Overcoming Adversity: Congratulations, South Milwaukee High School Class of 2020

Saturday was graduation day, a couple months late due to the pandemic, but no less significant, as Rockets walked the stage at two outdoor, socially distanced ceremonies at Spaltholz Field.

Congratulations to all of the graduates. who already know a thing or two about perseverance and overcoming adversity. The good news: The last few months are but just one step on the way a promising future of positive change. The opportunity to shape that future truly begins now.

Thanks to everyone who took these photos at Saturday’s ceremonies, which I pulled from Twitter and Facebook.

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Next Step to Reopening: Library Browsing Returns

Learn more on the South Milwaukee Library website and Facebook page.

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Downtown South Milwaukee Update: Openings, Projects and Progress

Taking a tour of our progress downtown …

  • New Look for Main Street. Work continues on the city’s investment in Milwaukee Avenue, and I already see a return on the streetscaping project; it has been cited by business owners who want to build on that investment with improvements to their own businesses. New sidewalk, lights and street trees are already in place or in progress, as work has shifted to west of the railroad tracks in recent weeks. Next up: Planters, bike racks and the addition of a bike lane. Details here.
  • Bucyrus Club. There continues to be significant progress made in this game-changing project, a public-private partnership between the City of South Milwaukee, Bucyrus Foundation, Skyline Catering and the South Milwaukee Industrial Museum. Demo is nearly complete, and construction is expected to begin this fall. The renderings of the finished product, produced by Zimmerman Architectural Studios, are amazing. Look for those soon, and learn more about the project in the latest Bridges magazine and here. The Bucyrus Club opens next summer.
  • Wealth of opportunity. It’s hard to miss, but demo is well underway at DB Tax & Wealth, 1125 Milwaukee Ave., with the two buildings to its east now razed to make way for a more than $1 million expansion of this second-generation downtown business. Details here, and you can get project updates on their Facebook page.
  • A community gathering place. The planning effort has begun for “what’s next” on the city-owned property at 11th and Madison. The ad hoc planning committee has been chosen, and is working with Saiki Design to develop a vision for this space, informed by the community at large and city staff. Look for more details soon on how you can be a part of the conversation, and offer your ideas and feedback. Funded by a $500,000 grant by the Bucyrus Foundation, buildout is expected to begin in 2021, as we deliver a project that generations will enjoy as they head downtown for the farmers’ market, special events or just to hang out on a random Wednesday. Much more to come on this.
  • Grand opening. I was proud to officially welcome Dupree’s to South Milwaukee last Saturday. The vintage store at 1310 Milwaukee Ave. — co-owned by Jo Aiko and Joe and Natalie Gajewski — is a spinoff of another successful downtown business Barberella, and just as cool. Saturday’s opening attracted shoppers from away as Chicago and Sheboygan, and is a perfect example of the small, independent, destination businesses we are trying to attract to our city center. Learn more on its Facebook page.
  • Sausage and meats. The former Milwaukee Sausage Co. building has a new local owner — with plans to make it into a sausage and meat market of his own. More to come.
  • New restaurant, with soul. In case you missed it, South Milwaukee has a new soul food restaurant: Pot Liquor, 925 Madison Ave., the former home to Lloyd’s Lunch. Details here.
  • Kane Building. The Plan Commission heard from a developer last week with a vision for purchasing the former rooming house at 10th and Monroe Avenues and convert it apartments. More to come here, too.
  • One owner, two investments. Troy Kinunen and Kimberly Mackenzie are delivering two more projects on Milwaukee Avenue. They are renovating the home at 8th and Milwaukee Ave., and then it’s on to 1003 Milwaukee Ave., which is being reborn thanks in part to a $30,000 Bucyrus Downtown Revitalization Grant.
  • New look for Moran’s. Moran’s Pub — which saw big interior renovations in the early days of the pandemic — is getting a facade facelift too, also powered by a Bucyrus grant. Details here.
  • A new second story. Military Connection is adding a second floor and making other improvements to its already renovated space at 723 Milwaukee Ave. Work is underway, and owner Craig Luther tells me it will be completed by spring — another example of a local business owner transforming a building in our city center.

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Taste of South Milwaukee: Weekend Brunch Now at Brew Town Pub and Grill

Continuing the occasional series on the blog focused on promoting local restaurants, bars and other eating establishments.

Here is a new brunch option, being served at Brew Town Pub and Grill.

Brew Town Pub and Grill

  • Address: 1902 17th Ave.
  • Hours: Brunch available 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Phone: (414) 304-8019
  • Website: http://www.brewtownpubandgrille.com/
  • Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/Brewtownpubandgrill
  • Menu: “Serving a variety of Serbian drinks and food offerings with a standard American fare to accompany in a friendly neighborhood bar and grille.” Full menu on their website, and with this post.
  • Service options: Dine in or carry out.


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South Milwaukee School Year to Start Virtually

The South Milwaukee School Board voted 6-1 late Wednesday night to begin the 2020-21 school year virtually.

From the district website and letter from Superintendent Jeff Weiss …

On behalf of our entire staff, I would like to thank you for your patience and understanding of the evolving situation regarding the status of school in the fall. We miss your children! Our priority is always to provide the best educational resources to you and your children.

The School Board approved a virtual start to the start of the school year for the first six weeks. The reason for this decision is based on the amount of community spread of COVID19 in our local community and Milwaukee County. We will provide an update by September 25 regarding the learning model for the second six weeks of school. (The written presentation reviewed on July 29 can be accessed here and the presentation from August 5 can be accessed here – sample Middle School schedules can be seen here.)

Thank you for your support. We are committed to providing the best environment for our students, taking into mind their physical safety and their emotional health and well-being.

I support this decision, both as mayor and as the parent of a soon-to-be seventh grader and sophomore. I, too, want students (my kids) to return to school in person, but that is simply not safe to do at this point given the trajectory of COVID-19 in South Milwaukee.

We’re already seeing the potential consequences of a return to in-person school, in places like Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia, where cases are forcing schools and districts to rethink their reopening plans, sometimes in mere hours. I fear that will repeat itself in our area, too.

The ways to reduce risk and limit spread of coronavirus are clear: wear a mask, socially distance, avoid large gatherings, and wash your hands frequently, among others. We, as a community, state, and country need to do better in all of these areas. A scroll down Facebook news feeds illustrates it, and our spike in cases in July proves it. That includes me.

Until we do so, until more of us start doing our part, it’s hard to see our kids returning to school buildings, and hard to see the trajectory we’re on significantly changing anytime soon.

I hope I’m wrong — for my kids’ sake. For all our kids’ sake.

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Applications Open for New Commission: Help Ensure Equity and Inclusion in South Milwaukee

We face a generational moment, giving all of us a chance to do better when it
comes to addressing race, equality and opportunity in South Milwaukee — past,
present and future. We will seize that moment, and start with discovering what our citizens believe to be important surrounding these foundational issues.

The Common Council is considering engaging and enabling a broader community dialogue through the formation of an Equity and Inclusion Commission.

Aldermen gave “first reading” approval to forming the commission at its July meeting. Final approval will be considered at its August 18 meeting.

We are now accepting applications to join the seven-member commission (and any of our boards and commissions). To fill out the brief application, click here. The deadline to apply is Thursday, August 27.

You can learn more about the commission here, and in the draft ordinance, which defines the commission as “an advisory body to the common council and the mayor in providing comment and support regarding appropriate strategies to develop and implement activities, resources and services that promote a positive environment of equity, inclusion, and the celebration of diverse identities in the City of South Milwaukee.”

The commission will work in the following areas to discuss and bring forth goals to ensure all citizens are represented and have the same opportunities:

  1. Set and achieve goals for safety, health, education, housing, and economic mobility helping to ensure equity and inclusion of all who live, work, learn, and play in the City of South Milwaukee.
  2. Serve and represent a broad spectrum of residents, business leaders, students and employees from diverse backgrounds and all geographic areas of South Milwaukee.
  3. Promote a vibrant business, educational, and cultural community by supporting an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of diverse backgrounds.
  4. Recognize, promote, and celebrate efforts to further the advancement of equality and inclusion of diverse identities in the City of South Milwaukee.
  5. Report to the common council on the interests, needs and recommendations concerning matters of inclusion and equity in South Milwaukee.

I will be nominating Alderwoman Peggy Clark to chair the commission. She will be a strong, empathetic and consensus-building leader for this body.

And we will be working with the South Milwaukee School District in bringing forth a school representative. I look forward to having our youth be big part of the dialogue, working to make sure they grow up in a city that embraces and encourages everyone.

Census data shows South Milwaukee is more than 91% “white alone,” but that is changing, and I suspect 2020 data will show that. It’s certainly the case at South Milwaukee schools, which as of last summer were 35% non-white.

That is a good thing. We should embrace and celebrate our growing diversity, learning lessons from our our past (and what we’ve seen in recent months across the country) for a more promising, more inclusive, future.

Let’s start that journey. Join us.

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Vote Now! South Milwaukee Beautification Committee Curb Appeal Awards

Thank you to everyone who submitted their entries for the 2020 Curb Appeal Awards. We received over 30 entries and are now looking for your help. We need your help choosing the “Best of the Best”!

To vote, please comment or react to the photos (top five) in this Facebook post you think are the best! Voting will end this Friday, August 7.

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Record Rain: Following Up on the August 2 Flooding

Did you experience drainage issues and flood damage from last night’s rains? It’s important that you report those to the City of South Milwaukee, so we can get an accurate list of impacted addresses.

From the city’s website …

The City of South Milwaukee’s official rain gauge measured 3.3” of rain on 8/2/2020. Although the sewer inlets and storm sewer pipes functioned as designed, they do have limited capacity. Additionally, the height of the Oak Creek limits our storm sewer’s ability to outflow quickly. As a result, we have received some reports of water damage/flooding in residential areas. If you experienced any sanitary or drainage issues due to the rain on 8/2/2020, please report it by filling out this form, or call 414-768-8051.

While the city’s rain gauge (at the South Milwaukee Wastewater Facility) measured 3.3 inches, areas in other parts of the city likely received more.

Mitchell International Airport received almost five inches, and there were reports of more than five inches in Oak Creek and Franklin.

The images are from this page on the National Weather Service website. The deep purples indicate more than four inches of rain from noon on August 2 to noon on August 3.

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Taste of South Milwaukee: Debuting a New Series Focusing on Local Eateries

Today, I’m starting a new occasional series on the blog focused on promoting local restaurants, bars and other eating establishments.

I start with one of our newest — Pot Liquor, the soul food restaurant at 925 Madison Ave. Check them out!

Pot Liquor

For more information — including the meaning of the name — check out the story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Eat local!

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Recommendation Made for Virtual Start to School Year; Board to Vote on August 5

The South Milwaukee School District administration is recommending a virtual start to the 2020-21 school year.

Superintendent Jeff Weiss made the recommendation at Wednesday’s School Board meeting, following months of work from committees reviewing options related to reopening.

You can read the letter sent to parents here and the presentation made to the School Board here.

The board meets on Wednesday, August 5, to vote on options for the restart of school, including the recommended virtual approach, which Superintendent Weiss is suggesting should last at least six weeks.

From the letter …

It is important to note that the virtual model will be different from the emergency remote learning last spring. We will institute:

  • Schedules for synchronous (live) meetings with teachers
  • Schedules for synchronous classes with teachers
  • Social Emotional Learning opportunities for students
  • Rigorous curricular expectations
  • Ability to transition among the three modes of instruction throughout the school year. 

It is also important to share why I recommended this direction. Just a few short weeks ago, my plan was not to go back in a fully virtual setting. In the two week period starting after July 4th, the number of cases of COVID19 in South Milwaukee nearly doubled since the start of the outbreak. The only responsible choice is to recommend that we start in a virtual setting until our community spread numbers are under control. We will be continually reviewing the number of cases in our community. In the event we meet the criteria for declining cases as recommended by local health departments, we will bring our students back into our school buildings in early October.  

We considered the impact of different learning models on our students and the recommendations from the CDC and our local health departments. I understand that the headlines related to the CDC guidance all refer to the preference of getting children back to school, which is true. However, the CDC also provides four different scenarios on what “back to school” may look like, depending on how much the virus is spreading in your own local community. With “no to minimal community spread” of the virus, the recommendation is to go back fully. If there is “substantial, uncontrolled community spread” then districts should work with their local public health officials to determine if going back to school is appropriate and consider all options for continuing education including virtually.

Many suburban Milwaukee County health officials worked together to create a recommendation on when schools should be virtual, hybrid, or fully in person with mitigation strategies. The recommendation relies on our local data to make this determination. I believe that it is important to make decisions based on objective metrics along with considerations on what is best for students as a whole child.  The chart below summarizes the recommendations of the health department officials.

More than anything, I want students back into school buildings on a regular basis. To do this, we need to work together. We have to lower our burden rate, which means we need to stop the spread of the virus.  Please, follow the guidance from our public health officials. Wear face coverings, wash your hands on a regular basis, avoid large gatherings, and physically distance. Encourage others to do so as well. Our ability to safely educate our students in person relies on the actions of the community to stop the spread of this virus. 

I know that the decision regarding how to start the school year could be divisive, regardless of the final choice that will be made next week. It could easily pit friends and colleagues against each other. It could cause families to speak negatively about school board members, teachers, administrators, or me as superintendent. 

My ask of you, just as it was in my last communication, is to respond to these disagreements with kindness. We are stronger as a community, and as a nation, when we work to understand each other and to unite our community. We certainly want to know your opinion and thoughts, we simply ask that you remember the #SMWay when sharing.

I want to reinforce that last paragraph, as a parent, husband and mayor.

Whatever the board decides, I know this: The people involved in making these decisions — from the committee members studying it to the administration to the board members — are well-meaning and care deeply about doing what they think is right to educate our kids. They understand the impacts of their actions — and that there are no perfect options, as they look to balance student and staff safety with a desire (one we all have) to eventually return to normal schooling.

There are no easy choices here, and in that way their decision is like countless others being made by elected officials and other organizational leaders across the country throughout this pandemic. You may disagree with those decisions, and that is OK. Robust debate is a good thing; it makes us better and stronger. You can and should ask tough questions, and make your voices heard as decisions are made. But, no matter the outcome, I ask everyone to respect the people making these choices.

The pandemic has divided us like never before. Let’s not let this or any decision involving the health crisis divide us any further.

And, as Dr. Weiss said, be kind.

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State Issues Mask Mandate, as South Milwaukee Sees Spike in COVID-19 Cases

As you’ve probably seen or heard by now, a statewide mask order for indoor spaces goes into effect on Saturday, August 1.

Read the executive order from Gov. Tony Evers here and FAQs here.

I support the order. While I have concerns over enforcement, the reasons behind the order are sound, the motives are right, and the science is clear: Masks help limit the spread of COVID-19. They save lives.

We need to take these kinds of steps to keep people healthy.

The data is alarming locally. As of Wednesday, the South Milwaukee and St. Francis Health Department had recorded 313 positive cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. So far this month, we have recorded 150, and 88 in the two weeks since July 15.

In other words, we have seen more than a quarter of all of our cases in South Milwaukee in just 14 days. That has led to an incredibly high “disease burden” — a relative measure of cases per 100,00 people.

Our positive test rate (11% of those tested from July 9-22 tested positive) is also high — but testing is just one reason we are seeing high disease numbers. It’s also clear there is significant community spread of the illness, and if we can take steps to limit that spread, we should, as a government and, more importantly, as individuals.

We all have a responsibility here. The decisions we make will impact how quickly and widely COVID-19 spreads.

Mask up, South Milwaukee.

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August Primary: In-Person Absentee Voting Opens Tuesday

From the South Milwaukee Clerk’s Office …

In-Person Absentee Voting in the Clerk’s Office begins on Tuesday, July 28th. Hours for in-person absentee voting are weekdays, 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., and Friday, August 7th, from 7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Please bring photo ID!To find your polling location or to request an absentee ballot by mail, please visit MyVote. https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/.

More details on the city’s Elections web page.

And if you’re looking for a suggestion in the Milwaukee County Register of Deeds primary, go with incumbent Israel Ramon. I proudly endorse his work to make that office more transparent, efficient and effective. He’s made major improvements since taking over in troubled times a year ago, and Issy deserves more time to continue those efforts.

The general election is November 3, and I’m running as a moderate Democrat for Assembly, planning to stay as mayor when I win. Details here.

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Sunday Morning: Suburban Soles Presents “South Milwaukee Takes Root”

The next Suburban Soles walk is tomorrow (Sunday, July 26), and it features South Milwaukee historian Nels Monson.

Meet at 10 a.m. at the Grant Park Golf Course.

I guarantee you’ll learn something new about South Milwaukee’s proud past — I always do when Nels drops some of his wisdom.

More details here. And a special thanks to Brian Morrison and BMO Productions for hosting these events. They are two hours, well spent.

Here is the full schedule …

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Headlines: COVID-19 in the Suburbs, Repainting the Rock and More

The graphic is from this Shepherd Express story.

I’m bringing back the “Headlines” roundups on the blog — links to stories about our city from other media outlets.

Check out these recent South Milwaukee headlines …

And the South Milwaukee Police Department has published a new crime summary on its Facebook page.

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This Saturday: A Virtual Meet the Mayor Event

To ensure safety amid the pandemic, I’m making my next Meet the Mayor event — set for this Saturday, July 25 — virtual.

To join the Zoom call from noon to 1 p.m., click here. To call in …

  • Phone: 1-929-436-2866
  • Meeting ID: 82127094931

Please bring your questions, comments or concerns!

For now, I’ll be holding August Meet the Mayor session at noon on Saturday, August 29, at Taco Stop, 513 N. Chicago Ave.

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