By Doug Hissom Special to Published Feb 13, 2008 at 5:05 AM

In 2003, the City of Milwaukee turned over a small parcel of green space at the corner of Prospect and Kilbourn Avenues to aid in the construction of Kilbourn Tower. Many neighbors showed up to protest the move by the city, which stood to pocket $950,000 for the so-called "pocket park."

Lawsuits were researched and threatened. The tower also got to close a portion of Kilbourn Avenue for a few years as part of the deal, pretty much driving neighbors in an adjoining apartment building to flee.

Then, the owners of Kilbourn Tower -- including agent Joel Lee, who is now part of the controversial Downer Avenue rehabilitation -- protested paying the city since they claimed the city somehow reneged on its end of the deal by allowing the University Club to build a more high-end, upscale condo tower next to the Kilbourn Tower.

Indeed, the University Club Tower just to the south is nearly fully sold with a celebrity tenant list while the Kilbourn Tower sits like a bridesmaid at the alter.

A settlement that forces Kilbourn Tower to pay the city the $950,000 appears nearly complete. In return, the city will give back some $100,000 in performance bonds the tower took out on the project.

Road Weary: A Milwaukee Common Council committee meets this week to consider a three-year plan of improvements offered by the city's Port. Aldermen may want to double-check how much the Port wants to spend on road repairs.

The Port has to regularly fill out a three-year plan in order to qualify for federal grants to help pay for the improvements. Under its $14.7 million plan, only $200,000 is set to be spent on "terminal paving rehabilitation and related work" and $1.5 million is set to be spent on Carferry and Harbor Drive rail, road and drainage reconstruction.

A recent drive around Jones Island revealed that the pounding of the continuous convoy of salt trucks has created conditions akin to the aftermath of carpet-bombing.

Some of the potholes found could easily swallow the rims and tires of compact cars and lower areas have been turned into small lakes. Bicycling -- once a pleasant experience on low-traffic summer days -- appears to be a growing hazard as the salt season continues. A major part of the plan, however, is $2.8 million for a demonstration ballast water collection and onshore water treatment program.

Rack and Roll: It wasn't exactly a matter of visionary behavior by members of the County Board. It was more like dragging the alcoholic in for intervention. The board voted last week to ask for federal grants to pay for bike racks on county buses.

The board was told that the county could then avoid any penalties from an asbestos lawsuit started after demolition workers released the carcinogenic stuff into the air while tearing down Courthouse Annex. It's called a Carbon Offset payment.

The cost of installing the racks would be about $650,000, with $520,000 coming from federal grants and the rest from taxpayers and private donations. Training and rider education programs would bring the total cost to $790,000.

"This amount includes one new mechanic position (including benefits, social security, etc.); the cost for vehicle damage repair; and revenues lost due to the removal of marketing panels from the front of buses. If that level of maintenance support proves to be insufficient, an additional maintenance position would be added in the 2010 budget," states a memo from the county Public Works Department.

The County Transit System has long been dragging its feet to get on board with the idea of bike racks on buses. Racine recently announced its plan for them and Madison has had them for some time, calling its feature, the "rack and roll" program.

Achtung Baby: This one comes under the "piling on" rule of lawmaking. A bill introduced in the Assembly would add a $500 fine to any person who does not give an officer their name "when the officer reasonably suspects (the person is) committing, is about to commit or has committed a crime."

Failure to reveal one's name is considered obstructing an officer. Rep. Sheryl Albers (R-Reedsburg), a member of the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee, correctly pointed out at a recent hearing that there is no provision if the person stopped doesn't speak English.

Area bill sponsors include state Rep. Suzanne Jeskewitz (R-Menomonee Falls) and state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin).

Common Sense Alert: In an e-mail to the Department of Public Works, Ald. Bob Bauman asked the following questions: "Is the declaration of a snow emergency communicated via the e-notify system? Can such a declaration be communicated to all citizen e-mail addresses in our e-notify database, even if the recipient has not signed-up for a specific category of notifications? Can we interface with large networks such as Marquette, MSOE and UWM -- a lot of the cars towed were students -- in order to broadly disseminate such notifications?"

A Wednesday meeting may reveal some answers.

Timing is Everything: It never hurts a candidate to lead in fundraising after the first deadline for reporting campaign finances.

It gives the candidate some traction and an air of legitimacy. Hence the strong report filed by East Side aldermanic hopeful Pat Flaherty. As of the Dec. 31 report, he raised $18,179, including a $1,000 donation to his own campaign. Nik Kovac reported the second-largest war chest, with $12,521. Two other camps declared around $5,000. Flaherty had a good turnout at his birthday fundraiser.

Although Sam McGovern-Rowen, current aide to the retiring Ald. Mike D'Amato, reported a mere $3,636, keep in mind it's also been a tradition of veteran pols to hold off on reporting all their contributors early since the money -- and who gave it -- ultimately doesn't have to show up on the next report, a week before the general election.

That could be the strategy at the McGovern-Rowen headquarters.

It could be scheduling, but nonetheless it's a noted coincidence that a major fundraiser for McGovern-Rowen, featuring former U.S. Sen. George McGovern, was set for Feb. 12 -- one day after the deadline for the second campaign finance report is due.

Given McGovern-Rowen's list of high-profile backers, it shouldn't be hard for him to raise some cash. The list includes developers like Mike Mervis, head of the city's major domo development company of Towne Realty; ex-city and state officials such as former Housing Agency chief Ricardo Diaz and current Workforce Development Secretary Roberta Gassman; prominent lobbyists like Moira Fitzgerald; and a number of attorneys and business owners.

The next campaign finance report is set for March 24, one week before the general election April 1. And the last week of March can also be a busy time for fundraising, since those receipts don't have to be reported until July 21. In 2004, spending upwards of $50,000 wasn't unheard in an aldermanic race. And given the prize in this one, it shouldn't be out of the question this time, either.

Efficient Use of Time: State Rep. Pedro Colon (D-Milwaukee) spends relatively few days in Madison each year, but says it's not because he is concentrating on a run for city attorney. Colon says his time in Madison is about average for someone with his tenure in the legislature. Last week, we reported that Colon ranked near the bottom of the list of area lawmakers declaring their days of work physically in Madison.

When they show up in Madison, lawmakers get to collect $88 a day. Colon spent 54 days in Madison, while Sheldon Wasserman, currently running for state Senate, was in Madison on 42 days, lowest on the list among local legislators. In contrast, state Rep. Leon Young (D-Milwaukee) topped the list of lawmakers, declaring he was in Madison enough to put $13,464 extra his bank account during 2007.

"I know more if I stay close to home," Colon says of his strategy of representing the South Side. Besides, he says, he gets enough of Madison while serving on the Joint Finance Committee during budget season.

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.