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Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010

Issue of the Week: Complex Answers for O’Donnell Parking Structure

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

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Blaming the contractor is an easy excuse for why a 13-ton concrete slab on the faade of the O’Donnell Park parking structure fell in a fatal June accident. But are the improperly installed concrete slabs the only cause of that tragedy? Not if you delve into the inspectors’ report, released last week, which cites other worrisome reasons why the O’Donnell structure is unsafe: “severe cracking” and flaking around the connections that held the panels to the structure, as well as in walls and support beams. The inspector went so far as to tell county supervisors that the structure was one of the worst he’d ever seen.

This sort of comes as a surprise, but not really. The safety of the structure had been a concern even before it was opened to the public in 1991. But the county also failed to keep a close eye on it through the years. County leadership can’t keep deferring maintenance, and yet the last assessment was in 2006, when—you guessed it—an outside contractor found cracking throughout the building. Although the county protests that O’Donnell’s repairs were up to date, the tragedy in June shows that something was amiss. Keep in mind that the county does not have a regular inspection schedule and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker cut the $150,000 for inspections back in 2008, then vetoed it when the supervisors added it to his budget. There was simply no oversight of the building. The county even got rid of employees at the attendants’ booth, preferring to have an automated booth instead.

It’s easy to turn this tragedy into a political issue, since Walker is the Republican candidate for governor. But it’s really a management issue, since the county is responsible for properly maintaining an unmanned building that it owns.

Hero of the Week

Dismas Becker

Community organizer and tireless activist Dismas Becker died Sunday. He was 74.

A compatriot of Milwaukee civil rights leader Father James Groppi, Becker, then a Catholic priest himself, branched out from the Groppi-led open housing marches of the late 1960s to found a local affiliate of the National Welfare Rights Organization.

“It was in the welfare rights movement that Dismas found his own voice,” said Peggy Kendrigan, who worked with Becker.

That was also where he met his wife-to-be, E. Fay Anderson, with whom he shared the rest of his life.

As ’60s-style activism declined, Becker carried his social change message to the electoral arena, winning a seat in the state Assembly in 1977. His fellow Democrats elected him majority leader in 1984.

Working in his later years with his inner-city community, his near-North Side neighborhood church (St. Michael's) and his family (as stepfather to Anderson’s four children and to another they adopted nine years ago), he came to believe in change at a more personal or “microscopic” level, while still “reaching for more,” not just for what can easily be achieved.

Jerk of the Week

Calumet County DA Kenneth Kratz

It’s bad enough that Calumet County District Attorney Kenneth Kratz sent sexually explicit text messages to a woman whose ex-boyfriend he was prosecuting for domestic violence. Making matters worse is that Kratz can’t even take responsibility for what his fellow district attorneys have called “repugnant” behavior. Instead of doing the right thing and resigning, Kratz has decided to take “medical leave.” We agree with the statement from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which reads: “Sexually harassing a vulnerable victim is the result of a serious lack of integrity, not a medical condition.” The groups are calling on the governor and the state attorney general to remove him from office.

Event of the Week

‘The Art of Food’ Benefit for WiSE

On Saturday, Sept. 25, Slow Food Wisconsin Southeast (WiSE) will host “The Art of Food,” a benefit evening of hors d’oeuvres, wine, music, sculptures, nature and art at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in River Hills. Grammy-winning Thirza Defoe will perform and Localicious will provide food sourced from local farmers and artisans. Tickets: $50 Slow Food members; $65 non-members; $70 at the door. For more information, go to www.slowfoodwise.org.