By Doug Hissom Special to Published Oct 16, 2009 at 5:09 AM

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A discussion about guns proved to be a blazing topic earlier this week at a special meeting by the Milwaukee Common Council's Public Safety Committee. And sure, there was plenty of room for grandstanding and collective hand-wringing.

Ald. Bob Donovan set the pace before the meeting saying, "There simply is no excuse for the gun violence in our communities and residents will no longer stand for it. It is high time we take serious action."

Serious action, indeed.

The Milwaukee Police Department showed up with its Power Point presentation suggesting some serious action. Too bad it all hinges on one thing -- changing state laws.

One hurdle preventing Milwaukee from getting tougher on handgun violence is a state law that was pushed through by the National Rifle Association and other gun lobbyists that prevents local governments from enacting stiffer gun laws than the ones currently on state books.

MPD officials suggest state law be changed so that:

  • Getting busted a second time for carrying a concealed weapon is a felony.
  • Taking part in what's called "straw purchasing," in which one person buys a gun for another that's ineligible to buy a gun, is a felony.
  • There are new penalties for not reporting a lost or stolen gun.
  • Mandatory minimum sentences are imposed for those violating gun laws.
  • Sales taxes on gun and ammunition would double, with half of the revenue designated for "prevention of gun violence."
  • Laws would regulate the distance a felon can be from a gun store and a gun show.

Sick of BID: Not everyone is thrilled with Ald. Tony Zielinski's effort to create a Business Improvement District along Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View. The street's business community has never been keen on the idea and the current hodgepodge of storefronts and taverns lends the street a run-down feel.

A Business Improvement District would pool funds from businesses to spruce up streetscapes and other amenities on the street.

At the Joyce Parker Productions building, the familiar scrolling lighted sign in front of the building urges businesses to "show your irritation" with Zielinski's idea, which it is argued is essentially another tax on businesses.

Klan Chaos: Calling a political opponent a member of the Ku Klux Klan seems to be off limits these days for members the Milwaukee County Board. In the heat of another annual budget battle over draconian cuts proffered by County Exec Scott Walker, County Board Chairman Lee Holloway said Walker was acting as if he were a member of the Klan.

That didn't sit well with Holloway's colleagues on the board, including Joseph Rice and Joe Sanfelippo. They penned a quick chastisement to Holloway saying he was inappropriate and set the "wrong tone.

"Your comments serve to further erode the credibility and trust that the public has in the Milwaukee County Board. We urge you to issue a prompt apology to the County Executive and the people of Milwaukee County for your unfortunate comments and to refrain from similar intemperate remarks in the future," the two wrote.

Supervisor Mark Borkowski chimed in, too, saying Holloway "threw a barrel of kerosene on the fire" and became a distraction from the budget process. Borkowski asked Holloway to retract and apologize for his comments.

Supervisor Lynn DeBruin says she was accosted because of Holloway. She said she was confronted in a grocery store parking lot by an irate constituent pointing his finger at her.

"You must do exactly what Scott Walker wants and not what those blacks running the County Board want," the citizen reportedly told DeBruin.

DeBruin called Holloway's comments "extreme and unfounded," adding, "initially, many of us in attendance felt that ignoring the comments, just as the County Executive initially did, seemed to be the best response. Now, however, these comments are distracting the public from the real story of the day, the 2010 County Budget."

Building Move Questioned: A few years after Milwaukee County pumped millions in remodeling its public assistance building at the corner of 12th and Vliet Streets, the state has decided it wants to move the operation to King Drive, right in the heart of the Bronzeville redevelopment effort.

The motive is uncertain, but any move would run counter to city efforts to create a cultural and entertainment district around King Drive.

Ald. Milele Coggs spearheaded the opposition to the move and got the Common Council to unanimously pass a resolution opposing the idea.

"The city has invested heavily in redevelopment of the Bronzeville area, including the establishment of the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District, the Bronzeville Target Investment District, the Brooks Targeted Investment Neighborhood and the Historic King Drive Main Street, and putting the DHS services center in that district just isn't compatible," she said.

She added that parking would be an issue, as well, and the fact that the Marcia Coggs Center has been the spot for people to get welfare for more than 40 years could lead to confusion when people have to find the new location.

The county spent $14 million remodeling the building five years ago and if it remains vacant after any move, it could cost the another $1.2 million, she said.

The state Building Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed move next week.

Gore Gored Again: Al Gore still can't get any respect. Now he's getting ripped for going to Madison to talk with some environmental journalists about global warming.

State Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus doesn't like it at all.

"Al Gore could have saved Wisconsin residents some hot air and carbon emissions by simply staying home. Wisconsin needs more jobs, not more empty rhetoric by Democrats contributing to the emissions problem. Flying in big-name Democrats to discuss how to force Wisconsin businesses to pay more taxes on their energy bill is the height of hypocrisy," he said.

Dam Update: The Milwaukee County Board voted to override County Exec Scott Walker's veto of a county move to apply for funding from the state Department of Natural Resources to repair the Estabrook Dam. A question plaguing the board has been whether to look at tearing the deteriorating dam down or put more money into fixing the structure.

Folks living upstream want to keep the dam, while environmental groups say it's better for the river in the long run to tear it down. The county would pay $800,000 towards the repair and the state could chip in $400,000.

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.