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Neighbors in need PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 23 December 2009 16:39

It’s hard to to support charity in hard times, but these are the times when it’s needed most, even here in the comfortable communities of Ozaukee County

It makes sense but it is still hard to accept: When services supported by charity are needed most, people are least able to contribute the money charities need to do their work.
The United Way of Northern Ozaukee is facing that hard reality now. For the first time in years, it finds itself, on the eve of Christmas and near the end of its annual charity drive, far short of its contributions goal.

Worthy charitable causes abound, but none is more important here in our communities than the United Way—because the money it raises helps people who live here.

In encouraging support of the United Way we often point out that it does more than help the neediest among us; it supports organizations that help every one of us by nurturing the good life in our communities, the likes of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Interfaith Caregivers, Ozaukee Family Services and the Volunteer Center.

But this year the more compelling reason to give is that agencies that provide essential assistance to families and individuals that are in such difficult straits they can’t afford the necessities of life are counting more than ever on the United Way.

The services of United Way agencies such as the Salvation Army and Family Sharing, which address the physical needs for clothing and food, and COPE Services, which offers help to the emotionally needy, are more in demand than they have been for many years.

We all know the reason for this: The damaged economy, particularly the unemployment it has spawned, has left many people who were once comfortable or at least self-sufficient in precarious places financially and even emotionally.

This brings us back to the variation of Catch 22 with which we began this editorial. With business struggling and many people with incomes from their jobs reduced or gone altogether, charitable contributions are bound to suffer—just when they’re needed most.

United Way pledges from the crucial large company sector of the campaign are down as much as 50%. Contributions from smaller companies and their employees and individual solicitations are lagging too.

Though the 2009 United Way goal of $185,000 is no more than last year’s, which was achieved, less than 70% of it has been donated or pledged.

High on our list of worthless statistics is the one that ranks Ozaukee County as the richest county in the state and one of the wealthiest in the nation. This is based on averages that obscure the truth that there are people in this county who without assistance would not have enough to eat.

Staff members and volunteers at agencies in Ozaukee County that distribute food and clothing to people who lack those basics of life will testify to that fact.

Family Sharing of Ozaukee County is helping more families than ever before—a number that rose to 1,200 this month. The Food Pantry at St. Peter’s Church in  Port Washington (not a United Way agency but serving the same need as Family Sharing and other
organizations) is all but overwhelmed each Tuesday by the crowds that gather for food distributions.

The United Way’s shortfall is understandable in these trying times, but it should not be considered acceptable, just as it is not acceptable that people living in Ozaukee County do not have enough food to eat or warm clothing to wear or have such scant means that every cent they can scrape together has to go for groceries, leaving nothing for even a few simple gifts to give their children on Christmas.

There are a number good reasons to contribute to the United Way, but the reason that matters most right now is that people in our communities are suffering from the effects of poverty and we can help them by helping the United Way.

Information on making a donation is available at

Off key PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 16 December 2009 15:33

The use of Port High’s Madigral Ensemble for a TV commercial to benefit private business violated a district policy—and good judgment

How nice that the talented and entertaining singers of Port Washington High School’s Madrigal Ensemble get to be on television. Too bad that to get their few minutes of fame they have to appear in a commercial promoting a Milwaukee television station singing a commercial jingle and holding up commercial signs.

Just about anyone hearing about this would think something isn’t quite right about using public school students in a blatantly commercial activity to benefit a private business, yet High School Principal Duane Woelfel and Choir Director Dennis Gephart approved the ensemble’s participation in the commercial, apparently thinking it was a good way to get some publicity for the group and the high school.

But allowing the use of students to promote business not only sounds bad, it violates a clearly stated school district policy that forbids student participation in activities that “have the primary effect of advancing a special product, group or company.”

Now, it happens that the Madrigal Ensemble is more than good enough to be on TV. The well-coached singers in the group are terrific, wonderful to hear and to see in their Renaissance costumes. Their performances at the annual Madigral Dinners have become Christmas season classics. These students deserve much better than to have to showcase their talent by delivering a pitch urging viewers to watch CBS 58.

The promotions manager of that channel offered the opportunity for the ensemble to appear on TV if it would sing a jingle for a commercial for CBS 58. The 16 students in the group rehearsed the jingle at the high school and were allowed to skip classes to record it at the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee.

The students, dressed in their madrigal costumes, sang the advertising jingle to the tune of “Jungle Bells” while some of them held up signs promoting CBS 58.

It’s probably safe to say that the teenagers who provided this service for the television station don’t feel they have been exploited. It no doubt was fun to make the commercial in the stately setting of the Pabst Mansion and pretty exciting to be on TV repeatedly through the holiday season. But the adults who decided it was OK for students to lend their talent to a commercial enterprise on school time should have recognized that television exposure in return for a commercial endorsement was an unacceptable quid pro quo.

The medium of television, even in the age of the Internet, still has a certain cachet. (Think of “American Idol.”) But that doesn’t make the televised commercialization of a school activity any more acceptable. What CBS 58 has done is basically the same as if, for example, a car dealership was allowed to assemble the football team, with players skipping classes, wearing uniforms bought by taxpayers, directed by coaches paid by taxpayers, for a photograph, with the team holding banners endorsing the dealership’s brawny-as-a-middle-linebacker SUVs, to be used in newspaper ads.

The acquiescence of high school authorities in the Madrigal commercial is disappointing, but no more so than the actions of the television station that used students taking part in a school activity to advertise its news programs.

If CBS 58 was sincere about serving the communities in its viewing area, it would have given the Madrigal Ensemble the exposure it deserves as part of its news coverage the way news media are supposed to do it—free, as a service to viewers, with no strings attached, nothing demanded in return. And then the ensemble singers would have been seen and heard performing one of the beautiful songs in their repertoire instead of a hokey commercial jingle.

Stop electing justices PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 09 December 2009 17:27

Wisconsin’s new law providing public funding of Supreme Court campaigns is a good thing, but Mark Gottlieb’s proposal to appoint justiices is better

State Rep. Mark Gottlieb of Port Washington has the best idea to counter the buying of seats on the Wisconsin Supreme Court: Stop electing justices.

Gottlieb proposes to amend the state constitution to allow supreme court justices to be appointed by the governor subject to ratification by the state Senate.

He should continue to push his proposal even as Wisconsin proceeds with public financing of Supreme Court elections. The Legislature recently passeed, and the governor signed, a bill that will give candidates taxpayer money to campaign for seats on the high court.

The law and Gottlieb’s proposed amendment have the same objective—to limit the influence special interests have wielded in recent Supreme Court elections by spending outrageous amounts of money.

Both measures grew out of the disgust that has hung like a toxic cloud over recent Supreme Court elections. Roughly $6 million was spent in both the 2008 and 2007 elections, including about $2 million in each race by the business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in successful efforts to elect Michael Gableman and Annette Ziegler.

The public financing initiative gained impetus in particular from the excesses of the Gableman campaign, the consequences of which remain unresolved 19 months after the election and have impaired the court’s ability to function.

Much of the WMC money was spent on TV ads claiming that Gabelman’s opponent, Justice Louis Butler, used a legal loophole when he served as a public offender to free a sex offender who then committed another crime. The claim was patently false.

Gableman is now the subject of an ethics complaint that will be decided by his fellow Supreme Court justices.

WMC and other big-spending interest groups, in a cynical invocation of the most cherished American constitutional precept, defend their tactics as an exercise in free speech. The truth is, there is nothing free about speech the way they use it, which is to drown out the speech of others by amplifying theirs with prodigious media spending.

The effect is to undermine the perception and probably the reality of the impartiality and independence of jurists who are indebted to the well-heeled groups that helped get them elected.

Under Wisconsin’s new law, Supreme Court candidates in the general election will be able to get up $300,000 in public financing to run their campaigns and up $900,000 if their opponent refuses public financing in order to raise unlimited funds.

The law falls short, however, it its failure to provide for means to counter so-called “issue ads,” a subterfuge interest groups use to influence elections.

Gottlieb’s proposal would render issue ads, along with special interest influence and false advertising, irrelevant in the selection of new Supreme Court members. His amendment would require the governor to appoint a circuit or appellate judge with at least eight years experience to fill Supreme Court vacancies. The appointment would have to be confirmed by a three-fifths majority of the Senate, 20 of 33 members. This super-majority provision would balance the governor’s power and indirectly keep voters involved in Supreme Court selections.

Gottlieb’s proposal is still a work in progress. One provision that deserves a second thought is a requirement that governors could appoint only judges to high court seats. This should be modified in recognition of the fact that Wisconsin has had outstanding justices who were never judges.        The amendment process is laborious, requiring approval by two consecutive Legislatures and then by the voters, so it is a good thing the public financing law is on the books.

In fact, it will still be needed to control election spending even if the constitution is amended in the manner Gottlieb proposes. Under his plan, justices who want to serve a second 10-year term would have to run for election.

In any case, appointment of Supreme Court justices is what Wisconsin needs. It’s the surest way to clear the air over the high court, which currently is fouled by political pollution.

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