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Analysis names Racine as third worst in U.S. for black Americans

RACINE — After being named the fourth-worst area in the U.S. for black Americans last year, the Racine area has been named the third-worst city this year, according to a recent 24/7 Wall St. article.

The list was created by Delaware-based financial news and opinion company 24/7 Wall St., and was compiled using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey. The study factored in household income, poverty, adult high school and bachelor’s degree attainment, home ownership and unemployment.

The ranking also used recent data from The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit dedicated to criminal justice reform.

According to 24/7 Wall St., the 2018 top five worst areas/cities for black Americans, all of which are located in the Midwest, are:

  • Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa
  • Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wis.
  • Racine, Wis.
  • Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Peoria, Ill.

“This is a metro Racine measure of inequality, which measures the city, Mount Pleasant, Caledonia and Sturtevant,” said Racine Mayor Cory Mason. “It is a regional challenge we have to overcome, so we need a regional solution.”

Community activist Al Gardner said he spoke during Racine’s City Council meeting Tuesday, and said the issue needs to be addressed.

“Racism is real and it has long lasting impacts in our community,” Mason said. “There are disparities that exist between parts of our community, and we need to continue to address them as a major priority.”

Wage disparity, unemployment

The article addressed unequal wages, stating that the median annual income for black households in the Racine area averaged 42.3 percent of white households, with black households earning $26,888 a year, and white households averaging $63,507 a year.

That is an increase from last year, when data showed Racine area black households earned 34.6 percent of white households — $21,573 annually, with white households earning $62,368.

The national median annual income for black households in the U.S. is $36,651, about $24,000 less than the median income of white households, the 24/7 Wall St. article states.

“Racine, Wis., is one of several Rust Belt cities where social and economic outcomes for black residents fall well behind those of white area residents,” the article states.

Mason said closing the skills gap would help close the unequal wage gap that exists, but said local authorities’ hands are often tied by state policies.

“We are prohibited by state law from the kind of policies that would help raise wages for everyone,” Mason said. “I would like to see more policy solutions that would raise those wages for everybody, because when you don’t do that, the rest end up subsidizing benefits and other programs to make up the gap.”

The article also compared unemployment between black and white residents in the Racine area.

This year, the study showed that black unemployment in greater Racine is at 16.6 percent, with white unemployment at 6.1 percent. Last year, the report noted that black unemployment was at 10.7 percent, and white unemployment at 4.8 percent in the Racine area. That is an increase of 5.9 percent for black residents and 1.3 percent for white residents.

In the past year, workforce programs including Racine Works and Uplift 900 were launched, and initiatives with United Way, Gateway Technical College and Higher Expectations for Racine County were enlisted. In October, Racine also received $1.5 million in Fast Forward grants from the state to train workers.

“I do feel like you have the county and the city and the technical college and everybody working together. The school district, the nonprofit sector, everybody is working together and rowing in the same direction to get at these challenges,” Mason said.

‘Foxconn effect,’ solutions

Mason said the arrival of Foxconn creates a unique opportunity to help bridge the inequalities facing blacks and whites in the Racine area.

“Foxconn is the catalyst that creates the best opportunity to reduce these inequalities that we have had in a generation,” Mason said. “We need to make intentional steps that the economic growth that is coming is broadly shared by everyone.”

Mason also cited the “Foxconn effect,” which has driven other local companies to raise wages in hopes of retaining their employees as the Taiwanese manufacturer arrives.

Home ownership, housing

The study also looked at home ownership rates, which showed that 31.4 percent of Racine-area black residents own a home, whereas 77.1 percent of white Racine-area residents own a residence.

Mason said that the city is working with lenders to make first-time home buying an option for residents.

“A part of it is we need to look at the housing stock itself to make sure we have affordable housing options that are available,” Mason said.

He also pointed to developers’ interest in the area due to Foxconn, and the redevelopment of the Walker Muffler site along Michigan Boulevard and the Gold Medal lofts, 1701 Packard Ave., both as workforce housing.

“We need to make sure we are creating (housing) options for everybody. That is going to be critically important,” Mason said. “If we are not mindful of making spaces for people at every level of the economic ladder, people are going to be left behind.”

Bridging the divide

Gardner said that the community needs to have hard discussions in order to make the Racine area a more equal place to live.

“We need to have an African American community conversation and put a plan of action together to solve this terrible position that we are in,” Gardner said. “We have an African American police chief, African American superintendent of Racine Unified schools, and an African American CEO of United Way of Racine County. I feel that these three people should take the lead on this initiative because of their positions in the community.”

In the 2018 city budget, Mason’s first as mayor, he allocated funds to create the position of strategic initiatives and community partnerships liaison, which will focus on dealing with inequality in the community.

“We have been quiet too long and look what it has gotten us — the third-worst place to live in the United States,” Gardner said. “I know that one person alone cannot solve this problem, but I will tell you this: If you don’t try, you will surely fail.”

A case study: How marijuana legalization has affected Medford, Oregon

A decade ago, before any states legalized recreational marijuana use, it would have been hard to imagine the reality of legalized marijuana here or anywhere else in the U.S.

But it’s now a different story. Recreational use of the drug is legal in 10 states and in Washington, D.C., with many other states legalizing it for medicinal use. A Nov. 6 advisory referendum, introduced to measure local opinion, found that 59 percent of voters in Racine County said marijuana use should be legalized for adults, while 81 percent said sales should be taxed if it was legalized.

To better understand marijuana legalization and reform, The Journal Times took a look at two cities at opposite ends of the United States, similar in size to Racine and which are located in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Today we takes a look at the city of Medford, Oregon. Monday’s Journal Times will look at Portland, Maine.

Medford is a city in southwest Oregon, just 30 miles north of the California border. It lies in Jackson County and as of 2017 its population was 81,000. Marijuana was legalized in Oregon in 2014 through Measure 91, a statewide ballot measure which received 56 percent approval.

Local regulations

In Medford, the community provided The Journal Times with several ordinances the city has adopted relating to subjects such as odor, commercial sale and zoning and even home delivery of the product. In simplest terms, Medford allows its citizens to engage in the use of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes.

However, Medford has prohibited outdoor production of both recreational and medical marijuana, both for homeowners and on vacant land within residential areas. This was passed by Medford’s City Council because of the “offensive odor of marijuana.” The city also recently passed laws relating to the home delivery of marijuana, saying a marijuana-related business must comply with all applicable state laws and regulations and must carry an invoice during the delivery.

Local regulations also say that a marijuana-related business must conduct operations inside “secure, enclosed structures.” Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler said these laws are in place for good reason.

“I looked at that (Measure 91) and said the voters have spoken, and as a city council we need to do the best job we can to control what we can,” he said. “You need to make sure you have things in place that control how and where it’s placed. We have, so far, pretty well controlled how marijuana is grown within the city limits … but a lot of those things are in the state laws.”

Liquor control?

The overarching agency that approves or denies marijuana retail licenses is the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. As of Nov. 15, 658 license applications were recorded for Jackson County, the second-highest in the State of Oregon. A marijuana business license includes a producer, processor, wholesaler, lab and retail shop.

In Medford, there are currently 25 retail licenses that have been approved, meaning there are 25 businesses in Medford that can sell marijuana directly to consumers. In comparison, there are 12 Starbucks in the city.

One common reason the OLCC might deny a license is if the individual on the application doesn’t pass a background check. The commission can also deny a license if the business would be located within 1,000 feet of a school or if there is a question about the source of the financing.

The OLCC has a backup of approximately 1,000 license requests, as it is currently re-licensing existing applicants. All marijuana facilities must sign the OLCC’s land-use compatibility statement as well, to determine whether a land-use proposal is consistent with a local government’s comprehensive plan and land-use regulations.

“It has to sit into the zoning scheme of which they want to locate,” said Mark Pettinger, spokesman for the OLCC. “That’s a big starter or non-starter for us.”


Robert Weinger is the owner of Cannabiz Experience, a retail marijuana shop in Medford. Weinger spent eight months researching states that had marijuana laws. He decided to come to Oregon four years ago because he thought it would be too hard to open a shop in California or Washington because of those states’ laws. He estimates that it cost about $1 million to get his shop up and running.

An average sale at a retail marijuana shop in Oregon totals about $35. But at Cannabiz, Weinger says that number is closer to $68 to $96. His shop sells edibles (food laced with THC), concentrates and even pre-rolled marijuana joints, among many other items. He says his shop is 50 percent regular customers. His average customer? Middle-aged and older women, he said.

Weinger said that although the many rules and regulations can be hard to follow at times, he has had no issues with local government or law enforcement.

“It’s no different than doing anything else in business — the only caveat is that you have to follow the rules more,” he said. “If you’re an entrepreneur and you happen to like marijuana, then you should do well if you think of it as a business.”

A new revenue pool

Oregon set the state base tax rate for recreational marijuana at 17 percent, using the money for schools, police and enforcement of Measure 91. Oregon also gave cities and counties the possibility to impose an additional 3 percent sales tax. This is something that Medford takes advantage of. Through Sept. 30, the city has received $839,100 in revenue from marijuana taxes for its 2017-19 biennial budget.

This is something that Medford City Council member Clay Bearnson said is a bonus for the city.

“It’s been a big benefit and we are hoping to use the money for the good of the community,” he said, adding that the city is looking to possibly build a new pool or homeless shelter with the money. “I hope we will have some tangible rewards that the public can see.”

Mayor Wheeler also said this is a plus.

“It’s not a huge amount, but for a city like ours, it helps other things,” he said.

In the first full year of legalization, Oregon collected $70.2 million in state cannabis taxes.

Law enforcement

Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement is the local drug enforcement agency. MADGE is comprised of local, state and federal investigators that work with other government agencies to share information and resources to dismantle drug trafficking and money laundering in the area.

The biggest problems MADGE faces are illegal grow sites and the exportation of marijuana to other states, according to Lt. Kerry Curtis of the Medford Police Department. According to Curtis, MADGE has seized 2,069 pounds of illegally manufactured marijuana to date in 2018 — up from 574 lbs. in 2016.

“Marijuana is certainly a problem in regards to the illicit activity, which has created problems for those who are in compliance with the law and are trying to operate legal dispensaries,” Curtis said.

As needed, the OLCC takes out enforcement action against businesses it has licensed. Local jurisdictions and state police enforce home grow and personal possession. The current limit for marijuana plants is four per residence. One ounce of useable marijuana is allowed in a public place as well. Curtis said that just one mature marijuana plant can yield a “useable amount of marijuana.”

The black market of marijuana relates to growers who attempt to sell marijuana outside of the state. Last year, it was reported that illegal marijuana seizures by MADGE had increased by 52 percent since 2015.

As for the outdoor grow law in Medford, a $250-a-day fine can be imposed if there is a complaint from a neighbor. However, citizens can grow cannabis indoors and in greenhouses, as long as neighbors don’t complain about the odor. In all of 2017, the city handled 18 outdoor grow complaints and three odor complaints.

“I think marijuana is starting to mature in terms of an industry and the people as far as the retail end of it understand … that they need to act as an honest broker in these things,” said Mayor Wheeler. “We aren’t stationed outside their door or anything, but they need to follow the rules like anyone else, as if it’s a bar or a restaurant.”

“I looked at that (Measure 91) and said the voters have spoken, and as a city council we need to do the best job we can to control what we can ... you need to make sure you have things in place that control how and where it’s placed.” Gary Wheeler,
mayor of Medford, Ore.


Pete Wicklund /   


Longtime Horlick teacher leaves $500K scholarship fund to school



RACINE — Kenneth “Ken” Wagner had an impact on generations of Horlick High School students in life, and through a $500,000 endowment to fund scholarships, will continue to do so after his death.

Wagner, who died Sept. 2 at age 93, taught at Horlick for more than 30 years before retiring in the 1980s.

Wagner is remembered by his former supervisor and friend, Jeff Blaga, as a traveler, a lifelong learner and as someone who loved spending time with young people.

“He was the consummate educator,” Blaga said.

Wagner and Blaga met at Horlick in the 1980s when Wagner was the chair of the social studies department and Blaga was the district’s social studies administrator.

Wagner knew all the best historical anecdotes that kept his students enthralled, Blaga said, and was also respected by students and staff for his organizational skills.

“He was able to relate to the young people and had a wonderful sense of humor,” Blaga said.

A popular teacher

Both Blaga and Tom Schroeder, another friend of Wagner’s, said Wagner would often bump into more than one former student on any day when out and about in Racine.

“He talked about his love of teaching many, many times,” Schroeder said. “Even in his last days, he said, ‘I wish I could be teaching again.’ ”

Wagner, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War who was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa, moved to Racine to teach at Horlick in 1955.

Over the years, he taught American history, world history, sociology and economics. Wagner walked the hallways of Horlick holding a cane that he didn’t need for support, but sometimes used to break up fights, Schroeder said.

The fund

He conceived the idea for a scholarship fund in the early 2000s and officially set things up in 2008.

“I encouraged him to do this because of his love for Horlick,” Blaga said.

However, neither man expected the scholarship fund to reach $500,000.

“He knew it was going to be a nice, substantial gift, but it grew a lot larger than anybody could imagine,” Blaga said.

Schroeder said that while Wagner might not have made the first impression of a generous man, as he was so strict and disciplined, “he was a very giving person.” During his travels around the globe, Wagner would come across new friends who were having rough times and help them out, by replacing their roof, for instance.

The Kenneth M. Wagner Academic Achievement Award Fund was initially set up to supply one $1,000 scholarship to one student per year. Because the principal amount grew so large, the new plan is to supply one $10,000 scholarship in spring 2019 and then two $10,000 scholarships each following year. The fund is managed by the Racine Community Foundation, which will also handle scholarship distribution.

To be eligible for the scholarships, students must be in the top 20 in their class at Horlick and be active in extracurricular activities. It can go to any student pursuing post-secondary education that meets the other stipulations.

Blaga said that Wagner liked all kids, but had a soft spot for students from families who might not have the money to support their child’s post-secondary education.

He wanted to help those students pursue further education, whether it was tech school or college, Blaga said.

Blaga believes it’s unprecedented for someone to leave a $500,000 endowment to a Racine high school.

“It really speaks to the love of the school that he had,” Blaga said.

Wagner’s tombstone at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Union Grove in Dover reads “Always an Educator.”

“I would hope that his memory lives on as he not only impacted Horlick while he was there,” Blaga said, “but he has now set it up that his impact on the school will go into the foreseeable future.”