Caleb Coccari-Swift says he's learned his lesson: "We need to stop doing this as a guerrilla group." The dilemma he faces, though, is that this is the only approach that's worked.
The 21-year-old Madison native has been skateboarding since he was six and "doing activism work trying to build a skateboard site" in Madison since eighth grade. He's taken part in planning for a skateboard site in the long-proposed downtown Central Park.
Then, about six weeks ago, Coccari-Swift and a couple dozen others began building a "skate spot" along the Yahara River by East Johnson Street. They pulled weeds and cleared debris from a slab of concrete along the river where city boathouses once stood. They built a concrete quarter pipe and other structures. "One of the dudes is pretty good with concrete," explains Nate Needham, 26, another project participant.
The skateboarders spent around $300 ("two of our friends' tax returns") and put in countless hours of work. They say more than a few neighborhood residents stopped by to thank them.
"It's a community development, beautification and building project," says Coccari-Swift. "What used to be a gross and scary place is now a public park, used by hundreds of skateboarders."
Or was. Last week the Madison Parks Division trashed the park, removing temporary structures and damaging the more permanent concrete ones. "They pretty much took whatever they could," says Coccari-Swift.
Laura Whitmore, spokeswoman for the Parks Division, says "residents in that area alerted us" to the site, and "our staff went out and dismantled it." As a rule, she explains, "private structures cannot be put on public land" because this "may pose a liability or a risk." The remaining structures, which skateboarders can still use, "will be removed." Ultimately, the division plans to tear out the concrete slab and restore the site as greenspace.
The good news, says Whitmore, is that there are plans for a skateboard site in Central Park. But that, notes Needham, is also old news: "They've been saying 'someday' for a long time."
Ald. Bridget Maniaci, whose district ends just across the river from the site, calls it "kind of silly" to keep holding out the promise of a future skate place. She thinks letting skateboarders use this site by the Yahara, formerly a haven for vagrants, is "a really good idea."
Coccari-Swift strongly supports a skateboard site at Central Park as a worthy long-term goal. But he's been told it will require a half-million dollars in private fundraising, a difficult task. "In the meantime," he says, "this [Yahara site] is a great place to have a skate park."
Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, whose district includes the Yahara site, has met with Coccari-Swift and hopes to facilitate a discussion between skaters ("I think they're very entrepreneurial") and park staff. She wonders if the city might allow a modest skate site until Central Park gets built, and perhaps even afterward.
"I'm trying to get everybody to keep an open mind," says Rhodes-Conway. "I think we'll work something out."
He's now a she; it's elementary
A few weeks back, parents of students at a Madison elementary school received an unusual note, about a student in the fifth grade who "while born male, has for some time felt he is female." The student, with support from family, doctors and the school community, was about to start being a girl.
Such issues are all in a day's work for Bonnie Augusta, the Madison school district's gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning resource teacher. She met with students at this school (parents were welcome to attend) and, according to a subsequent note, "discussed the student and the transition she is doing." One goal was to minimize the teasing this student might endure.
"The class was very respectful and asked wonderful questions," Augusta wrote, adding that "all of you can be very proud of your children today."
Augusta has been helping GLBTQ students in Madison since the fall of 2001. She knows of just six school districts in the nation that employ someone solely for this purpose.
She won't say how often students switch gender identification or whether any undergo sex-change surgery (which wouldn't happen until the child is older). The most common issue is "gender expression," for which schools make accommodations like bathroom use and gym class.
"There's a lot of different options," says Augusta, who mentions unisex bathrooms and those in nurses' rooms. "Talk about a basic right - to be able to go to the bathroom in the school you're attending."
But the biggest issue is ensuring that GLBTQ students are not harassed. "We have to do everything in our power to make that happen," says Augusta. "As educators in the public schools, that is our obligation."
Authorities fine with fibbing
It's official: Nothing of consequence will happen to Sharon Koski, a Dane County Family Court counselor who was caught falsely claiming, on paper and even under oath, to be a licensed marriage and family therapist (see Watchdog, 11/27/08).
Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard recently declined to take action, saying there are other forums for appropriate action, like Koski's employer.
Koski's boss, Kristen Ryan, recently wrote that she considers the matter "closed" now that Koski has stopped making this false claim. And, after six months, the state Department of Regulation and Licensing is apparently still weighing whether to take the only action it can - asking Koski to stop making this false claim.
In other news, the guy who writes Isthmus' popular Watchdog column would like to thank the Pulitzer committee for its three recent first-place awards, including Best Journalist Ever. He owes it all to honest living.
Bucking the trends
While the most recent numbers show that the circulation of daily newspapers plunged 7% from the year before, Madison's sole remaining city daily, the Wisconsin State Journal, is holding its own.
As of March 31, 2009, according to preliminary figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the State Journal's total paid circulation stood at 96,927 Monday through Friday, and 133,731 on Sunday. The Sunday total is down from 138,277 the year before. But daily circulation is actually up about 9,000 papers over March 2008, thanks to subscribers gained when the jointly owned Capital Times ceased daily print publication last year.
Moreover, the State Journal's March 31 daily totals are down just 85 papers from six months ago, in September 2008. Day to day, it's doing okay.
Ed Peterson, the Madison renter whose landlord cleaned out his pad by mistake ("Dude, Where's Everything I Own?," 3/5/09), is still wrangling over the recompense.
His attorney got him out of his lease without penalty and asked for about $85,000 in damages, including $50,000 for non-property claims. The landlord's insurer recently offered $14,000, which Peterson rejected. We'll keep you posted.
Miles Kristan, the young man ticketed for writing on State Street with chalk ("Peace Activist Fined $675 for Chalking!," 5/1/09), as city ordinances allow, got word last week that the matter was dismissed.
"This affirms that chalk is legal," says Kristan. "Hopefully the police will never mess with anyone for chalking again."