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The Pleasant Prairie Plan Commission Monday approved plans that would allow for construction of a hotel and Kings and Convicts Brewing Co. near Highway 50 and Interstate 94 by the end of 2019. This image shows how the brewery is envisioned.

Open records update
City racks up $3 million in legal fees, covered mostly by insurance

RACINE — A Milwaukee law firm has billed the city nearly $3 million for taking on three court cases, although the City of Racine has not had to foot most of that cost.

Most recently, the law firm Meissner, Tierney, Fisher and Nichols called for nearly $20,000 in payment for representing Racine in its contempt of court case against 6th District Alderman Sandy Weidner.

The biggest bill was for services provided from February 2014 to May 2016, after which Meissner Tierney billed for upwards of $2.725 million to defend Racine in a lawsuit that alleged the city had conspired to remove liquor licenses that had been issued to minority bar owners.

But an insurance policy with Cities and Villages Municipal Insurance Co. allowed Racine to avoid the vast majority of those costs.

This information was revealed Friday after the City of Racine returned materials related to multiple open records requests filed by The Journal Times.

Holmes v. City of Racine

Meissner Tierney billed the city for $2,726,282.44 for Holmes v. City of Racine, the case in which a group of minority bar owners alleged that the city conspired to remove their liquor licenses.

The former bar owners first sued the city in February 2014 in the federal court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, accusing then-Mayor John Dickert and more than 15 other defendants of engaging in an elaborate plot to drive minority bar owners out of the city.

The city paid at least $100,000 to satisfy deductibles. The remaining fees were paid by Cities and Villages Municipal Insurance, which also is funding the settlement.

The open records materials that The Journal Times received state that the city’s liability insurance carried a $100,000 deductible for attorney’s fees in this matter; once the city met its deductible, the city’s insurers paid an additional $2,626,282.

A 2015 Journal Times report indicated the city had to pay its insurer an additional $75,000 deductible because of mounting costs. The Journal Times was unable to verify Tuesday the final dollar amount paid by the city.

City Attorney Scott Letteney also did not respond to a question asking if the payout affected the city’s insurance coverage or costs going forward.

On top of that, the City Council approved a settlement of $1.35 million to be paid to the plaintiffs in the fall of 2015.

Harmon v. City of Racine

The city also hired Meissner Tierney for a case regarding a dog shot during the execution of a no-knock warrant. The City Council approved a $10,000 settlement in the case (Harmon v. City of Racine) last month.

The firm has represented the city since March 1, and the city is in the process of paying $173,809.17 to Meissner Tierney for attorney’s fees and costs.

Weidner v. City of Racine

Last week, The Journal Times reported that the city is seeking $17,780 from Weidner, pending a decision from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, for the attorney’s fees related to her contempt-of-court case. However, records received Friday stated that, in total, the city paid Meissner Tierney $19,461 for fees and costs related to the Weidner contempt of court matter. The dollar amounts are different, in part, because some of the costs were incurred after the fine amount was submitted to the court, according to Letteney.

In explaining why the city hired outside counsel for the Weidner cast, Letteney wrote in an email: “Because the city was sued by a sitting alderperson and the lawsuit involves alleged conduct of the City Attorney’s Office, this created a conflict of interest.”

Letteney did not respond to a question regarding the reason for hiring Meissner Tierney for the Holmes and Harmon cases.

According to the Weidner documents recently unsealed, Meissner Tierney was not only hired to represent the city in the contempt of court case against Weidner, but has been handling the connected public records case, which has been going on since at least February 2018.

On Jan. 25, The Journal Times submitted a request to the City Attorney’s Office for the total dollar amount, hours and hourly rate the city has been charged so far by Meissner Tierney for the ongoing Weidner open records case.

Frigid forecast
Racine County braces for cold; wind chill expected to be -40 on Thursday

RACINE COUNTY — As the county braces for wind chills that haven’t been this low in decades, as low as negative 51 on Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service, public officials are preparing for slick conditions on the roads and any other problems that might pop up as a result of the cold.

David Maack, emergency management coordinator for Racine County, said the county is monitoring the below-zerotemperatures “in the event that we would need outside assistance.”

“We’re disseminating information to our stakeholders and our partners and if we need to react, we’re preparing for that,” Maack said. “The primary issue is going to be the extreme cold, and if you have something like a power outage that would compound the problem.”

Amy Jahn, spokesperson for We Energies, said the utility provider had not experienced any significant recent outages as of Tuesday afternoon, but the company is preparing for the weather by making sure it has enough equipment and personnel.

“Our equipment is made for Wisconsin temperatures,” Jahn said. “Obviously the wind chills that we’re seeing coming up is something we haven’t seen in a long time so we’re ready, we’re prepared if a power outage does occur.”

Jahn said We Energies customers can take some precautions of their own.

“The best thing our customers can do is be prepared,” Jahn said. “They can put together emergency kits if something like a power outage does occur that has flashlights, blankets, etc., in it.”

In photos: Racinians make the most of Monday's snowfall

Although temperatures and wind chills this frigid are far from typical in southeast Wisconsin, they’re not unheard of either. For example, in January 1977, The Journal Times reported temperatures from 12 below to 16 below zero and wind chills of 67 degrees below zero.

County officials advise residents to stay inside during this extreme cold snap.

“People need to stay indoors,” Maack said. “If they’re going outdoors they need to dress appropriately. With these types of wind chills, you can start to see frostbite symptoms within 5 or 10 minutes.”

Maack said hypothermia should also be a concern for residents.

“Check in on family, friends and neighbors, especially those that might fall between the cracks, those that might be more at risk,” Maack said.

Maack said local municipalities are planning to keep an eye on their water mains, which can burst during extreme cold weather.

However, Keith Haas, general manager for the Water Utility for the City of Racine, said water mains usually break because of the frost in the ground. Since the first part of January was mild, the snow could have created enough insulation for the ground to keep the pipes from bursting.

A water main did break Monday outside the Target store near Regency Mall. Crews from the Roto-Rooter company were planning to work throughout Monday night to repair the main. A private contractor was handling that job because the main broke on private property, a Roto-Rooter employee told The Journal Times.

Clearing the roads

The county had plows cleaning the streets until midnight Monday to prepare for the cold.

Julie Anderson, director of Public Works and Development Services for the county, said plows are planning to continue to work throughout the week to clean snow off the roads.

“Our crews were able to get roads as clean as they could get them considering the temperatures were falling and the wind was picking up,” Anderson said. “The roads in this kind of weather, in this temperature, are not going to be perfect. They’re going to be good, but they’re not going to be perfect.”

Anderson said black ice has caused some incidents on the roads, and drivers need to careful while traveling. Black ice is a thin layer of highly transparent and hazardous ice that forms as melting snow refreezes on roads and bridges. The road may appear wet, or look as if there’s no hazard at all.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, black ice tends to occur most commonly overnight and in the early morning as pavement temperatures drop, but the Wisconsin forecast through Friday morning makes black ice a daytime possibility as well. This is due to blowing snow and the potential for shorter-term freeze-thaw cycles, as vehicle exhaust or sunlight heat driving surfaces before bitter winds freeze the moisture.

While crews have been out treating the roads, rock salt typically takes longer to gain effectiveness and melting power in the extreme cold.

Sarah Marquardt, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service based in Sullivan, said the cold is going to continue for at least one more day. She said the temperature with the wind chill on Thursday is expected to be between negative 35 and negative 45, but could move up to around negative 10 throughout the county in the evening.

There is a light at the end of the icy tunnel. Marquardt said that on Friday, the high could be 18 degrees and temperatures are predicted to reach the mid-30s during the weekend.

“The roads in this kind of weather in this temperature are not going to be perfect. They’re going to be good, but they’re not going to be perfect.” Julie Anderson, Racine County director of Public Works and Development Services


Weather impact
UPDATE: City to forgive taxes filed late; tickets assessed during snow emergency

RACINE COUNTY — Monday’s snowstorm essentially shut down southeast Wisconsin, closing government buildings, schools and businesses. But life went on as normal in some respects, particularly when it came to parking tickets.

Between Jan. 27-29, the City of Racine issued 373 snow emergency citations, with a fine of $25 associated with each ticket. That is a total of $9,375 in fines assessed in two days.

In addition, 204 vehicles were towed during the same time period; however, that total did not only include vehicles violating snow emergencies, but also other instances, such as abandonment.

During the City of Burlington’s snow emergency on Jan. 23, officials reported issuing 26 citations. On Monday, 23 citations were issued. No cars were towed in either instance.

Tax forgiveness

Just as parking fees and fines are inevitable, so too are property taxes. And, thanks to Mother Nature, a one-day extension is being offered this week. if you have city taxes due on Thursday, Jan. 31, but you turn them on Friday, Feb. 1, you will not be penalized, the City of Racine announced Tuesday.

The anticipated extremely cold temperatures have led the city to pre-emptively close certain buildings, including City Hall and the City Hall Annex, all day Wednesday. They are to reopen at 1 p.m. Thursday.

The weather has already affected tax collection in the Clerk’s Office, a news release stated.