By Doug Hissom Special to Published Aug 13, 2010 at 4:09 PM

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Milwaukee Ald. Bob Bauman's whistle-blowing got the city $341,461 this week.

The state agreed to pay back taxes on behalf the private operator of the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, which hadn't paid the city a dime since it took over the building operation in 2007. It owed property taxes for 2008 and 2009.

Bauman was the first city official to seriously probe questions about the station operator and why it's not paying taxes. He raised the issue recently urging the city to take the operators to foreclosure court.

Even though the building was built with public money, the private contractor running the facility has to pay property taxes.

The city even gave operators a break, cutting the property assessment some $3 million. It was no secret that property taxes had to be paid.

So just two days before the city was ready to foreclose on the station, the state government came to the private contractor's rescue and paid the bill. The state will try to get paid back from the operator. Protestations from the operators were ringing hollow with city officials, since the city had cut the assessment it gave the operators and the operators had not cooperated with the city's collection agency regarding the overdue taxes.

Labor strife erupting: Some strange union complaints were on the docket this week. One decision temporarily gives 10 firefighters in West Allis with several years on the force the right to smoke at the station, contrary to a decision by Stallis city officials to make the firefighters go outside and down the driveway.

Another is that the Milwaukee teachers' union is filing a civil suit to get insurance coverage of Viagra for some its male employees.

Besides causing a clamor among those who think public employees have Cadillac insurance plans, the Viagra decision has a high price-tag in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The union is saying that the Viagra exclusion amounts to sex discrimination since female sexual medicines are covered. Teachers were covered for two years-2002-2004-and 1,002 had asked for coverage. A district analysis says that the Viagra would cost it $786,000 a year.

Meanwhile, teachers, or those hundreds that recently lost their jobs in Milwaukee, also received some good news. The Milwaukee Public Schools system is allowing more than 500 substitute teachers to apply again for the next school year. Subs were stopped from getting work with MPS while the schools tried to sort out its budget mess.

MPS kicked off the summer by announcing that 482 full-time teachers had to turn in their chalk and to not expect MPS jobs in the fall. It since recalled 89.

In the sub layoffs, 329 were sent layoff notices this year and 239 were told they have no chance of work in 2010-'11. MPS reversed that decision this week.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, he of gubernatorial aspirations, asked the union to drop the suit, saying he was "surprised and disappointed" to learn of the Viagra fight.

State teaching officials hope that the unleashing by the federal government of $26 billion in education funding can help take care of more layoffs. The feds predict 300,000 teaching jobs would be saved or created with the money, although Madison folks remain cautious on what Wisconsin will get.

Rhino world: The Milwaukee Police Department deployed a new toy this week to take on crime with the catchy name "Rhino." The vehicle is a former armored delivery vehicle jacked up with high tech surveillance equipment, armor plating, and other eyes and ears gadgets for the cops.

The plan for the truck is modeled after other cities looking at cost-effective surveillance and crime-stopping measures stumbled on the idea. Garda, a local armored carrier firm, donated the truck to the city as it has to other cities.

"The truck can be parked outside suspected drug houses, gang houses and nuisance properties while officers and the Community Prosecution Unit watch remotely from another location -- that will certainly throw criminals off their game and make them nervous," said Ald. Bob Donovan, who is making a serious play for the beast to be put in his district.

Other cities have not used the vehicles for serious surveillance, but rather as symbols of police presence to deter crime in high-crime areas. The mere presence of the vehicle deters crime because the crooks are afraid of being caught, goes the philosophy on that.

Besides Garda, the Betty Brinn Foundation, Miller Compressing, Inc. and Badger Mutual Insurance Co. chipped in for the effort. The owner of Maaco on S. 13th and W. Howard donated the black and white paint job.

Youth uprising: Hordes of Milwaukee youth will return to the classroom in the coming weeks and city officials hope at least 15 of them want to pretend to play politicians for the year as well.

The long defunct Milwaukee Youth Council is being resurrected this fall afer a total lack of interest from young people in the city put the project on hold for a few years after a one-year run.

Teens 14-18 can apply to their aldermen's office to sit on the council, which mimics what our city fathers do for a living: go to meetings; vote on issues and come up with big city solutions to big city problems. No tax raising is allowed, however. Deadline to apply is Sept. 10. Aldermen were supposed to have sent out notices this week about the council.

The Youth Council has been dormant while city officials tried to come up with a way to get teens interested in the project. For example, the idea that one representative from each aldermanic district had to be nominated by an alderman to sit on the council has been shelved and the application process is supposed to have been made easier.

Strong arm on smoking: The City of Appleton stands alone among major Wisconsin cities in enforcing the new smoking ban. Bar owners in that city will have points assessed against their liquor license if their customers are found violating the smoking ban. That rule goes directly against the state law, which mandated that owners cannot have their license challenged because of a smoking violation. Appleton has a points system for tavern violations and smoking has been one of the penalties since the city's ban started in 2005. City officials insist a stricter ordinance than the state mandates will hold up under challenge.

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.