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David J. Phillip 

Virginia players celebrates after defeating Texas Tech 85-77 in the overtime in the championship of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Monday, April 8, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Janesville council wants to explore upfront incentives for credit union project



It’s how multiple downtown stakeholders and city of Janesville officials described the prospect of the city paying $7.1 million up front to buy, clean and prepare several parcels on the riverfront in downtown Janesville that could become home to Blackhawk Community Credit Union’s proposed Reflections Plaza.

The city council in lockstep gave city staff its blessing to work up a proposal for an incentive package that could help Blackhawk’s plan for a $30 million, multi-use office project come to pass.

The Reflections Plaza could include a new headquarters, a GM employee legacy center, UW-Whitewater satellite offices and retail and restaurant space in a facility along South Water Street.

Staff could draw up a baseline package for the council to take to a closed session as early as April 22.

The question would be what kind of protections the council would ultimately want in an upfront cash proposal some council members say is uncharted territory for the city.

Some council members voiced concern whether site contamination along the riverfront could be a hidden tiger.

But none on the council thought the risks should dissuade the city from drawing up an offer.

“I’m not hearing any reason not to move forward,” council member Tom Wolfe said. “I’m hearing 23 million to 30 million reasons to move forward.”

Wolfe was talking about estimates from the city that the project would be a $30 million investment by Blackhawk, and, according to preliminary city estimates, could boost the assessed value of property that includes the former Bee Line Wheel Alignment and jail site to about $23 million.

Blackhawk originally intended to buy a chain of several privately owned parcels for the development, but last month the credit union asked the city if it would buy the former Rock County Jail site, the vacant Bee Line property and the adjacent Nowlan and Mouat law firm building, the city said.

Acquisitions of those properties would cost the city $4.25 million, the city estimates—a major portion of the $7.1 million upfront deal Blackhawk seems to favor. Under the proposal, the city would pay to clear the properties and clean up any contamination. The city would then sell Blackhawk the sites, along with the city-owned former Mercy Options site and a few other adjacent city parcels, for $1.

That’s different than the city’s initial offer—a 15-year, $6.1 million, pay-as-you-go TIF deal that would include $1.9 million in upfront costs, including an agreement the city would pay an estimated $258,000 to clean up contamination and reimburse part of the development’s property taxes for a set number of years.

The upfront property acquisition proposal would cost the city about $890,000 more in interest on city borrowing, according to city estimates. But the property would go back on the tax rolls the first full year Blackhawk owned it, City Clerk-Treasurer Dave Godek said.

Blackhawk Community Credit Union President and CEO Sherri Stumpf said it has become clear to her credit union and project planners that there are major complexities readying a historically industrial stretch of riverfront for commercial development.

“We are not developers, and this we know, now, is beyond our scope,” Stumpf told the council Monday.

She pointed out the riverfront area where the Reflections Plaza is proposed is designated as a “catalyst” site the city is focused on improving through its ARISE riverfront redevelopment strategy.

Stumpf said Blackhawk prefers the city buy and ready the parcels rather than offer a TIF deal because the city would be more “in a position” than her credit union to obtain state grants and other funding to pay for cleanup. She said site contamination is something the credit union is leery to ask its members to pay for.

Council member Jim Farrell said he wanted to see what kind of proposal the city could bring to negotiations, but he and council member Sue Conley said they’re concerned over “unknown” possible costs for site cleanup.

It could be weeks or months before the city completes a full environmental assessment of the parcels, officials said.

Much of the privately-owned property that would be part of Reflection Plaza deal are owned by Jeff Hazekamp, a former principal with Janesville architectural firm Angus-Young Associates.

Farrell said he thinks the property seller should be responsible for cleanup costs.

All council members Monday night said they wanted to be careful a development deal doesn’t expose taxpayers to risk.

Council member Rich Gruber said if city staff built in protections that were “equivalent” to those under typical TIF deals, “then I’m going be all in favor of it.”

Council President Doug Marklein said he believes an upfront incentive package isn’t all that unusual. He said it’s similar to development incentives municipalities including Janesville once offered in the past, during “pre-TIF” years.

“Before TIF (tax-increment financing), this is the way we did it. It’s the way the cities helped development pre-TIF. It’s probably the most traditional way to do this,” Marklein said.

Anthony Wahl 

A bicyclist makes his way along the Ice Age Trail in Janesville on Monday as he crosses over the Rock River. Temperatures hovered in the low 70s on Monday, but things could change drastically in the next few days. After hitting the low 60s today, the forecast calls for possible snow and cold Wednesday, with temperatures falling into the 40s through the weekend. See Weather, Page 7A.

Shake-up at Homeland Security goes beyond Nielsen's exit


President Donald Trump and White House allies pressing for a harder line on immigration sped up their campaign Monday to clean house at the Department of Homeland Security with a mission far wider than just the departure of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

The dismantling of the government’s immigration leadership is being orchestrated by Trump adviser Stephen Miller, the impetus behind some of the administration’s most controversial policies, according to three people familiar with the matter. Beyond changing names and faces, Trump is considering separating migrant families at the border again, resuming the practice that drew so much outrage last year, the same people said.

The shake-up is a result of Trump’s frustration with the increasing number of migrants at the border and his diminishing options for action. Court challenges, immigration laws and his own advisers have blocked several of his proposals as his re-election campaign looms. The White House has lashed out by demanding new leadership, although a new team is likely to face the same obstacles.

The head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, L. Francis Cissna, and Homeland Security General Counsel John M. Mitnick are expected to be pushed out of their positions, the officials said. Nielsen submitted her resignation Sunday after meeting with Trump at the White House, and three days earlier, the administration withdrew the nomination of Ron Vitiello to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Other longtime civil servants in agency posts are also on the chopping block, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Leading senators from both parties were displeased.

“The purge of senior leadership at the Department of Homeland Security is unprecedented and a threat to our national security,” declared Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California. “President Trump is trying to remake DHS into his own personal anti-immigration agency.”

Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, criticized Congress for a crisis at the border but also said, “I am concerned with a growing leadership void within the department tasked with addressing some of the most significant problems facing the nation.”

Nielsen has dutifully carried out the administration’s orders but often had to explain to Trump the legal limits of what he wanted to do. And he didn’t like it.

She did months of diplomatic work with Central America and Mexico and brokered an arrangement in which asylum seekers were to wait in Mexico for their asylum cases to play out, an effort meant in part to discourage false claims. She moved to abandon long-standing regulations that dictate how long children are allowed to be held in immigration detention and was working to find space to detain all families who cross the border. She limited what public benefits migrants can receive and put regulations in place to circumvent immigration law and deny asylum to anyone caught crossing the border illegally.

And she took ownership over the most divisive of all the decisions, the separation of families at the border.

Nearly everything has been challenged or watered down by the courts. Just Monday, a judge blocked the administration from forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, giving lawyers a few days before putting the block into effect.

“DHS is really between a rock and hard place,” said Doris Meissner, the former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

There are some options not yet exhausted by Trump, including giving judges more deference in asylum cases and allocating more resources to diminish backlogs, she said. But the White House has shown little interest in those ideas because they conflict with its assessment that those seeking refuge are trying to cheat the system.

Nielsen finally had enough and resigned Sunday, in part because she hadn’t been informed about the sudden decision to withdraw Vitiello’s nomination, according to people familiar with her decision.

She was also pushing back at an effort to house an “immigration” or “border czar” within Homeland Security, they said. She wanted the person to be based at the White House and help coordinate immigration policy between the Justice Department, Health and Human Services, and DHS, all of which have a piece of the complex puzzle. But the people said Miller was pushing to house the czar at DHS, in part over frustration with the rising number of migrants. There were more than 100,000 expected in March, border officials said, the highest tally in 12 years.

Trump announced Sunday that Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, would take over for Nielsen at Homeland Security on an acting basis. McAleenan had impressed Trump’s inner circle, specifically son-in-law Jared Kushner, with his extensive border knowledge.

Trump spokesman Hogan Gidley expressed hope McAleenan’s experience would lead to “massive changes” at the border.

But McAleenan is not an ideologue or politician. He refers to migrants as “vulnerable families” who need more humanitarian treatment, not as beefy dudes with tattoos trying to game the system, as Trump suggests. He’s pushed for asylum changes to make screenings faster and cases decided more rapidly.

Democrats said McAleenan should have told them about the death of a child in U.S. custody in December, but he largely has escaped the ire over family separations even though it was his agency that separated the children.

Gil Kerlikowske, who led Customs and Border Protection from 2014 to 2017, said illegal crossings can go up and down on a number of factors that are difficult to predict. He noted that stepped-up Mexican enforcement helped end a surge of Central American families coming to the U.S. in 2014.

”I don’t envy anybody in that position because these are policies that are White House policies, not DHS,” said Kerlikowske, who promoted McAleenan to be his top deputy. “I couldn’t have been more disappointed” to see Vitiello’s nomination pulled, he said, describing Vitiello as “a 30-year Border Patrol, deputy chief and you’re saying, ‘Well, you’re not really tough enough?’ I find that kind of amazing.”

Trump has seemed to be grasping at anything to stem the tide of migrants. That includes reinstating family separations, a policy that previously prompted international outrage and could mean he would have to violate his own executive order and possibly run afoul of a federal judge overseeing reunifications. The government just said in court filings it would take up to two years to reunify all the children already separated from their families.

”The administration has been well beyond the bounds of the law for some time with respect to asylum and family separation. There’s no place for them to go that won’t continue to break the law,” said Lee Gelernt, the American Civil Liberties Union official whose lawsuit on behalf of a separated mother led to the reunifications.

Obituaries and death notices for April 9, 2019

Dennis D. Anderson

Marjorie Bley

Gerald L. “Jerry” Boettcher

Janet M. Bollerud

James W. Boyd

Doretta M. Braun

Shirley Ann Coggon-Pitt

Charles A. Costello

Brian A. DeRemer

Irene M. Dykeman

Cole J. Fuller

Josephine Kevane Traxler

Betty M. Lohrman

Charles E. “Charlie” Lund

Randy Robbins

Lloyd E. Thorson

Milton School Board tables decision to hire owner's representative


The Milton School Board on Monday tabled a decision to hire an owner’s representative to oversee referendum construction so board members could have a chance to review more information.

Mike Huffman of Huffman Facility Development would have been hired as the district’s owner’s representative if the 2017 referendum had passed, Superintendent Tim Schigur said.

The school board can choose to hire Huffman under an updated contract, open up the position to new bids or not hire an owner’s representative at all.

Schigur sent board members a proposed new contract from Huffman when he received it Monday afternoon. He said the contract contained a few changes in cost and dates.

Board member Brian Kvapil said he did not have time to review the contract and wanted the opportunity to read it over before voting.

Board member Karen Hall agreed. The board voted unanimously to table the hiring decision.

An owner’s representative is knowledgeable in design and construction and would oversee construction on projects included in the $59.9 million referendum approved April 2, Schigur said.

The representative would work on the project sites and make sure the district’s timeline and vision are being followed, he said.

The representative’s costs could be covered by referendum funds or with possible investment earnings as the district pays off its referendum bond, Schigur said.

Huffman’s updated contract has higher costs compared to the proposed 2017 contract, but the increase is “minimal,” Schigur said. He did not know what the increase was at Monday’s meeting.

Board members expressed interest in hiring an owner’s representative, but they agreed it was too soon to make any decisions.

The next steps for the district’s business services department were also discussed without action Monday.

The district’s finance and human resources committees on Friday identified two options for the business services office going forward: hire a new business manager to replace Mary Ellen Van Valin, who retired last month, or redistribute Van Valin’s duties among current staff members.

Schigur said he is confident current staff members, including Director of Administrative Operations Jerry Schuetz and accounting specialist Wendy LaPointe, are qualified to absorb the business manager’s responsibilities.

Schuetz has a business manager license through the state Department of Public Instruction, is a certified public manager, and has a master’s degree in public administration and a doctorate in educational leadership.

LaPointe is working on a master’s degree in school business management and a DPI business manager license.

Schigur said his opinions are recommendations only, and the decision on whether to hire a new business manager is up to the board.

Kvapil said he thinks it is a good idea to hire a new business manager. Board member Mike Pierce agreed, and board member Karen Hall said she needs more information but leans toward hiring a new business manager.

Board President Tom Westrick said he thinks the business department has talented staff who can take over the responsibilities.

Board members Joe Martin and Diamond McKenna both said they need to learn more before taking a stance.

In a memo, Schuetz said the district could save money by not hiring a new business manager.

Schigur said the district has included a business manager salary in next year’s early budget forecasting for the time being.

The position, including salary and benefits, could cost the district about $150,000.