By Doug Hissom Special to Published Sep 24, 2008 at 2:15 PM

The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

If city officials expect bus stops and pedestrian ramps to be cleared within 24 hours of a snowfall, the Department of Public Works recommends hiring more private contractors to handle the job.

After heavy snow last winter, aldermen asked why crosswalks and bus stops were obstructed for weeks. After reminding aldermen several times in its report that city rules require adjacent property owners to shovel pedestrian ramps, the DPW came up with several recommendations.

The city spends about $105,000 for clearing just half the ramps and bus stops after each storm. Current policy is that the plows go out all over the city only if the storm dumps four to six inches of fresh snow. The DPW's goal is to have snow clearing done with two to three days of the event.

The report offers six options to aldermen:

  • Shoveling by hiring private sector workers within 24 hours at a total cost of about $450,000 a storm.
  • Hire private plow operators to do it with some help from the city within 24 hours at about $450,000 a storm.
  • Hire plowers to help the city clear the snow within 24 hours and also require adjacent property owners to shovel their pedestrian ramps, which is the rule now. That would cost $450,000 per operation.
  • Extend bus stop clearing efforts to all bus stop locations by a private contractor within 24 hours at a total continuing cost of about $30,000 a storm.
  • Enforce and expand current city rules that adjacent property owners are responsible for shoveling pedestrian ramps to cover more ramps. The cost for current city clearing operations at corners can be eliminated.
  • Just cracking down on enforcing current sidewalk snow clearing ordinances would cost about $60,000, but there would be no guarantee that shoveling would be done within 24 hours.

DPW suggested raising the snow and ice fee to cover the additional cost. The fee rose from $2.4 million in 2007 to $4.3 million in the 2008 budget and jumped by $1.6 million earlier this month.

DPW's report came out just before Mayor Tom Barrett was to announce his budget.

Chalkboard Challenges: The daily newspaper might have gotten too excited when the School Board discussed what to do about its dwindling budget.

After all, the paper's editorial board has expressed strong support for the voucher program, which provides tax dollars for students from low-income families to attend private and religious schools, some of which have tenuous credentials.

The paper's reports last week that members of the board approved dissolving the Milwaukee Public Schools district were not correct at all, says School Board President Peter Blewett.

He said it was "erroneously reported." His take? It was a discussion, that's all. He said state law doesn't allow MPS to dissolve.

"In an attempt to bring attention to MPS' significant financial stress due to the state of Wisconsin's broken school finance formula, a question was raised regarding the state's obligations to Milwaukee's students, including a discussion of what obligations would remain and who would be financially responsible should the district be dissolved," he states in a release.

Since then, one board member has offered a more frugal spending plan which would end busing, cut staff and essentially freeze or cut most programs. A city alderman suggested this week that the city take over the school district altogether. The city already does some services for MPS, including legal issues and bonding.

Speaking of voucher schools, the state's most vociferous advocate for the program, School Choice Wisconsin, is refuting a recent Legislative Audit Bureau report that shows the schools in the program aren't exactly pounding out Mensa candidates and, in fact, are academically about the same as MPS schools.

School Choice Wisconsin objects to the testing methods. Instead of school-by-school test results-which would obviously help parents figure out the bad schools from the good schools-School Choice wants the state to measure individual student progress. A nebulous figure indeed.

"This report would use a common basis for reporting test scores at schools in the MPCP, the Milwaukee Public Schools, and at independent charter schools," states Susan Mitchell, executive director of the group.

And they want more publicity for their cause. "We also favor an aggressive information campaign to inform parents about their options," she says.

Strange Tale from the Trail: One of the more twisted turns on the political landscape this season is one man's attempt to raise money for Bristol Palin to get an abortion. Comedian and former "Man Show" host Doug Stanhope has started the site,, offering the young Palin -- who is 17, pregnant and the daughter of GOP Veep candidate Sarah Palin -- $50,000 to have an abortion.

"Never in history has a woman been under more pressure to keep an unwanted pregnancy than Bristol Palin," writes Stanhope. "Rather than sit back and impotently bemoan Bristol's tragic, lonely circumstance, it is time for us -- the silent majority -- to unite behind this poor, imprisoned woman and save her from both a tyrannical household as well as the horrible nightmare of a forced childbirth."

But wait, there's more. "I was once in a similar situation where I'd accidentally impregnated a girl and she had to make that same fateful decision that now faces (Palin). It was easy for her -- she didn't have a fascist, oligarch parent, the entire Republican Party or the sneering eyes of the Christian Right to contend with, much less a daft, puppet boyfriend who's just waiting for the cameras to stop rolling so he can bolt like a gazelle."

Stanhope initially encouraged visitors to his Web site to send in donations, but in order to not look like he was going to pocket the money, he urges donations be sent to the Lilith Fund, an agency in Texas that provides low-income women money for abortions.

Comedian Bill Maher has also joined the cause, offering a Web site,, after Levi Johnston, Sarah Palin's boyfriend, whom the National Enquirer describes as "a boozing pot-smoker who doesn't want to get married."

Calling him "America's No. 1 political prisoner," Maher is offering Johnston the Web site to raise money for Johnson's future.

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.