By Doug Hissom Special to Published Sep 19, 2008 at 2:38 PM

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The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is getting closer scrutiny these days.

A pair of organizations filed a federal complaint against the agency, which has been criticized for the largely white makeup of its staff and its suburban locale.

The NAACP and the ACLU filed a complaint with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance of the U.S. Department of Labor. According to the ACLU, the complaint came about after SEWRPC said it would not do an outside search for a new director and assistant director.

"Federal law says SEWRPC has to comply with affirmative action in hiring and promotion," stated ACLU Cooperating Counsel Rebecca Salawdeh. "Instead, it chooses to promote from within -- a serious problem since SEWRPC has almost no persons of color on its professional staff."

ACLU attorney Karyn Rotker also took a swipe at the commission's Pewaukee office location.

"The problem is compounded by SEWRPC's decision to locate its offices in a part of Waukesha County not even accessible by transit, and isolated from communities of color," added Rotker. "SEWRPC knows these are problems, but it has not made adequate efforts to resolve them."

Among other remedies, the complaint seeks to require SEWRPC to staff an office in the city of Milwaukee.

In reviewing SEWRPC materials, the complainants found violations of other affirmative action requirements and are also seeking review of those concerns.

SEWRPC is funded by tax dollars from the seven-county area. Its main task is to help communities make planning decisions for transportation, sewage, parks and open spaces, among other work.

Conspiracy Theory at Work: Kevin Barrett is certainly getting the word out during his campaign that he thinks the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were an inside job aided by the Bush administration.

Barrett, who is running for Congress in western Wisconsin, first outraged conservative talk-show types by talking about his ideas in the classrooms of UW-Madison.

Now, he's got a poll that shows at least few others believe him.

He commissioned a poll that found 22 percent of the people living in households with two registered voters in the Third Congressional District think Sept, 11 might have been an inside job.

Barrett is running as a Libertarian; 22 percent of registered voters in the district represents about 64,000 voters.

Barrett reports that the poll also found 47 percent think that the Bush administration might be telling lies about what happened Sept. 11, and 24 percent think the Bush administration may have known about the attacks in advance and let them happen on purpose.

No Text Time on the Train: We're glad to see state Sen. Alan Lasee is taking on the tough issues. The Republican from DePere is known more for seeking the death penalty in Wisconsin than anything else.

Now he's proposing that the state ban text messaging while driving ... trains.

He's already proposed to ban texting for those driving cars and buses. But now he wants to add train engineers to his ban as well, after hearing about a train wreck in California. News reports of the incident suggested the operator may have been texting before the accident.

"The latest numbers on this devastating collision (say it) claimed the lives of 26 people and injured 137. Had this train engineer kept his eyes on the track instead of his phone, this tragic event may not have occurred," stated Lasee.

Business Boosters: Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's big-business lobby, has released its scorecard of legislators on how well they carried water for the group. The WMC gave 32 lawmakers a 100 percent pro-jobs rating. No Democrats made the list.

Local legislators getting the A-plus grade included: State Senators Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield) and Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), as well as state Reps. Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin), Suzanne Jeskewitz (R-Menomonee Falls), Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) and Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa).

Bringing up the rear were Milwaukee Democratic state Reps. Polly Williams, Leon Young and Fred Kessler, who received a 5 percent approval rating.

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.