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Ordinance change simplifies wine walks in downtown district


Downtown wine walks, which combine browsing storefronts with a little alcohol, will be easier to organize under an ordinance change approved Monday.

On a 6-1 vote, the city council approved changing city ordinance to allow outdoor possession, service and consumption of wine during wine walks within the boundaries of the Downtown Business Improvement District. Paul Williams cast the sole opposing vote.

The change will streamline the licensing process to allow outdoor consumption during such events without forcing the BID board to apply for additional permits for each walk, according to a city memo.

Existing ordinances let event coordinators request a B5/B6 permit, which allows alcohol to be consumed on public sidewalks within a given area.

That permit allows patrons at any licensed establishment in that area to consume any kind of alcohol on the sidewalks, which is far broader than what wine walk organizers intended, according to the memo.

Wine walks can be held twice a year under state statute and are generally used to promote downtown businesses by creating foot traffic, said Dave Godek, interim finance director.

Organizers pushed for the change to allow for easier adherence to COVID-19 safety guidelines during the events. Allowing people to drink wine outside can free up space inside buildings and deter people from clustering, according to the memo.

Williams said he objected to the ordinance change because most residents don’t know the boundaries for the BID district. It also would be difficult to enforce, and he said he did not believe it was in line with state statutes.

Williams is a vocal supporter of alcohol regulation and president of the city’s Alcohol License Advisory Committee. He said guidance from Julia Sherman at UW Law School’s Alcohol Policy Project indicated the ordinance change would be difficult to enforce.

He said a Department of Revenue official he reached out to had concerns about the change following state statute.

City Attorney Wald Klimczyk said the ordinance change was legal. He said some of the concerns from the Department of Revenue were council policy issues rather than state statute issues.

City Manager Mark Freitag said local police officials believe they have the capacity to manage such events.

Council member Susan Johnson floated the idea of mandating glass containers for alcohol rather than plastic cups in an effort to reduce littering and waste.

The city typically opposes the use of glass containers at public events because broken glass can introduce safety hazards, Godek said.

Council member Paul Benson, who works downtown and lives near the downtown area, said he has never seen previous wine walks cause littering or trash concerns.

Benson, a former member of Downtown Janesville Inc., said he believes the group and events are established well enough for the council to trust that the wine walks will be well managed.

Council President Sue Conley agreed, adding the events are typically focused more on shopping than the consumption of alcohol.

Patrons are given 2 ounces of wine per stop along the walk, which is 3 fewer ounces than what the National Institutes of Health considers a standard drink of wine.

Photos of migrant detention highlight Biden's border secrecy


President Joe Biden’s administration has tried for weeks to keep the public from seeing images like those that emerged Monday showing immigrant children in U.S. custody at the border sleeping on mats under foil blankets, separated in groups by plastic partitions.

Administration officials have steadfastly refused to call the detention of more than 15,000 children in U.S. custody, or the conditions they’re living under, a crisis. But they have stymied most efforts by outsiders to decide for themselves.

Officials barred nonprofit lawyers who conduct oversight from entering a Border Patrol tent where thousands of children and teenagers are detained. And federal agencies have refused or ignored dozens of requests from the media for access to detention sites. Such access was granted several times by the administration of President Donald Trump, whose restrictive immigration approach Biden vowed to reverse.

The new president faces growing criticism for the apparent secrecy at the border, including from fellow Democrats.

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Monday “the administration has a commitment to transparency to make sure that the news media gets the chance to report on every aspect of what’s happening at the border.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki added that the White House was working with homeland security officials and the Health and Human Services Department to “finalize details” and that she hoped to have an update in the “coming days.”

Axios on Monday first published a series of photos taken inside the largest Border Patrol detention center, a sprawling tent facility in the South Texas city of Donna. The photos were released by Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat from the border city of Laredo.

Cuellar said he released the photos in part because the administration has refused media access to the Donna tent. He said he also wanted to draw attention to the extreme challenges that border agents face in watching so many children, sometimes for a week or longer despite the Border Patrol’s three-day limit on detaining minors.

“We ought to take care of those kids like they’re our own kids,” Cuellar said.

Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the U.S. should allow media access to border facilities while respecting the privacy of immigrants detained inside. He noted the risk of sharing without permission images of children who have already faced trauma.

“We ought to be aware of these conditions,” Saenz said. “People have to see them so that they can assess the inhumanity and hopefully embark on more humane policies.”

The White House has prided itself on its methodical rollout of policy during its first 50-plus days but West Wing aides privately acknowledge they were caught off guard by the surge of migrants at the border and the resulting media furor.

Republican lawmakers have grabbed on to the border situation with both hands, reviving the issue that was key to propelling Trump to the top of the Republican field in 2016. In 2018, the Trump administration detained hundreds of children in many of the same facilities being used now after separating them from their parents. The following year, hundreds of families and children detained at one West Texas border station went days without adequate food, water or soap.

Biden has kept in place a Trump-era public health order and expelled thousands of immigrant adults and families, but he declined to expel immigrant children without a parent after a federal appeals court in January cleared the way for him to do so. He also moved to speed up the reunification of hundreds of separated immigrant families.

“What Trump did was horrible,” Cuellar said. “These pictures show you that even under our best intentions, and the Biden administration has the best intentions, it’s still very difficult.”

Cuellar said the White House needs to work more with Mexico and Central America to prevent people from leaving their home countries. The White House said Monday that key officials would go this week to Mexico and Guatemala.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who visited a facility in El Paso, Texas, last week, told NPR, “We want to make sure that the press has access to hold the administration accountable.”

The Associated Press has requested access to border facilities for more than a month. Reporters first asked Health and Human Services on Feb. 4 to allow entry into a surge facility re-opened at Carrizo Springs, Texas, holding hundreds of teenagers. And they have asked Homeland Security officials for access at least seven times to Border Patrol facilities, with no response. The AP has also petitioned Psaki to open border facilities.

Border agencies under Trump allowed limited media tours of both Homeland Security and Health and Human Services facilities. Several of those visits revealed troubling conditions inside, including the detention of large numbers of children as young as 5 separated from their parents.

Under Biden, the agencies also have denied full access to nonprofit lawyers who conduct oversight of facilities where children are detained. Those oversight visits occur under a federal court settlement.

When lawyers this month visited the Border Patrol facility at Donna, where thousands of children are now detained, agents refused to let them inside and the Justice Department said they were not entitled to gain access. The lawyers were forced to interview children outside. The Justice Department declined to comment.

The newly published photos released by Cuellar’s office show groups of children crowded together inside the partitions. Some appear to be watching television while others are lying on floor mats, some side by side. Children are shown wearing surgical masks but are close to each other.

The Donna facility consists of large interconnected tents. Overhead photos taken by AP show enclosed outdoor areas where children can go. But lawyers who have interviewed children detained at Donna say some can go days without being allowed outside.

The administration is rushing to open more space to get roughly 5,000 children out of Border Patrol detention and into Health and Human Services facilities that are better suited for youth. It has also tried to expedite the releases of children in HHS custody to parents and other sponsors in the U.S. But border agents continue to apprehend far more children daily than HHS is releasing, even though more than 40% of youths in the system have a parent or legal guardian who could take them.

Meanwhile, the administration is seeing its emergency facilities for immigrant children approach capacity almost as quickly as it can open them. The downtown Dallas convention center has 1,500 teenagers less than a week after opening and is expected to take in 500 more teens Monday, according to HHS. Its current capacity is 2,300 people.

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Five vie for three seats on Janesville School Board


Five residents are competing for three open seats on the Janesville School Board.

Incumbent Greg Ardrey is joined in the race by Cathy Burt, who managed an architectural software firm; former financial adviser Curt Parish; Paull Chiropractic co-owner Elizabeth Paull; and John Hanewall, a retired teacher.

Jessica Davis also will appear on the ballot, but in February she announced she was withdrawing from the race because of a new job.

The Gazette asked the candidates these questions:

Q: What will be your biggest focus if elected?

Ardrey: My biggest focus would be the diversity, equity and inclusion, along with the financial health of the district and continuing to make sure the curriculum that we have is focused on students today.

Burt: Focusing on getting our proficiency rates up, particularly in reading, as well as getting our percentages up in the DPI (Department of Public Instruction) accountability report cards.

Hanewall: My biggest focus would be the recruitment and retention of quality teachers and staff because right now the district is losing too many quality people—especially experienced teachers with 10-plus years. Every year, we lose about 18%. So my focus would be on retention and recruitment.

Parish: My biggest focus is always going to be on the students. Our top priority should be preparing them for life after high school, regardless of what direction they’re going in. And I think, right now, determining the academic momentum at all levels of schools should be our top priority and then determining what’s necessary to get them back on track.

Paull: Sometimes on boards—and I’m not saying our board—it might appear as though decisions are being made for our community, for the kids, for the schools and not always including their voices. And because of the advocacy and the networking that I have done in the community with all of these parents and families and kids, I feel that it puts me in a really great position to make sure that those voices are being heard when decisions are being made.

Q: The district has outlined a long list of financial and facilities needs. Would you support future referendums? Why or why not?

Ardrey: Yes. As the committee chair of the finance buildings and grounds committee, we vetted the list and looked at the building needs, and to continue to have viable buildings out into the future, we will need to do work on them.

Burt: I would want to look at what exactly it is that they’re wanting to get more taxes for. I’m more of a fiscal conservative, so I would really want to look over it very closely.

Hanewall: I think that’s a hard question to answer without knowing what the specific needs are. Yeah, I think that if we as a board, the community, families, if after an in-depth study of what the needs were, then I think it’d be easier to answer whether or not I would support future referendums.

Parish: I supported the referendums last fall, but I’d have to take a close look at any new referendums. I think we’ve made some progress, but we do have very old schools in the district that have been well-maintained. But it might take some more money to keep them up. I think one of the questions right now is COVID relief money, and nobody seems to know for sure the amount, but that’s a possible use for some of the money, maybe we could avoid a referendum.

Paull: I will always support our schools. Going forward, it’s going to be much harder if we feel the need to try for a referendum. It’s gonna have to be absolutely bare bones and mandatory and no other way that we could approach a situation. I wholeheartedly supported November’s referendum. Going forward, we would have to be very cautious.

Q: The pandemic has changed the look of education this past year. How has it changed your view of district needs, if at all?

Ardrey: It hasn’t changed my view of what the district needs. I think what has become clear is the connection of students and teachers and what that really does. We’ve seen that there is a certain style of learning that takes place virtually, that doesn’t take place in person. And we now have a better understanding of that so we can have better guidance for students who consider virtual learning as an option.

Burt: I don’t know that the needs have changed. I think the needs are still there, but there may be more in the mental health area across the board. We’re all social creatures, and we need interaction. We need each other, and I’m very concerned about the younger ones with the fears that they’ve seen around them.

Hanewall: I think the pandemic has shown us that there are lots of ways to teach, that students learn differently, and I think going forward, we need to look at what are the needs of the students, what are the needs of families, how can we reach those students maybe outside the classroom.

Parish: I think the district has done a very good job in addressing the pandemic. We had the choices of schooling virtually or face to face or some combination. But I think what we have to look at going forward is getting students caught up, which might mean reduce class sizes or additional staff, maybe summer schools. So there might be some money that needs to be spent in that area.

Paull: I think face-to-face instruction has proven to be more valid today than ever before. We know that kids do better—most kids, not all—do better in a one-on-one where they are interacting with an instructor together with kids with group environments, peer learning. But I also know that there are a lot of kids that have thrived in these unique environments. And I think our school district is recognizing that we just need to continue to diversify our offerings because we have so many unique learning needs. And we can really reach and help educate even more people by staying open to these different trends.