Evening State News Briefs: State Fair enjoys another banner yearWisconsin News
-- By almost all accounts, the Wisconsin State Fair had a banner year. Almost 921,000 people attended the 11-day expo which ended last Sunday in West Allis. That’s over 10-thousand more than last year – when the crowds were the highest in at least a decade.
WEST ALLIS - By almost all accounts, the Wisconsin State Fair had a banner year. Almost 921,000 people attended the 11-day expo which ended last Sunday in West Allis. That’s over 10-thousand more than last year – when the crowds were the highest in at least a decade.
Also, the State Fair set a one-day attendance record on August fifth, when almost 128,000 people went through the gates. The agricultural part of the fair was also a success, despite concerns about the drought’s effect on entries and their quality. Over 3,400 exhibitors displayed their animals, crops, and other items – more than a year ago. Twenty-six animals in the Governor’s Red, White, and Blue Livestock Auction sold for $221,000 dollars. The Governor’s Meat Products Auction raised $88,000 for the state’s 4-H Foundation. And the Blue Ribbon Cheese-and-Butter Auction brought in $35,000 dollars to support scholarships and the “House of Moo” dairy education center at the fair. And, oh yes – more folks ate the fair’s classic Cream Puffs. The Wisconsin Bakers Association sold 375,000 of them, about 20,000 more than a year ago.
The district attorney in Appleton said a police sergeant in that city was justified in shooting a man to death last Friday night. Outagamie County DA Carrie Schneider said today that Sergeant Greg Pieper killed 61-year-old Keith Gabriel, after the suspect ignored the officer’s order to drop his gun. Schneider said Gabriel had a Colt-.45 weapon in his hand and began to turn toward Pieper when the officer shot him three times. Pieper went to Gabriel’s house after a neighbor complained that he was shooting off fireworks. Police from nearby Green Bay investigated the incident. Gabriel had been convicted of threatening an Appleton city employee 12 years ago in a dispute over his property. That was his only criminal conviction.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate rose to 7.3 percent last month. That’s up three-tenths-of-a-point from June, and up by a half-point from May. Preliminary figures showed that the state lost six-thousand private sector jobs and 500 government jobs last month. That’s based on a federal survey of just three-and-a-half percent of the state’s employers. The initial figures are often heavily revised – but the June revision didn’t bode for the Badger State, either. It showed a net loss of 11,300 jobs for the month. State officials have questioned the credibility of the initial numbers – the ones that get the most publicity and political commentary. Governor Scott Walker has said that a much more accurate figure comes from the quarterly census that includes data from 95-percent of employers. But that doesn’t get much media play, because the figures can often lag as much as a year by the time Washington puts them out. States get their figures earlier – and yesterday, Walker pointed out that Wisconsin gained over 37,000 private sector jobs in the year ending in March. Government jobs dropped by about nine-thousand during that period, so the net gain was around 28,000.
Governor Scott Walker is downplaying reports that a John Doe investigation into his former Milwaukee County aides has expanded to the state government. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said a county prosecutor has sought records from the governor’s office concerning over 20 professional staffers hired since Walker became the state’s chief executive. And the day after that request, an assistant DA met with the chief legal counsel for the state Administration Department. Walker said today he doesn’t know what prosecutors are looking for, and he quote, “hasn’t looked at it specifically.” He also said John Doe probe has not become a distraction for him. The Milwaukee County DA’s office has spent the last 27 months investigating Walker’s aides from his days as the county executive. Five Walker aides and associates have been criminally charged with crimes ranging from embezzlement to illegally campaigning on taxpayers’ time.
A former Walker aide who’s accused of embezzling $21,000 dollars appeared in court again today. Circuit Judge David Hansher set a new timetable for Tim Russell’s case, after public defender Parker Mathers became the fifth lawyer to be assigned. Mathers is Russell’s first tax-funded defense counsel. Russell’s home was foreclosed upon in West Allis last year. He’s scheduled to go on trial December third on charges that he embezzled thousands from a Milwaukee County Zoo program that honors Wisconsin veterans. Russell was also accused of taking smaller amounts from two County Board candidates. The judge gave Mathers until August 31st to file new pre-trial requests – and Hansher warned him that the most recent counsel made requests that were thrown out for being frivolous. That attorney, Dennis Krueger, dropped out after the judge said he might have committed professional misconduct. That’s because Krueger was working on both sides of the law – serving as a defense counsel after taking a new job as a prosecutor in Fond du Lac County. The judge also set a November second deadline for presenting a plea deal. Russell was a former deputy chief of staff to Walker when he was the Milwaukee County executive. Four other former aides and associates have been charged as part of an ongoing John Doe probe, and one has pleaded guilty.
Milwaukee County Parks Director Sue Black says she was stunned when County Executive Chris Abele today her she was fired today. Black says she was at her regular weekly meeting with Abele when he said the county was going in a different direction. She says he wouldn’t tell her why she was being let go. Black says she was locked out of her Wauwatosa office while she was at the courthouse. Black has been given credit for bringing national honors to the county’s park system during her 10 years on the job. Some had supported her for a run for county executive two years ago when Governor Scott Walker left the job, but Black decided not to run. The Journal-Sentinel reports the chairman of the County Board’s parks committee says Abele has, quoting here, “declared war,” by firing Black.
Dane County officials broke ground on new radio towers for a communications system called DaneCom earlier today. The $18 million system includes a radio network helping law enforcement agencies, emergency responders and local governments coordinate efforts during an emergency. Dane County is paying for construction of the system, with all the agencies sharing responsibility for maintenance. Work on the project is expected to be finished by next year. The county board was reviewing the agreement at a meeting today.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker joined U.S. Postal Service officials introducing a new stamp commemorating this state earlier today. The stamp was unveiled during a ceremony in the governor’s conference room in the Capitol building. A color guard from a Madison VFW post was present, as well as a group of Girl Scouts singing a rendition of “On Wisconsin.” The stamp design includes the state flag suspended over cows grazing in a field at sunset. The Wisconsin design is part of the postal service’s “Flag of Our Nation” series which commemorates all 50 states.
Wisconsin’s concealed weapons law will continue to use its original temporary rules for another 60 days. They were supposed to expire on Saturday. But today, the Legislature’s Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules voted unanimously to extend the current requirements until October 16th. Steven Means, the executive assistant in the state Justice Department, said Governor Scott Walker is still deciding whether or not to approve the new rules. They’re more stringent than the ones that have been used since the concealed carry law took effect last November. Among other things, the old rules required applicants for state carry permits to get training – but it did not lay out anything specific. Under the new rules, the required weapons training would have to include lessons on the use of deadly force – and how people can avoid such violent situations. Students would also have to learn about the safe use of firearms and bullets. Each class could only have up to 50 applicants. And their certificates would need at least a signature from the applicant that all of the training requirements have been met. An instructor can still sign the form, but it’s not mandatory.
A trial date of January 14th was set today for a 75-year-old Milwaukee man accused of killing a teenage neighbor over missing guns. As expected, John Spooner pleaded innocent by insanity to a homicide charge in the May 31st shooting death of 13-year-old Darius Simmons. The defense said a mental health expert examined Spooner, and it appeared he might be suffering from a mental disease. But the defense said it did not receive a final report on that exam yet. And Circuit Judge Jeffrey Wagner ordered that another doctor examine Spooner. According to authorities, Spooner thought that young Darius broke into his home and stole his guns. Darius was shot to death a couple days later while he was taking out garbage. The judge is expected to review the findings of Spooner’s new mental exam at his next court appearance set for September 28th. Wagner said he wants all pre-trial requests by November 19th.
Thousands of people have flocked to Green Bay to take a ride on Elvis Presley’s favorite roller coaster. And today, the city received some national recognition on this 35th anniversary of the death of the King of Rock-and-Roll. The Trip-Adviser Web site named Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay as one of the nation’s “Top Elvis Attractions.” That was after the city spent $3.8 million dollars to buy and rebuild the Zippin Pippin roller coaster, after it was taken down from a park that closed in Memphis. It took a year for Green Bay officials to get it ready. And when the Zippin Pippin opened last summer, it attracted two-and-a-half times the number of riders they expected – about a half-million in all. Trip-Adviser said Elvis rode the Zippin Pippin only a week before he abruptly died from a heart attack due to prescription drug abuse. He passed away at his Graceland mansion in Memphis on August 16th of 1977 at the age of 42. He had performed only twice in Wisconsin in his final years – both times in Madison. His last show was in late June of ’77, less than two months before he died.