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‘Functional merger’ proposed as short-term solution for Milton Fire Department


To address Milton Fire Department staffing shortages and other concerns, Milton Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes is recommending a “functional merger” with the Janesville Fire Department.

Milton Fire Department staffing shortages have been made worse by the pandemic, and Janesville firefighters will be assigned to help if necessary, Rhodes said. The Milton Fire Department would be billed for two Janesville employees working overtime, which Rhodes estimated would cost $1,100 per person for each 24-hour shift.

Bringing in Janesville personnel would be “a last-ditch effort to make sure we have the staff,” said Rhodes, who also is chief of the Janesville Fire Department.

So far, it hasn’t been necessary, but Milton staffing shortages persist, especially on weekends.

A functional merger would be a short-term solution, Rhodes said. The long-term fix, he said, is complete consolidation.

A fire commission subcommittee has been looking at consolidating the Milton and Janesville fire departments.

“The fix is to have enough funding to consolidate with the city of Janesville and to afford full-time employees and, in a sense, build a seamless approach to fire, EMS and rescue across the city of Milton, town of Milton and city of Janesville,” Rhodes said.

Consolidation would save money and increase efficiencies, he said.

“This is happening all across the United States,” he said.

Consolidating with Janesville and having more full-time employees would require a tax levy estimated at $2.1 million—an increase of 134%—which would require approval through referendum. Because 2021 has only an April election on the calendar, Rhodes said April 2022 would be more realistic for a referendum.

“That’s a long time to wait, especially when you’re trying to make sure you’ve got the proper resources,” he said.

The problem today

In September, Rhodes said the Milton Fire Department had 23 shifts people didn’t sign up for.

In October, he said, there were 62 shifts people didn’t sign up for.

“It worries me,” he said.

“This is why we need to have full-time people.”

While he’s grateful for everyone working the shifts that they do, he said people can sign up as they please.

“(Administrative professional) Jenny (Lukas) pretty much begs everybody to work, then we’ll get the shifts filled,” he said. “But there’s been several occasions recently where we haven’t filled the shifts and we’ve been running really low.

“We need to get away from that staffing model.”

Functional merger

Rhodes’ recommendation is “to functionally merge administrative tasks, command staff, resources, create economies of scale, standardize fire/EMS operations, and training to leverage the fire departments together for better service.”

He told the commission last month: “I want to be clear: We still maintain the identities of both organizations, and the governance does not change.”

The Milton and Janesville fire departments do a lot of the same things, but he finds himself wearing two hats, he said.

“We do things a certain way at Janesville and things a certain way at Milton,” he said. “At times, it can be confusing. Since COVID came along, there’s not enough time in the day to manage both organizations differently.”

When Rhodes makes a decision for Janesville, he said, he then has to go through the process for Milton.

“The best thing to do is pull it all together and make one decision and it’s done,” he said.

Objectives of a functional merger would include:

  • Unify and consolidate command staff.
  • Create the following sections and assign personnel to them: operations; fire inspection, prevention and enforcement; EMS; training and professional development; logistics; and emergency management.
  • Combine all operational standard operating guidelines within one year.
  • Establish a reserve fire apparatus pool to create cost savings for all fire departments.
  • Standardize response guidelines to create one interoperable fire department within one year.
  • Assure all agencies have required human resource policies in place to create consistent administrative policies and procedures within six months.
  • Identify common goods and equipment for group purchasing within six months.
  • Create a training division responsible for building and implementing an all-hazards training plan and coordinating training for all personnel.
  • Streamline vehicle and building maintenance.
  • Create full- and part-time positions to enhance consistent staffing.
  • Use one record management system for data collecting to support decision making and establishing an operational dashboard.

The commission at its October meeting voted unanimously to have its attorney review the draft addendum to the current memorandum of understanding as well as a draft merger document.

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Here's advice for dealing with post-election emotions

Vivian Creekmore grew up in the 1960s in working-class Kentucky, where her mother taught her never to say “I hate ...”

She was not allowed to make fun of people, even candidates or political parties, because someone in the room might overhear and be offended.

Then came the 2000 presidential election, when Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote, but controversial recount practices in Florida ended when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Republican George W. Bush had won.

Creekmore of rural Edgerton was so upset, “I told myself, ‘I’m going to get involved and stay involved till the day I die.’”

So far, so good.

Creekmore has cranked out uncounted words on politics since then and is active every election. She talked hoarsely Monday after having made more than 2,000 phone calls on behalf of her candidates.

Creekmore was one of several people on both sides of the nation’s deep political divide The Gazette interviewed Monday with the question: How should people deal with their raw emotions if their candidate loses?

“If my side wins, I’m going to be happy as hell, and I might drink a gallon of Manhattans,” Creekmore said. “But no public gloating. I’m not going to do that.”

Creekmore said she tries to convince fellow Democrats they create unnecessary enemies when they call people names and that it weakens their position.

Creekmore advises people to channel their grief into positive action with a four-year plan. Pick an issue that is dear to you and work on that issue for the next three years, she advised.

Then in the fourth year, work for your presidential candidate. Creekmore plans to work on election-finance reform, which many on both sides of the aisle see as the root of the current political divide.

Jay Mielke, chairman of the Republican Party of Rock County, had similar thoughts.

People in his party work hard to elect their candidates and advocate for their ideas, Mielke noted, but other people have different values.

“They are still our family and still our friends, and after an election, we hope to come together and still be neighbors and family and friends, and that means we have to move past the competition phase and into a unification phase after the election is done,” Mielke said.

“Win or lose, my party’s going to be here, and its major competitor is going to be here as well. We’re going to move on, and in two years we’re going to continue to compete for votes.”

Bill Sodemann, a former Janesville School Board member, counseled his fellow Republicans to remember Democratic President Jimmy Carter if they lose this time.

Carter’s single term, as Sodemann sees it, paved the way for Ronald Reagan.

“If you win, to kick sand in the face of your opponent is really stupid and doesn’t help anybody and just adds to the division we have,” Sodemann said.

Sodemann gives this advice even though he is highly motivated by the abortion debate and worries that a Democratic win will pull the country toward socialism.

“Every race is the most important race of our lifetime,” Sodemann joked. “It’s been that way since I turned 18.”

Be gracious, put the election behind you and move forward, Sodemann said.

Val Crofts, a longtime Milton High School social studies teacher who now lives in Alabama, looked to the first three presidents—Washington, Adams and Jefferson—who set the example for a peaceful transfer of power.

“If President Trump happens to lose, I think, follow the example of all the presidents ahead of him and step down ... hand it over to what would be president-elect Biden and try to have the smoothest transition that we can have for him,” said Crofts, who was named Outstanding Teacher of American History by the Wisconsin Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

“And if former Vice President Biden loses, his supporters don’t have to agree with (Trump), but I’ve always felt you try to support who does win and try to build a coalition between the two parties to move forward. I’ve always felt that’s what’s best for the country.”

“I still have faith in our electoral process,” Crofts said. “I feel if there’s a delay of a day or two, we want to make sure we get this right, and I have faith in our institutions to carry it forward.”

Parker High School social studies teacher Steve Strieker recalled a stinging screed he posted to social media after he learned Trump had—to most people’s surprise—defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016.

He blamed the result on racists who sided with Trump.

“That was unfair because of course a lot of people did not vote for him for that reason,” Strieker said.

Strieker took a lot of criticism, some from his friends. Later, he realized he had lashed out because he was grieving.

“I want people to treat me in a sensitive way when I’m disappointed with something, and I need to be that way for people who are on the losing side, too.” Strieker said.

Strieker said he fears those who don’t win this presidential election might lay blame and incite violence.

Winners shouldn’t gloat and don’t celebrate, Strieker advises: “I think you just need to give space to people who are angry and upset ... because what’s great for you is for them despair.”

Don’t react to mean words, Strieker advises, adding: “Sometimes people need to let people just rant, and after a while the dust does settle and people can take that grief and convert it into really great things.”

Creekmore tells people the world is not divided along Democratic and Republican lines. Their kids play with children of parents who are of both parties. They go to church with people of both parties. They even join clubs or bowl with people from both parties.

“We are one community and one nation,” she said, so instead of bragging, “Let’s get together and solve our problems because most problems aren’t left or right. They have a practical solution.”

FILE—In this July 27, 2020, file photo, notes to medical personnel are hung in an area as they prepare to ender a COVID-19 unit at Starr County Memorial Hospital in Rio Grande City, Texas. As the coronavirus pandemic surges across the nation and infections and hospitalizations rise, medical administrators are scrambling to find enough nursing help—especially in rural areas and at small hospitals. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

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Studer offering Rock County seminars on education, community building


Philanthropist and businessman Quint Studer has a growing stake in commercial development in Rock County, and he thinks the time is right for his nonprofit think tank to help boost education and the economies in Janesville and Beloit.

Studer, who is one of two financiers behind Beloit’s new minor league baseball stadium and a set of stylishly rehabbed shops in downtown Janesville, said his Studer Community Institute plans to launch social, economic and educational programs that he has used to help give a leg up to residents in the Florida city where he lives.

On Friday, Studer’s Pensacola, Florida, nonprofit, Studer Community Institute, will bring Rock County residents a free virtual webinar by Harvard professor Ronald Ferguson, an expert on the educational achievement gap in children.

Studer said it is open to the public. It’s his institute’s first major attempt to spark a public dialogue between Rock County school officials, business leaders and parents on early educational readiness and brain development in toddler-aged children.

Studer, a former Janesville school teacher, health care and hospital consultant, and now a community revitalization expert, said his institute believes early childhood education can be a major, overlooked priority as cities look to carve out their futures.

Data Studer’s group has looked at suggests between 80% and 85% of brain building happens in a young child’s first three years—well before kindergarten starts.

In downtown Janesville, Studer in the last five years has redeveloped Block 42, a set of storefronts and specialty shops along North Main Street, and he has closely watched downtown revitalization that has picked up along the city’s riverfront.

“We just decided, because of the (Block 42) shops and now we’ve got the Beloit baseball team ... we just thought, it’s time to get to Rock County” with some of the programs the Community Institute has used in Florida.

In Pensacola, Studer has invested millions of dollars to revitalize the city’s oceanfront retail and commerce area. During the process, Studer and his group have delved into research, analysis and outreach to learn more about families, the economy and Pensacola residents’ perception of their city.

In Pensacola, Studer said, about 70% of mothers are single parents. In the past, Studer has teamed up with local hospitals in Florida to create a “toolbox” of exercises and training the hospital’s nurses give new parents to help them work on their infant’s brain development.

“The question is: How do you get the local moms and dads and everyone to understand how essential it is to build a baby’s brain from the first day on?”

One way is outreach that leans on localized data, Studer thinks.

Studer said Ferguson, the Harvard professor, will likely use data he pulls from the Janesville and Beloit school districts to highlight local student achievement here and show the link between brain development at ages 1 to 3 and students’ later readiness for kindergarten and educational achievement.

“I get where cities want to tell people they’re the best place to live—great quality of life, you know, sort of the typical, local chamber-of-commerce talking points. I get it, but sometimes you don’t want to con yourself into thinking one thing or another, either,” Studer said.

He said in the past, 10,000 to 14,000 people at a time in the Pensacola area have tuned into the group’s webinars on his institute’s Florida initiatives, including topics such as social justice and police reform.

In Beloit, Studer said, he’s eyeing ways he can use the new baseball stadium project he and Diane Hendricks are partnering on to help boost childhood learning. In Pensacola, for example, where Studer built and operates a minor league baseball stadium, the bleachers are painted with brightly colored numbers that children use to learn to count.

Studer plans to take stock in a roundtable of how Rock County residents received the Nov. 6 early education webinar and what demographic slices of local residents tuned in.

He thinks the webinar on young child brain development could resonate with parents whose children are at home doing virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now you’re taking kids, some of the kids are from low income areas, and you’re learning virtually. Internet is spotty for these families at home. Some have only one computer, and there’s multiple kids working with less oversight,” Studer said. “Those kids are already behind in the achievement gap, and it could get worse.”

Obituaries and death notices for Nov. 3, 2020

LaVern L. Cleasby

Mary E. “Granny” Honea

David R. Houfe Sr.

Jamie L. Kelley

Frederick C. “Fred” Meyers

Corinne E. Parker

In 2020 finale, Trump combative, Biden on offense


In the closing hours of a campaign shadowed by a once-in-a-century pandemic, President Donald Trump charged across the nation Monday delivering an incendiary but unsupported allegation that the election is rigged, while Democratic challenger Joe Biden pushed to claim states once seen as safely Republican.

America stood at a crossroads. Never before in modern history have voters faced a choice between candidates offering such opposite visions as the nation confronts a virus that has killed 230,000 Americans, the starkest economic contraction since the Great Depression and a citizenry divided on cultural and racial issues.

The two men also broke sharply Monday on the voting process itself while campaigning in the most fiercely contested battleground, Pennsylvania.

The president threatened legal action to stop counting beyond Election Day. If Pennsylvania ballot counting takes several days, as is allowed, Trump charged that “cheating can happen like you have never seen.”

Biden, in Pittsburgh, pushed a voting rights message to a mostly Black audience, declaring that Trump believes “only wealthy folks should vote” and describing COVID-19 as a “mass casualty event for Black Americans.”

“We’re done with the chaos, we’re done with the tweets, the anger, the hate, the failure, the irresponsibility,” said Biden, whose campaign has focused on increasing turnout by Black voters, who could prove the difference in several battleground states.

Both campaigns insist they have a pathway to victory, though Biden’s options for winning the required 270 Electoral College votes are more plentiful. Trump is banking on a surge of enthusiasm from his most loyal supporters while keeping the door open for post-election litigation.

Trump spent the final full campaign day sprinting through five rallies, from North Carolina to Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. Biden devoted most of his time to Pennsylvania, where a win would leave Trump with an exceedingly narrow path. He also dipped into Ohio, a show of confidence in a state that Trump won by 8 percentage points four years ago.

The two men delivered their final messages with Biden emphasizing the pandemic. He declared that “the first step to beating the virus is beating Donald Trump,” and he promised he would retain the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom the president has talked of firing.

Trump, meanwhile, made only passing mention of what his aides believe are his signature accomplishments—the nation’s economic rebound, the recent installation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett—in favor of a torrent of grievance and combativeness. He angrily decried the media’s coverage of the campaign while complaining that he also was being treated unfairly by, in no particular order, China, the Electoral College and rock singer Jon Bon Jovi.

“I have been under siege illegally for three-and-a-half years. I wonder what it would be like if we didn’t have all of this horrible stuff. We’d have a very, very calm situation,” said Trump at an evening rally in Michigan. “People see that we fight, and I’m fighting for you. I’m fighting to survive. You have to survive.”

Biden announced an unusual move to campaign on Election Day, saying he would head to Philadelphia and his native Scranton on Tuesday as part of a get-out-the-vote effort. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will visit Detroit, a heavily Black city in battleground Michigan, and both of their spouses will hit the road, too. Trump told reporters he would be visiting his campaign headquarters in Virginia, and he is also hosting family and friends on Election Night in the East Room of the White House.

Nearly 100 million votes have already been cast, through early voting or mail-in ballots, which could lead to delays in tabulation. Trump has spent months claiming without evidence that the votes would be ripe for fraud and refusing to guarantee that he would honor the election result.

Trump also rallied in Scranton on Monday, underscoring the importance of the state’s vote-rich northeast counties, and zeroed in on the state’s process to count votes. He has used stark terms to threaten litigation to stop the tabulation of ballots arriving after Election Day—counting that is allowed with earlier postmarks in some states.

He has said that “we’re going in with our lawyers” as soon as the polls close in Pennsylvania and on Monday spoke ominously about the Supreme Court decision to grant an extension to count the votes after today.

“They made a very dangerous situation, and I mean dangerous, physically dangerous, and they made it a very, very bad, they did a very bad thing for this state,” Trump declared. He said of Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, “Please don’t cheat because we’re all watching. We’re all watching you, governor.”

There is already an appeal pending at the Supreme Court over the counting of absentee ballots in Pennsylvania that are received in the mail in the three days after the election.

The state’s top court ordered the extension, and the Supreme Court refused to block it, though conservative justices expressed interest in taking up the propriety of the three added days after the election. Those ballots are being kept separate in case the litigation goes forward. The issue could assume enormous importance if the late-arriving ballots could tip the outcome.

One of Biden’s top legal advisers Bob Bauer pushed back at Trump’s promise of mobilizing his lawyers after polls close to challenge certain ballots.

“It’s very telling that President Trump is focused not on his voters but on his lawyers, and his lawyers are not going to win the election for him,” Bauer said. “We are fully prepared for any legal hijinks of one kind or another. We’re not worried about it.”

Democrats also celebrated a decision by a federal judge to reject another last-ditch Republican effort to invalidate nearly 127,000 votes in Houston because the ballots were cast at drive-thru polling centers established during the pandemic.

Biden’s team pushed into states Trump won handily in 2016, hoping to deliver an Election Night knockout blow that could prevent further Republican challenges.

Biden said he returned to Ohio at the urging of Sen. Sherrod Brown and other Ohio Democrats in Congress, suggesting a final, late visit could win. And the Democrats’ most popular surrogate, former President Barack Obama, made one of his final campaign stops in Georgia.

“I didn’t originally plan to come to Georgia. I told Michelle, I’m sorry, Baby, I got to go to Georgia. This is a big deal,” said Obama, noting Democrats’ hopes that they could deliver a knockout blow to Trump in the former GOP stronghold. “Georgia could be the state, Georgia could be the place.”

But even as Biden enjoyed strong poll numbers, the move to expand the map revived anxiety among Democrats scarred by Trump’s 2016 upset over Hillary Clinton, whose forays into red states might have contributed to losing longtime party strongholds.