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Editorials
Burdock in the bouquet PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 02 March 2016 18:28

They came, they saw and they fled. Or something like that.

A Michigan-based organization called the Geek Group discovered in its reconnaissance of federal documents that the Port Washington lighthouse was vulnerable and laid plans to capture it for unspecified research purposes.

Forces under the command of Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada mounted a defense so formidable that the would-be lighthouse snatchers left the battlefield without launching so much as a paper missile.

That is one scenario to explain the surprising and welcome fact that the City of Port Washington has become the only applicant to take ownership of the lighthouse the National Park Service is in the process of divesting.

Whatever the explanation, the way has been cleared for the lighthouse to be transferred to its rightful owner, and on Sunday the mayor received word that the transfer has been tentatively approved.

In retrospect, the city’s massive lighthouse campaign, involving reams of supporting letters, backing from numerous organizations and work by a task force of dozens of residents and community leaders organized by the mayor, may look like overkill, but it served its purpose in more ways than one. It not only showed that Port was willing to fight for its lighthouse, but marshaled enthusiasm in the community for the coming challenge of maintaining the structure.

Meeting that challenge will require private fundraising. There is every reason to believe that will be successful. The community has made it clear it values, perhaps more than anything else about the city, its place on the edge of Lake Michigan and everything that contributes to lake access.

The soon-to-start breakwater project, which will make the pier safer and more inviting for people to walk the half mile from shore to the lighthouse, and last summer’s handsome and effective improvements in the walkway to the north beach, are of a piece with the lighthouse initiative—all successful city government efforts to enhance access to the water the public loves.

In that context, the implacable mindset of the mayor, aldermen and other city officials in their determination to sell public lakefront land for commercial development stands out like a burdock in a bouquet of spring flowers.

Large numbers of the citizens of Port Washington, including many of the same people who applaud the city’s lakefront improvements, have made it clear in various ways that they oppose the plan to build the Blues Factory on what is now a public parking lot at the north marina slip, yet city officials persist in their divisive quest.

No amount of repetitive rhetoric in praise of economic development in the talking points disseminated from city hall changes the truth that filling the open space overlooking the marina with a monolithic construct of brick and mortar intended to look like a factory would be a setback for public lake access.

The refusal of officials to be moved by serious, well reasoned and well intentioned objections to the development plan has engendered a level of skepticism and, in some cases, outright hostility toward city leadership that has been rare in the community.

Beyond that, it has compromised long overdue comprehensive planning for the marina district. The recently released parking and traffic plan for the lakefront cannot be considered seriously before the fate of the north slip parking lot is known. Official assurances to the contrary, it does not effectively take into account the loss of the north slip parking places and the addition of new parking needs for hundreds of vehicles if the Blues Factory is built.

It is time for an elected official to break with the party line and lead the city out of this profoundly disagreeable situation. That could start by honoring the esteem with which the people of Port Washington hold their beautiful lakefront. 

 
An inconvenient constitutional truth PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 21:54

The Constitution requires the president and Senate to act on Supreme Court vacancies regardless of political expediency

We agree with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Let us rephrase that: We agree with what Justice Scalia would have said if he were alive to comment on the United States Supreme Court vacancy caused by his death.

Scalia would have said the president is required by the Constitution to appoint judges to the Supreme Court when the court has fewer than its full complement of nine members and the Senate is required to vote on those appointments.

We know Scalia would have said that because every vote he recorded in his 30 years on the high court was grounded in his belief that the Constitution in these times means what it said when it was written in 1787 and is not subject to interpretation based on evolving political beliefs and social mores.

Scalia would have found no nuance, gray area or hedging in the words of Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution: “The president shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . judges of the Supreme Court.”

Many have taken issue with Scalia’s so-called originalist interpretation of the Constitution, but most of the members of Congress and the presidential candidates who are now claiming it is wrong for President Obama to nominate a replacement for Scalia have been big fans of the late justice’s unrelenting judicial conservatism.

Therein lies the irony of the pledge by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to refuse to hold hearings on any Supreme Court nomination made by the current president. McConnell and the senators who support blocking hearings on a Supreme Court nominee not only would prevent the chief executive from performing his constitutionally mandated duty, they would refuse to carry out the advise-and-consent duty the Constitution requires of them. Justice Scalia would not approve.

The argument over the threatened obstruction by the Senate majority is especially intense in Wisconsin because the state is the battleground for an election that will help determine which political party will control the U.S. Senate next year. Money is flowing into the campaigns of Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Russ Feingold from groups on both sides of the Supreme Court controversy.

The candidates are in full cry in support of their party’s position on filling the court vacancy, Feingold in favor of Obama making a nomination and the Senate acting on it, Johnson in favor of blocking any nomination until a new president is elected. 

Johnson and other supporters of the latter view are wont to say “the American people should decide,” meaning the nomination should be put off until it can be made by the president chosen by voters to take office in January. That may resonate as a sound bite, but it lacks in logic, for the people have already decided. They did that when they elected Barack Obama. His responsibilities as president will not end until he leaves office in about 11 months, and he has said he will fulfill his responsibility to name a Supreme Court justice.

Politicians on both sides of the issue have axes to grind, but the public has its own compelling interest in having the court restored to its full strength as soon as possible: With only eight members, a 4-4 tie is considered likely on some of the most important issues on the Supreme Court docket, including those affecting immigration, union membership, abortion, climate change, racism and various individual rights. Supreme Court deadlocks will mean the outcome of these issues will be determined by lower court decisions.

As the Constitution makes crystal clear, that’s not how the system is supposed to work. Political convenience is not an excuse to ignore the document that senators who would shirk their duty to vote on a Supreme Court nominee profess to revere.

 
Enlightened, effective preservation PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 February 2016 19:03

In deciding how to protect its past, Grafton can look to Port for an example of historic preservation that has improved and inspired a community

Historic preservation efforts can strengthen a community by saving and sharing things from its past that are an important part of its identity. Or they can tear communities apart with well-intentioned but over-reaching approaches that preserve history at the cost of property rights.

In Grafton, such efforts do neither because they are all but nonexistent. Members of the village’s Historic Preservation Committee admit as much and are considering disbanding in favor of creating a historical society that, independent of government, would be a nonprofit organization better suited to inspiring community participation and able to solicit tax-deductible donations to fund preservation efforts. 

It’s a promising concept, and to see the potential such an organization has to offer, Grafton needs only to look a short distance to the north where the Port Washington Historical Society has proven to be a model of success.

Founded in 1991, the Port Washington Historical Society has brought an enlightened preservation approach to the city that instead of dividing it has done much to unite it in a common goal of protecting and highlighting Port’s important past. To show for its efforts, the organization owns and operates two prominent museums and a research center and has amassed a large core of dedicated volunteers and generous benefactors.

That’s not how historic preservation efforts work everywhere. In communities throughout the state and country, preservation commissions empowered by local ordinances yield considerable authority when it comes to deciding what properties to preserve and how to preserve them. Sometimes these efforts are successful and well-received. Other times they are divisive and counterproductive, burdening the mission of historic preservation with debilitating controversy.

An indication of that came last year when two Republican state lawmakers, Rep. Rob Brooks of Saukville and Sen. Frank Lasee of De Pere, introduced legislation that would prohibit municipalities from designating properties as historic landmarks without the consent of their owners. Not surprisingly, the bill sparked almost immediate controversy, with property-rights advocates praising it and historic preservationists blasting it.

Such controversies don’t exist in Port Washington, where historic preservation has been a mission led by the nonprofit Historical Society, embraced by city government and supported by residents. 

This is some of what has been accomplished:

n The Historical Society acquired and restored the 1860 lighthouse atop St. Mary’s Hill that it now operates as the Light Station museum, which is particularly well-suited to exhibiting the city’s maritime past.

n A downtown storefront dating to 1852 is now the organization’s Resource Center, which houses its archives and offices and is used for exhibits and presentations that are open to the public.

n The crowning achievement of the Historical Society, the Port Exploreum, opened last year on Franklin Street in a 1907 commercial building known as the Gentlemen’s Club. Preservation of the building aside, the project is immensely valuable because of what it has introduced to the city — not a musty museum filled with artifacts but an engaging, interactive facility that uses technology to make relevant that which has been important to the city since its inception.

In addition to its tangible accomplishments, the Historical Society has helped foster a community ethic that inspires preservation. A prime example of that is the renovation of the Boerner Mercantile Building in the heart of downtown by owners Dan and Marie-Anne Ewig, who had the 1969 facade removed and the original building restored to provide attractive spaces for two large retail stores and numerous offices.

Grafton will have to decide if it has the collective commitment to historic preservation and the energy to accomplish it, which is a subject of a community meeting this week. As Village Administrator Darrell Hofland noted, the creation of a historical society hinges on “the sheer passion for preserving Grafton’s history.”

Village residents should make that determination knowing that such organizations can make meaningful improvements in their communities in ways that unite and inspire their residents. For proof of that, they need only look north.

 

 
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