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Saukville gets it on public worker pay PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 28 October 2009 15:32

The village’s wage-freeze agreement with municipal worker unions is a model of public-spirited cooperation in hard times

Saukville taxpayers have good reason to be pleased by the honest and enlightened manner with which their village government and the unions representing many of the people it employs on their behalf fashioned labor contracts for the coming year.
In fact, everyone should be buoyed by the spirit of cooperation that was displayed. Call it a tonic for hard times.

Two unions, AFSCME, representing public works employees, and the Labor Association of Wisconsin, representing police officers, agreed to forego any pay increases in 2010.

This is not unheard of, and is getting less unusual by the day as the Great Recession lingers on, but the way agreement was reached was quite remarkable. Absent was any of the posturing and calculated give and take so often seen on the part of both sides in labor negotiations.

Instead, cards were laid on the table. The village shared financial information and offered to absorb an increase in health insurance costs. Union representatives said they were open to a wage freeze through 2010. The Village Board then unanimously approved two one-year no-pay-increase contracts.

Referring to the unions, Village President Barb Dickmann said, “They came forward and said they understand what we are going through.”

In other words, in Saukville, they—the municipal government as the employer and the unions representing municipal workers—are getting it.

At a time when roughly 10% of people who want to work can’t find jobs, when one in 10 village taxpayers might well be unemployed, when other taxpaying families have to get by with diminished jobs or pay cuts, pay increases for the public employees whose salaries they pay would be not only irresponsible in an economic sense, but an affront to citizens whose financial circumstances are difficult.

Similar issues did not end so well in Port Washington earlier this year. Non-union city employees were granted raises in spite of an opportunity to defer them until the city’s challenging budgetary situation improved.

Mayor Scott Huebner made a well reasoned argument against the raises and the vetoed them when they were approved by the Common Council. Undaunted, aldermen reconstituted and approved the raises in another form, calling them merit raises instead of cost-of-living raises, and the mayor signed the resolutions granting the increased pay.

Port Washington taxpayers should demand better from both their elected officials and non-union and union municipal employees when pay contracts are next on the table.

None of this is about the quality of the work of city and village employees. That’s not in question—these are hard-working folks who keep our municipalities running. The truth is, they deserve raises. But not now, not when the people who pay their salaries aren’t getting raises—when some of them aren’t even getting paychecks.

 
Danger: distracted drivers PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 14 October 2009 15:28

Some distractions that cause highway accidents can’t be restricted; others, like texting, should be banned by laws as stringent as those on drunken driving

The crash on I-43 between Port Washington and Belgium last week that killed two people and injured three others, including one from Ozaukee County who is still hospitalized with grievous injuries, is a horrific example of the menace of distracted drivers. The Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department says that the driver of the semi that caused the three-vehicle crash took his eyes off the road to reach for a bag of snack food.

Federal and state lawmakers should take note. No, we’re not suggesting laws should be passed to prohibit snacking by drivers. But there are other distractions that should be outlawed, including sending text messages and operating computers and similar devices while driving. Restrictions on cell phone use are also needed.

Federal legislation to prohibit texting by drivers is in the works, as is a similar bill in the Wisconsin Legislature. These efforts need to pick up speed.

That’s not as easy as it should be because lobbies for the most dangerous vehicles on the road, semi-trailer trucks like the one involved in the I-43 crash, are one of the impediments to getting texting bans passed.

Many of these trucks are fitted with computers to give directions and keep drivers in contact with dispatchers. According to an investigation by the New York Times, drivers routinely use the computers to send and receive messages while driving. Just like automobile drivers who thumb messages on their BlackBerrys while underway, they take their eyes off the road to do it.

The Times story reported that while the truck computers usually display an advisory that they are not meant for use while underway they also have a “proceed” button that is well used. A semi driver composing messages on his keyboard while his 60,000 to 80,000-pound rig speeds down the highway is truly a scary thought.

The truck lobby is seeking to have truck computers exempted from any texting ban.

Large trucks are dangerous enough with alert drivers. As much as 25 times heavier than the average car, they represent about 3% of the vehicles on the roads, but account for about 15% of the fatal accidents, more than 5,000 fatalities per year.

The question of whether texting while driving is dangerous has been fully answered. Numerous tests have shown texting drivers to be too distracted to safely operate a vehicle. Several tests have compared driving while texting to driving while drunk and found that the drunken drivers drove better than the texting drivers.

What’s needed to limit these electronic distractions is some of the zeal now evident in Wisconsin in moving to criminalize drunken driving, with in some cases prison-sentence consequences.

Driving while operating a device to send text messages is every bit as irresponsible as driving while impaired by alcohol and should be every bit as criminal.
  
Although using cell phones while driving is acquiring the veneer of an acceptable behavior because so many people do it—and because of its undeniable appeal as one way to do something useful with the hours spent behind the wheel—it too has been shown to be a significant highway risk factor.

 No one should need a scientific study to know that. Just watch for the vehicle that can’t keep a steady speed or stay between lane lines—odds are the driver is having a cell phone conversation.

A bill in the Wisconsin Legislature would ban cell phone use for drivers 18 and under. That would make a good law in its own right and might pave the way for other needed restrictions on cell phone driving. Many states have them. Wisconsin so far has none.

Capt. Dave Guss of the Sheriff’s Department said the driver of the semi in the crash here “looked down and when he looked up he realized he was rapidly closing on another northbound driver who was slowing.” A couple of seconds with eyes off the road was all it took.

In this case, tragedy was the result of reaching for a snack. Nothing can be done about that—you can’t legislate good sense. But lawmakers can and should deal with other causes of driver distractions.
 
NOAA and UWM—on the waterfront? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 16 September 2009 22:26

Two exciting initiatives involving the Lake Michigan shore offer Port Washington a chance to make proper use of its beautifully placed coal dock land

It’s too soon to say how good Port Washington’s chances of becoming the home of a joint federal-state marine sanctuary are, but the mere possibility of it happening has already paid a dividend in an improved vision of the future of the lakefront.

 City leaders have suggested the lakeshore land that was once used to store coal for the power plant and will soon come under city control be the site for the headquarters of the project planned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Wisconsin Historical Society.

Call this progress. Earlier this year a years-long community exercise to determine a use for the site ended at about the point where it began—with a disappointing recommendation that it be used for a community center. This splendid piece of land jutting into Lake Michigan at the south edge of the harbor is not a place for an all-purpose building, but rather a place for a building with a purpose related to its setting.

The NOAA headquarters, should it blossom, as is said to be possible, into a maritime heritage center with exhibits, an auditorium, marine artifacts and other features to inform the public about Lake Michigan shipwrecks and their role in marine history, would be such a building.

And so would the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s water research center, for which the coal dock land is also a potential location.

All of this is in an early stage, but the possibilities are exciting to contemplate.

 Every port city with shoreline within the boundaries of the proposed marine sanctuary along the west shore of the lake is in the running for the NOAA headquarters. Two Rivers, Manitowoc and Sheboygan have assets to tout, but none can match what Port Washington has to offer, because it is unique to Port Washington, including:

A harbor and marina in the heart of the city, emblematic of a community whose past, present and future are entwined with Lake Michigan.

Proximity
to many of the shipwrecks to be protected by the sanctuary and an abiding respect for the seafaring history they represent, exemplified by the lakefront display devoted to the sunken passenger ship Niagara and the fishermen’s memorial citing the sinking of the Linda E., the preservation of the 1860 Light Station, the annual Maritime Heritage Festival featuring recreations of tall ships similar to the shipwrecks and ongoing exploration of the wrecks facilitated by a dive charter service located here.

Location in southeastern Wisconsin near the population centers to which NOAA and the Historical Society would want to appeal to broaden public awareness of the lake’s historical treasures.

First-rate harbor facilities
for docking vessels used in the sanctuary operation.

The coal dock site.

It adds up to a strong case that Port Washington is the right place for the sanctuary headquarters.

As for the water research center, UWM officials and supporters of the project were keen on putting the facility on a Milwaukee waterfront location between the Art Museum’s Calatrava building and Discovery World until the site proved to be controversial. But the belief seems to persist that an institution devoted to the study and protection of freshwater resources should be showcased on the shore of one of the great freshwater bodies on earth. That could happen here.

Perhaps it could happen in concert with the NOAA headquarters, with both in a stunning building on the Port Washington lakefront.

Now there’s a vision.

 
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