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Crime-and-courts
Police Department morale
Racine mayor orders review of police department culture

RACINE — Racine Mayor Cory Mason announced Friday that he is launching a review of the city’s Police Department to study its “cultural climate” after a survey on officers’ morale raised concerns of racial and gender bias.

Mason has directed the city’s attorney, human resources manager and affirmative action officer to investigate those concerns, according to a press release. The decision comes after the morale survey “revealed a number of Racine Police Department personnel who chose to make racially charged and sexist comments,” the release states.

The Journal Times reported earlier this week on that survey, conducted in mid-March by a human resource consulting firm at the request of the city’s police unions. Among other revelations, the survey highlighted complaints about morale and department leadership.

The survey also generated complaints about advancement opportunities, according to an overview of the survey results that was provided to The Journal Times. The overview states that 30 comments were provided regarding development and advancement, with the most commonly expressed sentiment on the topic being: “People are promoted based on friendship, race or gender.”

“In particular, it is alleged that the chief is making promotions ‘based on demographics’ and ‘does not promote people on merit but rather on favoritism,’ ” the overview states.

Some responding commenters also complained about the department’s “extensive” paid leave practice for “select officers.”

Officers share concerns

Those opinions raised concerns among some members of the department, which they shared with Mason in a letter that details issues minority members of the department say they face.

The letter, which The Journal Times obtained through an open records request, states that union leadership presented the survey as a tool to address concerns about retaining a workforce. Instead, the letter states, “this survey has worked to widen animus between the department’s white members and members who are black.”

Letter of concern from officers

“Black officers at the Racine Police Department exist in an environment where opinions that work to discredit their professional accomplishments were provided a platform,” the letter reads, in part. “It is clear to us that leadership in RPA (Racine Police Association) and SOA (Staff Officers Association) as well as Stanard & Associates were not concerned with screening the comments section, nor placing into context the racially inflammatory remarks written prior to the survey’s release to Racine Police Department members and stakeholders within city government.”

The letter further states that the authors believe “the resounding number of decisions” made by Racine Police Chief Art Howell — the first black chief of the department — were principled and fair.

Ten department members of a variety of ranks signed the letter, including Brinelle Nabors, who is black and one of three members currently on paid administrative leave. The Journal Times reported Friday that Nabors is expected to be charged next week in relation to a 2015 incident in which he was accused of using excessive force while arresting a Park High School student. During the approximately two and half years that Nabors has been on paid leave, he has reportedly received $160,985.88 from the city.

One of the other officers on leave is Todd Morschhauser, who is white and holds the rank of investigator. He was placed on leave after he was arrested in March for allegedly hiring a prostitute in Milwaukee.

According to the letter, only five of the 157 survey respondents identified themselves as Americans of African descent.

Demographics

Howell did not immediately return requests for comment about Friday’s development. In previous statements to The Journal Times concerning the survey results, he provided a spreadsheet detailing hiring demographics since 2012, the year Howell assumed top rank in the department.

The data show five promotions during that time frame were for black department members, including two who became investigators, two who became sergeants and one who became a deputy chief. At the same time, more than 30 promotions were of white members.

Regarding administrative paid leave, Howell previously told The Journal Times that people who commented on the topic were misinformed.

Reaction

Speaking on behalf of the police unions, Wisconsin Professional Police Association Executive Director Jim Palmer said in an email, “both the RPA and SOA welcome a deeper inquiry into any matter raised as a result of their survey.”

Survey: Racine police morale 'absolutely horrible'

RACINE — Poor morale and lack of leadership came up as two of the biggest issues facing the Racine Police Department, according to a survey completed earlier this year that was recently released to The Journal Times.

In his release, Mason stated that he met separately this week with the unions, Howell and a group of minority and female officers, who all shared concerns about the survey results.

“The concerns raised yesterday are serious,” Mason stated in the Friday release. “To be clear: there is no place in city government for those who believe that their colleagues are incapable of performing and excelling at their duty to protect and serve the community simply because of their race or gender. I have stated publicly and privately that Racine needs a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community it serves.”

Mason directed staff conducting the review to complete the work within 30 days. He will “reserve judgment” on how to proceed as the city learns from the review, the release states.

The officers’ letter to Mason identified priorities for moving ahead, which include: recruiting candidates “based heavily on character and merit,” hiring officers who reflect the city’s social and economic demographics, enhancing efforts to help black officers advance professionally and eliminating candidates who “harbor any social bias.”

“To be clear: there is no place in city government for those who believe that their colleagues are incapable of performing and excelling at their duty to protect and serve the community simply because of their race or gender.” Racine Mayor Cory Mason

Christina Lieffring / CHRISTINA LIEFFRING christina.lieffring@journaltimes.com 

Olivia Schober, 2, from left, Jack Petersen, 5 and Matthew Young, 5, play with bubbles during First Fridays on Monument Square. First Fridays runs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first Friday of each month from April to December. For more photos from Friday night's debut event, go to journaltimes.com/gallery.


Local
Land Acquisition dispute
Federal Foxconn suit dismissed

MOUNT PLEASANT — A federal lawsuit against the Village of Mount Pleasant regarding the land acquisition for the Foxconn project was dismissed by a judge on Thursday, delivering a blow to some property owners. But it’s possible a new suit could be filed.

Judge Lynn Adelman, of the U.S. Eastern District of Wisconsin, dismissed the suit stating that the plaintiffs’ claims were “not cognizable.”

The Foxconn Technology Group plans to build a massive manufacturing campus in southwest Mount Pleasant.

The decision allows the village, along with Mount Pleasant President Dave DeGroot and the village Community Development Authority, who and which are included in the lawsuit, to clear a hurdle that could have affected the development of the Foxconn project — at least for now.

In January, a dozen property owners filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Eastern District of Wisconsin alleging, among other things, that they will not be fully compensated for their property, and that the process by which the village has acquired the land has violated their constitutional rights.

In his decision, Adelman said the “defendants’ alleged conduct falls well short of shocking the conscience.”

“That defendants offered to pay some property owners substantially more than others to acquire their properties is hardly ‘oppressive’ in any actionable sense,” Adelman wrote. “Similarly, that defendants’ decision-making process was not sufficiently rigorous to appease plaintiffs does not mean, for example, that defendants ‘course of proceeding’ was ‘bound to offend even hardened sensibilities’ ... the facts alleged in the operative complaint do not come close to allowing me to infer that defendants violated it.”

Village pleased with decision

Alan Marcuvitz, the attorney working with the village to acquire land for the Foxconn project, was pleased with the decision.

“While the lawsuit has had no impact on the progress of the development, we are pleased to have this matter resolved,” Marcuvitz said in a statement. “As it has since the beginning of this process, the village will continue its efforts to acquire all property needed for the Foxconn development through voluntary agreements with property owners. To date, that approach has enabled the village to acquire 100 percent of the land in the core section of Area I, as well as 80 percent of the land in the entire project area — Areas I, II and III — all through voluntary agreement with property owners.”

DeGroot said the judge confirmed “that there was no basis for this lawsuit.”

“It reaffirms that our approach has been fair and equitable,” DeGroot said, adding the village has had a lot of success buying property from other land owners.

DeGroot said the village is not worried about another lawsuit being filed.

“There really isn’t that much more that would be in dispute,” DeGroot said. “I’m not sure why there would be other challenges.”

Might not be over

The CDA has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday to discuss and possibly vote on a redevelopment plan, which could include designating some areas as blighted.

Marcuvitz has said in the past that “not one single property will be declared blighted property.” However, this week he clarified that it’s possible an area where a home is located might be declared blighted.

Wisconsin state statutes define a “blighted area” as including “an area which is predominantly open and which because of obsolete platting, diversity of ownership, deterioration of structures or of site improvements, or otherwise, substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of community.”

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed the village was planning to blight the property which, according to the suit, would have violated their Fifth Amendment rights.

Adelman dismissed the claim saying the “plaintiffs do not dispute that defendants have not actually implemented their alleged plans by, for example, commencing condemnation proceedings against the plaintiffs’ properties, so plaintiff cannot have pursued, much less exhausted, their available state remedies for challenging those takings.”

However, that could mean if the village were to go forward to blight property related to the Foxconn project it could allow for another lawsuit to be filed.

Erik Olsen, attorney for the property owners, was not available Friday for comment on the decision.

“While the lawsuit has had no impact on the progress of the development, we are pleased to have this matter resolved.” Alan Marcuvitz, attorney working with the Village of Mount Pleasant on Foxconn land acquisition

GREGORY SHAVER, gregory.shaver@j 

Nancy Jeter bowls during the finals of Women’s Division of the Hope Safehouse Match Game Tournament Bowling Championship Thursday evening, May 12, 2016, at Hillside Lanes.


Mason


Local
CONGRESS
Barca to decide soon on whether to run for Congress

RACINE COUNTY — State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, plans to make a decision in the coming week regarding whether he will run for Congress in Wisconsin’s 1st District, which includes Racine County.

“The reason why I’m looking at it is because I’ve gotten literally hundreds of people that have reached out to me in various manners through phone calls, texts and emails,” Barca said. “Because in their judgment, people who live in the area, I might be in the best position to win the seat.”

Barca said he is looking at the race “very carefully to assess if I do have the best chance of winning the race.”

“I’m the kind of person who would rather help people than ask people for help,” Barca said. “I don’t want to ask people (for help) and put people through all of that. And once I feel like I’ve got a very strong prospect and the strongest prospect to winning the race for the Democrats, that’s a big part of what my consideration is all about.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has held the seat since 1999, announced in April he is not seeking re-election.

Crowded race

If Barca does decide to enter the race, he will first have to win the Democratic primary against Caledonia resident and ironworker Randy Bryce and Janesville School Board member Cathy Myers. Barca said he he has met with both Myers and Bryce during the process of weighing a run.

On the Republican side, candidates include University of Wisconsin Regent Bryan Steil of Janesville, who entered the race two weeks ago, and Army veteran and Lake Geneva resident Nick Polce, who entered the race last November.

Also Paul Nehlen, who ran against Ryan as a Republican in 2016, is planning to run again this year as a Republican, but local party leaders have distanced themselves from him after Nehlen made several anti-Semitic remarks and was banned from Twitter for such remarks.

Capitalizing on connections

Barca served in Congress for one term, 1993-95. He was defeated in the 1994 election by Mark Neumann, who served two terms in the House. Barca has served two stints in the state Assembly, the first from 1985-93, and again from 2009 to the present.

Representing a large part of Kenosha and Somers and a part of southeast Racine County, Barca said he has a connection with people in the area.

“The percentage of the vote that comes out of Racine and Kenosha counties is roughly half the district,” Barca said. “I’ve been the Democratic leader (in the Assembly) so I’ve got a lot of strong ties in various organizations and allied groups that care very deeply about the race.”

Despite the seat having been in Republican hands for more than two decades, Barca thinks the seat is winnable for Democrats.

“Obviously it would not be easy for a Democrat to win this seat, it leans (Republican),” Barca said. “Whomever is our nominee will have to conduct a very strong, aggressive campaign to touch every corner of the district and put forward a strong message that can get voters energized.”

“Whomever is our nominee will have to conduct a very strong, aggressive campaign to touch ever corner of the district and put forward a strong message that can get voters energized.” State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha

Barca


Adelman