Summary of Wausau caroling controversy will air soon; state assisting with 'Operation Santa' spoof; 10 more state stories
WAUSAU -- School officials are expected to release a report Jan. 3rd summarizing a two-month investigation into a school Christmas music controversy. The report was due out by now -- but officials held it back to give rank-and-file school employees named in the report a chance to respond.
In late October, the School Board hired the Ruder Ware law firm to get to the bottom of how a plan came about to limit Christmas music in holiday concerts by school district choral groups.
The idea was scrapped after a high school director put his group on hiatus, saying the plan would eliminate 15 Christmas programs for community groups.
Last night, the School Board was told the report's disclosure could be further delayed if disciplinary action is sought against a rank-and-file worker.
Apparently, that won't be the case. The state Open Records Law does not give administrators the same courtesies -- and Wausau Superintendent Kathleen Williams has received the brunt of the criticism.
Two School Board members wanted her to apologize for the controversy, while the investigation was still taking place. Williams said the request would judge her guilty before all the facts are in.
-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau
State hires legal team to help with casino decision
MADISON -- The Walker administration has hired a legal team to help the governor decide whether he'll approve a new Menominee Indian casino in Kenosha.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the national firm of Dykema Gossett could get $500,000 or more if necessary. The legal team will be led by Lance Boldrey, who used to be an aide to former Michigan Gov. John Engler. Officials said they considered several law firms before it chose Dykema, which has a large Indian law practice.
The firm is expected to review the main arguments over the proposed casino and it's expected to hire a financial analyst to review competing monetary claims.
The Menominee has said its new Hard Rock Casino and Resort would create thousands of jobs but the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk tribes said it would take away revenues from their existing casinos in southern Wisconsin.
The state's law firm will also determine how the tribes' current gambling agreements are affected by the proposal.
Several tribes require that they reimbursed if a new off-reservation gaming house cuts into their profits.
Gov. Scott Walker says a lot of work needs to be done before he can make a final decision. There's been speculation that the decision might not come until after next November's elections.
Pending bills would tighten strings on 'Common Core'
MADISON -- Wisconsin Assembly members are working on at least three bills aimed at keeping a close watch over the state's Common Core educational standards.
Republican Speaker Robin Vos expects the measures to be voted on in February.
One bill would require periodic reviews of the three-year-old standards for math-and-English, plus any new standards developed for other subjects. A second bill would prohibit finger-printing, retinal scans, and the gathering of other bio-metric data from public school youngsters. The third bill would hold additional public hearings on the Common Core requirements.
Wisconsin was among the first states to adopt them in 2010. Educators say they're improving student performance.
Conservatives fear the standards -- which are now in 45 states -- will result in federal control of public education.
'Festivus' pole provides outlet prompts grips, grins
MADISON -- The grievances have been aired at the State Capitol Festivus pole -- and the governor's policies were among the biggest gripes.
Over 100 people showed up at the State Capitol Monday to observe Festivus, the made-up holiday from a 1997 "Seinfeld" episode.
It was an "airing of the grievances" -- and many of those grievances targeted Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his policies.
The crowd gathered at a Festivus pole that's been in the Capitol Rotunda during the holiday season -- along with a nativity scene, a menorah, and a 25-foot Christmas tree.
Protestor Greg Gordon put up the Festivus pole, but not all the grievances were about the governor. Folks also complained about not winning the lottery, homelessness, and Percy Jackson movies not being as good as his books.
One person said the world needs more egg-nog. Another said beer glasses need to be bigger.
Five years post-GM, Janesville is recovering
JANESVILLE -- It was five years ago Monday when General Motors ended its production of big sport utility vehicles like in Janesville.
Twelve-hundred people lost their jobs, plus another 1,800 at the plant's suppliers.
Over the next year or so, the city of Janesville worked with state and business leaders on an incentive package to try-and-bring GM back. It didn't work -- and former City Manager Jay Winzenz tells WKOW TV in Madison that local officials knew they had to move on.
He said the overall impact of GM's departure was not as dramatic as many feared, because of efforts to diversify Janesville's economy over the previous two decades.
Those left behind absorbed higher taxes -- something they could least afford as the worst of the Great Recession was about to hit. John Beckord of Forward Janesville said local unemployment reached 13 percent -- but now, it hovers around 7- to 8 percent.
He said the health-care sector has been an anchor in Janesville for years, and it's had a lot of growth since General Motors left, along with a variety of other businesses.
Meanwhile, GM still maintains the Janesville plant. The automaker will own it through 2015 under the terms of the GM's collective bargaining agreement with the United Auto Workers union.
Union leaders still lobby to return production to Janesville, with no indications that it might happen.
Corps: Electronic carp barriers only mildly effective
A new report exposes new faults with the electronic barriers that are supposed to keep the invasive Asian carp out of Lake Michigan.
The Army Corps of Engineers said there's no evidence of the bloated carp bypassing the barriers. However, the Corps' research finds that passing vessels can pull the fish past the obstructions, and cause fluctuations in the strength of the electronic field.
The Army Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have conducted lab and field experiments to assess the impact of heavy barges going through the electronic fields at the fish barriers west of Chicago. The preliminary findings showed that tiny fish from 2-to 4 inches in length can pass the barriers while hitching onto boats.
However, the study said there's no immediate threat that Asian carp will enter Lake Michigan -- where they can become large in size, and eat up the food that native fish in the lake rely upon.
Wisconsin is among the states concerned that the bloated carp could ruin the Great Lakes' multi-billion dollar commercial fishing industry. The new study says it could take awhile. The nearest small Asian carp is 131 miles from Lake Michigan. The closest adult carp found in the Illinois River is 55 miles away. Only one live Asian carp has been known to bypass the electronic barrier, although the DNA of numerous carp have been found past that point.
Some snow-mo trails now open; Pierce, St. Croix remain closed
All a snowmobiler wants for Christmas is an open trail -- and in Marathon County, they're about to get it.
Officials in Wausau say they'll pen the county trails at 8 a.m., Christmas. They'll be limited to snowmobiles for now. ATV's can start using them in around 10 days, depending on trail conditions.
Www.TravelWisconsin.com says about 30 counties in the southern two-thirds of the state do not have their snowmobile trails open yet, even with all the snow we've had.
The state Tourism Department's Snow Report says the best snowmobiling conditions are in Polk, Washburn, Sawyer, Vilas, Oconto, and Marinette counties -- all in the far north. However, trails are open in parts of far southern Wisconsin.
Racine County reports good conditions. The National Weather Service says central and north central areas have 7- to 15 inches of snow on the ground. Conditions should be great in the far northwest after Sunday's and Monday's heavy snows. Ashland ended up with 31.5 inches, and Benoit in Bayfield County had 22. Other parts of the far northwest had more than a foot of lake-effect snow from Lake Superior.
Both Pierce- and St. Croix County trails are remain closed. For the latest status on Pierce trails, call the 24-hour Trail Hotline at 715-639-6311 or visit http://piercecountysnow.webs.com/. For St. Croix information, call 715-772-6824 or visit http://www.co.saint-croix.wi.us/index.asp?SEC=%7BD735C1F0-1FCF-407F-AA92....
OSHA levies six-figure fine against Waukesha firm
MILWAUKEE -- Federal officials have recommended a $119,000 fine for a Waukesha factory where an employee was severely burned this past summer.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Pure Power Technologies committed a willful violation of safety rules -- plus seven other serious violations.
A maintenance supervisor was burned June 25th while working on a 480-volt circuit breaker. OSHA said the employee was not given the proper protection equipment.
Pure Power is based in South Carolina. It has about 220 workers in Waukesha.
The company has not commented the OSHA citations. It has 15 days to either pay the fine, challenge the citations, or negotiate a reduced penalty.
Hastings man convicted in thefts linked to NW Wisconsin
MINNEAPOLIS -- Two Minnesota men have been convicted in a three-state theft ring that included northwest Wisconsin.
A federal court jury found Lyle Carpenter of Hastings and Derek Benedict of Hugo guilty of drug-related burglary, bank larceny, interstate transit of stolen goods, and conspiracy.
Benedict and Carpenter were among eight people accused of breaking into businesses, and stealing medications and money from ATM machines.
Superior was among the places where the crimes took place between the fall of 2009 and February of this year. Three men and three women still have their cases pending.
Man charged in Iron River killings now jailed
DULUTH -- A man accused of killing his parents nearly two weeks ago in Iron River and who was in a medically-induced coma has been moved back to the Bayfield County Jail in Washburn.
James “Jimmy” Crain, 44, is being held on two first-degree intentional homicide charges and was expected to appear in Bayfield County Circuit Court for a bail hearing Monday, which was postponed.
Crain, who was in a coma for nearly two weeks, was discharged from St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth on Friday and was transported back to Bayfield County, Sheriff Paul Susienka said.
Crain is under close supervision at the jail while he continues to recover from injuries he received during the incident, Susienka said.
Authorities allege that on Dec. 7, Crain killed his parents, Jim Crain, 79, and Eunice “Crickett” Crain, 76, with a butcher knife and later used the same weapon to inflict injuries to his own neck and wrists. Bayfield County deputies found the couple dead in their apartment and took Jimmy Crain into custody at the scene.
Authorities in Bayfield County say something prompted the 44-year-old Crain to brutally slash his parents with a butcher knife that night, alleged actions for which he faces intentional homicide charges.
Teen dies clearing pond with skid-steer
MEDFORD -- A 13-year-old boy drowned Monday, after a skid-loader fell through the ice on a pond in central Wisconsin.
Clark County authorities said the youngster was clearing snow from a pond near Owen when the machine fell into the water.
His family became concerned and went out looking for the boy. A relative found his body just after 11:30 Monday morning. The boy died later at a Marshfield hospital.
His name was not immediately released. The Clark County sheriff's and coroner's offices continue to investigate.
Walker orders 'Operation Santa' for Christmas Eve
MADISON – Gov. Scott Walker Monday directed the Wisconsin National Guard and Wisconsin Emergency Management to assist with a very important mission Tuesday night -- to help Santa as he makes his way through the Badger State on Christmas Eve, according to a spoof news release issued Monday.
"I want to make sure that Santa has everything he needs—from food for the reindeer to the latest weather reports," said Walker. "The Wisconsin National Guard and Wisconsin Emergency Management are ready to respond to ensure Santa is able to deliver presents to all the good boys and girls across Wisconsin."
“Santa Claus’s mission is a no-fail mission, and the Wisconsin National Guard and Wisconsin Emergency Management are ready to assist,” said Major General Donald Dunbar, the Adjutant General of Wisconsin. “We’ve been helping Santa ever since we were established, and we remain ready for this important mission.”
A KC-135 Stratotanker from Milwaukee’s 128th Air Refueling Wing will meet up with Santa and his team of reindeer in the sky over Lake Superior and will provide carrots and water for the reindeer and power bars and cocoa for Santa.
As a precaution, the 147th Aviation Battalion of Blackhawk helicopters have been tasked to pre-position critical supplies such as reindeer feed and provide extra lift support should the reindeer have problems pulling the heavy sleigh. The 120th Field Artillery Battalion will be providing illumination support if Santa encounters bad weather and needs help landing to deliver his toys.
Wisconsin Emergency Management will keep a close eye on the weather and will provide Santa with updated storm reports.
In addition, "ReadyWisconsin" will post updates on Twitter and Facebook about Santa's location as he travels across the state. Go to facebook.com/ReadyWisconsin and twitter.com/ReadyWisconsin. Use the hashtags #SantaAlert and #OperationSanta to track the Tweets and interact on Twitter.
The Wisconsin National Guard will also coordinate their efforts with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
NORAD tracks Santa’s route across the United States and posts updates at their “Santa Tracker” website, http://www.noradsanta.org .