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Anthony Wahl 

Janesville Parker’s Abby Blum ends up fouled on the wrist as she drives to the hoop during their game against Madison East on Thursday, Feb. 6.

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It's in the can: Janesville native dreams up clean solution for dirty problem


By way of a traumatic brain injury and a 10-year residency in Colorado, a Janesville native has developed plans to help eliminate a little-discussed environmental hazard: garbage can slop.

Frank Ritter, a former industrial worker and distribution trucker, recently returned home to Wisconsin and brought with him a pending patent on a prototype device that clamps on garbage cans and scours them clean with an all-natural, water-free cleanser.

Ritter, 57, said his device uses forced air, suction and crystals bathed in lemon oil to convert garbage can sludge seething with bacteria and chemicals into a powder-like waste that can be safely discarded in landfills.

He said he spent 10 years developing the prototype and gaining a patent and support from environmental and public health agencies.

Angela Major 

Janesville native Frank Ritter shows off his garbage can cleaning device at a relative’s house in Edgerton on Thursday. Ritter has developed a bulkhead that sits on top of garbage cans and uses air flow, suction and natural oil-soaked crystals to scour the cans clean. He’s trying to show a prototype of his device to manufacturers in Wisconsin, where the governor is making clean water a priority.

The device, which Ritter has called “Lem-It-Shine,” is an environmentally friendly alternative to using a garden hose to rinse out garbage-can sludge.

The problem with the hose method, Ritter said, is that people dump the bacteria-laden wastewater into the street. From there, it runs into the storm sewer and introduces contaminants into the groundwater.

It’s not illegal in Wisconsin to hose-blast gunk out of your garbage can. But Ritter said Colorado officials showed him research on how garbage can liquid that’s dumped in a municipal wastewater infrastructure contributes to a buildup of bacteria and fertilizer in streams, lakes and groundwater.

Ritter left Janesville, his hometown, a decade ago after sustaining a brain injury while unloading goods from an improperly balanced semitrailer truck.

Now he’s back, and he wants to find a Wisconsin manufacturer to produce his can-cleaning system, which he has tested himself.

Ritter said he decided to launch his product here after reading about Gov. Tony Evers’ clean water initiative, a plan some lawmakers and environmental groups hope will be funded with millions of state dollars.

Angela Major 

Janesville native Frank Ritter speaks to The Gazette about his garbage can cleaning device at a relative’s house in Edgerton. He says his system keeps people from rinsing their cans and dumping the bacteria and chemical-filled wastewater into city sewer systems.

Ritter believes the Lem-It-Shine will help keep one source of dirty water out of the environment and make garbage cans cleaner and less attractive to disease-carrying animals.

His intentions are surgical. He said he won’t deal with speculators, but he has touted his system to city officials—including a city council member—and to the governor’s office.

What Ritter really wants is a local manufacturer.

“I came up with the technology and built and designed it all myself, but I can’t do the business end,” he said. “I wish I was more educated. And better-looking. But I don’t really care about money, so I don’t want an investor. I want somebody in the making business who will take the patent and run with it from the cleaning bulkhead to the crystals.”

Ritter said he has gotten feedback from state and municipal officials on how to shop his system, which he said is the only garbage-can cleaner that uses a dry agent infused with natural oils.

Ritter said he appreciates the outdoors—including fresh air and clean, clear water.

In central Colorado, he once got a municipal ticket for unknowingly dumping out sludge water from his home garbage can. Then and there, he hatched the solution: the garbage can cleaner system.

Ritter’s neurologist believes his recovery from brain injuries has been helped by a decade of dreaming up his patented system and pitching it to cities and government agencies.

Ritter has a daughter in Colorado and a son graduating from Naval Station Great Lakes in Chicago. He said he got valuable advice when he was younger from a Janesville manufacturer he once worked for: Anyone can complain about a problem, but true value lies not in the gripe, but in the fixing.

“A lot of people in Janesville have helped me with this. They don’t even know it,” Ritter said. “The one guy, the former boss, told me one time: ‘Don’t come to me with problems. Come to me with solutions.’ So that’s what I’m gonna try to do.”

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Rock County referendum to ask voters about redistricting


The Rock County Board wants voters’ opinions on the upcoming state redistricting process.

The board voted Jan. 23 to add a referendum to the April 7 ballot, asking voters whether the state Legislature should create a nonpartisan procedure for drawing legislative and congressional district plans and maps.

Except for the cost of publishing a notice in The Gazette, the referendum will not add to the cost of the ballot process, Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said.

District lines are redrawn every 10 years after the census. The process has become increasingly politicized and has raised concerns that the majority party is able to redraw the lines to keep itself in power.

Supervisor Richard Bostwick proposed the referendum resolution after a constituent asked him about redistricting.

“After talking with the constituent, I realized that it was a good idea to do this,” he said.

A redistricting resolution was proposed in 2014, but it did not include a referendum question. Bostwick said he wanted to raise the topic again after seeing other counties conduct referendums.

“The fact of the matter is, this (nonpartisan redistricting) is enjoying bipartisan support statewide,” Bostwick said.

“We’re not breaking any new ground here. We’re just going along with what the trend is statewide,” he said. “Other counties have already had referendums, and they’ve all passed handily, and those are in counties that both lean Democratic and lean Republican. It’s something people are just thinking is a good idea. Fairness in elections is always good.”

Counties don’t have much say in the redistricting process because it’s done at the state level. However, the resolution could help residents show elected officials what they are thinking, Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said.

“The argument for doing a referendum is simply that it’s the way to measure the sense of the community,” Smith said. “They can register ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to whatever the issue is.

“In this circumstance, I think the folks who want to put this on the ballot see this as an opportunity to have another data point that says the people of Rock County think this on the issue,” he said.

“If there’s a majority in favor, then advocates for that will use that as another piece of data to say, ‘Look, Legislature, your constituents in Rock County want this, and therefore you should do it,’” Smith said.

Smith said he thinks redistricting might be a popular subject because of polarization in the political landscape.

“In the environment we’re in today in the country, that (unfair district lines) is just another example, I think, of something people identified as a lack of civility or lack of ability to get things done potentially,” he said.

Smith said other counties have put similar questions on the ballot. Even though the county won’t be able to make any immediate decisions after the ballots are cast, giving the public a chance to comment on redistricting is useful.

“I encourage people to vote and take advantage of an opportunity to make their voice known on an issue that may be important to them,” he said. “Regardless of whether people feel their vote will have a direct impact—because it’s something the county can’t directly do anything about—it’s still a chance to register their opinion, and the process of understanding what the public thinks is important.”

Trump shows no qualms about using presidency to court voters


Dispatching Cabinet secretaries across the country to woo Iowa voters. Using private cash to finance an official made-for-TV moment. Delivering a State of the Union address that doubled as a campaign kickoff speech. Holding an impeachment acquittal victory rally in the White House East Room.

President Donald Trump made clear this week that he has no qualms about using the powers of his office to court voters in an election year. As he emerges from the impeachment drama, claiming vindication, Trump appears all the more emboldened to blur the lines between public and private endeavors.

That mindset was on full display Thursday as he used the White House as the setting for a scorched-earth victory speech celebrating his acquittal by the Senate following his impeachment by the House. Just days earlier, Trump delivered a speech in front of a joint session of Congress that could have been mistaken for a low-key Trump rally, complete with partisan incantations from Republicans in the chamber of “Four more years!” Similar chants have rung out through various rooms of the White House as Trump has hosted events that took on sharply partisan tones.

Several Democratic lawmakers expressed frustration following the State of the Union that Trump went overboard on the politics in what is supposed to be a constitutionally proscribed opportunity to “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.”

“I get it—presidents use their last SOTU to make the case for re-election,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., wrote on Twitter. “But that crossed a line.”

At one point in his address, Trump announced with an Oprah Winfrey-level of drama that Philadelphia fourth grader Janiyah Davis would be getting a scholarship, allowing her to bypass her local public school.

Addressing himself directly to the little girl, seated near first lady Melania Trump in the gallery, Trump said he could “proudly announce tonight that an Opportunity Scholarship has become available, it is going to you and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice!”

It turns out the money wasn’t coming from any pot of state or federal dollars.

Instead, it came from the personal accounts of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Elizabeth Hill, a Department of Education spokeswoman, told The Associated Press that DeVos, who donates her annual salary to charity, would be “directly providing the scholarship for Janiyah” and that the money would go directly to the school of her family’s choosing.

Hill declined to say how Davis had come to the department’s attention.

Donald Sherman, deputy director of the nonprofit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the arrangement “certainly could be unethical” and was “at minimum unseemly.”

“The president made it sound like this young woman was benefiting from some government program when in fact when she was benefiting from the personal benevolence of Secretary DeVos, which has a political upside for her boss,” Sherman said.

It wasn’t the only time this week that Trump’s Cabinet secretaries took a detour into political efforts.

In the lead-up to the kickoff Iowa presidential caucuses Feb. 3, Trump’s campaign flooded the state with more than 80 surrogates, including a long list of senior administration officials. Among those participating: DeVos, as well as the secretaries of commerce, interior, and housing and urban development, and the acting White House chief of staff.

The campaign chartered a 737 to ferry the governmental pep squad to and from Washington.

Under federal law, civilian employees in the executive branch cannot use their titles when doing political work, so announcements about the events referred to Cabinet officials without their titles. They are also prohibited from taking part in any partisan activity while on the clock. The president and vice president are exempt from the rules.

Next week, the campaign will again be deploying top surrogates—this time to polling locations across New Hampshire, which votes Tuesday.

It’s a familiar tactic for presidents—Republicans and Democrats alike.

President Barack Obama, for instance, allowed five members of his Cabinet to address the party’s 2012 convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, as he sought reelection. But four years later, as his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, sought the White House, Obama decided to prohibit Cabinet members from taking part as he sought to separate his administration from the politics of the moment.

Obama was also accused of using other levers of the federal government to bolster his 2012 reelection chances when he took executive action to protect “Dreamer” immigrants who came to the country illegally as children. In 2012, Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s health and human services secretary, was also cited for violating federal law prohibiting Cabinet members from engaging in politics on the clock when she called for the president’s reelection and touted the candidacy of another Democrat at an event she was attending in her official capacity.

Trump, for his part, has repeatedly stepped over the line.

The independent government watchdog Office of Special Counsel has cited the president’s top advisers on multiple occasions for violating the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from engaging in certain political activities, including playing “any active part” in a campaign.

In November 2018, the watchdog found six White House officials in violation for tweeting or retweeting the president’s 2016 campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” from their official Twitter accounts. Most notably, the office recommended in June 2019 that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be fired.

Trump refused to take action against Conway, suggesting that the office was trying to take away her right to free speech.

Trump’s policy actions that further his political aims also have raised eyebrows, though it’s a murky area, and all presidents advance causes that are in sync with their political aims.

In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, as Trump was trying to energize his base voters and stanch Republican losses, the president issued dire warnings from the Oval Office about an “invasion” of migrants and deployed the U.S. military to the southern border in what many saw as a political stunt.

More than a year ago, his administration recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the nation’s legitimate president and called on socialist leader Nicolás Maduro to resign. Trump invited Guaidó to attend the State of the Union as a special guest and dedicated a moment in the address to pledging solidarity with the leader.

While all presidents pepper the annual address with lines that highlight groups or individuals who are important to their electoral chances, MacManus said, Trump took it to another level with a speech full of moments aimed at various blocs of voters, including African Americans, military families and conservatives.

“This was a classic example of micro-targeting of people that he thinks he needs,” MacManus said.

death list

Paul Patrick Dale

Clarence D. Elmer

Edward “Ed” Ritter

David A. Sullivan

Marjorie J. Woodman