By Doug Hissom Special to Published Dec 05, 2007 at 5:20 AM
A leaner fire department could save Milwaukee millions a year, says a new consultant's report. But to do that city officials will have to lock horns with the firefighters' union, something they have been loath to do. A performance audit by Matrix Consulting Group recommends the city reduce the number of firefighters on ladder trucks from five to four, which would save $3.2 million a year.

That idea, however, has come up every year since the late 1990s during budget time and firefighters have effectively shot it down. It will be interesting to see if aldermen use the report as extra ammo to make the change next year. Matrix says a reconfigured department would actually have more firefighters arriving at a scene within 8 minutes than there are now.

Matrix also suggested dumping two deputy chiefs to save $225,000 and hiring more lieutenants and heavy equipment operators to reduce overtime in order to save $562,000 a year. Aldermen were scheduled to ponder the report this week. Matrix is the same consultant that recommended the Milwaukee Police Department rely more on civilian desk jockeys in order to get more cops on the street.

Impeachment Rally Draws a Crowd: About 300 people attended a little publicized town hall meeting on impeaching President Bush last week in the City Hall rotunda. It was more an effort to point out Bush's alleged crimes against the Constitution than a march or demonstration. But getting 300 people to show up for a political event in this town is no easy feat.

Marquette University theology professor Dan Maguire gave a damning speech that took Republicans and Democrats to task, noting 15 "ugly facts that reek to the high heavens" of high crimes and misdemeanors that he lays on Bush's desk.

"Your inaction in the face of all that I have mentioned is not just bad," he said. "It is Godamnably bad and we in this assembly condemn you for it."

Talking Head Goes to City Hall: It was celebrity hour at the Common Council's Licenses Committee last week when Courtny Gerrish showed up to oppose the settlement of a new bar near her riverfront condo. No, it wasn't because the place was dirty -- that's her restaurant shtick on TMJ4 -- it was, she said, because there has to be a "balance" of living Downtown with all the urban amenities that come with it, and that there may be too many amenities, like bars. Maybe it's a Nebraska thing, leftover from her days in Omaha.

Gerrish and condo association representatives from other buildings near Water and Pittsburgh Streets, also opposed the new bar, C2, that was planned for the building known as Castings Point, next to The Social and Moct. They objected to the potential for parking problems, noise and litter, problems for many a condo dweller.

Gerrish and other opponents said they already tired of the bar activity in their ‘hood and didn't want anymore. Another point of contention was that the proposed bar was billed as another "Coyote Ugly" joint, with women dressed in cowboy outfits in a raucous atmosphere. It seems to be an obsession for the bar owner.

Co-owner Tim Ebert, who in a previous bar incarnation ran the suggestively-titled Coyote TNA on Old World 3rd Street for a few short years, said he had deals for 20 parking spots below the bar, but neighbors were skeptical since a Mexican restaurant was also slotted in the same building. Neighbors also said 20 spots weren't nearly enough for a bar with a capacity of nearly 200.

Ebert also found himself under attack for other business practices, which included deceptive advertising charges for a telemarketing business he was running as well as unemployment compensation warrants. The opposition was organizedand the committee chose not to grant the license.

Vacant Land Could Remain Empty: The former historic home of Grede Foundry at 1st and Greenfield has been leveled and the five-acre site now awaits new buildings. The first plan, however, received a cold reception from the Milwaukee Common Council's Development Committee. Andy Busalacchi bought the northeast corner of the intersection and wants to put five buildings with parking on the site across the street from Allen-Bradley.

Four of the buildings would be 50 ft. high and the fifth would be 18 ft. high. Most of the materials in the buildings would be former bricks from the factory on the site. The lack of spiraling high-rises in the plan had committee aldermen wanting to put the brakes on the project. They want more density and aren't happy that 65 percent of the land would be surface parking.

Ald. Bob Bauman called the plan "a suburban office park" that's more suited for the northwest side of the city.

Committee Chair Ald. Mike D'Amato called the idea "a very unusual plan" and Ald. Michael Murphy viewed the property as "extremely valuable" and saw the proposal as "not the best use."

Busalacchi said he has one firm tenant, Independence First, which ironically lost a former home due to the Downtown condo craze. But his plan is to erect the buildings and hope tenants come. The committee balked at that idea and offered Busalacchi a month to redraw his plans, which he declined to do. The committee sent his plan to the Common Council with a negative recommendation for its meeting Dec. 11.

Chaser's Still has Life: Bay View's venerable Chaser's Pub, 2155 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., received a reprieve of sorts in October when the Milwaukee Common Council Licenses Committee voted to give the bar a 30-day suspension instead of revoking its license. The pressure on the tavern came from Ald. Tony Zielinski who tired of a series of drug arrests at the bar, including a bartender who admitted to police to selling cocaine at the bar.

This week the committee is holding a special hearing to confirm its decision. Zielinski, who initially asked for the license revocation, offered an amended complaint last week to the committee, which essentially restated his initial request. His additional ammunition this time, however, revolves around the fact that owner Frank F. Dobert promised the committee in October he was going to sell the business, but has since raised the asking price, which Zielinski views as an affront to Dobert's previous statements made to save his license.

A revocation hearing for Club Escape, 6263 N. Teutonia Ave., where a major shoot-out last week killed one patron, will also be held this week.

Aldermen Shoveling on Plowing: What should we expect from the first snowstorm of the year? Apparently a lot better plowing, according to at least nine Milwaukee aldermen, who berated the Department of Public Works in a press conference for its effort over the weekend. It is an election year after all and aldermen no doubt recall the big Chicago snowstorm that actually ended up ousting that big city's mayor.

The nine? Terry Witkowski, Bob Donovan, Joe Dudzik, Ashanti Hamilton, Jim Bohl, Tony Zielinski, Michael Murphy, Robert Bauman and Robert Puente. The East Side's Mike D'Amato is not running for re-election and that's likely the reason for his absence, since Riverwest saw nary a plow by Sunday evening. Both sides of the street were parked full creating the need for some careful surfing down the middle of the road. From the perspective of my porch in Bay View, plows first came through Saturday night after 1 a.m.

The aldermen complained that the plowing effort was done with fewer trucks to save money, but reports were that more than 90 city vehicles were active in the clean-up, about the average number. 

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.