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City manager: Sale of former Janesville GM plant is a 'gift'


Wednesday’s announcement that the defunct General Motors plant had been sold comes nearly nine years to the day after the last SUV rolled off the plant’s assembly lines on Dec. 23, 2008.

A few hours after he’d heard about the finalized sale of the 4.8-million-square-foot plant and its 300-acre property, City Manager Mark Freitag told The Gazette he believed the news came at the right time.

“I think it’s kind of neat that the announcement of something this significant to the community is happening right at Christmas,” he said. “What a great Christmas gift for the community. We’ve got some closure, and we’re set to move forward as a community.”

Freitag said a GM official called him shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday to announce the sale had closed. Commercial Development Company of St. Louis is the presumed buyer, he said.

The sale is not a surprise because Commercial Development, an industrial site redevelopment firm, announced in September that it had a contract to buy the GM plant and property.

GM and Commercial Development plan to hold a press conference at noon today in Janesville to give more details on the sale, Freitag said.

However, Wednesday’s announcement is a clear statement that the sale is final.

“We do have an answer that the deal is closed. All signatures are in,” Freitag said.

Both GM and Commercial Development indicated in early September that they would be working through a closing process that would roll out over about 75 days. That put a targeted date of Dec. 15 on the sale, Freitag said earlier.

GM did not offer more details Wednesday, including any information on the sale price, Freitag said.

The Gazette was not immediately able to reach a GM spokeswoman or Commercial Development official for comment.

Commercial Development confirmed the sale in a news release late Wednesday afternoon, saying that it “will assume responsibility for legacy environmental liabilities associated with the site” and that it plans to invest “significant resources to reposition the large industrial property” for new use.

As of late last week, Freitag said neither GM nor Commercial Development had given any sign that they had reached a deal. On Wednesday, a GM official called Freitag and said representatives of the two companies planned to travel to Janesville to hold a “press announcement” at noon today.

The press conference will be held in city council chambers at City Hall. Freitag said City Hall was chosen because it has ample seating capacity and space for officials and media.

Freitag said representatives of both companies plan to speak.

Commercial Development has told the city that it intends to clean up the GM facility, starting with asbestos removal inside the buildings.

According to earlier Gazette reports, Commercial Development told city officials it will then market the property for industrial tenants or buyers. If there is no interest from buyers, the company will tear down some or all of the plant buildings, possibly as early as 2018.

In its release Wednesday, Commercial Development wrote that its “preliminary activity” at the GM site could include “environmental remediation, demolition of some or all facilities, and extensive redevelopment planning.”

“Our team understands the historical significance behind this project, and we are pleased to lead the redevelopment process. We are very impressed with Janesville’s pro-growth leadership and look forward to working with them, as well as Rock County and the state of Wisconsin to help create new growth opportunities,” CEO Randall Jostes said in the release.

In the release, Commercial Development said it was interested in the property partly because the Janesville area has a “strong local workforce,” access to major highways and proximity to universities, among other attributes.

The property encompasses 300 acres, including the former Janesville Area Transport Company, or JATCO, site to the south. The JATCO site has been cleared by the state Department of Natural Resources through an environmental review.

Commercial Development has experience with renovation and reuse projects that have brought new tenants to defunct industrial plants. In some cases, the company has completely leveled post-industrial sites and sold them to other buyers for redevelopment.

A few former GM plant properties in Ohio and Pennsylvania have been transformed for other uses. Some of those projects have taken several years to roll out, according to municipal officials in those communities.

Commercial Development operates a sister company that it says takes on environmental liabilities, including cleanup, of the sites it buys. The company said earlier that its sister company would be involved in redevelopment of the Janesville site.

In September, when Commercial Development announced it had a contract on the GM property, it delivered a presentation to Janesville and Rock County officials. In the presentation, Commercial Development said it considered the site a potentially attractively location for future suppliers and support industries for electronics giant Foxconn.

Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics company, plans to build a massive manufacturing complex in the Kenosha area.

City officials have said Foxconn representatives toured the former GM plant in Janesville, although it’s not clear why Foxconn was interested in looking at the site.

The GM site has access to major rail and electrical infrastructure.

After The Gazette broke news of the GM site’s sale Wednesday, some local residents sounded off in comments on the newspaper’s website.

One of those residents, Lora Marsh of Milton, wrote:

“My dad and two of my three brothers worked there. Sad that it closed, but praying for this sale to bring new jobs to Janesville and a renewal of the area. … God bless this venture for all concerned.”

Freitag said he and other city officials join residents in wanting to learn more about the sale.

“Frankly, I’ll look forward to hearing how this came to fruition,” Freitag said.

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Jefferson Elementary students deliver holiday cheer


Neighbors of Jefferson Elementary School are accustomed to kids.

Kids riding bikes down the sidewalk. Kids shrieking their lungs out at recess. Kids—we’re sure it’s only a few—running willy-nilly across nearby yards on their way to school.

Wednesday was different.

On Wednesday, Jefferson second- and third-graders went from house to house distributing handmade Christmas cards to their neighbors.

If neighbors were lucky enough to be home for the delivery, a tidy mob of students would shriek “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” at them. This was nice for the homeowners—and anyone else in a five-block area who happened to need a Christmas greeting.

If no one was home, the kids taped the Christmas card to the door.

Mind you, these were not ordinary cards.

Christian Wauchop, 8, wrote, “Thanks for being a good neighbor and putting up with us crazy kids.”

Urta Gashi, 9, wrote, “Dear Jefferson neighbors: Thanks for dealing with our screaming and our craziness. Happy holidays, and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, have a nice long break.”

It’s the third year students have distributed holiday cards, said Jefferson Principal Kurt Krueger.

The idea came from teachers Jen Schrab and Robin Booth, but it’s part of the school’s community outreach efforts, he said.

“If we want to serve the community, we have to be in the community” Krueger said.

Service is one of the school’s values.

When asked why they distributed cards, 8-year-old Jaxon Lehr said, “It’s who we are.”

Urta agreed.

“It’s like Jaxon said. At our school, we talk about random acts of kindness,” Urta said. “We like doing kind things.”

Instead of sending students home to ask their parents for money for a charity, kids “pay” for items with tickets they earn for good behavior, Schrab said.

The tickets allow students to pick prizes for themselves and/or pick something for a charity, such as a book or a box of pencils.

The items on the charity cart are bought with help from the PTA, Schrab said.

Connecting with their own community and with places in other parts of the world helps kids learn about giving and receiving with grace, teachers said. They also learn how other people’s lives are different from their own and how to have tolerance for—and work with—all kinds of people.

Wednesday’s event also reinforced lessons about manners, how to have grown-up conversations and what it means to be a good neighbor.

Students said they were grateful for their community’s support and tolerance.

“We deliver cards on the holidays,” Jaxon said. “They have to deal with us every day.”

With shutdown clock ticking, GOP struggles for spending deal


With a shutdown clock ticking toward a midnight Friday deadline, congressional Republicans scrambled Wednesday to finalize a must-pass spending bill. A major obstacle evaporated after key GOP senators dropped a demand to add health insurance subsidies for the poor.

The No. 2 House Republican, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, said party leaders have scrapped plans to combine a short-term spending bill with $81 billion worth of disaster aid and a $658 billion Pentagon funding measure. Instead, Republicans are likely to schedule a separate vote on the disaster package, he said.

The strategy for averting a government shutdown appeared to be coming into focus, though it looks like many items on Capitol Hill’s list of unfinished business could be pushed into next year. It also appears the upcoming short-term measure will fund the government through mid-January, giving lawmakers time next month to work out their leftover business.

“I think if this all comes together we can vote and leave,” McCarthy said in anticipation of a House vote on Thursday.

Hopes for a bipartisan budget deal to sharply increase spending for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies appeared dead for the year and Democrats were rebuffed in their demands for protections for young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced Wednesday that they would not seek to add the insurance subsidies, which are designed to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s markets. The tax bill repeals the requirement that individuals purchase insurance.

Trying to combine the health measure with the spending bill was a demand of Collins when President Donald Trump and Senate GOP leaders secured her vote for the party’s tax cut measure. But House conservatives strongly opposed the move.

House Republicans weren’t part of that deal, and with the tax vote over, it became plain that Senate leaders were not able to deliver for her.

A short-term fix for an expiring program that pays for veterans to seek care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs system appeared likely. In addition, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said efforts were underway for a “patch” to make sure the states facing shortfalls from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which pays for health care for 9 million children from low-income families, won’t have to purge children from the program.

The fate of the $81 billion House disaster aid measure, now likely to see a separate vote, appears unclear. Conservatives are upset with the price tag of the plan, which also contains billions of dollars for California wildfire recovery. Democrats are pressing for more help for Puerto Rico, and McCarthy signaled a willingness for at least some accommodation to win Democratic votes.

Pelosi told fellow Democrats in an emailed update that talks with Republicans have continued throughout the day but that GOP leaders aren’t yielding on a Democratic demand that nondefense spending increases match the budget boost for the Pentagon.

“Unless we see a respect for our values and priorities, we continue to urge a strong NO” on the temporary funding bill, Pelosi said.

Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York are arguing for a two- or three-week temporary spending bill that would send a number of unresolved issues—including disaster aid—into the new year. Schumer appears to believe that shifting as many issues as possible into next year will increase his leverage on immigration and the budget.

Also in the mix is an expiring overseas wiretapping program aimed at tracking terrorists. It has bipartisan backing but is opposed by both stout conservatives and some liberals. McCarthy said the program might just be extended for a few weeks.

Anthony Wahl 

The former General Motors plant in Janesville, as photographed from a drone. Production at the plant stopped in 2008. City officials said they learned Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, that GM finalized a deal with a St. Louis company, Commercial Development Company, to buy the site.

Kurt K. Rausch

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Jakubowski sentenced to 14 years in federal prison


Joseph Jakubowski argued angrily and used foul language in a dialogue with a federal judge Wednesday.

Then the judge sentenced the Janesville man to 14 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge William Conley also ordered Jakubowski to pay $16,942 in restitution to the owner of Armageddon Supplies.

Jakubowski, 33, admitted during his jury trial in September he had burglarized the Janesville gun shop April 4, taking 18 firearms and two silencers.

Thirteen firearms and a silencer remain missing.

“That is a real danger to society,” Conley said.

“The defendant keeps telling the media and tells the court, ‘I’ll rob, I’ll steal. I’ll do anything I want,’” Conley said, and society needs to be protected from that.

The burglary, together with a lengthy manifesto Jakubowski mailed to President Donald Trump, which seemed to indicate he was willing to kill or be killed for his ideas, touched off a massive, 10-day manhunt.

Schools around southern Wisconsin went on alert or were closed for two days, and churches were later put on alert because authorities were concerned he would target those institutions.

About 160 local, state and federal law enforcement officers were assigned to the search, which made national headlines.

A wide-ranging argument between Jakubowski and Conley about Jakubowski’s beliefs and actions occupied much of the 75-minute hearing.

After about 30 minutes of dialogue, Conley gave Jakubowski 10 more minutes to speak, and Jakubowski launched into a philosophical discussion about the nature of truth and belief.

Conley said Jakubowski raised interesting philosophical points, “but unfortunately you are not in a philosophy class.”

In an ensuing argument, Jakubowski said: “OK, give me freedom or give me death. I don’t care what your damned, stupid sentence is. … I don’t care about your damned laws. (Expletive) your laws and (expletive) you, too.”

Gun shop owner Scott Kuhl made a short statement at the hearing, saying he wants his firearms back.

“We don’t have insurance, contrary to his belief,” Kuhl said.

Kuhl said he and Jakubowski have one mutual friend, and from what he knows, he and Jakubowski grew up in similar circumstances.

“I turned out fine. I don’t know what the hell his problem is,” Kuhl said.

Conley said because the guns are still lost, it’s unlikely Kuhl will get them back and that it will be years before Jakubowski is released and can start paying restitution.

Jakubowski complained to Conley that the news media made him look like a monster.

In the presentence document, his lawyer wrote that Jakubowski never intended to engage in violence.

“Indeed, the scare regarding schools and churches being targeted was nowhere in the manifesto; it came from a very drugged up ex-con, who knew Jakubowski and came into the police station when the initial reports aired and said he thought Jakubowski would do something like that but then later walked that statement back,” according to the presentence document. “There was nothing in Jakubowski’s words or actions that portended mass violence. To be clear: law enforcement’s initial response was appropriate. But with the benefit of time and sober reflection, it is clear that violence was not Jakubowski’s aim.”

In court, federal defender Joseph Bugni said Jakubowski at one point intended to commit “suicide by cop,” but he never did.

Conley ruled, over Jakubowski’s objections, that Jakubowski had not taken responsibility for his actions, even though he had apologized to the gun shop owner.

Not taking responsibility, together with previous convictions for domestic violence and a 2007 attack on a Janesville police officer, helped pushed federal sentencing guidelines to a range of 12 to 15 years, Conley said.

Jakubowski complained that a psychological evaluation was released to a TV reporter.

Jakubowski started reading from the evaluation, which he quoted as saying he suffers from schizophrenia, anti-social traits, narcissism and paranoia.

He said he didn’t agree with most of that.

A jury found Jakubowski guilty Sept. 26 of stealing from a federally licensed firearms dealer and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The maximum penalty for those crimes is 20 years in prison.

Scott Blader, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, would not say how much of the 14-year sentence Jakubowski is likely to serve. He said that would depend on “Mr. Jakubowski’s willingness to conform and take responsibility for what happened here.”

Jakubowski still faces state charges of burglary while arming himself, felony theft and possession of burglary tools. That trial is scheduled to start Jan. 22 in Rock County Court.

As for the missing firearms, Jakubowski’s attorney said in the presentence argument that Jakubowski had tried to help find them:

“He didn’t want some kid to get hurt, so despite them being buried in a deep pit, far in the woods, he met twice with law enforcement to help them recover the firearms.”

But during the hearing, Jakubowski said the government had no right to strip his right to bear arms from him, even though he is a felon, “so I ain’t giving them back.”

Later, talking about guns, he said: “As a felon, I had them anyway. So what?”

“You realize what you did was an act of terrorism,” Conley told him.

“OK, go ahead, label me,” Jakubowski responded.

Jakubowski went on to say the government committed acts of terrorism at the 2016-17 Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

“The government pushed Indians off their land and away from their water for oil,” he said.

Conley warned Jakubowski several times that he wasn’t helping himself get a better sentence.

“I could care less (sic),” Jakubowski responded at one point. “I don’t like that world out there.”

“I truly don’t care about the law. … I’m done with laws and rules,” he said at another point.

Some hints about what led Jakubowski to do what he did it were given, including that he was abused as a child, suffers from a back injury that keeps him from some jobs and spent $12,000 on a lawyer to get his gun rights restored, which ended in failure.

“He is broken, … physically, financially, emotionally, mentally, even in spirit,” Conley of Jakubowski.

Jakubowski suffered physical and psychological abuse at home, Conley said, adding that his mother suffered from mental illness while his stepfather was unusually cruel.

Both parents used marijuana, Jakubowski started using it at age 13 and later became an alcoholic, Conley said.

As he neared the end of his remarks, Conley said he hoped Jakubowski would grow in his understanding of truth in the role of government.

“How are you going to tell me what’s right for me?” Jakubowski said suddenly, loudly and angrily.

Conley, who had kept a soft tone throughout, never referring to Jakubowski’s attitude or rough language, replied: “I’m not. It’s up to you.”