By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jun 22, 2007 at 5:15 AM

The week before the National Veterans Wheelchair Games came to town, the Milwaukee convention bureau, known as Visit Milwaukee, sent out window decals, stickers and table top tents to Downtown businesses -- read bars and restaurants -- to put in their windows in order to welcome the gamers.

Never mind that in the case of Water Street, getting a wheelchair in the bathroom is a near impossibility even if you could wheel up a few stairs and belly up to the bar for a beverage. Nonetheless, the airs were put out that this is a wheelchair-friendly town. (We wonder why the little peoples’ convention last summer didn’t get such a reception.)

Lost in all the open-armed gestures, however, was that Visit Milwaukee should have reminded hoteliers -- such as the Hilton -- that they should check their rooms for wheelchair usability before charging the normal convention rates. Seems the older parts of the Hilton do not accommodate folks in wheelchairs.

Doors to bathrooms had to be removed just to allow guests limited access and in some cases, guests actually got trapped in the bathroom and had to call for help to get out. (Bet that wasn’t included in the itinerary of contests.) And this was only after the first night of the four-day affair.

It’s great having such a gathering here but then it turns out like those scooters they have at grocery stores to make it easier for folks who can’t walk well to roll around and do the shopping, but then everything on the shelves is placed just out of reach from the scooter. 

Sleep out Canceled: When Milwaukee’s new state park, the imaginatively-named Lakeshore State Park, was sold to park lovers in these parts, the promise was that camping was going to be offered. Never mind that it seemed camping on an island off the coast of Summerfest could create untenable situations such as a haven for the homeless and other aficionados of the urban lifestyle.

Now that the ribbon has been cut, the issue of camping has been lost behind such amenities as a stainless steel bridge, boat slips for yachts and a pebble beach for kayaks. And let’s not forget the promised shower house for said boaters (coming in 2008 -- maybe).

More than $6 million was spent after the rock was dumped from the Deep Tunnel and it still looks like a landscaped launching pad for fireworks.

Gov. Doyle, on the other hand, sounded as if he needs to get out to the woods more often when he dedicated the park this week. “The addition of this state park provides yet another reason to visit Milwaukee and will greatly benefit Milwaukee residents who no longer have to drive outside the city to experience Wisconsin’s natural beauty -- instead, it’s right here in their backyard.” Yep, 17 acres of limestone covered by a foot of dirt is a sure tourist attraction. So far, it looks to be a big dog park.

QT on OT: In this week’s “timing is everything” category, we honor the Milwaukee Common Council, which seems to have no problem ponying up for additional police overtime with relatively little inquisitiveness these days. The day after the Council gave the OK for another $2 million in police OT spending for this year, the city comptroller’s office released an audit showing that Milwaukee is spending way too much on police overtime compared its peer cities.

Gone, it appears, are the days when contentious Police Chief Art Jones had to literally thumb his nose at Council budgetary oversight and do the OT his way, saying the city had to pay up for police spending since he was in charge and they had to foot the bill. Grumbling aldermen knew he was right.

Now, a more congenial Chief Hegarty seems to get her way without question, showing that a little civility goes a long way for police pay. It probably helps that she doesn’t wear a sidearm to council meetings like Jones did. One particularly interesting audit note was that it cost the city some $441,000 in 2005 in overtime costs for the police department to pay for officers to cover for those already taking comp time because of overtime.

One Vote Makes the Difference: Give credit to Milwaukee’s favorite headline-grabbing alderman Tony Zielinski for perfect timing. Last year his idea for a so-called anti-gang loitering law came on the heels of some high-profile crimes that had his Bay View constituents up in arms. Never mind that it was ruled unconstitutional in cities like Chicago and actually will do nothing more than roust young people with little to do but hang out. But it failed by one important vote.

This year, however, he tried again, and that one important vote happened to be missing. Ald. Mike McGee sat in jail while the council approved 8-6 an even broader ordinance that targets young people who choose to gather together. Last Mayor Tom Barrett promised to veto the measure and is being urged again to do so by Common Council President Willie Hines.

“If any individual -- gang member or not -- is not committing a crime, then he or she should be left alone. I do not write this exhortation because I endorse the criminal behavior of gang members. ... I am against this resolution because people should be punished for illegal activities, not for who they are or who we imagine them to be,” Hines wrote the mayor.

New Name, Old Paint: North Meadows -- that once-classy development on Milwaukee’s Northwest Side that later earned the moniker “North Ghettos” after crime and bad elements took over -- was envisioned as affordable condo dwellings for the low and middle class. And according to city fathers, it was making a comeback after the city spent more than $1 million buying up units, kicking out the drug dealers and renaming it The Woodlands.

In the early 1970s the 576 units of North Meadows initially turned out to be exploited by income property owners who bought the condos cheap and then rented to folks who turned the neighborhood into a boarded up wasteland of drug houses and juvenile delinquents. More than one story can be told of units being set afire just for the fun of it.

And North Meadows’ economic impact on the area surrounding it -- from 91st through 95th along Brown Deer Road -- was, to say the least, exactly opposite of what city officials intended in 1973 when the plan for a suburban-style neighborhood layout of multi-unit buildings was approved.

Car dealerships, which once lined Brown Deer Road, found they could no longer keep their vehicles on outside lots due to vandalism and theft. Neighboring developments -- one in particular with a swimming pool -- seriously considered closing the pool after several wilding-type events drove the residents from the water and resulted in a road sign through their windows.

But its rebirth was heralded for years after the city took over the condo association in 1999 and changed the rules so renting would be limited. Well that plan hasn’t necessarily been a thriving success for businesses along Brown Deer Road. The promise for a future Northridge was heralded with a rejuvenated North Meadows. Didn’t happen.

Another example can be seen on an upcoming City Plan Commission agenda where a retail developer has asked for a variance so that a business of some importance can remain operating next to the project. The business is an adult novelty store.

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.