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Let state law banning guns at schools stand PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 01 March 2017 17:59

Is the convenience of people who carry concealed guns more important than the safety of students, local control of schools and the views of a majority of the public?

The answer should be obvious, but State Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) doesn’t seem to get it. He and State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) introduced legislation last year that would force school districts to allow guns on school grounds.

The bill did not advance in 2016 and it is not clear what its prospects for passage in the current legislative session are. Given the demonstrated influence in the Legislature of the NRA gun lobby, whose agenda calls for eliminating gun-free zones such as schools, anything is possible. 

Sensible existing state law forbids guns carried by civilians, including concealed-carry permit holders, on school grounds and in school buildings. Most school districts have policies reinforcing that ban.

The Brooks-Lazich bill would weaken the state law and limit school districts to restricting firearms only in school buildings where classes are taught. Concealed-carry permit holders would be allowed to have guns on school grounds and, apparently, at school facilities not physically part of school buildings, such as athletic fields, stadiums and fieldhouses.

One purpose of the bill is to relieve conceal-carry permit holders of the risk of violating the current law by driving onto school grounds with guns in their vehicles. This would be a convenience for armed citizens that could come at a price. Schools and their grounds are gun-free zones for a simple reason: The presence of guns is a safety risk.

Since 2007, according to data gathered by the Violence Policy Center, shootings by concealed-carry permit holders have caused 898 deaths in America that did not involve self-defense. The toll includes 139 deaths caused by permit holders in 29 mass shootings.

What is disturbing about the bill, besides its effect of introducing deadly weapons into children’s environments, is that it steps on local control of schools. Brooks has described the bill, which is misleadingly named the “Wisconsin School Zone Empowerment Act,” as “empowering school boards to develop conceal-carry policies,” but in fact it would deprive elected boards of power—the power to declare their school grounds off limits to guns, an authority the public supports. 

A survey conducted by the highly respected Marquette University Law School polling organization last year found that 65% of Wisconsin residents oppose allowing concealed-carry permit holders to have guns on school grounds.

The current state law makes possession of a gun on school grounds or in school buildings a felony. The Brook-Lazich bill would reduce the crime of taking a gun into a school building to a misdemeanor, and would extend the privilege of carrying guns on school grounds to not only holders of permits issued in Wisconsin, but those from other states as well.

When the bill was introduced a year ago, it drew criticism from a number of school officials. Recently, opposition to the bill has been voiced in the Grafton School District by the public, as well as by school board members.

A parent told the school board at its Jan. 23 meeting that the bill endangers children’s safety and raises “the risk of deadly accidents.” Board member Clayton Riddle urged the board to “vehemently oppose” the legislation for taking away local control. At a meeting last week, board member Julia McNally called for a resolution opposing the bill. The board will consider sample resolutions at its next meeting.

Other school boards that object to “empowerment” that weakens their ability to keep their students safe should follow Grafton’s example and get ahead of this misguided legislation.

Balancing citizen and business rights PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 17:42

Residents of the hamlet of Little Kohler in the far northwest corner of Ozaukee County may soon get a bit of relief from a persistent nuisance. It’s about time—they’ve had to put up with the aggravation for years.

The nuisance derives from the popularity of a tavern near a cluster of homes. The bar doesn’t have adequate parking for its many patrons, who end up parking their cars, trucks and motorcycles along Highway H, sometimes intruding on private property, sometimes creating hazardous congestion on the county road.

It’s government’s responsibility to deal with the problem, but the Fredonia Town Board, which has jurisdiction over Little Kohler, has done little until now, except to enact a permit system several years ago to limit the number of live performances the bar can host, to respond to the residents’ complaints.

No doubt it’s an uncomfortable situation for town supervisors. On one hand, they see something desirable—a local business that is thriving, with a hard-working owner who has brought success to the Little Kohler Haus, a historic establishment (subject of an Ozaukee Press feature story several years ago) that for most of its more than 80 years of existence was a sleepy roadside watering hole. They seem to feel that, as articulated by Supr. Mark Schubert, “You can’t run a guy down for running his business the way he wants.”

On the other hand, they are getting legitimate complaints from constituents about a business that is annoying its neighbors and making travel on Little Kohler’s “main street”—Highway H—more dangerous than it should be. 

A vexing conflict, to be sure, but resolving it is what local government representatives are elected to do. Almost all towns, villages and cities have to face it at one time or another. When a business, whether it's an industrial operation plaguing neighbors with overloud equipment noise, noxious fumes or heavy truck traffic or a tavern whose crowds can overwhelm a neighborhood, infringes on the rights of citizens to lead relatively undisturbed lives in their homes and yards and be safe in using nearby roads, the public should come first.

It is fortunate for the residents that Highway H is a county road, because now the county government is involved and is providing the impetus for mitigating at least some of the problem. 

The county’s Traffic Safety Commission’s response was to propose a ban on parking on the north side of the road between Highway E and Kohler Drive, a distance of just over a quarter of a mile.

Town Board members thought that went too far. Supr. Jim Stemper argued against the no-parking zone, but in doing so helped illuminate the problem, pointing out that the cause was bar customers who ignore the rights of property owners. “It was a little country tavern,” he said, “but now it can draw 200 to 300 people to an event.” 

The Town Board proposed the compromise of banning parking on both sides of Highway H for a distance of about half of what the county commission recommended, and last week the county’s Public Works Committee went along with it.

If the parking ban is approved by the County Board, enforcement will be up to the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department, which could improve the residents’ plight in other ways.

It’s no secret that part of the neighbors’ irritation stems from the disturbance made by bar patrons when leaving the establishment at late hours, especially the many who ride motorcycles and like to punctuate the evening’s fun with a detonation of unmuffled, sleep shattering Harley exhaust noise. The presence of deputies might dampen some of that exuberance.

It’s likely that most people would cheer the success of a small business like the Little Kohler Haus, but would agree that success should not come at the expense of the peaceful enjoyment of their properties by residential neighbors.

Lake beckons developers . . . and they’re coming PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 February 2017 21:11

Grafton has I-43. Port Washington has Lake Michigan. The lake is Port’s freeway.

The metaphor is about real estate development. The City of Port Washington is on the threshold of development so immense that it begs comparison to the retail explosion that added tens of millions of dollars worth of valuation on the Village of Grafton’s east edge.

Grafton’s development is mainly big-box commercial on land that was irresistible to investors because it fronts the freeway. Port Washington’s development will be mainly residential on land that is irresistible to investors because it fronts Lake Michigan.

The combined value of developments proposed for Port Washington’s marina district and lake bluff land south of the power plant approaches $100 million.

Aldermen’s heads must have been spinning after the six-hour Common Council meeting last week during which three complicated proposals for a complex of houses, multifamily residential units, community buildings and some commercial-use structures were pitched by competing developers for the 44 acres of lake bluff land.

Sorting out the proposals to determine which will best benefit the city economically and aesthetically is a daunting challenge. Taxpayers likely would not object if some city funds were spent on consultants to lend expertise to the process.

One judgment concerning the bluff land, however, should come easily. The proposal by a Mequon company that wants to acquire the land for a token one-dollar payment deserves quick elimination. The land, owned by the people of Port Washington, is worth millions. Developers are eager to acquire it not to perform a public service, but to reap business profits. That’s fine, but they should have to pay market value for the resource that makes their project possible.

Besides free land, the Mequon developer wants a $6 million TIF subsidy from city. The other two developers are asking for roughly $4 million in taxpayer contributions. City officials will have to answer questions of where this money would come from—the bluff land is not in a TIF district—and whether developer subsidies are needed at all in what is obviously a seller’s market. Meanwhile, the first public benefit of the impending development of the bluff and marina district land is already at hand. The surge in economic growth promised by these projects has rendered the Blues Factory irrelevant.

The city’s rationale for selling public land at the edge of the north slip marina for this entertainment complex has always been that it is necessary to foster a “catalytic” development.

Now it is perfectly clear that the notion of bringing this attraction in to encourage development has no merit whatsoever. The development is here without it. 

Moreover, the marina district development plans make the north slip land more valuable than ever as public greenspace overlooking the water. Except for the main marina parking lot, it will be the last open space in the north sector of the district. Filling it with the factorylike Blues Factory building would not only interfere with the public’s enjoyment of the water, it would diminish the appeal of surrounding residential development.

The developer anointed by the city to take over the Blues Factory project, New Port Holdings, is involved in development plans for both the bluff land and the marina district. The company would be doing a service to the city in which it is investing by cutting its ties with the troubled Blues Factory initiative. 

That would give city officials a face-saving way to end a bitter controversy that has divided the community and clear the way for Port Washington to reap the rewards of its fortunate proximity to its Lake Michigan freeway.

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