends, on the south and north edges of the downtown. 

The massive We Energies power plant has filled lake views from ground level to high in the sky for more than 80 years and, after being reborn as a modern gas-fired plant, can be considered a permanent fixture. Some might count it as progress that the plant now has four smokestacks that are about half of the height of the five that once towered over the lakefront.

The north bookend, the condo building at the corner of Jackson and Lake streets, represents a more egregious theft of Port Washington views in that, in a case of gross planning negligence, it was allowed to rise above one of the city’s signature hills. The towering brick mass destroyed inspiring views of Lake Michigan from the east side of St. Mary’s Hill.

No city government officials now in office deserve blame for that aesthetic sin. In fact, current aldermen signaled last week that they are prepared to defend Port Washington views from yet another encroachment.

That encroachment is a 120-foot high, 40-inch diameter telecommunications pole topped with a microwave dish that an Illinois company wants to erect in downtown Port Washington.

When the Common Council learned of the plan to install this monstrosity in a parkway along Main Street across from the Ozaukee County Administration Center, it quickly passed a resolution giving it some muscle to regulate such structures.

Even with the resolution, there is no assurance the city will be able to prevent the eyesore from growing into Port Washington’s sky like a mechanical version of Jack’s beanstalk. The zoning code forbids a structure of this height (taller than the Lake Street condo) at the Main Street location, but state law trumps local ordinances and gives communications utility companies the right to put their facilities where they want subject to “reasonable” municipal regulations.

Any regulation that keeps this sort of thing out of a small-town downtown should be considered reasonable per se. 

Everyone gets it that communications antennas and the like are necessary trappings of the advanced technology on which society is increasingly dependent. Yet there has to be a balance that gives appropriate weight to the aesthetic damage done by these facilities. State regulatory agencies need to do more to determine whether their placement in sensitive areas serves a genuine need more than the profits of communications companies.

The bureaucrats who will review Port Washington’s objections to the 120-foot structure should give the community credit for having put up for years with an eye-aching communications structure in its downtown district—the tower that stands high over Wisconsin Street on Billy Goat Hill flaunting a virtual erector set of metal appendages. One of these ugly fabrications is more than enough.

Win or lose, this conflict of community aesthetics with structures serving commerce will not be the city’s last. Elected officials will be challenged, especially when the height of buildings is at issue, to weigh benefits of commercial development against this city’s priceless aesthetics—and to never forget that this is such a pretty place.

Keep democracy messy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 16 March 2016 16:06

Sunshine Week, this week’s national observance of efforts to assert the public’s right to know what its government is doing, brought a sunny news release from Gov. Scott Walker’s office. It announced that Wisconsin’s chief executive was issuing an executive order “to promote open and transparent government through the implementation of best practices and performance dashboards.”

Translated from trendy business jargon to plain English, it seems the order essentially directs state agencies to respond to public records requests from citizens and the press in a timely and efficient manner.

That is what the law requires.

Wisconsin has laws mandating that government records be available to the public and government meetings be open to the public. Even so, the movement to keep government open to scrutiny is a work in progress, as the governor himself made clear last summer when he and Republican leaders of the Legislature attempted—in secret, of course—to severely weaken the open records law.

The attempt was abandoned in the face of a furious public response. Other moves to withhold records, including officials’ emails, colored the Walker administration as hostile to transparent government.

The “Sunshine Week initiatives” referred to in the news release may be a PR initiative to change that image. If they are also a sincere effort to improve access to government records, the governor will deserve any public approval that comes from it.

One thing is certain about the so-called sunshine laws based on the public’s right to know: Without them government officials would be less accountable to the people.

The appeal of managing public affairs without the aggravation of the public watching is difficult to resist, judging from the frequency with which it is attempted at all levels of government. Examples abound in the Obama administration, Congress, and state and local governments.

Public scrutiny, of course, makes government officials’ jobs harder. The frustrating complaints, competing demands and tedious intrusions by citizens, not to mention pesky journalists, all interfere with the smooth execution of the business of government. And that is as it should be. Because government is not a business; it is not a well-oiled machine. Democratic government is a messy operation. 

In the councils, boards and commissions of Ozaukee County, when conflicts with Wisconsin’s open government laws occur they often take the form of misuse of exceptions to the open meetings law. The law allows closed meetings in narrowly defined instances involving government personnel and negotiating purchases or contracts. Whether through the intent of officials or faulty advice from ill-informed legal counsel, the exemptions are sometimes wrongly applied and matters that affect the public in important ways are settled behind closed doors.

Even when exceptions apply and closed meetings would be legal, officials who are weighing whether to close the doors should keep in mind that shutting out the public contributes to taxpayer cynicism and distrust of government. 

In the City of Port Washington, no fewer than four issues are currently being dealt with by the Common Council in meetings from which the public is excluded. Three of them involve land owned by the public. 

Citizens expect to hear and see their representatives debate issues vigorously, not to cast unanimous votes ratifying agreements made in private sessions. Disagreement among officials and divided votes in public forums are signs of a healthy democracy.

That’s what the public wants to see on the government’s “performance dashboard.”

Who we are PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 March 2016 21:01

“That’s not who we are.”

The words have become a mantra for the presidential primary season, repeated after each round of coarse utterances by Donald Trump.

Commit war crimes, hate immigrants, keep Muslims out of our country, Trump says. And aghast listeners say, “That’s not who we Americans are.”

True, millions of Americans have voted for Trump knowing what he has said and what he represents. Well, that’s not who we are either.

Observers in other countries, according to foreign press reports, hear Trump’s words and fear that America is morphing into his image—racially, ethnically and religiously intolerant, reckless and crude, devoid of empathy and mercy. No, that’s not who we are.

There is evidence of who we really are right here in the heart of Ozaukee County. You can find it in a project in which hundreds of people from our communities are giving their hard work and their hard-earned dollars to help children of various races, ethnicities and religions, including the religion of Islam. The children they are helping have in common that they are hungry, many in danger of starving.

The project is to buy and pack food for 100,000 meals for children in countries where, for reasons that include famine, poverty and war, they do not have enough to eat. Under the aegis of Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), a Minnesota-based charity that devotes more than 90% of the money it raises to the cause of feeding children, the local effort is being led by volunteers from the three Port Washington-Saukville Catholic parishes.

The fundraising goal is $22,000, which is enough to buy food for the 100,000 meals. Doing the math is eye-opening. A meal for only 22 cents? That’s possible because food scientists working with FMSC have devised a formula for a low-cost, dehydrated mix of rice, soy protein, vegetables and added vitamins and minerals that is at least as nutritious as a fast-food order of chicken nuggets an American child might consume.

Buying the food is step one. Step two—packing the meals six-to-a-bag—is where the hard work comes in. It will be done Friday and Saturday, April 8 and 9, at the Portal in Grafton. Scores of volunteers will work two-hour shifts.

The packed food will be shipped by the FMSC network of charitable agencies to countries as close as Mexico and Haiti and as distant as the likes of Liberia, Afghanistan and North Korea. FMSC meals have gone to more than 80 countries, where the nutrition-packed food has helped save the lives of countless children at risk of starvation. 

The Ozaukee Feed My Starving Children effort needs more financial contributions and more people to sign up for packing the meals. To help, contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Pitching in for this cause does more than feed children. It says who we are.

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