New September 29, 2011

Columbus Company Gets Record Fine For No Call Violation

9/29/11 – A Columbus company will be paying a $144,000 penalty for violating the state’s “Do Not Call” list and other telemarketing laws. The Department of Justice yesterday announced the consent judgment against First American Funding Company, and its owner Michael Eisenga. The company, which markets residential mortgage loans to homeowners, had previously violated the “no call” list in 2005 and could be required to pay the state up to an additional $750,000 if it violates the terms of the most recent settlement. According to the complaint, the company made around three million calls in 2010, and in some months, half or more of the calls were to numbers on the state’s “no call” list. Officials say more than 60 consumers filed complaints with the Department of Consumer Protection. The judgment also prohibits First American from committing future violations of the state’s “No Call” list and requires the company to implement specific measures designed to prevent future violations. Among other things, First American is prohibited from misrepresenting itself as a local bank, telling consumers there is a problem with their existing mortgage, or saying they are affiliated with the consumer’s existing mortgage lender. The judgment is the largest “no call” forfeiture in Wisconsin to date.

Waterloo Man Indicted For Embezzling From Employees

9/29/11 – The operator of a Waterloo construction company has been indicted on federal charges for allegedly embezzling from the company. Allen R. Howe of Allen Howe and Sons, Inc. is accused of withholding nearly $57,000 of employee money from their retirement account trust. Federal investigators with the US Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration say the 63-year-old Waterloo man failed to make payments to any financial institution on behalf of his employees between December of 2006 and September of 2009. If convicted, Howe faces a maximum penalty of five years in a federal prison.

Nehls Questions Fitzgerald On Health Care Deductions

9/29/11 – Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls was the first caller on WBEV’s Community Comment yesterday afternoon when our guest was State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Nehls said he had a meeting with the county manager’s yesterday morning and officials estimated that 500 county employees would pay 19.3% toward their health care premiums instead of the much-discussed 12.8%. Fitzgerald says the health care formula was tabulated based on state employee contributions and they have a single health insurance carrier. County and municipal workers have a “patchwork” of different insurance carriers and plans. The Juneau Republican says officials with the Employees Trust Fund are working on an interpretation of the law as it relates to county and municipal employees. Fitzgerald says it was certainly not the intention of the law to tie the hands of county boards.

Parent Company of Horicon Bank Gets Federal Loan Funds

9/29/11 – Five Wisconsin lenders will share almost 32-million dollars in federal loans which are meant to provide more loans to small businesses. The final round of funding in the U-S Treasury’s Small Business Lending Fund was announced yesterday. The parent company of Horicon Bank is getting 17-million-dollars, and the parent of First National Bank of the Fox Valley is getting 10-million. The two banking firms had also received TARP money in the federal banking bailout of 2009. Other banks have been using money from the Small Business Lending Fund to pay off previous TARP loans. That’s because the dividends are lower. TARP loans require a five-percent dividend in the first five years of a payback, and nine-percent after that. The Small Business Fund requires paybacks as low as one-percent, depending on a bank’s loan activity.

Contract Extended For Horicon’s Interim Top Cop

9/29/11 – Dodge County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Trace Frost will be sticking around Horicon a bit longer. Frost has been filling in as the administrative head of the Horicon Police Department

since acting Chief Adrian Bump left earlier this summer. The city council this week approved extending their contract with the Sheriff’s Department until October 31 at which time Chief Joe Adamson, who’s been on leave since 2009 due to his military duties, is expected to return.

Horicon Closer To New Well

9/29/11 – The city of Horicon is a couple of steps closer to having a new water well and wellhouse. By unanimous decision this week, the council approved the River Bend Park location for Well #5 along with a decision to build bathrooms as part of the wellhouse. The council also approved a route for the water main connection that will see it cross under the Rock River before meeting up with Gray Street. The estimated cost on that route is $573,000. The one obstacle that remains is what type of wellhouse to build. The entire well project has been slowed by high radium levels at several different sights. With that in mind the council approved asking for two bids. One bid would be for a wellhouse with accommodations for future radium treatment. The estimated cost for that is just more than $1-million. They’re also asking for a bid on a wellhouse with an expanded footprint for a future radium removal facility at an estimated cost of $1.3-million. The project is slated to be paid for by the combination of a grant and low interest loan. Officials are hopeful the project can be bid out by December or January and the total project can be completed in the first half of 2012. Also this week, Director of Public Works Dave Magnusson informed the council that hydrant flushing would begin October 3 and run each day from midnight to 6 a-m through October 14. The council also set the “trick or treating” hours for October 30 from 1pm to 4pm.

Minnesota Wildfire 61% Contained

9/29/11 – The Minnesota wildfire that Wisconsinites smelled for two days this month is now over 61-percent contained. Authorities used airplanes last night to dampen the edges of the Pagami Creek blaze to keep the flames from spreading. Five state legislative Democrats in Minnesota are asking the state’s D-N-R and attorney general to sue the U-S Forest Service. That’s because they didn’t put the fire out, shortly after it began on August 18th. The lawmakers want Minnesota to be reimbursed for the loss of timber in a fire that has blackened about 100-thousand acres. Smoke and fumes from the blaze blew into Wisconsin for two days a couple weeks ago. It was pungent in the Dodge County area on September 13 and the next day caused the state’s first “red alert” for particle pollution in three years in the Milwaukee-area. Meanwhile, hunters going up to northern Minnesota for the bull-moose season will be out-of-luck in some places. Officials say some hunting zones will be cut off or restricted by the fire, or by access restrictions at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Kohl’s Opens 30 New Stores

9/29/11 – A Wisconsin-based department store chain has just opened 30 new stores in 20 states across the country. Kohl’s of Menomonee Falls said Wednesday the new stores will create about four-thousand new jobs. C-E-O Kevin Mansell says Kohl’s is happy to be in such a position, considering the difficult economy. And he said the company would continue to focus on growing its market share. Kohl’s now has 11-hundred-27 stores in 49 states, including one in Beaver Dam. None of the new stores are in Wisconsin. They stretch from California to Florida to Massachusetts.

Wisconsin Seeks To Strike Down National Health Care

9/29/11 – Wisconsin asked the U-S Supreme Court Wednesday to strike down the national health care reform law – and to do it before the presidential election in just over 13 months. Wisconsin joined 25 other states and the National Federation of Independent Business in urging the nation’s highest court to kill the entire health package – and not just the requirement that people buy insurance starting in 2014. Justice John Paul Stevens agreed that a relatively quick ruling is necessary. He told the A-P that voters would be better off knowing the law’s fate before they

choose their next president. The 91-year-old Stevens said the justices would not shy away from ruling on the matter during an intense campaign for the White House. Wisconsin’s appeal seeks to reverse a ruling from a federal appeals court in Atlanta which upheld most of the health care mandates – while striking down the requirement to buy insurance. The 26 states and the business group said the law still requires massive new costs. The states say they object to the expansion of Medicaid which would result from the health law – and a requirement that states cover their employees care at levels set by Washington. Most of the mandates in the new package are not due to take effect until 2014.

Special Legislative Session Begins Today

9/29/11 – Wisconsin’s new special legislative session on the economy officially begins at 11am this (Th) morning. Republican Governor Scott Walker called the session today – and he expects it to run until about the first of November. Walker announced the session during a speech at Thermal Spray Technologies in Sun Prairie. Walker said he would ask lawmakers to approve 26 bills – including some proposed by minority Democrats. The bills include new time limits for the D-N-R to approve business permits – letting the Public Service Commission approve temporary electric rates to encourage new and expanded industries – allocating new payroll taxes to a special fund to help new high-tech firms get off the ground – and limiting piers to 200-square feet while grandfathering existing piers. Walker’s package does not include the two major business-related bills which are still being developed – state funding for venture capital, and a shorter process for state approval of mining permits. In his speech in Sun Prairie, Walker said he wanted the Legislature to focus “like a laser beam” on jobs. G-O-P leaders praised the governor’s initiative. But early Democratic criticism accused Walker of hiding goodies for special interests inside a larger package where they’re harder to notice.

No Criminal Misconduct By Waukesha County Clerk

9/29/11 – State officials said the Waukesha County clerk probably broke the law when she failed to report all returns on Election Night in the State Supreme Court race. But the Government Accountability Board said Kathy Nickolaus didn’t do it on purpose – and therefore, she did not commit criminal misconduct. The board and a former Dane County prosecutor investigated, after Nickolaus failed to include about 14-thousand votes from Brookfield in her Election Night report on April fifth. She waited until two days later to admit the error in public – and by then, critics questioned her motives and wondered if she was acting politically. The investigation found that Nickolaus most likely put a blank template into a reporting data-base, instead of the template that had Brookfield’s vote totals. Waukesha County’s original vote totals gave Supreme Court challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg a statewide victory over Incumbent Justice David Prosser by just 204 votes. But when Brookfield was finally counted, Prosser had won by about seven-thousand votes. Kloppenburg’s camp cried foul and demanded a statewide recount – which confirmed Prosser’s victory. Kloppenburg campaign manager Melissa Mulliken had filed a complaint with the Accountability Board demanding an independent investigation of Nickolaus.

Supreme Court Justices Have New Motto

9/29/11 – Wisconsin Supreme Court justices voted 4-to-3 yesterday (Wed) not to hire a consultant to improve the way they interact amongst themselves. It was one of the ideas suggested in the wake of the physical skirmish in June between Justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley. But the court’s four conservative justices said they were against considering the idea in public. Prosser, Pat Roggensack, Annette Ziegler, and Michael Gableman all said it’s a personnel matter that should be discussed in private. Earlier this month, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson proposed a dozen ideas to improve the court’s civility. One of them, deliberating cases in public, was voted down two weeks ago. The justices yesterday discussed numerous ideas for an-hour-and-a-half before approving a statement which affirms quote, “our commitment to collegiality and cooperation.” Prosser said it sounded nice, but it’s rather meaningless. But he ended up reluctantly agreeing with the statement, and it was endorsed unanimously.

Tyson Beef Recall

9/29/11 – Tyson Fresh Meats has recalled 131-thousand pounds of ground beef that might have been contaminated with E-coli bacteria. The affected products include a generic label of beef sold in Wisconsin, Illinois, and eight other states – as well as Kroger-brand beef in Indiana and Tennessee, and Butcher’s Brand beef in the Carolinas. The U-S-D-A announced the recall this morning. It stemmed from a report of an E-coli illness in Ohio. All of the affected beef was produced on August 23rd.