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Ozaukee Press
Two PW-S School Board members not running for re-election PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 13 December 2017 19:49

Decision by President Gremminger, Port representative Shinners to step down will bring change to stable board

    Two of the three Port Washington-Saukville School Board members whose seats are up for election in April — including board President Carey Gremminger — are not running for re-election.
    Gremminger, who was appointed to represent the Village of Saukville on the board  in 2005 and elected the following year, and Michelle Shinners, who has held a City of Port Washington seat on the board since 2012, filed declarations of noncandidacy last week.
    The third member whose seat is on the April ballot, board Vice President Brenda Fritsch, is running for re-election, Supt. Michael Weber said. She has held a City of Port Washington seat on the board since 2012.
    Gremminger said it was always her intention to step down from the board when her daughter graduated from Port Washington High School, which will happen in June.
    “I didn’t ever want to experience any feelings of disconnect to the buildings when I no longer had a child attending,” she wrote in a letter to staff members.
    Gremminger cited other personal reasons for her decision, including the deaths of two close relatives last year.
    “I have become brutally aware of how short life can really be, and I feel very pressured and called to serve in new ways,” she wrote.
     The board elected Gremminger as its president in 2014, and her tenure has included the approval of the most expensive referendum in the history of the Port Washington-Saukville School District — $49.4 million — in 2015, as well as planning for and supervision of the projects the referendum financed — a $3.8 million addition to Dunwiddie Elementary School completed in December 2016 and the ongoing $45.6 million Port Washington High School project to be completed in 2019.
    “I know it may be unexpected for me to leave the board in the middle of a significant building project, but I felt resolute in my decision because of the strength of our administration, board and staff,” Gremminger wrote.
    Shinners said she, too, is stepping down for personal reasons, noting that her son is also graduating from Port High in June.
    “It truly is personal in the sense I have so much going on in my life that I don’t feel I have the time to devote to the board anymore,” she said.
    Shinners and Fritsch were elected in 2012 in a contentious race against self-described conservative candidates who were critical of the School Board’s decision to extend teacher contracts following the passage of Act 10, the Wisconsin law that ended most collective bargaining for public employees. Gremminger fended off a challenger in that race.
    Weber said Tuesday that no one has taken out nomination papers to run for Gremminger’s or Shinners’ seat. Those papers are currently available and must be returned to the district by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2.
    Meanwhile, School Board members are scrambling to collect enough signatures to ask voters for permission on the April 2018  ballot to change the way one of the nine board members is elected.
    The problem is the seat represents a small, sparsely populated section of the school district in the towns of Saukville and Grafton and has been vacant since October 2015.
    The board wants to change this seat to an at-large position that can be filled by someone who lives anywhere in the district, not just in this small area.
    Board bylaws currently call for the board to consist of five members from the City of Port Washington, two from the Village of Saukville and one each from the Town of Port Washington and the towns of Saukville and Grafton. The proposed change would only affect the Saukville-Grafton town seat.
    Although board members represent specific areas of the district, all voters may vote for all candidates. For example, a Village of Saukville resident may vote for a City of Port Washington School Board candidate.
    The proposed change, seen by officials as a preferred alternative to reducing the number of board members to seven, is not, however, a quick fix, and is one that must be approved by voters.
    The School Board had intended to propose the change on the April 2017 ballot, but fell short of the 500 signatures needed to present it to voters. The problem, school officials said, wasn’t opposition to the change but the amount of time it took to explain the issue to residents and ask for their signatures.
    This time around, board members are circulating the petition at events where the issue can be explained to a number of people at once and petitions are available to sign.
    Weber estimated this week that just more than 300 signatures have been collected. The district has set a deadline of Jan. 8, which would give officials time to verify the signatures before they have to submit them to the county clerk later that month if the issue is to be put on the April ballot.
    If school officials are successful in presenting the change to voters and the measure is approved, it will not take effect until the three-year term of the current town of Saukville-Grafton seat expires in April 2019.

Mlada says he won’t seek third term as Port mayor PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 December 2017 20:19

He championed breakwater, lighthouse projects, was at center of Blues Factory controversy

    Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election in April.
    Mlada, whose accomplishments include the controversial decision to sell the city-owned north marina parking lot for the Blues Factory entertainment complex, told the Common Council that his years in office were “among the most rewarding and fulfilling and meaningful of my life.”
    But, he said, despite the fact there are projects he wanted to see through, he and his family made the decision jointly.
    “I do believe we’ve accomplished so much,” said Mlada, who is completing his sixth year in office. “There are things we’re so close on, but we’re just not quite there yet.”
    Those include such things as the Cedar Vineyard development, completion of repairs to the north breakwater and creation of a tax incremental financing district on the city’s north end to spur development there, he said.
    “It has been a period of change,” Mlada said. “And change is not without controversy. Change isn’t easy. But I really believe the type of change we’re pursuing is really what we need.”
    The change, he said, includes significant downtown growth — not just the Blues Factory but other lakefront residential developments that have been approved.
    Those developments, Mlada said, will allow the city to keep providing necessary services without significantly increasing taxes, as well as increase traffic downtown to help keep shops going.
    “We fought and scratched and clawed our way to incremental change, and all the incremental changes we’ve made add up,” he said. “We don’t always get it perfect. We give it our best.”
    City Administrator Mark Grams said Mlada will be remembered in large part for his work in downtown and shepherding development throughout the community.  
    “The breakwater, Coal Dock Park, redevelopment downtown, marketing the city ... the growth we’ve had, economically and residentially and in terms of the tax base,” Grams said. “To me, I think that’s a pretty good thing.”
    Mlada announced his decision by reading a letter to the editor he penned that is published in this week’s edition of Ozaukee Press.
    He added a few comments after, thanking the many people who have gotten involved in committees and organizations to help improve the city — everything from the waterfront safety committee and initiatives to the work of such groups as the city’s Economic Development Committee, Community Development Authority, Environmental Planning Committee and lighthouse committee.
    Mlada said he made his announcement now to allow people time to consider whether they are willing to take on the commitment that the office of mayor requires.
    “It is a time commitment,” he said. “It is a family commitment.”
    He’s confident that whoever follows him will “do an even better job,” Mlada said. “I promise I won’t be weighing in from the peanut gallery.”
    Mlada added that there is much to do in the coming four months before he leaves office, and he urged others to “step out from behind the computer ... and make a difference.”
    Mlada is not the only city official whose position is up for election on April 3. Aldermen Paul Neumyer, Dan Benning and Dave Larson, who represent the city’s 2nd, 4th and 6th districts, are also up for election.
    Both Larson and Neumyer said Tuesday they will likely seek re-election
    Benning, who was appointed to fill the term of former Ald. Doug Biggs, said at the time he would seek election.
    Candidates can circulate nomination papers until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2, when they are due at City Hall. Clerk Susan Westerbeke said that she will be at her office that day, even though City Hall is otherwise closed.
    Incumbents who decide not to run for re-election must file noncandidacy forms by 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 22, or the deadline for nomination papers will be extended by three days.
    If more than two people run for any one office, a Feb. 20 primary will be held to cull the field to two before the April election.

Bank’s patience wears thin, but developer says Cedar Vineyard deal imminent PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 19:17

At stake is plan for sprawling Port subdivision, lakefront nature preserve

    Even as Waukesha State Bank continues to market the former VK Development land on Port Washington’s south side — and officials say there is interest in the parcel — the man behind the Cedar Vineyard subdivision planned for the property said he was to meet with the bank Tuesday in an effort to finalize the purchase of the land.
    “Hopefully, everything will get resolved then,” Tom Swarthout, president of the Highview Group, said Monday. “We’re progressing to a closing.
    “There are a lot of things that have to align, and we think they are. The grants, the Land Trust — everything’s coming together.”
    But Keith Van De Laarschot, a commercial banker with Waukesha State Bank, said the property remains on the market.
    “We’ve had some interest,” he said. “We’ve had some people call. We’re hopeful.”
    The bank has been marketing the 240-acre parcel along Highway C in the Wall Street Journal’s mansion section, most recently on Nov. 17, listing it for $18 million and touting it as pristine lakefront land with 1.25 miles of continuous Lake Michigan frontage.
    Van De Laarschot said he has had “very little contact” with Swarthout, but said the developer is continuing to work on his project.
    “If his plan comes back, I’ll be happy to work with him,” he said. “I think it would have been a great project.”
    If Swarthout’s plans don’t come together, he said, “hopefully we’ll find another great plan.”
    But Swarthout said he’s been working diligently on the project, adding he met with bank officials two weeks ago and with City of Port officials last week to resolve any remaining issues.
    City officials said that they remain confident the Cedar Vineyard proposal will come to fruition.
    “We’re still confident it’ll all work out,” City Administrator Mark Grams said last week.
    Grams said that recently the Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration requested another review of stormwater management plans for the development — a condition of grants that Ozaukee County and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust will use to purchase 100 acres of environmentally sensitive land, including Cedar Gorge, in the middle of the proposed subdivision.
    That review has now been completed, Grams said.
    In addition to the nature area, the Land Trust would also purchase land along the Lake Michigan bluffs and beach. These properties, along with the preserve, would then be deeded to Ozaukee County to be maintained as public land in perpetuity.
    The Cedar Vineyard subdivision would also have 82 single-family lots with a vineyard planted along Highway C. A winery  would be developed on the southwestern corner of the highway and Stonecroft Drive.
    The winery and vineyard are to be run by Steve and Maria Johnson, who own Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery in Kewaunee and Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay.
    Because of the public-private partnerships needed for the development, officials said, the Cedar Vineyard deal has been complex and has taken longer than expected.
    “We’re going to get this done,” Swarthout said.

Repairs to Blues Factory lot will cost city $85,000 PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 29 November 2017 19:19

Port council agrees to pay for seawall work at site of proposed development

    The City of Port Washington will pay $85,000 of the $89,500 cost to repair the north marina parking lot sheetwall, stabilizing it for the planned Blues Factory entertainment complex.
    The remainder of the cost —$4,500 — will be paid by the developer, officials said.
    The Common Council last week approved the low bid from Michels Foundations of New Berlin with the condition that work begin after Feb. 1, after the parking lot is purchased by the Blues Factory developer.
    Only Ald. Mike Gasper dissented, saying that if the Blues Factory development does not occur, the city doesn’t need to make the repairs.
    “I’m still of the opinion that if the Blues Factory were not to happen, we’d be better off just monitoring here,” he said.
    The city has been looking at ways to stabilize the sheetwall since it discovered earlier this year that the structural supports for it — the tiebacks that hold the wall in place and the deadmen that anchor the tiebacks — are largely nonexistent and the wall is bowing in places.
    After reviewing several stabilization systems, aldermen agreed to install an angular restraint system using directionally drilled rods. The rods won’t be tied into the Blues Factory building but instead will be anchored by a grout injection.
    “We had a lot of interest in the project,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said, noting four firms bid on the job and the bulk of the bids were close.
    “I think this is a really good price,” Ald. John Sigwart said. “I don’t want to risk losing that bid.”
    The city agreed earlier that it would pay as much as $85,000 for the work, and developer Gertjan van den Broek had 10 days from the bid opening to agree to pay the $4,500 difference, City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said.
    Van den Broek has been out of the country, but City Administrator Mark Grams said Tuesday he does not believe the payment will be an issue.    
    Aldermen spent a significant amount of time discussing when the project would be done since the city will use the proceeds from the sale of the parking lot to pay for the work.
    The property is being sold for $250,000, with the closing date set for Jan. 18.
    “If the work is going to be done in spring, it’s no problem,” Grams said. “If the work’s going to be done in December, that’s a problem.”
    Aldermen initially proposed setting Jan. 19 as the earliest date for the work, but then decided on Feb. 1 to accommodate any unexpected project delays.
    Van den Broek told the council earlier this fall that resolving the sheetwall issue will allow him to finalize the design for the building and move ahead with the project.

Mom accused of driving with son on top of van bound over for trial PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 15 November 2017 19:43

Woman who said she strapped boy on vehicle to hold pool allowed to remain free while felony case is pending

    A Fredonia woman accused of strapping her 9-year-old son to the top of her minivan so he could hold down a kiddy pool as she drove down a Saukville street waived her right to a preliminary hearing and was bound over for trial Tuesday.
    Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Sandy Williams allowed Amber L. Schmunk, who was charged last month with one felony count of second-degree recklessly endangering safety, to remain free while awaiting trial by setting her bail at a $5,000 signature bond.
    Schmunk’s troubles with the law began shortly after 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, when police received a report of a minivan driving in the area of Hillcrest and Claremont roads with a child on top of the vehicle holding down a plastic pool, according to the complaint.
    The witness said the driver, later identified as 28-year-old Schmunk, eventually pulled over on South Colonial Parkway, took the child off the vehicle and wedged the pool in the minivan.
    When officers caught up with Schmunk, who dropped the pool off at her sister’s house on South Colonial Parkway, she told them that she had picked up the pool at someone’s house but had no way to strap it to her minivan. So, she said, she had her son climb on top of the vehicle and hold the pool while she drove, the complaint states.
    She said she only drove for a short time, maybe 20 to 30 seconds, before stopping and taking her son and the pool off the roof of the minivan, according to the complaint.
     Schmunk admitted to another officer that her oldest son was riding on top of her minivan as she drove but said he wasn’t in danger because she used a strap to tie the boy and the pool to the top of the vehicle, the complaint states.
    Schmunk also said she thought it was acceptable for her son to ride on top of the minivan because her father allowed her to do similar things when she was her son’s age, according to the complaint.
    Since the charge against Schmunk was first reported by Ozaukee Press last month, news organizations throughout the country have covered it. Television cameras were waiting for Schmunk when she made her first courtroom appearance Tuesday.
    “Amber, do you still think it’s OK to strap your child to the top of your car?” a Milwaukee TV station reporter asked as Schmunk walked down a hallway of the Ozaukee County Justice Center in Port Washington.
    Schmunk did not reply, and her attorney, public defender Rachel Boaz, declined to comment.
    Schmunk is scheduled to enter a plea to the charge against her during a Dec. 12 arraignment hearing.
    The crime she is accused of is punishable by a maximum five years in prison and five years of extended supervision.

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