By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jun 08, 2007 at 5:24 AM

The American Lung Association doesn’t think the air is easy to breathe in these parts. According to the latest “State of the Air” report, the Milwaukee area has the 17th dirtiest air in the country. It gave Milwaukee County -- as well as Door, Kenosha, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Ozaukee and Kewaunee counties -- a grade of ‘F’.

The Los Angeles area topped the rankings as the worst. The Duluth area was among the cities with the cleanest air. The association says federal clean air regulations need to be tightened. The report comes at the same time Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle says the air here is fine and federal restrictions covering counties along the lake need to be lifted so we can burn dirtier gas in our cars and commerce doesn’t have to be hindered by things like clean air rules.

Bar War of the Week: Former Milwaukee Ald. Fred Gordon made a rare appearance in his old City Hall haunt to represent Olayinka George, who was fighting to save the license for this club, Infinity Lounge, 5318 W. Center St. Gordon isn’t known for hanging out in the best of bars and neighbors of Infinity described a place that has a certain seedy appeal.

“There’s a lot of gun shooting, a lot of drug dealing and a lot of urinating in public going on,” testified one neighbor.

Ald. Michael Murphy, whose district includes the bar, told the committee he’s been trying for years to close the joint. One story of note was a police incident that reported 10 to 12 shots were allegedly fired in the bar and when police arrived, a stream of patrons were seen running out the back door.

George testified that no shots were ever fired and that a bartender called the cops after she was upset at not being served fast enough. The arguments between George and his neighbors escalated to the point that License Committee Chair Jim Witkowiak called one of his now regular “break times.”

The committee recommended the license be suspended for 90 days.

Health Plan a Good Thing: A new independent report prepared for the Wisconsin Health Plan says the plan is a good thing. The proposal to cover many uninsured residents with health insurance would control costs and become almost a universal health care plan for everyone under 65. The bill’s lead sponsor is state Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee)
According to the analysis, the WHP would:

  • Reduce the number of uninsured in our state from a half million people to 17,000 people.
  • Contain health care costs for consumers by stressing prevention and restoring fairness to the health care system. It would save the average middle-class family several hundreds of dollars on their health care costs per year.
  • Increase access to quality, affordable health care to 4 million people in Wisconsin.
  • Reduce costs for insuring Wisconsin businesses by $44 million.
  • Reduce the burden on taxpayers by saving the government and businesses money on health care costs.

The Lewin Report was commissioned by a coalition of business, labor, farm and consumer groups.

Packing Up Jobs at PIC: In the continuing irony that Milwaukee’s lead job training and workforce development agency is having to lay off people while attempting to keep its doors open, a new development could also cause ripple effects of lay-offs for other agencies involved in job training.

Since the Private Industry Council has kept its contractors in the dark as to the future of their work, some agencies, such as Interfaith, have already begun to lay-off the help. PIC itself has notified eight employees they have lost their jobs. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s office is taking over the workforce training effort for the county beginning July 1 and the $14 million in grants and aid that comes with it.

Meanwhile, PIC President Gerard Randall is still knocking on doors attempting to get other sources of funding, an uphill fight indeed. “No foundation is going to give money to a place that just lost its federal funding,” says a source close to the action.

Alderman Resigns … Not McGee: While Milwaukee Ald. Michael McGee cools his heals in the county jail while collecting his pay from the city, a Stevens Point alderman promptly resigned in order to follow the law.

McGee is accused of taking bribes in return for license favors while Stevens Point Ald. Norm Barber was forced to quit his job because state law says local officials are not allowed to own businesses that sell supplies to taverns and other businesses that require local licenses. Barber sells vacuum cleaners. The Stevens Point mayor called the law “the strangest thing I ever heard.”

Counties Getting Counted: State Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (D-Milwaukee) wants to reduce the number of counties in Wisconsin from 72 to 18 and, predictably, the state county association is none too pleased. In a letter worthy of the label “bureaucratese,” Wisconsin Counties Association Executive Director Mark O’Connell told Wasserman that “of course, many ancillary issues are interrelated to these primary issues and thus, we must consider the number and structure of our governing bodies.”

O’Connell, clearly earning his salary with this letter, warned that retiring baby boomers would tax county services and strain the labor supply. He also termed Wasserman’s projection that 18 is a good number of counties “arbitrary.”

“I am deeply concerned that your proposed legislation will hold some popular appeal by offering a means to, from one perspective, be more efficient while failing to recognize the dramatic changes our state will see in the next few years,” says O’Connell.

Protecting Our Private Property Gets a Grade: Wisconsin gets a slightly above average grade when it comes to eminent domain reform in light of a Supreme Court case that allowed governments to seize private property for the economic gain of other private entities. The Institute for Justice ranked all 50 states for reforms and found that the Wisconsin Legislature has passed one bill that would only tighten rules on how governments determine blighted residential properties. That effort got the state a C-plus grade.

The Institute suggests that Wisconsin expand that protection to all property. The states that passed the strongest reforms are Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and the Dakotas. Nine states have done nothing. “Much more work remains if homeowners, small business owners, churches and farmers are to be safe from the unholy alliance of tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers,” warns the report.

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.