September 12, 2013
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We had a short in-house discussion last week on whether our lead headline was editorializing:
“No surprise, city needs more parking,” it said.
We agreed it was like saying, “The sun is a yellow orb.”
To say Lake Geneva needs more parking is a self-evident truth — or so we decided.
I have to admit I had a knee-jerk response when I read that those were the findings of yet another study on the city’s parking:
“Did we need to spend $26,325 to find that out?”
Now let me back off a second. I’m not saying the money was ill spent — not yet at least.
There was more nuance in the study than that headline implies. The city has already discovered some inaccuracies or misinterpretations that will require further consultation. And it is just a preliminary study, so out of fairness, we ought to wait for the next chapter before passing judgment.
But I’m going to let fairness go by the wayside for a moment and riff on some initial thoughts:
I think the city council is well-intentioned in its desire to solve this perennial problem and felt that a fresh study beat a shoot-from-the-hip approach. Right now, it seems like a close call.
The most interesting aspect of the report was the suggestion that we need a parking structure.
That does seem like an easy answer from an outsider’s approach, but I’ve had my doubts.
First, it’s expected that such a structure would cost about $6 million. That’s a lot of money especially because, as it stands now, it would probably be nearly empty during the six months or so when Lake Geneva’s resort traffic disappears.
But maybe we have to look at the bigger picture. If that solves the downtown parking issue once and for all, maybe it’s worth it.
The report indicated that the lack of parking is keeping locals away — and that’s part of a larger picture.
If we look at the city’s downtown economy, getting locals back there is key.
So is making Lake Geneva a vacation destination for 12 months a year, instead of five or six.
If the parking structure got locals downtown and the city became more of a year-round destination, it would probably be cost-effective.
But, of course, it’s a chicken and egg proposition.
If the city built it would they — the locals — come downtown?
Should it be built betting the city will become a 12-month vacation paradise?
The goal of making the city attractive to visitors all year ‘round, will be one of the challenges of the new chamber head, who is expected to be hired in a couple of months. I do believe the city has winter charms that can be maximized beyond Winterfest and ice fishing. A Winterfest expansion is already in the works.
The study suggested a good location for a parking structure would be adding to the Cook Street surface lot behind the old theater. That area is already partly owned by the city. And it’s close to downtown, unlike some of the other locations mentioned in the past.
There is enough money in the TIF funds for a parking structure. Of course spending it, might get the anti-TIF people going. But unlike the skate park, for instance, a parking structure would clearly meet the TIF goal of improving downtown.
Of course, the word “parking structure” creates visions of tall, gray cement industrial-looking monoliths.
That’s not the image Lake Geneva sells. But they don’t have to be that way. They can be attractive.
The first floor could also feature stores that would incorporate the retail segment with the structure.
Upon hearing of the location, I flashed back to a conversation I had with former mayor Spyro “Speedo” Condos a few months ago.
Apparently, during his administration, that location was suggested for a parking structure and there were plans to buy adjoining properties to make it happen.
He could be excused for saying “I told you so.” So, I’ll say it before he does.
While the parking study still has a little time to be corrected and marinate, it’s healthy to keep on discussing it.
Pretty soon the summer traffic will be gone and we might all be lulled to sleep.
Let’s plumb everything we can from the study and then make some lasting decisions.
Halverson is editor and general manager of the Lake Geneva Regional News.
September 12, 2013I thought Derek Diehl was all football.
I hadn't met the man until after the Williams Bay game Friday night.
I was expecting someone intimidating.
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Weird law has Orwellian consequencesSeptember 05, 2013A bizarre interpretation of a law has meant you’re not getting the news you deserve.Managing Editor Rob Ireland explained it well in an article we ran last week (see it online at lakegenevanews.net).
Criticism, sports, pay raises, awardAugust 29, 2013“Does your paper endorse the comments and views of W.C.? His recent comment targeting Chris Ann’s Resale business seemed like a personal shot at her business. I find this bias, and consider it as him airing his dirty laundry!”That was an email I received last week from California, of all places, referring to a comment Sal Dimiceli wrote in his The Time is Now column last week.There were many criticisms of Dimiceli’s comment on our website plus I received two phone calls and the threat of a lawsuit.First, the only comments I endorse in the Regional News are my own. Sal’s column is in a section clearly marked in very big letters “Commentary.” That’s also the place where we run my column, letters to the editor and commentary by politicians of all stripes. I like to offer a broad perspective and allow varying opinions in that section — including criticisms of the paper and other opinions that I may or may not share.Here’s what Dimiceli wrote:“Please contact us direct for any furniture, appliance or any item donations. We are no longer collecting or distributing these items through Chris Ann’s Resale Shop. While we wish Chris Ann the best, we are no longer offering charitable donation receipts at her store. My repeated attempts to work with Chris Ann regarding her pricing, offering free items for the handicapped, and other store suggestions, has left me unable to continue our mission together.”Dimiceli, a philanthropist who has given away millions of dollars of his own money, has been promoting Chris Ann’s Resale Shop for months and months. In fact the last few weeks, he’s written strong commentary urging people to support the store.So, I think Dimiceli is allowed a rather tame comment buried at the end of his column explaining why he is no longer collecting or distributing through the store. He said the two of them couldn’t agree on pricing, offering free items and other store suggestions. Based on the phone calls I received, that was clearly the case. They couldn’t agree and parted ways. How is that inaccurate?Apparently, the two have agreed to not level accusations anymore, so I hope the book is closed on the issue.Sports coverage“You’re going to love being sports editor so much you’ll give up your jobs as general manager and editor.”Those are the paraphrased words of Mike Ramczyk during his last day as sports editor of the Regional News.Mike has left us to be sports editor of his hometown newspaper, the Burlington Standard Press. He’ll be great there as he was here.He made those comments prior to the party we had after work that night. So he was sober and I don’t think he was kidding because he repeated the comment at the tavern.It’s true, I will be handling sports until we do hire someone else and getting a whole lot of help from other staffers, coaches and athletic directors.But we do plan to hire a new sports editor. We have a couple of promising prospects — a phrase that sounds an awful lot like sports jargon (I’m practicing).One of those prospects is not me.It’s true that I started off in the newspaper racket wanting to be a sports writer. I grew up loving sports but not being very good at them — a typical profile for a sports writer (Ramczyk excluded).But my career quickly veered off into news, management and, eventually, into the business side of newspapering.One of those jobs though was being editor of another weekly with a two-person staff. That meant I did double as sports editor.One of my lasting memories was of standing out in the pouring rain trying to keep my camera dry watching the local football team take a drubbing.I decided then that sports would not be in my future as a full-time gig.So, contrary to Mike’s prediction, I’ll keep my day jobs as editor and general manager.And work really hard to be replaced as sports editor of the Regional News.In the meantime, we’ll try to cover area sports as best we can.Everyone in the news department will probably be chipping in — but they have day jobs too and we don’t want to cut back on news.So, we’ll try our best, but you may see a little less sports in the Regional News the next few weeks.If you have concerns, please contact the editor who will give the interim sports editor a good talking to.Pay raisesLast week I wrote a column about pay raises for Lake Geneva city council members.I heard from two readers who made good points against a pay raise.One noted that being on the city council should be an act of giving back — not taking away.He also mentioned that if a pay raise were given it should be no more than the raise that was given to city employees.The other reader mentioned that we might “get even goofier” people running for the job if the pay was raised. They might just run for office for the money. And that would be a real disservice to the community.
Pay not underlying cause of candidate apathyAugust 22, 2013
“Council gets pay increase.”
That headline in last week’s Regional News didn’t remain accurate for very long.
Last Wednesday — after last week’s paper went to press — Lake Geneva Mayor Jim Connors vetoed the pay raises the council had approved earlier in the week.
The idea will be considered again at the next council meeting. Overturning a mayoral veto takes six votes. Five council members voted for the raises last time — Gary Hougen, Ellyn Kehoe, Alan Kupsik, Dennis Lyon and Sarah Hill. Jeff Wall and Sturg Taggart voted against it. But Bill Mott was absent, so its eventual passage is far from a certainty.
Nonetheless, it’s worthy of discussion.
Pay raises for public officials is always a hot button issue.
In fact, some people probably didn’t even realize that members of the Lake Geneva City Council and the mayor actually get paid.
According to the ordinance that was passed — and then vetoed — future council members would get $4,000 a year vs. the $3,500 current council members are making. The next mayor would get a $1,500 raise to $7,000.
These would be the first raises for those elected officials since 2008.
I hope the current council members realize a lot of people haven’t had jobs much less raises in that time — and that’s the rub.
True, the total hit of $5,500 is barely a blip in the city’s $14 million budget, the amounts are within state averages for communities our size and I’m not saying the council members or mayor don’t deserve it. Doing the job well takes more work than anyone realizes until they get into it.
Plus I don’t think anyone on the current council is doing it for the money.
But as the mayor mentioned in his veto letter, percentage-wise the raises seem out of line: 14.3 percent for the council members and 25 percent for the mayor.
Connors specifically mentioned that his raise was too large.
The mayor, who rarely inserts himself into individual issues, may have been wise to veto it. At least it deserves more discussion.
As it stands now, it simply looks bad.
And appearances for any city government is important, especially during uncertain economic times.
Mostly, though, I don’t think it will draw in more candidates for the council as Hill suggested when she presented the pay increase idea.
It’s true that fewer people have run for city council the last few years, but I doubt money had anything to do with it.
I think the problem has been that people just don’t want to be personally demonized for the positions they take.
They don’t want their reputations torn asunder or the businesses they run boycotted.
To some degree taking criticism — from both the media and constituents — is part of the job.
But during the council wars of a few years ago, both sides went too far. Both sides let their emotions get away from them.
The disagreements became petty and personal.
And they taught a fundamental lesson in public discourse — those whatever-it-takes tactics just don’t work.
Everyone suffered, but no one — least of all the city — benefited.
As a result of that recent history, potential candidates have gotten gun shy.
While the current council has set a much different tone, the memory of those days is just too fresh.
Those who voted for the raises last week were doing what they thought was right for the city. So were those who voted against them. So was the mayor who vetoed it.
That’s how good governments run — office holders voting their conscience and living with what the majority decides.
Governments crash when people don’t accept that losing a vote isn’t the end of the world nor does it mean those on the other side are evil.
I suppose people have the right to respond the way they want to — just like people have the right to boo at sporting events.
But what constituents have to understand is that if they take that approach, fewer people will want to serve in public office.
This apparent candidate apathy isn’t about the money.
It’s about our inability to disagree without making it personal.
Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.
We were scooped on our own storyAugust 15, 2013
I was pleased and a little embarrassed when Managing Editor Rob Ireland showed me a copy of the Aug. 1 Lake Geneva Times.
Ostensibly a competitor, the Times had done a story on Underground Lake Geneva, a program we run on ReelLifeTV.net. ReelLifeTV.net is a video spinoff of the Regional News.
“So why haven’t we done a story on it?” I asked more to myself than Rob.
The story in the Times, written by editor Vicky Wedig, did a great job of giving the reader a feel for how our ReelLife videographers cover an event. In this case, they were giving us a taste of the Carson and Barnes Circus held on the Lake Lawn Airport grounds a few weekends ago.
The story captured the exuberance of Phil Bonyata, who heads our ReelLifeTV.net efforts, Joy Kowald our ace videographer and, most of all, Philip Sassano our gifted raconteur who hosts Underground Lake Geneva.
That said, there’s really no way to capture Sassano. For one thing he moves too fast. For another, he talks as fast as he thinks — a quip always at the tip of his tongue.
Sassano, whose day job is owning a design firm and Refined Rustic, Studio and Gallery, is a born host who gives life to any room he walks into.
As a measure of his energy, a friend of mine reported one day about a conversation he had with Philip over coffee. “As though he needs coffee,” the friend said.
Frankly, I’m not even sure how Philip ended up as part of our network family.
My bosses at our corporate offices asked me the other day, “how much do we pay him?”
“Nothing,” I said.
And then I repeated myself several times because corporate bosses can’t seem to get their head around the concept of someone working for free.
If memory serves — and it sometimes doesn’t — the Sassano saga started when he caught a commercial we did for ReelLifeTV.net that ran on YouTube.
“What’s this ReelLife TV?” Sassano asked me one day over the phone.
I explained it to him. We shoot commercials, put them on ReelLifeTV.net and on YouTube.
When I transferred him to Bonyata I knew it was a match made in heaven. Two creative personalities with a gift for gab and outlandish energy. They hit it off. And when Joy was worked into the equation, Sassano was so happy with her personality that he eventually hired her to work at his store.
Before even I knew it those three musketeers had started Underground Lake Geneva — sort of a walking minstrel show whereby they visit area events and figure it out as they go along.
The Times article mentioned that the shows are unscripted. It’s true. Beyond broad concepts going in, they make it up as they go along.
It’s one reality show that’s really a reality show. Sassano is a master ad libber. We never know what will come out of his mouth and I don’t think he does, either.
ReelLife is one of those rare ideas that has received rave reviews. Knock on wood, I’m still waiting for a bad one. Our testimonials fill in the white spaces in the Regional News and Resorter.
I can brag about it because it has nothing to do with me. Give Phil, Joy and Philip a free hand and I can just sit back and enjoy it like everyone else.
My favorite videos from the ReelLifeTV.net vault are the interviews Sassano did with local students for his “What is Lake Geneva Missing?” campaign — an awareness project to start discussion about our community.
They’re a spinoff of the AT&T “It’s Not Complicated” commercials. AT&T spent a gazillion dollars on the commercials and auditioned thousands of kids.
Philip just walked in cold with kids supplied by the school and pulled it off every bit as well as the high-priced marketing people did.
And check out our entire network at ReelLifeTV.net.
We thank the Times for getting the scoop on us. The whole story is available at http://news.mywalworthcounty.com
Now I’m wondering why we haven’t done an Underground on ReelLifeTV.net itself or, for that matter, the Regional News. I’ll just sit back and see if Philip, Phil and Joy read the paper to see if they pick up on my little hint.
Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.
Pappas adds perspective to '67 riotsAugust 08, 2013I sat down with John Pappas at Caribou Coffee the other day to discuss Lake Geneva’s July 4th, 1967, riots.He was dressed casually in a white T-shirt looking like a man who is as comfortable with himself as a man can be.And as his grandson said in a recent letter to the editor, the 83-year-old Pappas has an infectious laugh that comes to him easily.
Condos recalls how city, school teamed togetherAugust 01, 2013A recent story on the Badger High School liaison program reminded former mayor Spyro “Speedo” Condos about how the city and schools responded to issues that came about in the mid-1990s, topped off by the Columbine massacre in 1999.The way Condos remembers it, things started around 1995, when he was on the police and fire commission. There was concerned about drugs in schools and whether the schools were prepared to deal with the issue.Condos and others became part of a separate task force, and from that came a joint program between the city, the county and the school district to allow police dogs into the school to sniff out drugs.
...subscribers>> Village board needs a civics lessonJuly 25, 2013At the very least, it was a fast one.Some might even call it sleazy.No matter how you characterize it, Genoa City’s village board hijacked the political process last week.A petition was submitted to the village to require that capital projects costing more than $500,000 go to a referendum for approval.
Learning to face, overcome challengesJuly 18, 2013On July 4, I crossed the finish line of my first 5K race in two years.It was an exhilarating rush. All adrenaline, all smiles, all sweat.On July 9, I celebrated a one-year anniversary with the Regional News.
Little library a neighborhood bookendJuly 11, 2013A stack of books was piled on the wood table of Laurie Schinker’s porch.Laurie and a friend had just been at a rummage sale, where they’d acquired the latest additions to Laurie’s corner library, which is a box full of books at the corner of Spring and Waverly streets in Lake Geneva.In each book they were affixing a book plate that says “Always A Gift. Never For Sale,” and the words, “Little Free Library.”
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