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Owner of Janesville house set for demolition keeps fighting

JANESVILLE

City officials say Ty Bollerud’s house at 419 S. Walnut St. will come down, but that hasn’t stopped Bollerud from fighting the city on what he believes is “heinous policy.”

After three years of back and forth between the city and Bollerud, the house and garage on the Walnut Street property will be demolished sometime after today, but the exact date depends on the level of cooperation from Bollerud and other people who live in the house.

In an effort to get what he believes he deserves out of the ordeal, Bollerud has filed a complaint in federal court seeking $75,000 in “just compensation” for “taken individual property homes and buildings and land,” according to documents filed by Bollerud.

Tax documents show the 0.36-acre property is worth $37,600.

The complaint is being reviewed by the court to determine if it can move forward, according to court documents.

City Attorney Wald Klimczyk said the complaint does not stop the city from tearing down the house, which city officials consider a hazard, because the regulation of raze-or-repair orders falls under state jurisdiction, not federal.

The state Fourth District Court of Appeals in March upheld the city’s raze-or-repair order after a three-year fight by Bollerud to have the action overturned, according to court documents.

City Building Director Tom Clippert on Sept. 18 sent Bollerud an order to vacate the property and remove personal property by Friday. Bollerud submitted his federal complaint five days later.

Bollerud is a familiar face for anyone who has attended a city council meeting in recent years. He often speaks during public comment periods, voicing concerns on myriad issues.

The battle for his house started after the city issued a raze-or-repair order in 2017, saying the property had several code violations including open electrical wiring, a lack of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and extension cords used in place of permanent wiring, according to court documents.

The city gave Bollerud 30 days to submit a plan to fix the property and show proof of his financial ability to do so, but he failed to meet that deadline, according to court documents.

Klimczyk on Tuesday said city officials still have not seen proof of efforts to fix the outstanding violations. He said the property is a hazard for Bollerud and others who live there.

Bollerud told The Gazette he plans to continue fighting the city over its housing policies. He acknowledged it is likely his house will be torn down regardless.

“I am just getting warmed up. The city will lose this, and I will win this,” he said, referring to the federal complaint.

Among a slew of other complaints he has against the city, Bollerud said he is bothered because the decision to demolish his house was made without a public hearing or vote by the city council.

City ordinances do not require a hearing or vote for raze-or-repair orders to be issued or fulfilled.

Over several years, Bollerud has offered his home to people who need a place to stay. The number of people living there has varied over time.

On Tuesday, Bollerud said people are living in his house, and they intend to stay there until they are forced to leave. It is unclear if Bollerud is currently living in the house as he has in the past.

The city will work with the tenants to encourage them to leave the property willingly, Klimczyk said.

If the tenants do not move voluntarily, the city can request a writ of assistance from the Rock County Courts to allow law enforcement to remove them from the property, Klimczyk said.

The city then would hire a contractor, typically a moving company, to remove the belongings and put them into storage, he said.

Klimczyk said Clippert is the one to decide how long he wants to work with the tenants before pursuing the writ of assistance.

Bollerud questions the city’s ability to remove people from his house without an eviction notice. The federal government has ordered a nationwide halt to evictions through the end of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The order to vacate is not legally an eviction, Klimczyk said, and the tenants are staying there at their own risk because the city has deemed the structure unsafe.

It is rare that residents want to stay in a house that is declared unsafe, he said.

Bollerud said he believes he has been “punished beyond understanding” and “bullied” by the city. He questions why the city puts resources into demolishing houses and said he wants to fight to make the city change its policies on dilapidated homes.

“This heinous policy has to die,” he said.


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Tree sculpture in downtown Janesville shows a community intertwined

JANESVILLE

If it’s a tree that ties the competing east and west sides of Janesville together, so be it.

And it is so—at least in artistic theory.

This week, South Carolina public artist Deedee Morrison has overseen crews who are assembling the pieces of a giant, white metal tree sculpture Morrison designed as the centerpiece of the Mick & Jane Blain Gilbertson Family Heritage Pedestrian Bridge that spans the Rock River downtown.

The tree, she explained, is designed to be a symbolic nexus where the city’s east and west sides connect at the riverfront.

Anthony Wahl 

A machine lifts another piece of a metal tree sculpture as crews work to install it Thursday on the Mick & Jane Blain Gilbertson Family Heritage Pedestrian Bridge over the Rock River in downtown Janesville.

“Historically, when you read about Janesville, there’s been a lot of separation, you know, conversationally between east and west,” Morrison said. “So what a beautiful idea to create a pedestrian bridge with the whole intent of contemplation—contemplation of what ties us together.”

Morrison was commissioned earlier this year by the private revitalization group ARISEnow to work on public art displays at privately funded parts of the city’s east- and west-side town squares along the riverfront, including a donor wall near the pedestrian bridge.

The bridge and the nearly finished east-side town square will open to the public at a dedication ceremony Oct. 16.

Private donors have worked alongside the city to fund millions of dollars of structural and public art amenities at the town squares. At the center of the squares—if not the geographical center of Janesville—is the new pedestrian bridge.

“I thought about this as kind of like a big monolithic sculpture instead of several sculptures,” Morrison said. “And so we talked about that, taking that approach of creating this whole, an east- and west-side dish, you know, and so I took a tree fractal design, yeah, and I broke it apart, and they’re actually mirror images of each other that grow together in harmony.”

Anthony Wahl 

Workers install another piece of the metal tree sculpture that is the centerpiece of the Mick & Jane Blain Gilbertson Family Heritage Pedestrian Bridge over the Rock River on Thursday. The sculpture was designed by South Carolina public artist Deedee Morrison and aims to link Janesville’s east- and west-side town squares.

One man passing by who saw the tree sculpture early this week marveled at its curving trunks and branch pieces—each new segment connected on the ends with large flanges that bolt together.

“It looks like big pieces of plumbing,” he said.

The tall, tubular tree art rises in four big trunks at the east and west corners of the enlarged center of the bridge. The metal trees’ gracefully curling bows stretch up and over the bridge from east to west, connecting in the middle.

It creates an arbor of sorts at the bridge’s center, one of white metal branches adorned with leaves of stainless steel and translucent glass that absorb and reflect multicolored lights built into the sculpture.

The luminaries are designed to electronically communicate with programmable lights being installed on the bridges at Milwaukee and Court streets, which the pedestrian bridge sits between.

Submitted image 

An artist rendering shows the tree sculpture designed as the artistic centerpiece of the new pedestrian bridge over the Rock River in downtown Janesville.

Also being installed are wooden benches, acid-etched, stainless-steel tables and chairs that will be placed at key spots on the bridge so people can sit and visit or gaze at the river. The entire bridge is wired to play music and run cameras to film special events there.

Morrison, a Greenville, South Carolina, resident and former economist, has visited Janesville several times since she was selected by ARISEnow to design public art.

She said every time she has visited, she’s surprised to see more artistic revamps of the downtown. This week, several new murals on downtown buildings welcomed her back to the heart of the city.

Morrison had read about Janesville’s woes in 2008 and 2009, after General Motors ended production and the global recession delivered a second economic gut punch.

“The city’s willingness, the willingness of its people to stay dedicated to regrowth, to not give in, is so moving for me. As an artist, I wanted to tell that story,” Morrison said. “For me, this story is such an important story in America right now. That a city this size can come together in the middle.”

Submitted image 

An artist rendering shows benches, tables and chairs on Janesville’s new pedestrian bridge over the Rock River downtown.


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UPDATE: Trump's positive coronavirus test puts Janesville visit in doubt

JANESVILLE

For several hours Thursday, it appeared President Donald Trump was going to make a campaign stop in Janesville on Saturday.

Then he tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The Janesville visit was announced in the midafternoon after Trump’s campaign canceled a stop planned for La Crosse that day, but it was thrown into doubt when news came that Hope Hicks, one of the president’s closest and longest-serving advisers, tested positive. President Trump tweeted he and the first lady would begin a “quarantine process” Thursday night before he disclosed his and his wife’s positive tests on Twitter after midnight Friday.

The Washington Post reported Trump aides said all of his political events will be cancelled for the foreseeable future.

The Trump campaign had canceled the La Crosse stop after the city’s mayor and Gov. Tony Evers asked the president not to hold a rally there because of a surge in coronavirus cases.

Then Janesville appeared in the president’s itinerary, and Rock County officials sent a news release urging Trump not to come, making the same argument as Evers and La Crosse’s mayor.

“Rock County is experiencing an unprecedented pandemic that threatens the health of our residents,” Rock County Board Chairwoman Kara Purviance said in the release. “It is irresponsible of the president to hold a rally that will put Rock County citizens in danger of contracting and spreading the virus.”

The Trump campaign responded by email before news of Hicks’ and the Trumps’ positive tests broke: “Americans are enthusiastic for President Trump’s re-election, and they want to and have a right to gather under the First Amendment to hear from the president of the United States. For the president’s outdoor events in Wisconsin, like his other campaign events, everyone attending will receive a temperature check, be provided a mask they are encouraged to wear and have access to plenty of hand sanitizer.”

Rock County has more than 600 known active cases, the highest number since the pandemic began, according to the county release.

Rock County has a population of about 163,000.

In the county release, County Administrator Josh Smith is quoted as saying county and local health workers and first responders have worked for months to limit the virus’ spread so businesses and schools could remain open.

“We need to avoid any circumstances that could put our reopening in jeopardy,” Smith said.

Janesville Deputy Police Chief Terry Sheridan said local law enforcement planned to meet with the Secret Service later Thursday.

The Trump campaign website continued to indicate early Friday morning that doors would open at 12:30 p.m. Saturday for the 3:30 p.m. event at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport, 11390 W. Enterprise Drive, Janesville.

Sue Conley, city council president and Democratic candidate for the 44th state Assembly seat, said she does not think it is a good idea for Trump to visit Janesville given the pandemic.

“Pence was here, and there were hardly no masks,” Conley said. “I don’t think it is safe the way he (Trump) gathers people together.”

Masks and hand sanitizer were offered at the Pence event Sept. 14, and everyone’s temperature was checked, but few wore the masks.

Conley said it is better to host the event outdoors than indoors. Trump’s campaign website did not specify whether the event would be inside or outside.

Large campaign events put a strain on city finances and resources, which Conley said she is concerned about as well.

“It is about money and the safety of the residents of Janesville,” Conley said.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat on Thursday called for Trump to reconsider his planned Saturday rally, which was originally to be held in La Crosse, hours before the campaign moved the event to Janesville. His concerns focused around the pandemic.

“I am concerned. Any time you’re going to have that large of an event, and based on what I’ve witnessed with other rallies by the president, the expectation is going to be no social distancing and very few people wearing masks,” Kabat told the La Crosse Tribune.

When asked if Conley would consider issuing a similar statement for Janesville, she said her concerns were her own and that she was not speaking for the city council as a whole.

A council president holds different authority than a mayor, Conley said.

Maggie Darr, assistant to the city manager, said she does not believe the city manager’s office would make a statement similar to the one La Crosse’s mayor made.

Janesville officials want to focus on providing a safe experience, Darr said.

Trump had been scheduled to land in Janesville as the pandemic worsens in Rock County and the state.

The Rock County Public Health Department on Thursday reported 51 new cases of COVID-19 and one new death in the county. It was the county’s fourth-largest daily increase of cases, tied with Sept. 10.

The county’s latest death was reported Thursday but occurred Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health Services.

The number of hospitalizations continued to climb Thursday for a total of 20. COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen since late August and are approaching the May peak of 27 hospitalizations.

The positivity rate for cases reported Thursday was 23%. The county aims for 5% positivity over a 14-day average.

The county data shows 2,670 total cases and 33 deaths.

A group called Standing up for Racial Justice planned to march from Beloit to Janesville on Saturday.


Politics
AP
President Trump and first lady test positive for COVID-19

WASHINGTON

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus, the president tweeted early today.

Trump’s positive test comes just hours after the White House announced that senior aide Hope Hicks came down with the virus after traveling with the president several times this week. Trump was last seen by reporters returning to the White House on Thursday evening and looked to be in good health. Trump is 74 years old, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has now killed more than 200,000 people nationwide.

“Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” Trump tweeted.

Trump announced late Thursday that he and first lady Melania Trump were beginning a “quarantine process” after Hicks came down with the virus, though it wasn’t clear what that entailed. It can take days for an infection to be detectable by a test.

The diagnosis marks a major blow for a president who has been trying desperately to convince the American public that the worst of the pandemic is behind them even as cases continue to rise with four weeks before Election Day. And it stands as the most serious known public health scare encountered by any sitting American president in recent history.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most people develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.

In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday, Trump said he was awaiting results of a COVID-19 test. “Whether we quarantine or whether we have it, I don’t know,” he said, adding that first lady Melania Trump was also awaiting results.

Hicks traveled with the president multiple times this week, including aboard Marine One, the presidential helicopter, and on Air Force One to a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday, and aboard Air Force One to Tuesday night’s first presidential debate in Cleveland.

Trump had consistently played down concerns about being personally vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, even after White House staff and allies were exposed and sickened.

“I felt no vulnerability whatsoever,” he said told reporters back in May.

He has instead encouraged governors to reopen their states and tried to focus the nation’s attention on efforts to revive the economy—not a growing death toll—as he seeks another four-year term.

Some studies suggest COVID-19 patients who are obese might be at higher risk of being seriously sickened by the virus, although it’s unclear whether that’s because they are more likely to have other health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. In his 2019 physical, Trump met the technical threshold for obesity.

The news was sure to rattle an already shaken nation still grappling with how to safely reopen while avoiding further spikes. The White House has access to near-unlimited resources, including a constant supply of quick-result tests, and still failed to keep the president safe, raising questions about how the rest of the country will be able to protect its workers, students and the public as businesses and schools reopen.

Trump, the vice president and other senior staff have been tested for COVID-19 daily since two people who work at the White House complex tested positive in early May, prompting the White House to step up precautions. Everyone who comes into contact with the president also receives a quick-result test.

Yet since the early days of the pandemic, experts have questioned the health and safety protocols at the White House and asked why more wasn’t being done to protect the commander in chief. Trump continued to shake hands with visitors long after public health officials were warning against it and he initially resisted being tested. He has been reluctant to practice his own administration’s social distancing guidelines for fear of looking weak, including refusing under almost all circumstances to wear a mask in public.

Trump is not the only major world leader known to have contracted the virus. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a week in the hospital, including three nights in intensive care, where he was given oxygen and watched around the clock by medical workers. German Chancellor Angela Merkel self-isolated after a doctor who gave her a vaccination tested positive for the virus, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau worked from home after his wife fell ill.

The White House got its first COVID-19 scare in early March when at least three people who later tested positive came in close proximity to the president at his private Florida club. That included members of the Brazilian president’s delegation, including the Brazilian chargé d’affaires, who sat at Trump’s dinner table.

In mid-March, as the virus continued to spread across the country, the White House began taking the temperature of everyone entering the White House complex, and in April, it began administering rapid COVID-19 tests to all those in close proximity to the president, with staffers being tested about once a week. The frequent tests gave some staff the false impression the complex was safe from the virus, and few, as a result, followed recommended safety protocols, including wearing masks.

But then the bubble broke.

On May 7, the White House announced that a member of the military serving as one of the president’s personal valets tested positive for the virus, followed a day later by a positive diagnosis for Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary.

Even then, Trump said he was “not worried” about the virus spreading in the White House. But officials again stepped up safety protocols for the complex, directing everyone entering the West Wing to wear a mask.

“I think it’s very well contained, actually,” Trump told reporters on May 11.

But by June, concerns at the White House had dissipated once again, with few staffers bothering with masks even as more and more people tested positive for the virus, including campaign staffers preparing for a Tulsa rally and Secret Service agents.

On July 3rd, Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., tested positive in South Dakota before an Independence Day fireworks show at Mount Rushmore. Guilfoyle, a former Fox News personality who works for Trump’s campaign, had not flown on Air Force One and had not been in direct contact with the president, though she had had contact with numerous top GOP officials.

In July, Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, tested positive.

While there is currently no evidence that Trump is seriously ill, the positive test also raises questions about what would happen if he were to become incapacitated due to illness. The Constitution’s 25th Amendment spells out the procedures under which a president can declare themselves “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the presidency. If he were to make that call, Trump would transmit a written note to the Senate president pro tempore, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Pence would serve as acting president until Trump transmitted “a written declaration to the contrary.”

The vice president and a majority of either the Cabinet or another body established by law, can also declare the president unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, in which case Pence would “immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President” until Trump could provide a written declaration to the contrary.


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Book chronicles cyclist’s journey to outpedal ‘The Big C’

In her first book, former Gazette reporter Elizabeth McGowan says getting a cancer diagnosis feels the same “as tumbling to the ground from a bicycle, smacking the unforgiving asphalt.”

“It’s scary and hurts like hell,” she writes in “Outpedaling ‘The Big C’: My Healing Cycle Across America,” published in September by Bancroft Press of Baltimore.

“You can choose to lie there in a dejected heap, waiting until an 18-wheeler squashes you into roadkill,” she said. “Or, you can pick yourself up and get on with living.”

McGowan chose to climb back on the bike.

In the spring of 2000, her oncologist gave her a clean bill of health after an exhausting 11-year bout with melanoma, a serious skin cancer.

Some people might have planned a party to celebrate.

McGowan plotted a 4,250-mile bike journey across the country.

“The bike ride is something I have always wanted to do,” she explained. “Exercising is my therapy. It was a way for me to be out there and thinking.”

During the 79-day odyssey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist raised awareness about melanoma and money for the Waukesha hospital that saved her life.

In addition, McGowan paid tribute to her late father, Ronald McGowan, who died of melanoma at age 44.

She also kept detailed notes about the places and people across what she called “a horizontal sliver of this glorious, sublime, complicated, and often frustrating country that we all call home.”

“Being on the bike allowed me to experience the full force of being alive,” McGowan wrote, “from the drumbeat of my heart down to my microscopic capillaries.”

Her book chronicles her powerful journey from Astoria, Oregon, to the waters of the Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast. McGowan, now 59, wanted the chapters to be more than an engaging travelogue.

So she elegantly wove into the narrative her own sobering saga of surviving melanoma and the story of her father dying of the insidious disease when she was 15.

“How much do you know when you are 15?” she asked. “You just soldier on. Writing this book made me answer the hard questions and rediscover my father. As a longtime reporter, I thought it would engage more people in the story.”

In the end, she crafted a book for anyone seeking inspiration to live life more deliberately and fully, especially those who have wrestled with cancer or who have lost loved ones to it.

A seasoned journalist, McGowan worked for The Gazette from December 1987 until spring 1991, while she was receiving chemotherapy treatments.

Today, she lives in Washington, D.C., where she is an energy and environment reporter. In 2013, McGowan won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting while working for the digital news startup InsideClimate News.

She called the book the hardest thing she has ever written.

“I was carrying this albatross around,” she said. “I needed to make sense of what happened to my father. I felt lighter when I was finished.”

Strength to persevere

McGowan traveled alone, puny and vulnerable on the roads, as nature pounded her with sleet, as she climbed crazy steep mountains and as she got caught in powerful slipstreams created by semis.

But when she needed motivation, she only had to think about how hard she has worked to stay alive.

Since age 24, she has been duking it out with melanoma, an often deadly cancer. In the decade after she discovered a skin lesion on her upper back, the illness spread to her lymph system, right lung, gallbladder and liver.

Many treatments involving immunotherapy, chemotherapy, extensive surgeries and the McGowan fighting gene kept her chugging along.

“If I can go through those things, I can go through a constant headwind, climb a mountain or cross a prairie,” she said. “I am not going to give up.”

Her transcontinental tour involved more than mental and physical stamina. Persistence was her No. 1 ally.

McGowan wants her audience to know that she is “no more noble than anyone else,” as she puts it, because she made a liberating and mesmerizing trip across America.

“I’m a regular person who decided to do something,” McGowan said. “Because I’m in the writing business, I decided to write about it.”

Stories about cancer

As she rode, McGowan made herself vulnerable by talking to people in communities along the way.

“Everyone has a cancer story,” she said.

People eagerly told her about loved ones and about themselves. They also showed kindness with invitations to supper or offers of a place to spend the night.

McGowan hopes her book will inspire readers to grab life in ways appropriate to them and to live with unbridled gusto.

“I want to show people who have cancer that you don’t have to be stationary,” she said. “You can have a full life. Why did I survive? I don’t know. But this was my way of expressing the joy of being alive.”

Anna Marie Lux is a human interest columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.


Obituaries and death notices for Oct. 2, 2020

Robert T. “Bob” Altmann

Donald L. Braaten

Carolyn J. (Smitley) Brown

Sharon M. Danielson

Lorraine K. “Kay” Lewis

Kevin Martin

Robert E. Miller

Floyd J. “Junior” Rozell

Douglas W. Ward

Dorothy M.”Dot” Weber

John “Jack” Zellner