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Waukesha NOW looks back on 2012

BID, GuitarTown, Five Diamonds were hot topics

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (right) and his vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan wave to the crowd during a homecoming rally at the Waukesha County Expo on Aug. 12. The two gathered in Waukesha, along with the state's top GOP officials, one day after Romney selected Ryan as his running mate.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (right) and his vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan wave to the crowd during a homecoming rally at the Waukesha County Expo on Aug. 12. The two gathered in Waukesha, along with the state's top GOP officials, one day after Romney selected Ryan as his running mate. Photo By Scott Ash

Dec. 24, 2012

January

GuitarTown comes to Waukesha - The year kicked off with Mayor Jeff Scrima announcing that Waukesha was going to join cities such as London, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Nashville, Tenn., Austin, Texas, Miami and Orlando as a Gibson Corporation GuitarTown, a public arts project that would benefit local charities. Local developer and artist Jeff Seymour researched the idea last year and. After informing Scrima, the mayor connected with Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, who had been in Waukesha during the unveiling of the Les Paul monument a few months earlier at the Prairie Home Cemetery.

Staff steps down - The Waukesha Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department saw mainstays Stan Flak and Sue Harter retire. Flak and Harter were both recreation supervisors since 1975. Flak was known for running the softball tournaments and Harter known for running the Waukesha JanBoree.

Unpredictable weather - Golf one day, snow the next. That was the scene in Waukesha one week in January. With temperatures near 60 degrees, the Waukesha community had spring fever in January. But everyone was brought back down to earth when 4 to 6 inches of snow hit the area a couple days later. The cold and snow was just in time for the 2012 Waukesha JanBoree.

Singing for a cause - Four Waukesha North students/singers organized a fundraising concert at their school titled Fight Night 2012 to raise money and awareness for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The money raised went to the Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.

Consolidation? - TheFinance Committee toured the Waukesha County Dispatch Center before the Waukesha Police Department's Command Staff put out a feasibility study on the potential consolidation of the City of Waukesha's Communication Center with the Waukesha County Communication Center. A public hearing on this topic was then held in April at Waukesha North High School due to a large crowd. The Common Council voted in May to keep its police and fire dispatch services in-house.

February

Guitars arrive - The oversized 10-foot Gibson Les Paul guitars and the regular-sized guitars arrived in Waukesha and were delivered to the artists who were chosen for the Gibson GuitarTown project.

Field project - Waukesha's Field of Many Dreams project continued to seek funds for the multipurpose ProGrass field turf at the three Waukesha high schools. Its goal is to raise $1.8 million ($600,000) for each school.

School success - In a story about the kind of successful students Carroll University is getting, Minh Vu placed in the top one percent nationally for all students who took a national educational test for his Business Policy Capstone course.

Search firm found - Six months after Lori Luther stepped down as the cityadministrator, the process to find her replacement picked up as Colin Baenziger & Associates of Florida was selected by the Human Resources Committee. Baenziger beat out Voorhees Associates, a firm that conducted the search for Waukesha's city administrator search in 2008 as well as the director of public works in 2008 and police chief in 2009.

Swim champs - Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial senior Noah Potratz repeated as a state champion in the 500 freestyle at the WIAA Division 1 state meet. It started a banner year for the local swimmers as the Waukesha South/Mukwonago girls swimming team won a state title in October as Abby Jagdfeld won two events.

March

GuitarTown blues - GuitarTown brought the city a lot of publicity; but it also brought out some frustrations. It was evident at a downtown Business Improvement District Executive Committee meeting when individuals questioned why the BID was a facilitator of the money for the project through Mayor Jeff Scrima's New Day in Waukesha Fund and why it was never voted on by the board.

Summer in March - A heat wave that swept through the area and state brought record temperatures in March and allowed people to take part in warm weather activities. An unseasonably warm winter also helped the city's public works department save on more than 3,000 tons of salt and more than 2,000 hours of overtime from the previous year.

State's best again - The Waukesha West High School Academic Decathlon team won its 11th straight state championship at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells. The nine-member squad then took fourth a month later in the national meet in Albuquerque, N.M. The Wolverines, who won a national title in 2002, were led by new instructor, Susan Otto. She replaced Duane Stein, who retired following the 2010-11 school year.

Fire chief retires - Fire Chief Allen LaConte announced his retirement near the end of 2011. He made it official in early March as he stepped down after serving as the fire chief since 2001. He was the city's 18th fire chief. The Police and Fire Commission named Assistant Fire Chief Steve Howard the interim fire chief, a position he still holds today.

GOP rally - The political world was focused on Waukesha and the Country Springs Hotel when then-Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich appeared at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Presidential Kickoff. The ballroom, which included many of the state's top GOP officials, was filled to capacity.

April

Presidential primary - The City and Town of Waukesha followed the same path the state did in the Republican Presidential Primary by supporting Romney. In the city, Romney garnered 58 percent of the vote compared with Santorum's 30 percent. In the town, Romney got 62 percent of the vote, while Santorum got about 29 percent.

Fire chief search - In a year of search firms for the City of Waukesha, the Police and Fire Commission recommended to have Voorhees Associates help them select the city's next fire chief. The Common Council, however, was very reluctant. In the end, though, the Illinois-based search firm was approved by the council in November.

Only Common Council election - Waukesha's 15-member Common Council remained intact after Alderman Richard Hastings soundlydefeated challenger Ron Kading for the District 12 seat.

Donkey missing - In one of the more interesting stories of the year, a missing donkey was picked up by the Humane Animal Welfare Society in Waukesha. It was found missing on Highway 59 in the Town of Genesee, but was not reunited with its owner for three days after it was first reported missing.

More shops - Construction for Phase II of the Fox River Shoppes began at the end of the month. The stores included are T.J. Maxx, Ulta Salon and Cosmetics, Rue 21 and Charming Charlie's. The building is located in the northeast corner of the site, adjacent to the Pick 'n Save, 1220 W. Sunset Drive. The stores opened in October.

May

Five Diamonds open - Thanks to the Five Diamonds baseball and softball complex, the Waukesha Blazers organization (Catholic Memorial High School also utilized the fields) finally had a place to call home. The facility, located at Les PaulParkway (Highway 59/164) and Milky Way Road in the Town of Waukesha, opened for the start of the season.

The $2 million privately-funded project was the brainchild of owners Tom Kelenic and Greg Beatty, who have children in the Blazers program. The season began with a kickoff event that featured Blazers player Zach Sprader, who was battling leukemia, throw out the first pitch. While it was a touching moment, getting to this point for Five Diamonds wasn't easy as there were numerous concerns by neighbors regarding the facility, particularly the lights. This proved to be an issue throughout the summer.

Farmers Market goes big - The Waukesha Farmers Market was bigger than ever in 2012. After having 60 vendors in 2011, there were 100 vendors. And to accommodate for the increased vendors, the Farmers Market went from Broadway to Barstow on the Riverfront Plaza.

GuitarTown Gala - It was raining outside, but inside the Rotunda everyone was decked out in their formal wear for the private GuitarTown Gala. All the artists who designed the Gibson Les Paul guitars were on hand to show off their creations, sponsors of the guitars were present, Gibson executives, an official from theWisconsin Department of Tourism secretary as well as other city officials. The gala featured performances by the Les Paul Trio featuring Rusty Paul and Sam Llanas as well as an auction of some of the regular-sized guitars.

Breath tests at prom - Waukesha West Principal David Towers implemented random breath tests at Waukesha West High School for prom to eliminate bad behavior. His previous school, Germantown, implements breath tests at school dances.

More habitat homes - Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County announced that it would build a second two-family home in the Dunbar Oaks Neighborhood. Two families had moved into that area, the site of the old YWCA building, a month earlier. It continued recent development in the neighborhood on Bethesda Court.

June

GuitarTown festivities - The 10, 10-foot fiberglass Gibson Les Paul guitars and the 20 regular-sized guitars that were designed by local artists were unveiled to the public during a three-day celebration of Waukesha GuitarTown. The festivities coincided with the kickoff of the 2012 Friday Night Live summer music concert series and included music by the Les Paul Trio, a group that Les Paul, who was born and is buried in Waukesha, played in for a number of years. In total, Waukesha GuitarTown raised $105,000 for the Waukesha School District, the Les Paul exhibit at the Waukesha County Museum and the Waukesha Memorial Hospital's new Community Health Clinic.

School closes its doors - White Rock Elementary, the city's main bilingual school, was a fixture for more than 120 years having opened in 1891. In June, the school closed as a cost-savings move, a way to consolidate and to restructure the district's bilingual program. White Rock joined Pleasant Hill and Saratoga elementary schools that closed in the last couple of years. White Rock's staff and students were relocated across the district for the 2012-13 school year. The school was transformed into an early childhood learning center.

New library director begins tenure - After being chosen as the Waukesha Public Library's new director a month earlier, Grant Lynch took over for longtime director, Jane Ameel, who was at the helm when the library was named the 2011 Wisconsin Library of the Year. Before coming to Waukesha, Lynch served as the director at the Princeton Public Library in Illinois for four years.

Administrator search takes a turn - This was a month with many twists and turns in the search for Waukesha's next city administrator. First, Baenziger narrowed down the candidates to four. Then, after the city interviewed and selected, Shawn Gillen, a city administrator of Grand Rapids, Minn., for the job, he turned down the offer. This resulted in the city and Baenziger parting ways after a three-month search. The HR Committee then turned to Voorhees Associates to start a new search. The committee paid Baenziger $5,000 for his services and Voorhees was to be paid up to $15,500 to complete the new search.

Backing Walker - The state held an unprecedented recall election for governor as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett challenged Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Walker won with 53 percent of the vote, compared to Barrett's 46 percent. Walker had 65 percent of the vote in the city. Barrett had 35 percent. Walker got 75 percent from the town, compared to Barrett's 25 percent.

July

Summer heat - Record heat across the area saw communities initiate burn and sprinkling bans, including the Town of Waukesha. And because of the dry lawns, the Fourth of July fireworks show at the Waukesha County Expo Center even had to be stopped midway after small grass fires started.

District 6 Alderman found - District 6 was without an alderman for two months following the death of Alderman Brian White in May. The Common Council voted on Adam Jankowski to replace White on a one-year basis before Jankowski would have to go through an election in 2013.

Heroes are born - Following the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., Waukesha North graduates Kelsie Wendelberger and Zach Dunton started the Ordinary Heroes Fund. They collected money for the Aurora Victim Relief Fund at a couple Friday Night Lives. A couple weeks later, they were back helping in the relief effort of the Sikh Temple shooting in Oak Creek and most recently were part of an effort to send letters to those impacted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Pay-as you-throw - Just before Waukesha County Solid Waste Supervisor Karen Fiedler and Charlene Lemoine of the Waukesha Environmental Action League were to give a presentation on a pay-as-you-throw program at a City of Waukesha Board of Public Works meeting, it was plugged by the county because it was felt the presentation was not thorough enough, was not balanced in its approach and did not present the implications PAYT would have on the city.

County Fair - The Waukesha County Fair, overall, saw an increase in attendance by around 4,000 people from 2011. Friday's attendance was the highest for that day since 2007 and the total for Saturday was the second highest since 2006. Events on the first night were postponed due to inclement weather.

August

Ryan, GOP greeted at Expo - A day after being named Romney's vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, a congressman from Janesville, was greeted by more than 10,000 supporters on the Waukesha County Expo grounds for a Homecoming Rally. Before Ryan and Romney spoke to the jubilant crowd, many of the state's top Republican candidates spoke about how thrilled they were that Ryan was joining the Republican Presidential ticket. Ryan returned to Waukesha a few more times, including at Carroll University a couple weeks before the election.

Primaries take place - In a year where elections dominated the state, a primary between U.S. Senate Republican candidates (Eric Hovde, Mark Neumann and Tommy Thompson) took place during the summer. They campaigned heavily in Waukesha and the county, including when Ryan and Romney held a rally at the Expo Center. Thompson won the primary, but lost the general election. A primary for the Waukesha County clerk's office also took place. Pewaukee Alderwoman Kathleen Novack won the primary and the election in November.

Sprager resigns from BID - Downtown Waukesha was rocked when downtown Business Improvement District Executive Director Meghan Sprager announced her resignation, citing a hostile work environment and singling out board members. Board members said they had no idea of any wrongdoing. Sprager was hired in May 2011. Sprager's resignation was followed by the resignations of the BID's environmental manager, John Ward, and the rest of the staff at the BID office.

Diamonds create a stir - A standing-room-only crowd filled Town Hall as the Plan Commission and Town Board was set to review the conditional use permit of the Five Diamonds baseball and softball complex. The meeting lasted close to six hours and got heated as neighbors urged the Town Board to uphold the rules of the permit. Violations, they said, included keeping the lights on late and starting games early on the weekends.

Supporters, on the other hand, many of whom were children decked out in their baseball gear, told the Town Board that Five Diamonds has provided nothing but good things for the community and that their experiences has been negatively affected because the lights had to be turned off when the games were still going on. The owners of the complex cited harassment by neighbors for taking video of the games. Ultimately, the Town Board never voted on the permit as the meeting was already past midnight.

Schools - The school year began with less new faces than the year before as there were less retirements/departures at the end of the 2011-12 school year (60, compared with 140 after the 2010-11 school year) and it began as the new ACT scores were released for the district. Waukesha had an average of 22.6, slightly above the state average of 22.0

September

BID Board falls apart - Despite trying to put together the pieces following the departure of Sprager, the BID's board crumbled as 11 of the 13 board members resigned, including its president Norm Bruce and its vice president Lynn Gaffey, two individuals Sprager singled out. Natalie Walters and Bill Huelsman were the only two who didn't resign. Scrima said the board members were removing themselves from the controversy that was caused after Sprager released a scathing nine-page letter at a board meeting before officially stepping down. It cited serious allegations against BID Board members, which they all denied, and a laundry list of grievances throughout her 16-month tenure. Some board members said they were on Sprager's side for stepping up while others said that they were shocked by these revelations.

Search comes to an end - More than a year after Luther left to become the county administrator of Peoria County (Ill.), her replacement was found. Ed Henschel, who previously served as the village administrator in Whitefish Bay and Elm Grove and a city administrator in Clio, Mich., began his tenure while the city was in the midst of its budget process. Community Development Director Steve Crandell had been serving as the interim city administrator since Luther stepped down and it ended an interesting search for the city that included two search firms.

Backpack policy at West - Students at Waukesha West High School started the school year with a new rule in place: no backpacks or purses between classes. The rule, which Towers said was implemented due to safety precautions, created a stir at the beginning of the school year. Superintendent Todd Gray said he visited the school the first week of school to see how the change affected the school day.

Campaigns for homeless - Two campaigns began for the Hebron House of Hospitality's homeless shelters in Waukesha: one to make sure the overflow shelter opened in time for the winter and another to build a children's playground at the Hebron House.

GE's growth - With Gov. Scott Walker present, GE unveiled a $3.1 million innovative engineering center at GE's Waukesha gas engines facility and announced the hiring of 115 employees in Waukesha in the last 18 months. The facility is located at 1101 W. St. Paul Ave.

October

Water deal not official yet - After never negotiating with the City of Milwaukee, the City of Waukesha turned to Oak Creek as the city it would connect with to receive Lake Michigan water. While the Oak Creek Common Council approved a resolution to supply Waukesha water, the process was halted when Steve Yttri, Oak Creek'swater and sewer utility general manager did not sign the letter of intent. Once finalized, the deal would be for 40 years. Construction would cost the City of Waukesha $183 million to build pipelines and pumping stations to bring water inland and return water, in the form of treated wastewater, to the lake.

Walmart market coming - The Town of Waukesha approved the acquisition of a new Walmart Neighborhood Market that is set to be complete at the end of next year. The 42,000 square foot market, located at W226 S1500 on Highway 164, would replace the Walmart discount store that closed in 2010. The market will include a supermarket with deli, bakery and liquor departments, a full-service pharmacy and pharmacy drive-through.

More guitars - Scrima announced that the City of Waukesha will have a Phase II of GuitarTown. Not many details have been revealed surrounding the second installation of GuitarTown, but Scrima indicated the city will have another GuitarTown event during the kickoff of the Friday Night Live summer music series and that more artists will design oversized Gibson Les Paul guitars that will appear on sidewalks around the city.

Champs again - The Waukesha North High School Marching Band won its sixth straight state championship at the Wisconsin School Music Association State Marching Band Championships on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. A month later, the Northstars competed at Bands of America Grand National Championships in Indianapolis for the second straight year.

Town controversy begins - The Town of Waukesha held an emergency meeting on a document that was leaked to the media regarding the City of Waukesha's water negotiations. This meeting, despite being held within the required two-hour notice, set off a string of events among Town Board members that includes Supervisor Everett German hiring a lawyer to investigate a possible open meetings violation as well as an open records violation against Town Chairwoman Angie E. Van Scyoc.

November

Election fever - Just as other communities saw impressive turnouts for the 2012 General Election, the Town and City of Waukesha saw an unprecedented amount of voters. The Town had an 89.9 percent turnout, while the city had a 90 percent turnout. And not surprisingly, both gave their support to the Republican Party in the presidential and the US Senate election between Thompson (R) and Tammy Baldwin (D). In the town, 70 percent of the vote went to the GOP ticket of Romney/Ryan, while the Democratic ticket of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received just 29 percent of the vote. Of the 36,956 votes in the City of Waukesha in the presidential election about 58 percent went to Romney/Ryan, while Obama/Biden garnered about 41 percent.

Top of the mountain - The Catholic Memorial High School football team completed a dream season by winning the WIAA Division 3 state championship after thrashing Waupaca, 42-7, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. The title is the school's first since 1996 when it won a WISAA private school championship.

A Five Diamonds annexation? - The Town Board was set to take up the Five Diamonds review at its meeting in September. But after the owners decided to seek annexation into the city, that did not happen. They sought a fresh start in the city after having many disputes with the town. Despite the city's Plan Commission giving its recommendation on annexation, the Common Council did not vote in favor of the annexation (two-thirds of the council vote was needed).

BID mess winds down - It took more than two months, but a new seven-member BID Board was finally approved. Scrima accused the council of holding up the process and not accepting his nominations while the council said Scrima was playing games by not giving them enough choices with a variety of candidates to choose from and by not including aldermen at the beginning of the process.

Ultimately, the seven members who were chosen for the new BID Board were Henschel, Sandy Cianciolo, Huelsman, Walters, Jim Taylor, Ron Lostetter and Nick Martinez. Scrima later recommended Alderman Roger Patton, an appointment the council rejected. The mayor then recommended Alderman Vance Skinner for appointment at last week's council meeting, where he was unanimously approved, giving the BID Board eight members.

Water deal makes wave - After an initial holdup in the process, Oak Creek signed a letter of intent to sell Waukesha Lake Michigan water. After being signed by Scrima and Treasurer Thomas Neill, the letter will then be forwarded to the state Department of Natural Resources for its review. It needs the approval of the eight governors of the Great Lakes states. Waukesha is attempting to find a reliable and sustainable water source and will divert up to an average of 10.9 million gallons of lake water a day. The city, in fact, is under a 2018 deadline to have radium-compliant water.

December

Intentions on bypass - Resolutions on the West Waukesha Bypass were voted on by the county, 22-1 in favor of the Pebble Creek alternative, the city, 15-0 in favor of the bypass, and the town, 4-1 against all resolutions on the building of the bypass. The public comment period ended Dec. 10.

At a town meeting, residents were opposed to the bypass, saying it will ruin the town's rural atmosphere and that it would not be beneficial to them financially. The city and county see it as a way to reduce traffic flow and improve safety.

The proposed $55 million project, a four-lanethoroughfare on the west side of Waukesha that would replace the two-lane Meadowbrook and Merrill Hills roads, has been part of the transportation of Waukesha County for nearly 60 years. A final Environmental Impact Statement will be released in 2013.

Shelter opens - Funds remained low for the Hebron House's Overflow Shelter and there was an uncertainty as to when it would open for the winter season. After not opening at the scheduled date of Nov. 15, it pushed its target date to Dec. 1, a goal that it met. It needed $55,000 to stay open from December through April. As of this month, it had just enough funds, though, to stay open for three months.

Shootings hit home - Mass shootings hit the United States hard in 2012. From the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., to the nearby Oak Creek Sikh Temple and the Azana Salon shooting in Brookfield, to the most recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 elementary students, six staff members and his mother before committing suicide.

A few days later, rumors circulated around the Waukesha School District and on Facebook that there would be a planned school shooting at Waukesha North High School. Waukesha police said there wasn't a specific threat made, but the rumors prompted extra security at the three public high schools.

Town continues its fight - The Town of Waukesha Board was full of conflict following an open records and open meetings request by German. Bickering at town meetings was the norm and Van Scyoc was often frustrated over German's attempt to find her in violation.

As a way to resolve this conflict, Supervisor Brian Fischer requested to have the Mediation Center of Waukesha County make a presentation to the Town Board to provide services to assist them. Van Scyoc and Supervisors Joe Banske and Mike Laska wanted nothing to do with that, saying if German would cancel his request there would be no conflict. He wouldn't, and German's attorney, Paul Bucher, is seeking 6,000 emails from Van Scyoc over the last six months because German says they have caused a walking quorum.

Candidates emerge for Common Council - District 15 Alderman Duane Paulson and District 12 Alderman Richard Hastings announced they will not seek re-election for the spring 2013 election. And it appears there will be a couple rematches from 2010.

Emanuele Vitale, who served District 8 for six terms until he lost to Skinner in 2010, will look to earn a spot back on the council. Lenny Miller, who lost to Patton in District 11 in 2010, will look to unseat the downtown alderman.

After Marga Krumins was passed over for Jankowski in July for the District 6 seat, she will attempt to win the seat in an election.

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