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Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008

Justice Ziegler Voted Top Newsmaker of 2007

Scandal, money, power add up to notoriety

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Ziegler joined the state’s highest court at the same time she’s under investigation over her rulings on cases in Washington County, where she served as a judge, and where her family does significant business. Not surprisingly, Wispolitics.com/Wisopinion.com readers named her the top newsmaker of 2007.

“Annette Ziegler epitomizes all the bad news that’s built up in Wisconsin over many years and may have reached a crescendo in her election to the Supreme Court: special-interest influence in politics, even in judicial races; marketing over substance; negative campaign advertising; the notion that candidates can be bought, and that cash-register politics trumps principle,” wrote one surveytaker, Wispolitics reported.

Gov. Jim Doyle and Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) were the second and third most newsworthy, respectively, followed by civil servant Georgia Thompson, who was freed from federal prison and had her conviction overturned just as questions were being raised about the politicization of U.S. attorneys (one of whom prosecuted the innocent Ms. Thompson).

There’s Gold in That Scrap: The dramatic growth in evictions because of mortgage foreclosures has been good news for those who break into vacant houses to steal and sell metal.

But selling such contraband metal could become much more difficult if Assembly Bill 560 passes before the state Legislature adjourns in spring. State Rep. Phil Montgomery (R-Green Bay) said the new bill would require that scrap dealers obtain a photo ID from the seller or deliverer, would force the dealer to record the name on a photo ID before the purchase, and also require that a photo of the delivery vehicle be taken. All of that information would have to be recorded in a ledger, along with a notation of any identifying marks on the material being sold.

The maximum penalty for first-time violators would be a $1,000 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail. Maximum penalties for a second violation would jump to a fine of $10,000 and/or up to nine months in jail. Montgomery, chair of the Assembly’s Energy and Utilities Committee, said that he drafted the bill because utilities told him people had been stealing metal from substations and selling it to dealers. But his staff said Montgomery has also been told that because of the rapidly increasing price for scrap metal, even stolen beer kegs and manhole covers have been showing up at scrap yards.

Snow Job: Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman says the city should lend a hand during snowstorms—literally. His resolution would direct the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) to use hand shoveling to clear snow from bus stops and city sidewalks within 24 hours after the end of a storm. DPW currently uses end loaders to clear bus stops and city crosswalks, but Bauman contends that “these efforts are often inadequate and take too long—sometimes taking weeks to accomplish.” DPW estimates that hand shoveling would cost about $264,000 for each snow event, while the current method costs about $462,000. Bauman said that hand shoveling would also ensure that people with physical disabilities would be able to use the transit system more easily. He said that hand shoveling could also mean more part-time jobs for individuals or nonprofit groups.

Jumping In—Or Not: A quick glance at the candidates filing papers for elected office shows that races for the Milwaukee Common Council are incredibly active, while far more incumbents on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will run unopposed in the spring elections. Only South Side Alderman Bob Donovan is unopposed in the city, while 10 of 19 county supervisors do not have a declared opponent. Only one seat on the Common Council is open—Mike D’Amato’s, on the East Side—while three supervisors have decided not to run. Candidates must file signatures in early January, so some may drop out—or be forced to drop out—shortly. The primary will be held on Feb. 19 and will be followed by the general election on April 1.

Canceled Contract Still Costly: The state Elections Board—in one of its last acts before its scheduled dissolution in January—finally canceled its contract with Accenture LLP, which had been hired to create a new statewide voter registration system. Under the agreement, Accenture will complete its repairs to the new database and turn over its software source code and documentation to the state, and it’ll waive $1.95 million in payments and pay back the Elections Board $4 million to avoid a lawsuit.

But the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) said that the agreement is still costly to state taxpayers. While the software company was supposed to be paid $14 million for the system—some of which will now be forfeited—the total cost is higher. According to WDC’s calculations, in addition to the payment to Accenture, the state paid $4.1 million to Deloitte Consulting for project management. In addition, state Elections Board staff time on the project cost $10.2 million.

A Passing Grade: Wisconsin’s small companies say they did OK in 2007, according to the group Wisconsin Independent Businesses (WIB). They were pleased that the state didn’t make changes to the sales tax that would adversely affect small businesses, and health insurance premiums didn’t increase as much as projected. The expansion of BadgerCare Plus will also help provide access to health insurance in 2008. But higher gas prices and decreasing real estate values are a concern to businesses. “2007 has been an OK year, and that may be the best we could hope for,” said WIB Executive Director Wayne Corey in a press release.