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Steve Rundio / STEVE RUNDIO, Tomah Newspapers 

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker shakes hands with Tomah Memorial Hospital CEO Phil Stuart after signing health care legislation Tuesday.


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse art student Chynna King adds a cardboard vacuum to the mix Tuesday while making a short stop-motion animation video with visiting artist Mike Houston of New York and other students. The project is part of the Creative Imperatives Festival, a two-day event with discussions, presentations, performances and open studios exploring art, communication and how innovation and technology have affected them.


Local
La Crosse committee OKs food truck inspection ordinance

The city of La Crosse is taking steps to keep outdoor food stands trucking.

The city’s Judiciary and Administration Committee Tuesday approved an ordinance to require all food trucks to be inspected by La Crosse Fire Prevention and Building Safety staff and receive a permit to operate within the city limits. The committee also advanced a change to the ordinance governing sidewalks and approved developments on Vine Street and on Hwy. 35.

“We’ve always done inspections on brick-and-mortar buildings with these types of cooking hoods in them, cooking occupations,” La Crosse Fire Department Assistant Chief Craig Snyder told the committee. “The mobile food environment is becoming a little bit of a larger environment within the city of La Crosse, and nationwide for that matter.”

As the market grows, members of the inspections department want to make sure they’re safe. In an interview, Snyder referenced several food trucks that exploded, including one in Philadelphia that killed two people and injured 13 others.

“They do have accidents, and we do want to keep La Crosse off the map for that,” Snyder said.

The department already inspects food trucks when they can, verifying that any propane systems are free of leaks and have shutoff valves that are readily accessible, the fuel is stored in a safe place, and there is proper fire extinguishing equipment installed.

Typically the department conducts inspections during large events — such as Riverfest or Oktoberfest — where city staff know the food trucks can be found; however, as numbers grow, it gets harder to track them down.

Food truck owners already need a permit from the City Clerk’s office to operate in the city, so the ordinance change would instruct the two city departments to work together.

“The clerk would get in touch with us after the individual comes in for the application, then we would set up a time with that person to be able to get the inspection completed in that vehicle,” Snyder said.

The ordinance change also would charge food truck owners $50 for the inspection, similar to the fees attached to brick-and-mortar restaurant inspections.

“This would fall right in line with the lowest inspection fee that we do charge for those,” Snyder said.

Richmond

Council member Andrea Richmond, who chairs the committee, supported the change.

“I think it’s a good idea. It’s an overall good protection for everyone,” she said in an interview prior to the meeting.

While she’s been glad to see the growth of the new type of business, she said, it was important to make sure it’s safe, both for vendors and patrons.

“We’ve got a lot of things going on in our community now. I think it’s great to have these, but I think you need some sort of permit process,” Richmond added.

The inspections are separate from the La Crosse County health inspections, which deal with food safety issues.

Sidewalks

The committee unanimously approved a change to the city’s sidewalk ordinance that would eliminate the assessment for replacing sidewalks and tweak the permitting process for installing sidewalks and driveways.

The new ordinance, which was approved last week by the city’s Board of Public works, would let city residents off the hook for replacing sidewalks damaged by tree movement or other natural causes, streamlining the process for the city’s engineering department as well as benefiting the public.

If approved by the council, the city would need to budget about $50,000 each year for replacing sidewalks. Property owners who damage sidewalks themselves could still be required to fix them.

The committee also voted to move forward on the developments approved Monday by the city’s plan commission. The demolition of two Vine Street properties as part of a four-story apartment building project and the plat of the Waterview subdivision planned for La Crosse’s far south side were unanimously approved.


Haas to step down as Wisconsin Elections Commission leader

MADISON — Embattled Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Michael Haas said Tuesday that he will step down and not pursue legal options to challenge the state Senate’s rejection of his confirmation last month, saying “it is time for this foolishness to end.”

Haas also issued a warning, saying Wisconsin risks falling “dangerously behind” in preparing for the fall election in the face of risks and threats to the country’s election systems. He urged the Legislature to approve the hiring of three more staffers at the Elections Commission and said he hopes his resignation will remove any obstacle to that happening.

The Republican-controlled Senate last month voted along party lines to reject confirmation of Haas and Ethics Commission director Brian Bell. Republican senators said they had lost trust in both Haas and Bell because of their work for the prior Government Accountability Board, which investigated whether Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups had violated state campaign laws.

In his resignation letter, Haas said he was a casualty of those obsessed with “settling scores with imaginary ghosts of the Government Accountability Board.”

Bell did not fight the action and stepped down two days after the Senate vote, returning to his old job at the state Department of Safety and Professional Services. The Ethics Commission voted 4-2 to name ethics specialist Colette Reinke as interim administrator for 90 days while it searches for a permanent replacement. Reinke is not seeking the post permanently, commission chairman David Halbrooks said.

Haas called on the Elections Commission to name an interim director at its Friday meeting. He said he supports promoting assistant administrator Meagan Wolfe to be the interim leader, as commission member Dean Knudson proposed. Haas said he will return to his old job as a staff attorney at the commission, a pay cut of $30,000, but will eventually leave the agency to pursue other opportunities.

“The Senate’s action has created a major distraction and an untenable situation for the Commission,” Haas wrote to commissioners. “It is time for this foolishness to end.”

Board chairman Mark Thomsen, a Democratic attorney, said he supported hiring Wolfe for the job, both as interim and then permanently, and that he hopes the Senate will confirm her this year. He said Haas’s departure was a loss for the state after he was treated with “disrespect and arbitrary capriciousness” by the Senate.

Haas had been serving as interim director for 19 months before the Senate voted to reject his confirmation. A divided commission voted 4-2 in January to keep Haas as interim director through April 30, providing a transition through last week’s spring primary election and the April 3 general election.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who led the charge to remove Haas and Bell, refused to recognize Haas’ hiring as interim director. He said if the commission did fill the post by mid-March, the Legislature would appoint a new administrator.

Fitzgerald’s spokesman did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Haas said he considered pursuing legal action to fight the Senate’s action and to try to keep his job, but he didn’t want his situation to hurt the agency’s chances for more funding from the Legislature.


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Elise DeNoyer puts up a shot for UW-La Crosse as UW-Whitewater’s Andrea Meinert, left, and Sarah Schumacher attempt blocks during a game at Mitchell Hall. On Tuesday, DeNoyer was named the WIAC women's basketball player of the year.


Local
'One, two, three, I mean, come on' — Woman questions investigation of mother in 1980s baby deaths

MILWAUKEE — A woman who told police her mother confessed to killing her 18-day-old brother nearly four decades ago says she’s shocked investigators didn’t make an arrest in the 1980s, especially after the deaths of two more infants in her care.

Ami Brunka told The Associated Press that the three murder charges Milwaukee prosecutors filed Friday against her mother, Nancy Moronez, should have come much earlier.

“I don’t understand why they couldn’t figure that out. One, two, three, I mean, come on,” Brunka said. “I mean I’m not a rocket scientist, but wow.”

Officials with the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office, which performed autopsies on all three infants decades ago, mistakenly ruled the deaths resulted from sudden infant death syndrome. But authorities haven’t explained why investigators didn’t grow suspicious of Moronez after the second child — and then a third — were found dead.

“That’s a good question,” said Sgt. Jeremy Fadness of the Franklin Police Department, which led a new investigation after Brunka’s tip.

“I think based on the information they had at the time they did the best they could with what they had in front of them.”

He noted the death of Moronez’s son took place in Franklin, a Milwaukee suburb of about 36,000, while the other two occurred in Milwaukee. He said the two police departments apparently didn’t compare notes.

A Milwaukee Police Department spokeswoman declined comment.

Moronez’s attorney, Matthew Meyer, said he doesn’t understand why it took 38 years to charge her, and he hopes to learn more through the discovery process. He said he plans to explore whether detectives properly read Moronez her rights before she confessed.

According to a criminal complaint, Moronez told police she drowned her 18-day-old son, Justin, in his bath at the family’s apartment in Franklin in March 1980. The medical examiner’s office originally ruled the child died from a lack of oxygen to the brain due to SIDS.

Moronez also is accused of using a blanket to suffocate two infants she was babysitting in Milwaukee — 6-month-old Brad Steege in March 1984 and 3-month-old Katie Kozeniecki in February 1985. In both cases, the medical examiner’s office again attributed the deaths to SIDS.

Moronez

A firefighter who had responded to the scene of Brad’s death responded to Katie’s death too. He said Moronez asked if he remembered her, and then said: “I told my husband I didn’t want to baby sit anymore,” according to the complaint.

It wasn’t clear if the firefighter’s account was shared with police at the time.

“I thought it was murder when I first heard about it,” Katie Kozeniecki’s uncle, Joe Kozeniecki, told AP in a telephone interview. “We were told she had one die before. That didn’t sound right to me.”

Brunka, Moronez’s daughter, was born in 1981 — about a year after her brother died. For years Brunka said her mother would act strangely when asked about her brother, telling her there was no grave because they donated his body to science.

In March 2015, she said, she finally pressed her mother on her brother’s death. Moronez told her she had killed her brother by suffocating him in a garbage bag.

“I grabbed a hold of her and started shaking her and said, ‘What did you do!’ “ Brunka said.

“She didn’t care. There was no emotion there. That is what made me so angry that day.”

A few days later, Brunka decided she needed justice for her brother — she didn’t know at the time about the other two babies — so she went to police and the case was reopened. Investigators spent the next three years backtracking through police and medical records and tracking down witnesses and social workers as well as hospital, police and fire department officials. Some had retired, moved or died, Fadness said.

Officers arrested Moronez last week. According to the complaint, she told a Milwaukee police detective that she didn’t suffocate her son but had drowned him in his bath. She also confessed to killing Brad and Katie, according to the complaint. She said all three wouldn’t stop crying.

“I can’t take kids that constantly cry,” she said, according to the complaint.

It remains unclear why the medical examiner’s office mistakenly attributed all three deaths to SIDS.

According to a 2006 joint report from the National Association of Medical Examiners and the American Academy of Pediatrics child abuse committee, SIDS is the most common cause of death for children between a month and 6 months old. Only rarely is a death attributed to SIDS actually homicide.

Telling the difference between SIDS and suffocation is “difficult if not impossible,” the report found. However, it notes suspicion should grow if more than one infant has died under the same person’s care.

Karen Domagalski, the medical examiner office’s operations manager, told AP during a brief telephone interview that everyone who worked on the three cases has long since died. She declined to comment further because the investigation remains active.

Brunka said if her mother didn’t like crying children, then she didn’t understand why she was spared. She described herself as a sickly child who struggled with stomach ulcers.

“I don’t know why I’m here, that’s one thing I’m having a real hard time with,” she said.