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Profiles in carnage

Candles with names attached, at a Dec. 30 memorial in Milwaukee for victims of gun violence there.

This story is the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s first report for Precious Lives, a newly launched two-year project investigating the problem of gun violence among young people, its causes, and potential solutions in the Milwaukee area and statewide. Read more about the project. Main story
Bullets exacted terrible toll on children, African Americans A Center analysis found that African Americans were more than 30 times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be murdered by guns in Wisconsin last year. James A. Witt: In January, police asked to check on the well-being of this 60-year-old resident in the village of Summit in Waukesha County found his body wrapped in a blanket; he had died from a gunshot wound. His son Shawn Witt was charged with first-degree intentional homicide and possession of heroin. Continue Reading

Frac sand news roundup: DNR ‘needs to step up … even if that means calling a statewide timeout’

The latest in Wisconsin frac sand. See our in-depth stories since 2011 on our frac sand project page. A neighborhood group in the city of Prairie du Chien is planning a petition to prevent the building of a proposed $1 million frac sand loading facility. The petition is in response to a century-and-a-half-old loophole which allows Wisconsin and Southern Railroad Co. to go ahead with the facility even though the city denied it a zoning permit. December 19 SW News 4U

Citing environmental mishaps and permit lapses in 2014, an editorial from a paper in the heart of frac sand country calls for the DNR to “step up its game” on regulating the industry. December 28 Leader-Telegram

The Houston County Board of Commissioners in Minnesota says concerns over possible mining in Houston County took up most of its time in 2014. And despite potential ordinances on the table to impose strict regulations if mining should occur, some residents aren’t convinced it will work. December 30 Post-Bulletin, January 2 Winona Daily News

When it comes to fracking, air quality concerns took center stage in 2014. Continue Reading

Your Right to Know: Official calendars are a basic public record

Jason Smathers

It’s a pretty simple question for a public official: “What exactly do you do with your time?”

Sometimes, the best way to answer that question is to obtain the official’s calendar, through the state’s open records law. In my work as a reporter, I’ve done this for the state treasurer and his staff, who work for an office with few official duties. I’ve also used the monthly calendars of Gov. Scott Walker to plot his travel and track his day-to-day meetings. So when I wanted a better understanding of how the duties of Sheboygan Mayor Mike Vandersteen and Chief Administrative Officer Jim Amodeo overlap, I asked to see their calendars. Amodeo’s response was simply, “Oh, OK.”

Vandersteen’s response was more terse. Continue Reading

Gov. Scott Walker noncommittal on right-to-work, firm on no pardons

Gov. Scott Walker

And on a presidential run: “I don’t think people should just run particularly for office as high as that because it’s the next logical step or it’s part of adding a career, in this case in politics,” Walker said in an end-of-year interview. “I think it’s something you should feel like you’re actually called, that there’s a purpose, there’s a reason for doing it.”

Continue Reading

‘Beneficial reuse’ of coal ash could contaminate drinking water statewide

Fly ash samples

It’s not a good sign when even the dogs won’t drink your tap water. “They sniff it and then drink the bottled water we pour,” said Frank Michna of Caledonia, one of hundreds of southeastern Wisconsin residents whose wells are contaminated by pollutants that may be coming from buried coal ash. Continue Reading