By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jun 20, 2008 at 5:18 AM

The idea to privatize Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport refuses to be grounded. The airport actually makes money for the county and isn't in major disrepair or in need of an overhaul, yet some local officials continue to carry the torch for selling it off.

Tiring of such talk is state Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee), who is doing his best to shoot down the plans. After recent reports that privatization backers are still running amok, Carpenter points to Detroit's failed attempt at letting a small cadre of business interests run their airport. Detroit transferred control of two airports in 2002.

"Detroit's new agency now has 46 executives making more than $100,000 per year, and 53 executives who got perks of vehicles or vehicle allowances," notes Carpenter. That's "double the amount from when the Detroit airport was run publicly."

He goes on to say that before privatization, the travel budget for Detroit airport executives was less than $100,000, but last year the new authority spent over $850,000 on travel for executives.

Carpenter says a survey that got 2,100 responses from his district found only 6 percent in favor of a transfer of the airport to control by a non-elected agency.

"Any discussion of changing the structure or finances of Mitchell Airport will have to fly against many questions," he says.

Milwaukee County Board Chair Lee Holloway has flown into the debate as well, albeit in a less headstrong way than Carpenter.

"The proof will be in the details," says Holloway. "The airport uses no property tax dollars in its operation and all revenues generated from passengers and airlines are used to maintain and improve the airport. A private operator, however, would keep profits and could put additional cost burdens on both passengers and airlines. I am also concerned about a plan that does not provide safeguards for property tax payers in the event that privatization would fail."

Expanding Nuisances: Some Milwaukee aldermen like the city's relatively new nuisance property ordinance, where the property residents get assessed the cost of police calls if more than three calls to police emanate from the property in a short period of time. Ald. Bob Donovan wants to expand the scope of the rule to local businesses, as well. He also wants to cover more activities than the original ordinance.

Donovan's plan would define chronic nuisance activity to include violations of possession or use of firearms, underage alcohol activities and adults contributing, allowing or providing alcohol to underage persons. Why gunplay hasn't been included yet is anybody's guess, but we can see that the under-age alcohol ban would definitely affect some teen clubs and many an East Side house party.

Candid Camera Talk: On the heels of a highly publicized arrest credited to a mounted camera, Donovan also wants to require stores and places with liquor licenses to have cameras. It's an idea that's been floated before as a means of forcing taverns to get cameras, but it's never gotten far.

Donovan wants digital cameras in all the stores that would "provide a clear image of the entire premises as described in the Class "B" license as well as the public right-of-way abutting the premises and any off-street parking lot used expressly for patron parking. It also requires on-duty store employees of retail establishments, licensed alcohol beverage establishments and convenience stores to provide a copy of recorded digital security camera images to law enforcement officers immediately upon request," according to the city's Legislative Reference Bureau's analysis of the plan.

Planning to Bail: Fueled by recent editorials and opinion pieces questioning Milwaukee County's presence in and payments to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, three aldermen proposed this week to have the county opt out of the planning body. SEWRPC is made up of representatives from the seven area counties which pay the body to function based on tax base.

Noting that the City of Milwaukee has no representatives on the 21-member commission, Alds. Robert Bauman, Jim Bohl and Nic Kovac call the commission's actions as "taxation without representation."

Their resolution to punt from SEWRPC asserts that Milwaukee County represents over 47 percent of the region's population, but in total has only 14 percent of the votes on the commission and also pays 33 percent of the commission's operating budget. The City of Milwaukee, with 30 percent of the region's population, has no vote.

The lengthy resolution also notes that SEWRPC, with its offices in Pewaukee, employs mainly people from the suburbs and thus has a suburban focus, "giving Milwaukee County and City of Milwaukee residents little ‘bang for the buck' from their SEWRPC contributions."

That point of contention was long an argument from the office of former Mayor John Norquist, who would likely also be quick to point out that there were no minorities working at the commission offices, either.

The three aldermen suggest that Milwaukee County forms its own regional planning commission made up of Milwaukee County, as Dane County has done.

Heartless Employer Update: Residents of Niagara will see their town's jobless rate screech up more exponentially and sooner than they had planned. NewPage paper mill announced earlier this month that it will close the plant along the Menominee River in July. It is by far the city's largest employer.

Now, NewPage announced this week that it will close at the end of this week, violating the state's 90-day "notice to close" law. The company also said it was considering selling the plant, which could offer hope to the community.

Blast From the Past: Stan Gruszynski, who has become something of a perennial candidate since leaving the state Legislature in 1994 after 10 years, will attempt to regain his seat this fall.

Gruszynski, a former Marinette County farmer, has since run for Congress twice and head of the state Democratic Party, too. Gruszynski, 59, is known as one of the state's more progressive and populist-minded pols and has been a regular feature of the "Fighting Bob Fest" held in fall in Sauk County.

He'll run against two-term Republican incumbent Jeffrey Mursau of Crivitz. The 36th Assembly District includes all of Forest, Florence and Menominee counties as well as parts of Shawano, Oconto and Marinette counties. That's an area of the state growing desperate for progressive voices.

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.