Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Oshkosh adults in recovery from addiction may number in the thousands; two of them tell their stories here

Photo by Moira Danielson

Solutions Recovery Club located in Oshkosh is one of the resources local residents use to fight their addictions.
By Moira Danielson

For Olivia Werner it was the circumstances surrounding a friend’s suicide just a few months before high school graduation that triggered a rapid descent into alcoholism. Her once- or twice-a-week habit of drinking turned into a daily routine as she reacted to the trauma of her friend’s death and her own foolish decision to “celebrate” her friend’s memory by getting drunk.

John McHugh began using heroin at the age of 13. For 18 years he battled with himself to turn his life around after being disowned by his family, dropping out of college as a freshman and living couch to couch. His lowest point came after he introduced his girlfriend to heroin and she ended up dying from an overdose.

Both of these individuals saw the worst in life. They faced heartbreak, isolation and struggle after struggle, yet they managed to pull through to turn their life around. Werner and McHugh, both Oshkosh residents, represent a side of the nation’s addiction crisis that seldom gets attention--addicts who are now engaged in the long process of recovery.

Although such individuals seldom make the headlines, their numbers may be surprisingly high. A national survey released in 2012 by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services found that 10 percent of adults across the country reported being in recovery from substance abuse or addiction.

If those statistics hold in a community like Oshkosh, that would mean that the local recovery population numbers 5,000. Carol Morack, the Safe Streets Drug Court coordinator for Winnebago County, was unable to provide an estimate of how many individuals in Oshkosh are in recovery since such programs are based on anonymity. Even if the 5,000 figure is high, there is little question that Oshkosh has a significant number of residents working through recovery.

While recovery is an individual process and is often kept private, many addicts, including Werner and McHugh, want people on the outside looking in to understand the work that goes into getting sober. They view their addiction as a disease, just like cancer or diabetes, and they agreed to tell their stories, under their real names, to create greater public awareness of the situation they share with so many others.

Werner and McHugh tell their story here: 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Oshkosh's 'bridge to nowhere' is now open

Photo by Miles Maguire
Pedestrians can cross over the Boat Works lagoon on an old railroad bridge that is part of the Riverwalk.

By Miles Maguire

A few months earlier than planned, the city has opened up the Riverwalk on the south side of the Fox River between Wisconsin and Oregon streets so that the old "bridge to nowhere" can be used by bikers and pedestrians.

The Riverwalk still has some "punch list items" to be completed," said City Manager Mark Rohloff. But "that portion of the Riverwalk may be walked upon."

He said an official opening ceremony will be planned once lighting has been installed. For now, "call it a soft opening," he said.

The city was aided by some favorable construction bids that allowed it to move more quickly than expected on finishing this section of the Riverwalk.

Previously the Riverwalk passed through William A. Steiger park but ended where a railroad bridge was installed over a lagoon and onto a small island at the old Boat Works property.

This structure was dubbed the "bridge to nowhere" since it was blocked off until the rest of the Riverwalk could be built.

Winnebago County eyes expansion of Expo Center site to accommodate larger Oshkosh events

This satellite image from Google shows the area around the Sunnyview Expo Center.
This post has been updated to correct the recent growth of Lifest.

By Moira Danielson

Winnebago County has set its sights on 20 acres of land to the east of the Sunnyview Expo Center to help expand room for events that come to Oshkosh, including horse shows and the annual Lifest.

“The various horse shows that have long been the mainstay of summer programming and revenue at the Expo Center have been increasing in size,” said County Parks Director Robert Way.

“Because these shows are now bringing in more and more RVs, campers and horse trailers onto the site, staff is beginning to struggle with where to park these large rigs so they don’t interfere with other programs using the main parking lot and causing electrical overloads in some areas.”

Way said the department chief is looking to solve space issues with housing all of the people that come to Oshkosh to participate in the shows.

“In particular, the department’s chief concern is that once the new stadium begins to regularly attract crowds of 5,000 or more, the main parking lot will begin to fill up to support the stadium shows as well as events using the exposition building, which will force management to have to move horse show parking and camping into the limited space presently available on the east side of the Expo,” Way said. “As these horse shows continue to grow this limited space will quickly be used up and there will be no additional areas left unless new land is added to the east.”

Another event that is expected to grow is the Lifest event, a music festival put on by Life Promotions.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Cost of turning Lakeshore into park tops $100,000

Photo by Miles Maguire
The city plans to convert most of the old Lakeshore golf course into a public park

By Miles Maguire

The cost of transitioning the old Lakeshore Municipal Golf Course to a public park is expected to top $100,000.

On Tuesday the Common Council will be asked to approve a budget amendment to make funds available for this work.

“A number of sand traps need to be filled and seeded so they do not get overrun with weeds; limited utilities need to continue to be paid on the maintenance sheds; personnel costs associated with this transition time need to be accounted for; and storm water charges continue to incur,” according to a memo sent to the council last week.

The memo puts the price tag at $101,800, but a more detailed attachment comes to $105,700. Most of the money, about $70,000, would go toward labor costs.

The money is expected to come from the sale of golf course property and inventory, the memo says. If those funds are not enough, the rest of the money will come from land sale proceeds.

Oshkosh Corp. agreed to pay $3.3 million for about 33 acres of the old golf course.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Oshkosh awaits word on school safety grant

Photo by Zack Dion
Local administrators say they are taking steps to prepare for a school shooting in Oshkosh.
By Zack Dion

Although school is out for summer, the possibility of a shooting when classes resume in a few months is something that continues to trouble students, teachers, administrators and police.

“A lot of the kids don’t feel safe at school, and they talk about that a lot,” said Ricky Pratt, a 2018 graduate from Oshkosh West High School. “[A]fter the most recent school shooting, … there were ongoing jokes that it would happen at West.”

“I think every person that teaches in a school is thinking about the possibility of it and we practice with that,” said Laury Krause, a special education teacher at West.

“So, where you would escape, how you would react, to have that planned. I think that every person that teaches realizes that it could be a possibility.”

Administrators at the Oshkosh Area School District are awaiting word on the possibility of a $400,000 grant, would be used to increase security at local elementary and middle schools to achieve the same level of security of high schools. The changes would include adding shatter-resistant film to doors and windows and increasing radio and video surveillance at the schools’ entry points.

The money would come from a $100 million pot set up by the Wisconsin legislature. 

On Thursday Attorney General Brad Schimel announced the latest round of grants, including $767,000 for the Appleton Area School District and $165,000 for the Menasha Joint School District.

Meanwhile the Oshkosh Police Department has been working with OASD to implement ALICE training, a systematic approach to active shooter situations. ALICE is an acronym that stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Appeals court rules in favor of releasing report on University of Wisconsin Oshkosh professor

By Miles Maguire

For the second time this week, a University of Wisconsin Oshkosh employee has lost a legal fight over keeping investigative records under wraps.

In a decision released Wednesday morning, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals said that the university was correct in agreeing to release records relating to business professor Willis W. Hagen II. Hagen had been the subject of a March 2017 article in the campus newspaper, The Advance-Titan, regarding his removal from teaching in the spring semester of that year.

When the newspaper filed a public records request for the results of an investigation into Hagen, the university agreed to disclose a variety of documents.

These included “notices of a complaint and related investigation; a summary of a meeting about that investigation; the resulting report on the complaint, investigation, and findings; the complaint itself; responses by Hagen to the complaint and findings; and recommendations and sanctions stemming from the investigation,” the appeals court said. Some “emails regarding the complaint and investigation” are also at issue.

Hagen filed suit in Winnebago County to keep the records out of the public eye, but his request was not granted. Hagen appealed that ruling in October.

The judge hearing Hagen’s initial lawsuit, Daniel J. Bissett, is the same judge who on Monday ruled that the university acted properly in agreeing to release the records of an investigation into alleged sexual harassment by former UW Oshkosh volleyball coach Brian Schaefer.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Judge: UWO can release investigation of former coach

Photo by Miles Maguire
A local judge said UW Oshkosh can release an investigative report on a former volleyball coach.
By Miles Maguire

UW Oshkosh can release a redacted report of an investigation into alleged sexual harassment and relationship violence by a former volleyball coach, a circuit judge ruled Monday.

Brian Schaefer, who coached men’s and women’s teams at the school for over a decade, has sought to keep the report under wraps. He resigned last summer after a highly successful tenure at UWO.

Schaefer’s departure followed a university investigation into allegations that he had violated policies pertaining to “sexual harassment and relationship violence,” according to court documents.

“The university eventually concluded that there was a violation of the former policy but not the latter,” an attorney for Schaefer said in a brief arguing that the coach’s personnel records should not be released.

“The disclosure of the investigation report in its current form would bring to light activities which the plaintiff considers private, unknown, and damaging to his reputation, to include facts pertaining to his sexual orientation that are private,” the lawyer said.

In another filing the lawyer referred to “allegations of homosexuality, which will harm [Schaefer’s] reputation and make it difficult for him to be rehired for certain positions.”

But in deciding to release the investigative report, Judge Daniel J. Bissett noted that Wisconsin has a “strong public policy of open records involving public employees.” Higher courts that have ruled on this issue “have indicated that public employees should expect closer public scrutiny,” Bissett said.

Friday, June 15, 2018

County voters may see marijuana ballot question

Screenshot from Oshkosh Community Media
The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors will meet Tuesday to consider adding an advisory question on marijuana legalization and related issues to the November ballot.

By Miles Maguire

Winnebago County voters would get a chance to weigh in on whether to decriminalize marijuana under a proposal that is scheduled to come before the Board of Supervisors next week.

“This is a very important issue that needs to be addressed more, which is why I authored the resolution,” said Supervisor Aaron Wojciechowski. He represents District 16, which encompasses the campus of UW Oshkosh and nearby streets.

He was joined by five other members of 36-person board in sponsoring the resolution: Mike Norton, District 20; Andy Buck, District 24; Tom Snider, District 35; Steve Lenz, District 7; and Julie Gordon, District 17.

Their proposal would put the following advisory question on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election this year:

Question: Should the Wisconsin State Legislature enact proposed legislation that allows individuals 21 years of age and older to engage in the medical and recreational use of marijuana, while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities including, but not limited to, imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana, and expunging marijuana-related crimes for those convicted in Wisconsin?

Milwaukee County has already decided to put the issue before voters this fall, and several other communities around the state are considering similar action.

“The impact of this could be big,” Wojciechowski said.  “It will send an important message to Gov. Walker, the legislature and others around the state.”

Wojciechowski is optimistic about the chances of getting the ballot question approved. “The point we're trying to make is regardless of personal opinions, everyone should vote ‘yes’ to give the public the opportunity to vote their opinion on this important policy issue,” he said.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Council renews Morgan District license but wants construction to start this year

By Miles Maguire
Developers could lose their liquor license if they don't begin construction on this waterfront site this year.

This post has been updated.

By Miles Maguire
Rejecting a staff recommendation, the Common Council voted Tuesday to renew a liquor license for the long-delayed Morgan District project but with a warning that it could be revoked if there isn't significant progress on the project before the end of the year.
The staff’s proposal to strip the license from the developer is part of an effort by the city to reclaim inactive liquor licenses. Traditionally the city has allowed license holders to retain their licenses during business transitions but has decided that it needs to have greater control over the situation.
“Right now licenses are being hoarded externally,” said City Manager Mark Rohloff. “When there is an inactive license, we want to keep it in a pool of licenses so that we can help developers when they’re ready.”
Peter Lang, one of the partners in the Morgan District project, persuaded the council to let his group  hold on to the license by arguing that the development is finally moving forward and that losing the license might make it harder to attract commercial tenants. The developers have held the license since 2015.
The Morgan District was originally proposed two years ago as a $55 million project that would include 400 housing units, a grocery story and 48,000 square feet of additional commercial space. Construction was expected to begin in fall 2016.

Monday, June 11, 2018

New home for Oshkosh Corp.: 1917 Four Wheel Drive

Photo by Miles Maguire
Oshkosh Corp. CEO Wilson Jones, fourth from left and flanked by City Manager Mark Rohloff and Mayor Steve Cummings, participates Monday along with other dignitaries in a ceremonial groundbreaking for the company's new global headquarters at the site of the old Lakeshore Municipal Golf Course. Jones said the address for the building, scheduled to open in fall 2019, will be 1917 Four Wheel Drive. The number is a reference to the year the company was founded, and the new street name is a reference to the company's original products, heavy-duty trucks equipped with four-wheel drive. Jones said that he wants the building to be a resource to the community and said he expects to rent out space to local companies and nonprofit organizations. 

Wells, Sonnleitner plead not guilty, file for dismissal

Photo by Miles Maguire

Lawyers Steve Biskupic and Raymond Dall'Osto lead clients Richard Wells and Tom Sonnleitner out of court.
By Miles Maguire

Two former UW Oshkosh officials pleaded not guilty Monday to accusations of misconduct in office and asked that the charges against them be dismissed.

The officials, former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Thomas Sonnleitner, have been accused of abusing their authority by entering into loan guarantees on behalf of the UW Oshkosh Foundation.

In a court filing a lawyer for Wells said that the charges did not include "sufficient facts to establish probable cause" and were unconstitutionally vague.

Wells and Sonnleitner were released on $10,000 signature bonds.

The two were originally slapped with civil suits in January 2017. That case was stayed earlier this year, however, as various parties, including the state of Wisconsin, acknowledged that the legal issues are far from clear.

The state is arguing that Wells and Sonnleitner "knowingly made financial guarantees which were in excess of their authority and contrary to the Wisconsin Constitution and state law." But the only judge who has reviewed the legal questions to date has said the state has misinterpreted the relevant legal provisions. That ruling came in bankruptcy proceedings in which the foundation is suing the university.

The case against the two former UWO officials does not charge them with gaining any financial benefits for themselves. "They are not accused of taking any funds, pocketing any funds for personal use or whatever," said Raymond Dall'Osto, an attorney for Wells. "All of this was for the purposes of the university."

Dall'Osto said he is "still questioning why" criminal charges were brought.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Foundation fiasco seen as self-inflicted wound

Photo by Miles Maguire
As of late last month all of the debt has been paid off on the Oshkosh Sports Complex.

By Miles Maguire

On May 31 the UW Oshkosh Foundation sent a final payment off to Wells Fargo Bank, retiring the debt on the Oshkosh Sports Complex and putting the 34-acre facility entirely under the ownership of the UW System Board of Regents.

Meanwhile the foundation is negotiating the sale of a biodigester it built at Rosendale Dairy, and it has accepted a contingent offer on a house on Congress Avenue that had been used as a residence by chancellors of UWO.

As these steps indicate, the university’s independent fund-raising arm, which took refuge in bankruptcy proceedings last summer, is slowly but surely unwinding the real estate projects that are central to a controversy that has roiled the campus and sparked legal proceedings in Milwaukee, Madison and Oshkosh. Meanwhile the foundation has been fulfilling its mission of providing financial support to the university, most recently winning bankruptcy court approval in early May to disburse $1.3 million, including $818,390 for scholarships, to the school.

The foundation controversy has been a headache and a huge black eye for the university, but as progress is made on cleaning up the real estate deals that are at the heart of the matter, some longtime university boosters are questioning whether it was a self-inflicted wound that will cost the school dearly in terms of wasted time, bad publicity and legal fees. More importantly, these boosters say, the handling of the controversy has meant the loss of the goodwill--and possible future donations--of some of UWO’s most loyal and generous alumni.

Donations have already declined significantly. During the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, the foundation collected an average of almost $5 million a year in grants and contributions, according to the most recent publicly available tax returns. The university, which has recently started fundraising on its own, took in just $420,803 from the time when news broke about the the foundation's finances in January 2017 through April 27 of this year, according to university data released in response to a public records request.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Daughters of U.S. senator plan alternative school

This site could become a new Acton Academy.
Photo by Miles Maguire
This property, between the Wiouwash Trail and Highway 45, is being considered for a new Acton Academy.
By Miles Maguire

A new kind of school, which says it “turns learning upside down” by doing away with traditional teachers, grades and coursework, is being planned for Oshkosh by the two daughters of Sen. Ron Johnson.

Carey Sharpe and Jenna Golem, who have been working for the last year to renovate the old Eagles Club downtown, have set their sights on a 70-acre parcel of farmland and marsh that sits between Highway 45 and the Wiouwash Trail just off of Interstate 41.

There they want to establish a branch of the Acton Academy, an Austin,Texas, based franchise network that has drawn positive notices both in left-leaning publications such as the Huffington Post and in conservative ones like the National Review.

“We think education is rapidly changing around the country and there are some really innovative things being done,” Sharpe said in an interview. “And so we wanted to bring one of those concepts here.” She said the new educational model could help show Oshkosh as “a really progressive city” with amenities “that are going to attract a diverse pool of people.”

Acton comprises an unusual mix of educational approaches. These include the student-centered philosophy of Maria Montessori, the question-based method of Socrates and the real-world pragmatism of Harvard Business School.

In fact the co-founder of Acton, Jeff Sandefer, is an HBS grad who made a fortune in the energy industry. A serial entrepreneur, he also taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas.