By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jul 30, 2010 at 1:14 PM

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Four weeks into the statewide smoking ban and the City of Milwaukee has finally decided how to enforce the new law. And the answer is that it's not going to be seriously enforced.

The Common Council this week got some clarification from the Police Department on how the ban will be dealt with legally and here's how it goes: A person offended by a smoker at a bar, restaurant, motel or other buildings should call police first.

But the cops, following a directive from Chief Ed Flynn, will not promptly arrive to arrest the offender, but will instead call the city's Health Department or Department of Neighborhood Services and they will be charged with writing up the ticket.

Since those two departments generally end the work day at 5 p.m., that pretty much means nothing will happen, a point acknowledged by aldermen without much consternation.

Ald. Michael Murphy says the any hand-wringing by city officials that an inordinate amount of police time will be spent on puffers is misguided.

"It's a straw argument (that police will be pummeled with smoking ban scofflaws). There are so many steps to go through for a citation to be issued ... but it's not going to take up the time" of the police that people think. "It's going to be self-policing."

He noted that the city has received just three complaints since the July 5 smoke-free beginning, despite rumors spread by bar owners that dozens of complaints are being filed.

"If we have 15 complaints in a year I'd be shocked."

The Common Council this week spent more time talking about whether or not the city should add onto the ban by not allowing smoking within 25 feet of city-owned buildings, which ultimately did not pass.

"Think about what the public see," said Ald. Terry Witkowski, who wanted the 25 feet of free air space. "It's an image problem ... and a public health problem."

The Council decided not to set the space limit.

Other notes from the law:

  • The first time a patron is cited for smoking the business owner will get a warning and the patron will get a ticket ranging from $100 to $250.
  • And most importantly for the tavern owner, smoking violation citations cannot be considered a smirch on the bar's record when a tavern license is up for renewal.

Essentially the ban is a paper tiger that has bar owners fearing a big bite. Some, however, don't seem to care about that and the majority will follow the rules.

Nonetheless, some bars have sent their customers outside to smoke and drink even though they don't even have a license to allow drinking outside. That move carries a much bigger fine -- and a black mark on the tavern's record -- than any smoking ban citation would. Other bars have taken the creative approach by "renting" ash trays to customers for a fee that's put into a fund to help the bar cover the cost of the fine.

And with that herculean effort, aldermen will now take the month of August off.

Van Hollen emerges for public's right to know: State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has maintained a near invisible status as the state's top law enforcement guy since being elected four years ago. Being a Republican with a Democratic boss in the form of Gov. Jim Doyle can stymie creativity for sure, but Van Hollen generally hasn't even done that.

But this week the AG stood up for the public's right to know and access public records when it comes to public employee's e-mail use. The state Supreme Court ruled recently that public officials, in this case school teachers, can use their government e-mail accounts for private purposes and do not have to turn over the so-called private e-mail records when asked to do so.
Van Hollen said that record keepers should make sure that the e-mails withheld are "purely private" but that they hold also turn over a list of e-mails indicating which ones they want private.

Van Hollen's memorandum instructs public records custodians to be "mindful of the policy behind the Public Records Law," which states that it is "the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them."

Van Hollen says the public still has a right to know about all e-mailing since it pertains to how government is running.
The Republican faces Democrat and former state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Hassett of Lake Mills in the November election.

The AG reports that he has nearly $350,000 in cash in his campaign account and claims to have out-raised Hassett 3-1 in the last reporting period. But so far the race is as exciting as Van Hollen's tenure.

TV repair plan a stretch: Years ago county bus operators had the idea to raise money for the beleaguered transit system by putting TV sets on buses featuring obnoxiously loud and outdated news reports, weather and cheesy trivia questions to the annoyance of transit riders across the county. Bus folks said the $100,000 a year in revenue from ads was worth the pain and suffering to the riders.

The TV company, Transit TV, went out of business last year, but the TVs remain on the buses. The deal with the bus company was that the equipment was free and Transit TV would split the revenue with the county.

Now County Supervisor Johnny Thomas suggests that Troy Shaw should be allowed to turn the TVs back on and run programming through his company, Diversity TV, and its parent TDS Management. No matter that Shaw has declared bankruptcy.

To dodge the arm of the legalities of bankruptcy, Shaw created another company that runs the old Diversity programming, which features social service announcements and other innocuous offerings. Shaw also says he can hook up the bus company with free wi-fi service on each bus, a large technical promise that isn't bound to be cheap.

Thomas boldly projects the bus system could reap some $2 million a year out of the tubes.

Even though TDS is out of business, one can still get on Diversity TV through membership fees, according to the company's Web site, which hasn't been updated in a year. The phone number listed on the site is disconnected. There are several level of "sponsorship":

  • Platinum Membership: For $20,000, you can be a member for 18 months, get 1,500 30-second commercials a month, 500 slides, three-minute "interview style reports about your organization and eight screens to use as you please, "banner visibility" on the firm's Web site, plus a corporate table at DTV's annual event, whatever that is.
  • Gold Membership costs $15,000 there's 12-month access plus the commercials and two interviews with five screens tossed in and dinner.
  • Silver Membership costs $10,000 for fewer commercials an one interview. No dinner table, though.
  • Bronze Membership is $5,000 for three months, 1,000 commercials, 350 slides and no interviews or dinner.

The County Board was to consider the offer this week.

A similar deal with a different company is being used at state Department of Motor Vehicle offices. A recent question in its trivia section asked for the name of Ed Sullivan's monkey sidekick and gave the answer as "Lampchop."

Wrong animal and wrong actor. "Lambchop" was Shari Lewis' long-time sidekick and Lambchop is now on tour with Mally Lewis, doing appearances at state and county fairs.

Two takes: County Exec Scott Walker got flak for campaigning while the county was under water this weekend but he did manage to hold a press conference on the floods over the weekend. His advice? Avoid trees in the park because they may fall down because the ground is saturated and tree roots could be weak.

Tom Barrett, also running for governor, stayed in town and got face time in front of sink holes and flooded neighborhoods, while Walker took the friendly confines of the lake for one of his press events on the flood. Barrett's advice? The state better get off its butt and get a federal disaster aid application to Washington pronto.

Gaffe of the week: After the better part of the day covering the "Brew City Flood" (as Channel 4 cheekily called it), there were bound to be a few stumbles from on-air personalities forced to work more than a few minutes at a time. Take TMJ4's John Milan, who by 11 p.m. was heard repeatedly stumbling over his words in an effort to report the exciting things happening on his station's three different radars with catchy names like "Viper" and "Doppler HD."

But his meanderings paled in comparison to those of his colleague, anchor Carol Meekins after her comments reporting on what turned out to be a tragic accident in which a 19-year-old Cudahy man was swept down Lincoln Creek in his vehicle and was found drowned two days later.

At the time the station reported that witnesses saw the red Chrysler Sebring moving downstream and seeing a man struggling to get out. Authorities later found the car without the man in it, prompting Meekins, the longest-tenured anchor in the city, to ad-lib, "so it looks like a happy ending there."

Eating and Drinking: Monreal's El Matador West will continue offering Mexican fare under a new banner and a new owner. Signs are announcing that La Fuente, long a 5th Street player in Milwaukee Mexican cuisine, will take over the place, which includes the former Kiko's Lounge, the West Side's version of Victor's.

La Fuente settled on the Bluemound Road venue after reconsidering an effort to locate an outlet on Main Street in Oconomowoc. In that bid, La Fuente owners wanted the city to chip in money for the restaurant to remodel a prominent vacant building there. The salsa hit the fan for city officials when other businesses who funded their own remodeling balked and La Fuente dropped the idea.

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.