By Doug Hissom Special to Published May 04, 2007 at 5:15 AM

Good lawyers lower tax assessments, or so it seems based on actions of late in the courts and Milwaukee's Common Council. This week, a council committee approved substantially lowering the assessment of the posh building owned by the Milwaukee Athletic Club at 758 N. Broadway, and paying the club some $59,773 in refunds. Home of the major domos of the Milwaukee elite, the club claimed it was over-assessed on its $6.75 million building by $2.6 million over the past three years. A court agreed.

This finding comes on the heels of a Walgreens settlement last month, where the city was found liable for a $260,527 property tax refund. And last year, a court ordered the city to refund $19,975 to Wisconsin Paperboard, 1514 E. Thomas St., after finding it over-assessed the recycler's property by some $750,000 over the course of three years.

Getting Behind the AT&T Bill: Since this space of late has seen the so-called "outing" of special interests using front groups with harmless and endearing all-American names, we figured one more shouldn't upset the apple cart. The euphemistically-known "cable competition act" playing out in the Wisconsin Legislature right now wasn't written by AT&T, although it's easy to think that given the extraordinary amounts of perks it hands to the telecommunications monolith. It was actually modeled after legislation proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

ALEC bills itself as the headquarters for "Jeffersonian principles in action," which is code for the fact that it authors model legislation which favors big business interests, dismantles government regulations and consistently promotes privatization. They are also staunchly in favor of states' rights as opposed to federal doctrines -- when it suits their agenda of course. For example, ALEC's education agenda includes more charter schools, expanded voucher school systems; an end to bilingual education; and, no effort to reduce class sizes.

What ALEC does then, is put together "model legislation" to coincide with its agenda and send it to its thousands of members of state legislatures across the country who pay between $5,000 and $50,000 to join. The membership has more than 2,000 state legislators. It also lists six members of the U.S. Senate and 82 members of the House on its membership tab. (Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson was a member of ALEC, echoing the group's stands on education and welfare reform.)

Among the 43 sponsors of the AT&T legislation, some local lawmakers are naturally simpatico with the ALEC agenda, including State Reps. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) and Joel Kleefish (R-Oconomowoc) and state Sens. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) and Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield). But usually moderate liberals such as Milwaukee Democratic state Reps. Josh Zupnik and Chris Sinicki have gotten into bed with these guys as well.

ALEC's involvement shouldn't exclude a look at how much AT&T is putting into its baby. Just before the bill was announced it donated some $54,000 in campaign contributions to key state legislators. It also has 15 lobbyists assigned to the bill.

As we know, the bill before the Legislature would change all sorts of precedents now held by local government: Axing support for local cable access channels; eliminating municipal rights to negotiate individual contracts; eliminating consumer complaints and setting limits on fees to local governments.

The bill lacked incentives for city leaders to get behind it and had Ald. Mike D'Amato wondering what the push was all about. "No one has called me demanding AT&T U-verse service," he mused this week.

Closing the book on open records: Here's one for the civics class. Sen. Herb Kohl's local office says that the senator is not subject to open records request -- a foundation of transparent government. This statement reportedly came after a statewide peace group asked JoAnne Anton, Kohl's state director, if the senator had ever held a public meeting with constituents in Madison. The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice has been pressing for a meeting with Kohl regarding his views on the war (he continues to support spending bills and voted for it), and had taken to occupying his office in Madison on occasion.

The Network's Steve Burns reports that, after asking if Kohl held a meeting in Madison since the start of the war, Anton told him releasing the information "was not something we do." After Burns submitted a formal written request, he says Anton responded that "Congress is not an agency for the purposes of the (Freedom of Information Act)."

Gassed out: Looking for gas after midnight on First Street? Don't bet on the Mobil station at Walker's Point Plaza, 605 S. 1st. Seems its owner, Michael Sanfelippo, is going to spend the rest of his time in Florida and asked his brother Joseph to take over as head agent. But Joe Sanfelippo forgot to apply on time for a late-night permit allowing the gas station and convenience store to be open from midnight to 5 a.m. Hence, the station should be closed after midnight from April 30 to May 8, when the Common Council votes to approve the permit. The closure could wreak some temporary havoc for the station, since cab drivers for American United and Veterans, which are owned as well by Sanfelippo, are required to gas up at the company store -- the Mobil station.

Committee members told Joe Sanfelippo there were no exceptions.

Massacre remembered: The annual commemoration of those killed in the Bay View Mills massacre is scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday on the corner off Superior and Russell streets on the site of a historical marker remembering the event.

On May 5, 1886 the state militia fired upon several thousand workers marching for the eight-hour day and killed seven. It was the deadliest labor event in state history. The march was part of demonstrations nationwide for the eight-hour work day. About 1,500 workers were demonstrating at Rolling Mills, a steel plant in Bay View and the city's largest employer, when the militia fired on the crowd. This year will include a special recognition of former Mayor Frank Zeidler, who died in July at age 93. Zeidler had been a regular participant in the commemoration event which has been held annually since 1986.

Milwaukee historian John Gurda will be the main speaker and will reflect upon the significance of the 1886 event. Also speaking will be Stephen Hauser, author, historian and friend of the Zeidler family. Folk singer Larry Penn will offer songs commemorating the tragedy and other labor struggles. Sheila Cochran, chief operating officer and secretary-treasurer of the Milwaukee County Labor Council, will be master of ceremonies. The event is co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Labor History Society and is planned with members of the Bay View Historical Society.

Following the event, there will be a reception at Club Garibaldi, 2501 S. Superior St.

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.