Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I haven't been blogging much lately. I commented lately to a friend that there haven't been many goofy ideas emanating from city hall, hence, less to get worked up about. Well, they are now back to work.

I see on the Racine Post that Alderman Helding is weighing in on/causing a signage issue in Uptown. Apparently an exception to the signage rules would have to be made for a sign proposed by a used car dealer.

I don't know all the details there but it does make me wonder about Helding's priorities in particular and our elected officials priorities in general. As a concerned resident of Racine, I don't worry too much about business signs. I worry about crime, education, taxes and regulations and their effects on economic growth, and the fiscal health of the city.

Perhaps the issues are too big and or too sticky to address. Perhaps it is safer to tackle small problems so as to appear active and concerned. I can't know what is going on in the minds of our elected officials.

Just once I would like to see Greg Helding or any other alderman express concern about the looming financial obligations facing the city and taxpayers. Just what are the projected costs for retiree pensions and other obligations? Are they increasing? At what point will we either raise taxes through the roof (as though that hasn't already happened) or default on our obligations?

I suspect that even the mention of looming fiscal disaster would not sit well with city employees and retirees. So let us look away and distract ourselves.

Look! Over there! Mrs. Jones hasn't cut her grass for weeks. We must do something!


Greg Helding said...


"I don't know all the details there but"

That is the common cry of many a blogger. You can use that 'get out of jail free' hook to launch into any criticism you wish. It might behoove you, and others, to take the time once and a while to know the details.

Having priorities does not mean one ignores all issues outside those to which one assigns higher priority. As elected officials, we have to deal with a panoply of issues. Some are quickly dealt with and others require attention many times over many years to deal with. I don't spend my days looking for signs to object to. However, I am on the Plan Commission and the City Council. And that means I am regularly asked to make decisions about, among many other things, granting exceptions to zoning or planning requirements as they pertain to signs. The city's fiscal issues, of course, loom large in my mind. That does not mean I can simply 'pass' on any smaller issues that come up.

In this case, my duties required me to decide if a we should ignore provisions of an adopted neighborhood plan to further the interests of a user car dealer occupying a historic building. My vote was 'No'. I took time to consider this and spend few minutes on the phone with Dustin Block responding to his queries. I assigned neither task a high priority, but I was able to complete them without ignoring the larger issues.

"Just once I would like to see Greg Helding or any other alderman express concern about the looming financial obligations facing the city and taxpayers. "

I do this all the time in the votes I take and the policies I vote for or against on city council. The Common Council has been focused for some time on dealing with the larger issues and we have been doing something about them. I am not responsible for the media or to what they choose to draw your attention on a particular day.

Dealing with small and large issues simultaneously is not fiddling while Rome burns. I'm not distracting myself, I'm getting the job done. If you can't stay focused, that's on you.

Denis Navratil said...


FYI, my point here was not to rag on you about the signage issue. Why? Because as I said, I don't have all the details. Rather, the focus on such minor issues got me wondering why the large issues seem not to get the attention they deserve. But you are giving them attention every time you vote etc... only the media isn't paying attention or whatever. Very well. You can use this site any time you wish to inform FR readers what it is you are doing about the larger issues. So I invite you to address the issue that I brought up. Is Racine and the Racine taxpayer at risk because of financial obligations owed to current and former city employees? If so, what remedy do you propose? Thanks.

Denis Navratil said...
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Denis Navratil said...

The deleted comment was an accidental repeat of the previous comment should anyone care to know.

Anonymous said...

Helding is such a smart guy. Does HE have an "appointment" at UW-Parkside too???

No, it is much easier to fix the small stuff that can be dealt with through guilt or coercion, than the larger issues like crime. It is easy to play with other people’s money to buy houses, “examine” and lobby for trains, and set specs for signage as citizens scream for more to be done about things like crime.

Denis Navratil said...

Greg, I hope you recognize the irony here, in that, in a blog about politicians focused on the minutiae while ignoring the larger problems, you responded quickly and forcefully to defend your involvement on a minor issue.... but have thus far ignored the larger issue that I had hoped to discuss.

Denis Navratil said...
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Anonymous said...

Denis- You should look at Dickert trying to bypass the biding rules to give a $40,000 of city money to a campaign worker in a no-bid contract. That is the most recent of the "goofy ideas" coming out of city hall.

Anonymous said...

not in response to your most recent post, but interested in hearing various views/reactions to this report:

Alderman David Maack said...


This is an example of one of those times where picking up the phone and asking for clarification would make a huge difference. However, it is easier to get on here and post without having all the facts. As a member of the Access Corridor committee I was there for the discussion and made the motion to approve the sign. Apparantly the Uptown area has guidelines that are followed. As a part of the process, the applicant brings his sign design in to ensure that it complies. In this case, Mr. Servantez could have a message board sign and put basically anything he wanted on it except for info on his business. Therefore inspirational messages were ok but 2007 Lexus was not. My philosophy has been 1. these are guidelines 2. if they are guidelines than we should take them into consideration but common sense should prevail 3. the guidelines in this case dont make sense and I pointed out that if I bought the Uptown Theatre and started showing movies, I could not list what was showing 4. Mr. Servantez is putting in a nice monument style sign at considerable expense and we should do everything we can to ensure his success. On this issue of the sign Alderman Helding and I disasgree but in a democracy, that should be celebrated not vilified.

As for your macro question, in 2003 and 2004 we had some difficult budgets in which positions were being eliminated. In 2003, city union workers stood outside screaming at us as we entered the building. In 2004 we closed a fire station. These were not easy or popular decisions to make but they had to be done. At the time, I started saying that the employees needed to start paying towards health insurance if we were to save positions. I instantly became a target and had a union official call me wanting to compare health insurance plans and telling me that they did not have free healthcare because they paid a deductible. I explained that those in the private sector had a copay, deductible and premimum. In 2005, when I went around getting signatures, I asked those at the door if city employees should pay towards their health insurance and all but one said yes-even after I explained they had a deductible. That year, as I lay in a coma, two union presidents went door to door with my opponent, all beacuse I beghan raising the healthcare issue. Since then we have negotiated premiums and new hires will not get health insurance past the age of medicare. We have taken incremental steps that will eventually result in long term gains.

I realize that you will respond and if I dont I am not ignoring you. Reading blogs is a luxury I dont have too often.

Denis Navratil said...

No clarification needed here David. I am of the opinion that our local elected officials are spending too much time with things like signs, permissible taco sale locations, garage sales etc... and not enough on real issues. Talking with politicians prior to blogging would not likely change my view. Besides, as I have said before, I view this blog as the start of a conversation.

On a more encouraging note, I appreciate your willingness to share your story about the unions. This is one of our big problems. Of course unions have every right to advocate on the behalf of themselves and their members. But you have the responsibility to a much larger constituency. If the demands of the unions result in a bankrupt Racine and you and those before you signed off on these demands - perhaps afraid to take on the unions - then you would be complicit in our downfall. This is the kind of stuff we should be dealing with on a daily basis and it will take real leadership to do it. And by real leadership I mean someone (or many) with the courage to point out the problem, risk their political career etc... to get the job done for Racine taxpayers. Sadly, I don't see anyone in elected office with the spine to do the job.

I appreciate the efforts you have spelled out but I do wonder if it is too little, too late. Better than nothing though.

Denis Navratil said...
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George said...

I'm just curious to know. Have you volunteered to serve on any City / County committees related to policy development? You have a lot of good ideas! Is this the best way to ask the questions and put those ideas to use?

It's not often that we find people who have a desire to make change...

Denis Navratil said...

Yes George I have volunteered but have yet to have my offer accepted. This tells me that most politicians really don't want a diversity of ideas presented. They want rubber stamp validation of their ideas as well as an excuse/buffer should the ideas not pan out. Cynical, yes, but also true. So, at this point my blog is the best method available to me.