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Janesville panel recommends Traxler Park as possible overnight parking spot for homeless


After a lively discussion, Janesville’s parks and recreation advisory committee recommended Tuesday that the city council consider Traxler Park as a possible location for homeless people to sleep overnight in their cars.

The committee did not make any recommendations on the hotly debated Palmer Park location, the proposal’s original site for overnight parking.

The original proposal would allow homeless people to sleep in their cars between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the Palmer Park lot off Palmer Drive. Current ordinances do not allow people to sleep in their cars anywhere in the city.

Recent news stories about a homeless man camping on city property have sparked more discussion of policies that affect the homeless.

However, a handful of residents voiced concerns about the overnight parking proposal Tuesday.

Angela Major 

Vehicles are parked near CAMDEN Playground at Palmer Park on Tuesday in Janesville.

“I feel sorry for the people that have fallen on unfortunate times, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t believe we should stick them in any one certain location,” resident Chris Cass said.

Cass asked committee members if they had asked homeless people where they want to sleep. He said he thinks Palmer Park should be low on the list.

“If you want parks, I would say there’s a whole lot more that have more to do and can be more beneficial than what Palmer Park is going to be,” he said.

Jeanne Carfora, who has lived in Janesville for nearly 50 years, supported the parking proposal, saying she thought it was a good plan to help the homeless.

“I just see this as another opportunity to be showing the community, illustrating to others, what a community we are,” she said.

Committee member Ann Hyzer said she spent her childhood near Palmer Park and doesn’t think the location is a realistic option.

“I grew up near Palmer Park, playing there from age 2, and I’m a fierce defender of our green,” Hyzer said. “And I am in the camp of the people that are for this initiative. I do not believe it should be in Palmer Park.”

Hyzer said Traxler Park has fewer trees and bushes, which could help prevent illegal activities, and Traxler’s location away from homes made it more suitable.

Angela Major 

Vehicles are parked Tuesday near CAMDEN Playground in Janesville’s Palmer Park in the lot where the city has proposed allowing homeless people to stay in their cars overnight.

Committee member Venesa Draves agreed, saying that municipal parking lots or buildings could be another option instead of parks.

“I represent parks. I love parks,” she said. “I personally don’t feel that any park in the city of Janesville is the correct place for this.”

Parks Director Cullen Slapak said city officials preferred Palmer Park over Traxler Park because the latter would be more difficult to monitor and hosts more events in summer.

A motion to recommend more investigation of both options failed before the committee settled on providing materials on Traxler Park and recommending that the council consider Traxler as a possible spot for overnight parking.

Committee Chairwoman Katie Udell said she preferred the Palmer Park option. But she said Tuesday was a productive meeting.

“The city is being proactive in providing a place where we’re not criminalizing being homeless with a car. That is why I support this motion,” she said.

“Ultimately, it’s the city council’s call, and I think what was good about tonight was that it featured many diverse viewpoints,” she said.

Benjamin Pierce 

Residents attend a meeting of the Janesville Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee at City Hall on Tuesday. The committee recommended that the city council investigate Traxler Park as a possible site for overnight parking for homeless people.

Some committee members made it clear they want to see concrete changes take place, but they found it difficult to agree on a single recommendation. Several motions and proposals failed because they didn’t get enough votes.

Committee member Kristen Mickelson said she has faith in the city and hopes it can move forward with a plan.

“I feel like we’re taking something, that we’re just trying to do something positive and making it this every possible bad thing that could happen,” Mickelson said.

“I think we just need to rein it in, give something a try for a change. See what happens.”

The city council will discuss the issue again July 22.

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Reading, writing, math and kindness: Van Buren kids showcase summer projects


It’s nice to be nice.

But does nice matter? How about kindness? Or is having something to do during indoor recess most important?

Those are all difficult philosophical questions—except for that last one, which is more of a transcendent question for the ages, especially the ages of 5 to 12.

Students at Van Buren Elementary School will provide answers to all those questions Friday. It’s Celebration Day, an end-of-summer-school rite at Van Buren where kids showcase what they’ve done to help each other, their school and their community.

In summer school, Van Buren kids use project-based learning to tackle real-world problems.

Project-based learning is an updated version of what used to be called “hands-on learning.” Instead of working quietly at their desks on Popsicle-stick structures, students work in groups, noisily tossing ideas around and discarding or revamping those that don’t work.

Kids came up with a variety of ideas for their projects. The ideas included making Ugly Dolls—not actually ugly—for the kids at the YWCA Rock County’s Care House, puppy chow snack mix for guests at the GIFTS Men’s Shelter and buttons with positive messages for kids who are having a hard day.

They also designed activities for indoor recess, transformed the playground with positive messages and created videos to explain the school’s “standard operating procedures” or SOPs. That last one is Van Buren speak for “school rules.”

Angela Major 

Austin Bier, 10, places marbles into a pipe while working on STEM-related indoor recess activities Tuesday at Van Buren Elementary School in Janesville.

Principal Stephanie Pajerski said involving students from the start, having them come up with problems they want to solve, gives them ownership. With ownership comes understanding and empathy.

Austin Bier, 10, and Will Woerth, 7, developed activities for indoor recess Tuesday. While the two boys worked on a marble track, other students worked on Lego Robotics challenges, hide-and-seek math problems and other options.

Bier said playing basketball in the gym was, to date, the only tolerable way to spend recess inside. That’s why these projects are so important.

In another room, Brooke Larson, 10, showed off the Ugly Doll she made.

“I made my doll with one eye because everybody is different,” Brooke said.

We asked summer school students why a child at the Care House would like an Ugly Doll. The answers came flying in a clamor of kind words and half-completed sentences: “They might like to have a toy to play with,” “something to cuddle with,” “from a kid.”

Angela Major 

Students paint a fence surrounding a dumpster with outlines of people holding hands Tuesday at Van Buren Elementary School in Janesville.

Chloe Adams, 9, painted life-size outlines of kids on the white fence around the school’s dumpsters. Each figure had a supportive message written on it. The goal was to make the school and playground look more cheerful—dumpsters have limited curb appeal—and to support kids.

Sometimes kids say mean things or talk behind each other’s backs, she said. When kids are sad or feeling left out, it’s “hard for them to learn,” Chloe said.

That seems to prove Pajerski’s point: Students who develop such projects on their own will better understand the projects’ impact. They’re not parroting something a teacher said, but rather articulating their own ideas and feelings.

It’s an educator’s job to teach students how to look at something from someone else’s perspective, she said.

“Even if you have to agree to disagree, you can still appreciate where they are coming from, and you can do it in a respectful, kind way,” Pajerski said. “We can celebrate that we aren’t all the same and that we don’t have the same outlook and experiences.”

Anthony Wahl 

Rock County's Casey Stone strikes out Union Grove's Nash Wolf in the first inning of their first game at at Pohlman Field in Beloit on Tuesday.

Obituaries and death notices for July 10, 2019

Priscilla M. Baerbock

Donald W. Mayhew

Marian Victoria Wemmer McFall

Raymond P. Meehan

Robert “Dan” Oberbruner

Douglas K. Peck

Anna M. Reinsbach

James “Jim” Tracy

Lorraine B. Willett

Wisconsin GOP: Rewrite constitution to limit governor's veto


Wisconsin Republicans want to rewrite the state constitution to prohibit the governor from using his veto pen to increase spending without legislative approval, marking another skirmish in the GOP’s battle to diminish Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ powers.

The Wisconsin Constitution gives the governor one of the strongest veto powers in the country. The governor can strike words, numbers and punctuation in spending bills, bending the Legislature’s will to his own by pumping money toward projects he supports while starving opponents’ initiatives. Evers used those powers last week on the state budget to give public schools $65 million more than Republican lawmakers set out.

Sen. Dave Craig and Rep. Mike Kuglitsch began seeking co-sponsors Monday for a constitutional amendment that would forbid the governor from increasing funding in bills that appropriate money. They wrote in a memo to their colleagues that Evers’ move to bolster school funding is an abuse of power that could damage the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

“The legislature’s role in the budget process has been continually eroded by the executive branch, and it is beyond time we right-size the governor’s veto pen to protect taxpayers and restore the legislature’s constitutional authority,” Craig said in a news release Tuesday.

Republicans have been working to limit Evers’ powers since he defeated former Gov. Scott Walker in November.

They passed a host of laws during a December lame-duck session forbidding Evers from pulling the state out of lawsuits without legislative permission, a tactic designed to keep Evers from delivering on a campaign promise to withdraw from a multistate lawsuit challenging federal health care reforms. Evers still managed to withdraw from the lawsuit after a court temporarily put the laws on hold this spring.

Evers used his partial veto power to make 78 changes to the budget. The only funding increase he created was for schools, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Evers, a former teacher, spent nearly a decade as the state schools superintendent.

Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said Evers used his partial veto power to bring school funding more in line with what people wanted to see in the budget. She called the Craig and Kuglitsch’s amendment proposal a “temper tantrum.”

“These sore losers want to change the rules every time they don’t get their way,” she said.

A constitutional amendment must pass two consecutive sessions of the Legislature and a statewide referendum before it can be added to the document. The governor plays no role in approving constitutional amendments.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos both signaled support. Fitzgerald issued a statement saying the proposal “reflects concerns that I have heard from other members of my caucus.” Vos issued a statement saying not allowing funding increases through partial vetoes is “common sense.”

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling and Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz both said Republicans keep looking for ways to undermine Evers.

“The public should be outraged at the repeated attempts to change the powers of the office because they disagree with how those powers were used,” Hintz said in statement.

Partial vetoes have been a thorny issue for the Legislature since at least the 1930s. Fiscal bureau data shows 25 constitutional amendments proposed to limit the governor’s power since 1935. The latest amendment to pass referendum was in 2008. That language erased the so-called Frankenstein veto, which gave the ability to string together words to form new sentences.

Walker made 104 partial vetoes in the 2015-17 state budget and 98 vetoes in the 2017-19 budget. Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson holds the record with 457 partial vetoes in the 1991-93 budget. He told reporters during a luncheon in Madison on Tuesday that he supports the Craig-Kuglitsch amendment.

“I’m not going to criticize the governor for vetoes, but there’s one area I do not believe governors should be able to veto and that’s increasing appropriations,” he said. “The legislators have the right to appropriate. Governors do not.”

Most attackers made threats before incident, report finds


One-third of the attackers who terrorized schools, houses of worship or businesses nationwide last year had a history of serious domestic violence; two-thirds had mental health issues; and nearly all had made threatening or concerning communications that worried others before they struck, according to a U.S. Secret Service report on mass attacks.

The Secret Service studied 27 incidents where a total of 91 people were killed and 107 more injured in public spaces in 2018. Among them: the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed and 17 others injured, and the fatal attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The report analyzed the timing, weapons, locations and stressors of the attacker, plus events that led up to the incident, in an effort to better understand how such attacks unfold and how to prevent them. Members of the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, which did the study, briefed police, public safety and school officials at a seminar Tuesday.

“We want the community to know prevention is everyone’s responsibility,” said Lina Alathari, the center’s chief. “Not just law enforcement.”

Other incidents examined included a man who drove a truck into a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Jersey, injuring three, and a man who killed two at a law firm, and then one at a psychologist’s office in June. Criteria for the study included an incident where three or more people were injured in a public place.

Most attackers were male, ranging in age from 15 to 64. The domestic violence history often included serious violence. While 67% had mental health issues, only 44% had a diagnosis or known treatment for the issue.

Most of the attacks occurred midweek. Only one was on a Saturday. As for motive, more than half of the attackers had a grievance against a spouse or family member or a personal or workplace dispute. Also, 22% had no known motive. In nearly half the cases, the attacker apparently selected the target in advance.

Alathari and her colleagues want communities to be aware of concerning behavior and these trends so officials have something to look out for.

The Secret Service center is tasked with researching, training and sharing information on the prevention of targeted violence, using the agency’s knowledge gleaned from years of watching possible targets who might be out to assassinate the president.

Alathari said her team is working on a new report on school shootings and how to prevent them and investigating averted attacks to try to figure out why someone didn’t follow through.

“There is not a single solution,” Alathari said. “The more that we’re out there, training, the more we’re out there with the community ... the more we share information ... I think it will help really alleviate and hopefully prevent even one incident from happening. One is too many.”