Empathy and Shared Sacrifice


Most of us have watched many hours of press conferences and news reports and read more articles than we can count about COVID-19. Like it or not, this disease has fundamentally changed our country.

My reaction to both this pandemic and the response of federal and state leaders has evolved over the last few weeks. Federal and state officials are now taking this threat seriously. Regardless of motives, they have become engaged, work on responses and establish rules based on recommendations of health experts. Health experts talk about social distancing, and immunity, and flattening the curve.

But something has gnawed at me even as the response has improved. I now know what it is.

Leaders have failed to express empathy while setting rules. There has been so much policy and health talk, but not enough talk about the real human cost. When I say cost, I do not just mean lives or dollars.

Let’s face it. Even in the worst-case projections, it is unlikely that most of us will die or get seriously ill. Many of us will not even know someone who does. We are being asked to change our lives to defeat something that is unlikely to have much of a direct effect on our lives.

My generation and generations that follow really have never before been asked to sacrifice in a serious way. Many serve their communities, but it has been service that, while impactful, is usually not truly painful. Few (soldiers and some religious being the exception) have ever been asked to truly sacrifice a piece of their lives for the common good.

Yet, our country has a proud tradition of real shared sacrifice. Usually it has been during wartime or depression. Prior generations heard the call to arms and responded. They lived through food, clothing, tools and fuel rationing. Women worked factory jobs during World War II. Seniors and children contributed. Everyone did. Most people did not personally benefit. They did it for the greater good, not because they expected to see Nazis breaching our shores or because they had personal relationships with slaves. They did it because it was right and good. They did it because they were Americans.

Today, we are again being asked to share sacrifice. We all are working our way through it.

It is difficult to find childcare. It is sickening to see our investments plunge in value, jeopardizing planned retirements and retirement dates. Our social lives are disrupted. Our sports teams are on hiatus. Vacations are canceled.  Working at home can be annoying. We can’t go to our bars, restaurants, libraries and events. We avoid crowds. It will cost all of us money. Some of us businesses will fall behind. We might have to wait a day or week to find toilet paper or bread.

All of that is a sacrifice. We do it because we as a society cannot stand by and watch thousands or hundreds of thousands or more of our fellow Americans die when we could have done something.

But the burden of shared sacrifice does not fall on our shoulders equally.

Many people are losing jobs. The impact affects some of our most vulnerable neighbors – single parents, the disabled, the uneducated and the disadvantaged. It can have a ripple effect, resulting in lost homes, ruined families and hungry children. For some, it is a terrible setback. For others, it can be truly tragic. Fortunately, we have a safety net that will somewhat temper the impact. But the impact will still be greater than what most of us will face.

But the impact does not stop with those people. The impact on them might not even be the greatest.

Others are losing their lives’ work. Many thousands of small business owners are scared. These people took their lives’ savings and risked it. They have spent years or decades struggling to build their dream, investing their blood, sweat and tears. They have mortgages and rental payments, loans, personal guaranties, and costs even when they are shut down. They are concerned for their employees. They have sleepless nights over the decisions they have to make. They are concerned about their families’ futures. These are the people who provide us meals, care for our children, invest in our properties, run our hotels, and make and sell us stuff we need or want. Many of these people are the ones who are the first to donate time and money to our charities and support our communities.

These merchants and small business owners run the risk of the same personal tragedies as their employees. Owing far more money, they also run the risk of years of lawsuits for unpaid bills or even bankruptcy. Yet, although they personally lose so much more, government always seems to find a way to help workers and the big employers. The little guy is ignored.

Most of these people are supporting the new-normal policies that are wreaking havoc on their lives. They aren’t complaining. They understand the concept of sacrifice. They know that what is happening is right, even though it is affecting them more than most of us.

In turn, if we really all are in this together – if this is shared sacrifice – we need to find ways to support them. And we must acknowledge the magnitude of their sacrifices.

As FDR said when imploring Americans to support the war effort:

I know the American farmer, the American workman, and the American businessman. I know that they will gladly embrace this economy and equality of sacrifice, satisfied that it is necessary for the most vital and compelling motive in all their lives.

This current effort is a war. The enemy is unknown, unpredictable and deadly. We might differ on the tactics to fight this war. We might differ about how this will turn out. We might even differ (although it is harder and harder to rationally differ) about the need for this war. But it is here.

Despite our differences, we must all sacrifice to hasten this war’s end. And, we need to do what we can to support those who, right now, are bearing the greater burden. Ultimately, we need to have “equality of sacrifice.”

Maybe we can’t do anything to make our national and state leaders truly care. But we, individually on a local level, can. And we each individually need to find ways to turn that care into real, tangible support.

Thank you to everyone who is doing his or her part. I trust that we all will step up and do more.

Ivana’s Trunk

I have received many emails regarding Ivana’s Trunk. By this post, I am trying to answer the most common questions. If I am missing anything, please let me know.

I like Ivana’s Trunk. I have been in the store multiple times and bought a few things over the years. I hope it can find a way to survive.

However, as explained below, Ivana’s Trunk’s owner knew she was violating the law when she moved Ivana’s Trunk to its current location. And, contrary to what some of Ivana’s Trunk’s loudest supporters say, I have no magic wand that can turn Ivana’s Trunk’s code violations into compliance or that can waive those violations.

I am open to suggestions as to how to allow Ivana’s trunk to survive. However, whatever the City does, it needs to also ensure that it protects its integrity and integrity of its zoning enforcement, that it is even-handed and that it does not jeopardize its ability to enforce its zoning laws generally.

In every survey, and during elections, residents tell elected officials that there are all sorts of uses they do not want to see in Mequon. Any elected official who would advocate for 10 story buildings, check cashing stores, a flea market or a Goodwill superstore would be laughed out of office. Mequon keeps those things from happening through its zoning code. If Mequon decided to ignore its code in some instances, it would have legal trouble maintaining it in others.

I understand and respect that Ivana’s Trunk has many loyal customers. However, I think it is important, considering the amount of email I am getting, for people to have the facts.

Ivana’s Trunk Knew that It Could Not Operate in Its Current location When It Moved There.

Ivana’s Truck has been operating illegally at its location since taking occupancy in 2018 (over 18 months ago).  When the business owner sought to take occupancy of the current location, City staff informed the people representing the business that it was illegal to open the business there.  It moved there anyway.

Not only is Ivana’s Trunk current location impermissible, but it reportedly has been selling and storing things outside (an ordinance violation). In October, I received an email from a concerned resident who said:  “I personally have enjoyed going into Ivana’s Trunk on Port Washington Road.  However, I think all the ‘treasures/things’ outside are becoming an eyesore. At first just a few items, now it looks like a junk yard.”

Also, upon information and belief, Ivana’s Trunk has other building code violations. Ivana’s Trunk has not had plumbing, electrical or other required inspections.

Several years ago, Ivana’s Trunk did basically the same exact thing. It moved to a location in the Town Center without proper zoning. The City stretched the language of the zoning code (there was some gray area in the language for the Town Center’s Arrival Corridor) to allow it to stay there, knowing that the owner of the building was likely to tear the building down in the near future. Ivana’s Trunk also put-up illegal signs at that location, presumably knowing they were not allowed, and illegally stored and displayed materials outside.

Ivana’s Trunk, or its supporters, have tried to make it sound as if it is being picked on by the City. The opposite is true. It has repeatedly, and knowingly, violated the rules, assuming that the City would cave under pressure. Ivana’s Trunk has apparently taken the position that it is more fruitful to ask for forgiveness.

The City Has Given Ivana’s Trunk Over 1-1/2 Years to Fix Its Problem.

This is not a heavy-handed, quick enforcement action. The City could have shut Ivana’s Trunk down as soon as it moved to its current location. City staff did not. It gave Ivana’s Trunk time to move, or to pursue a zoning code change. As explained below, the City then undertook a review of the applicable zoning code provisions and told Ivana’s Trunk that it would wait on enforcement until that review was completed.

Resale Shops Have Been Illegal on Port Washington Road for Decades.

This is not a new issue. Resale shops have been illegal on Port Washington Road for 30 years or more. The City did not change the rules to prevent Ivana’s Trunk from staying in its location as some have suggested.

Under State Law, the City Cannot Grant a Variance to Allow Ivana’s Trunk to Stay in Its Current Location.

Some people have suggested that the City should grant Ivana’s trunk a variance. That is not allowed under Wisconsin law. Variances can be granted under some circumstances for technical or quantitative standards (e.g., the number of feet a building is setback, the size of a sign). However, a variance cannot be granted to allow an illegal use in a zoning district.

Under State Law, Ivana’s Trunk Cannot be “Grandfathered.”

Some people have suggested that Ivan’s Trunk should be “grandfathered.” Under state and local law,  grandfathered rights ONLY apply to businesses that were operating legally in a location before a code change. Ivana’s Trunk was never operating legally in this location.

Isn’t this Just Bureaucratic Rules-are-Rules Narrowmindedness?

I agree that government (on all levels) too often has a rules-are-rules, unthinking mindset. But this is not that. Government cannot just ignore laws if it ever hopes to enforce them. Government cannot just pick and choose winners and losers. It can exercise discretion in interpretation, but the law is very clear in this instance. There is no gray area. Government can be lenient in enforcement to minimize harm. Mequon has done that for over 1-1/2 years. And government can look at the rules and decide if they should be changed. See below. But it is wrong to just ignore the rules for one business and not for others. If the public wants the City to throw out the zoning code, or make it far less effective, it should say so.

In Light of Ivana’s Trunk’s Illegal Use, and Requests by Two Clothing Resellers, the Planning Commission and Common Council Extensively Reviewed Zoning for Resale Shops Over the Past Several Months.

There were public meetings regarding Mequon’s resale ordinances on the following dates:

Planning Commission                         October 7, 2019
Planning Commission                         November 11, 2019
Finance-Personnel Committee          January 14, 2020
Common Council                                  January 14, 2020
Special Meeting/Finance-
Personnel Committee                          January 22, 2020
Common Council                                  February 10, 2020

The City passed new ordinances allowing clothing and clothing accessory resale shops as conditional uses in the B-2 zoning district (Mequon’s general retail areas) and resale furniture and household merchandise, as well as architectural salvage, (the classifications uthat would cover Ivana’s Trunk) as conditional uses in the B-5 zoning district (light industrial).

Ivana’s Trunk appeared at one or two of the initial meetings; therefore, it knew about the review and had an opportunity to  make its preferences known. It was represented by an attorney. For some reason, it did not participate after those initial meetings, and did not ask its friends, who are now speaking up, to say anything during that process.

The Building in Which Ivana’s Trunk is Located is in the B-4 Zoning District, and the Planning Commission and Common Council Unanimously Decided Not to Include Resale Shops in the B-4 District.

For reasons that I do not fully understand, many years ago, the property on which Ivana’s Trunk is currently located was zoned B-4. B-4 is Mequon’s zoning for a business park. Uses that are allowed in a business park are professional offices, business offices and financial, insurance and real estate offices. The code has a list of compatible other uses that may be allowed as conditional uses in B-4. A retail resale shop is not listed.

At the meetings listed above, both the Planning Commission and the Common Council unanimously opted not to add resale shops to the list of compatible conditional uses in B-4. Not a single one of these 14 people moved to allow household resale shops in the B-4 district. They concluded that a resale shop would not be compatible in our business parks. In any of our true business parks, such a business would detract from the value and use of those parks.hey are not general retail areas or areas that cater in these kinds of goods.

While it is true that Ivana’s Trunk’s building does not make much sense as a “business park,” that is how it is zoned. If the owner desired, he could redevelop the property as a business park. He is allowed to put uses in the building that could go in a business park. Until Ivana’s Trunk, that is how he has been using it.

The property could be rezoned. That request should come from the property owner.

So, What Can Ivana’s Trunk Do?

Ivanna’s Trunk has three options:

  1. It could propose an amendment to Mequon’s zoning code to allow its use in the B-4 district. There is a few for such a “text amendment.” Considering the process that the Planning Commission and the Common Council just went through, that might not be a productive option.
  2. It could ask its landlord to seek to rezone the property from B-4 to B-5. There would be a great deal of community opposition to having light industrial in that location on Port Washington Road. Moreover, I expect that the landlord has other plans for that property.
  3. It could find a location in the B-5 district and move there.

Ivana’s Trunk took a big risk when it moved to a location where it clearly is not allowed. The City has done what it can and should both to give Ivana’s Trunk time and to review its policies.

Rule of Law?

“A government of laws, not of men.” – John Adams

As Mequon mayor, I need to follow the law. It is hard to imagine anyone differing with that. Lately, however, I have received many emails from residents saying that it is my job to stop the city from “harassing” a popular business that knowingly and flagrantly broke (and continues to break) the law.

I cannot, and should not be able to, assert myself in a way that keeps the law from being followed. I can seek to have the city review whether the current law is good (I have done that and will continue to do so). I can even seek to ask staff to find reasonable approaches to enforcing the law. But I cannot just ignore the law or stop employees from enforcing it. I do not have that authority (they do not report to me), and should not have that authority.

I note, without getting into the details (this is not the right time or place), that city officials have given the aggrieved business owner many months to solve the problem.

I am not a “rules are rules” guy who believes that rules should be reflexively and strictly enforced regardless of the circumstances. Stupid things are done by government too often when government treats everything as black and white.

On the other hand, we are supposed to be law-abiding, and government makes a mockery of the law when it selectively enforces in ways that do not put everyone on an equal footing.

This situation made me think: where do people get the idea that I (or any elected official) can just make the law up as I go?

I think this has become far too prevalent in our country.

Certainly, on a national basis, too many voters have come to believe that the president is all-powerful. One presidential candidate says that “[f]ossil fuel executives should be criminally prosecuted for the destruction they have knowingly caused.” He does not seem to much care about whether any laws have been broken. That same candidate proposes to ignore federal laws and “legalize marijuana in the first 100 days with executive action.”

Presidents (and presidential candidates) now believe they make the laws. They believe they are immune from being prosecuted from breaking the law. They believe they are above Congress and the courts.

Sometimes governors and even legislatures seem un-restrained by the law.

I do not want to weigh-in publicly on whether the policies any federal or state candidate or official espouses are good ideas. Or even if they have the authority they claim. That is not my job.

But the idea that government can ignore process and make up the rules outside of the formal law-making process seems to be trickling down from the federal government to the states to local government. And amazingly, too many voters not only accept it but encourage it.

It is a terrible trend. I will not go there as mayor and will do everything I can (within my very limited authority) to ensure that Mequon does not follow that trend.

Stairs to Nowhere?

About a year ago, I heard that the County planned to put stairs to the lakefront at Virmond Park (Virmond is a county, not city park). A few days ago, I saw this post on Facebook.

Virmond Stairs

So, I followed up with one of our fine County Supervisors to see when this would be completed.

I learned that the County did not allocate sufficient funds for the project, so it will only be going part way down the bluff and end at an outlook. This was an odd decision by the County Board. In life, half a loaf is often better than no loaf, but I am not quite sure what was accomplished here. The lake can be viewed from the top of the bluff. Maybe I am missing something, but I expected that the benefit of the stairs would be to reach the lake.

I also know of no effort to raise private funds to complete the shortfall.

I do not have much interaction with most of our County Board members. I expect you do not either. However, residents of the City of Mequon pay a disproportionate share of the  taxes collected by the County. When something impacts our community, we should know about it. I did not know that the project started, or that it would not be completed. There should be better communication between our levels of government. I am going to make that a priority.

Alpine Village and Port Zedler Motel to be Torn Down

Preserving the past is a great thing, but sometimes things are beyond saving. The City has issued a raze order for Alpine Village and a raze or repair order (which is likely to result in razing) for Port Zedler Motel. I have fiond memories of Alpine Village and, although I never stayed in Port Zedler, it will be missed as a quaint part of our history. However, both buildings have been neglected to the point that they have become eyesores, unsafe and economically unsalvagable.


How Does Mequon Determine the Day and Time for Trick-or-Treat?

Multi-ethnic group of children in halloween costumes

Someone asked me tonight how the City determines when Trick-or-Treat occurs. Years ago, there was no consistency. Residents urged the Council to create some consistency. In 2009, the Common Council passed a resolution that provides:

When Halloween occurs on a Saturday or Sunday, the citywide time for Trick-or-Treat shall be on the day of Halloween from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. When Halloween occurs on a Friday, the citywide time for Trick-or-Treat shall be on the day of Halloween from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. In all other instances, the citywide Trick-or-Treat shall be on the Sunday preceding Halloween from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The preceding policy shall not be interpreted to preclude subdivisions, neighborhoods, streets, civic or business organizations and other groups from establishing other dates, times and guidelines for Trick-or-Treat. The City of Mequon’s Public Welfare Committee may alter the date and time of the citywide Trick-or-Treat in any year when other events conflict with the foregoing times or for other reasons.

The thought was:

  • Except for Fridays, too many kids have after-school activities, and too many adults are not home on weekdays until after 6:00, so Monday through Thursday do not work.
  • Sunday is the better default day because people are often gone on Saturdays.
  • 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday is usually after the Packers game, plus that time range puts half the time in daylight for little kids and some time after dark for bigger kids.

The City should consider getting rid of Saturday Trick-or-Treat because some kids are precluded from participating due to the Sabbath.

Interviews to Fill District 6 Vacancy

This coming Tuesday, October 22, at 6:00 p.m., the Common Council, sitting as the Committee of the Whole, will meet to interview the candidates for alderman for District 6. There are three candidates (click here for resumes and other information):

  • Carol Leonard, 1430 West Donges Bay Road (resident since 2008; managed care administrator; and Chair of the Joint Mequon-Thiensville Bike & Pedestrian Way Commission)
  • Richard Mueller, 10529 West Burning Bush Lane (resident since 2000; pharmacist; and President of Bayberry Fields Subdivision)
  • Brian Parrish, 1824 West Sunnydale Lane (resident since 2012; commercial real estate broker and business owner; and member of the Planning Commission)

There was a fourth candidate, but he decided to withdraw his name.

Thank you to these people for stepping forward. From what I know of the three candidates, the City will be well-served no matter who is selected.

Interviews. Interviews will be in alphabetical order. After a few opening remarks, I will ask Messrs. Mueller and Parrish to leave the room. The Common Council will then interview Ms. Leonard. After Ms. Leonard is done, she will be asked to join the others, and Mr. Mueller will be interviewed. Mr. Parrish will follow. I expect, based on past experience, that each interview will last about 30 minutes. However, the interviews could take more or less time.  After all three candidates have been interviewed, they may come back into Christine Nuernberg Hall.

Public Comments. After the interviews, members of the public will be allowed to speak. In the past when the Council has interviewed to fill a vacancy, there have been no public comments; however, this time there appears to be an interest. We always allow the public to comment on any matter before the Council or its Committees, and this will be no different, except that we will limit the time and number of speakers because we have a very long night of meetings following this interviewing process. To be heard, a member of the public who wishes to speak should fill-in a registration slip. Slips  will be available in the back of the Hall. I will allot an equal amount of time for speakers supporting each candidate. When the allotted time for a candidate’s supporters is done, there will be no more speakers for the candidate and I will read the names and addresses of the remaining people supporting the candidate. There is an alternative. If you want to ensure that your opinion is considered, you can send an email to the City Clerk by clicking here. All emails will be provided to the Council. Public opinion is always important; however, the number of people showing up for a particular candidate or the number of emails received should not weigh heavily into this process. The number of people will be infinitesimal compared to the number of voters in the district and certainly will not be representative of the district. Instead, the Common Council should be seeking to choose the person who will best represent the district. The public will make the real decision at a special election in April.

Voting. The Committee will then vote. If there is a majority for one candidate at the end of the first vote, that candidate will be recommended to the Common Council. If not, there will be a subsequent rounds of voting. After the first round, if a candidate receives only 1 or 0 votes in a round, the candidate will not be included in the next round. When a candidate receives a majority, the voting will end and she or he will be recommended to the Council.  I do not vote except in the case of a tie.

At the regular meeting on Tuesday, November 12, the Common Council will vote to confirm the candidate recommended through the process described above.

CPR Saves Lives: a City of Mequon Proclamation In Appreciation of JEFFREY ZILISCH

I presented this proclamation at last night’s Common Council meeting:

On Monday, August 5, 2019, Mequon resident Jeffrey Zilisch heard a commotion at a nearby residence and went out of his way to go to help. He found Mequon resident Timothy Ridley in cardiac arrest. Mr. Zilisch promptly commenced cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while Mr. Ridley’s wife Jill called Mequon Dispatch.

Mequon dispatcher Leah Heimsch took the call and promptly engaged her supervisor, Melina Bowen. The dispatchers utilized Mequon’s Emergency Medical Dispatch software to assist Mr. Zilisch and to coach him in the correct rate of compressions. Their prompt and professional assistance under pressure was instrumental in Mr. Ridley’s survival.

Mequon Police Officer Jason Moertl, the first responder to the scene, applied his Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to Mr. Ridley and delivered a shock as indicated by the AED. Mr. Zilisch and Officer Moertl continued CPR until Mequon Fire and Ambulance First Responder Joshua Lipp arrived on scene and took over CPR and switched Mr. Ridley over to the advanced cardiac monitor.

Mr. Lipp and the rest of the responding team, Greg Gilles, Jacob Evaska, Robert Bell, Quantavious Tucker and Deputy Chiefs Dave Depies and Kurt Zellmann delivered another three shocks after rounds of CPR. After the fourth shock, Mr. Ridley’s heart restarted. As Mr. Ridley was being moved to the stretcher, his heart stopped again, and CPR was resumed and one more shock delivered. The fifth shock was the last one needed and Mr. Ridley was placed in the ambulance for emergency transport.

We should be very proud of our dispatchers, Officer Moertl and our fire and ambulance personnel who responded. They performed in a manner that is a credit to our city, their departments and themselves. Nationally, only about 5% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims survive.

However, resident Jeffrey Zilisch deserves special recognition. If not for his selfless, quick and heroic response, Mr. Ridley would not be with us today. Each year, more than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States. CPR can double or even triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival, and for every minute that a victim is without CPR, his or her chance of survival drops by 10%. Unfortunately, bystanders perform CPR only about 37% of the time. Mr. Zilisch did the right thing and started the process that saved Mr. Ridley’s life. Mr. Zilisch provided an example for all of us and a tangible reminder that we all should obtain basic CPR instruction.

In consideration of the foregoing, on behalf of the citizens of the City of Mequon, I proclaim that today, September 10, 2019, is Jeffrey Zilisch Day in the City of Mequon.

Community Wide Survey Results Are In!

East GrowthThe survey results are in. Click here to see them. Some of the results are interesting. Most are expected. That’s good. About 3,800 of us returned the survey. That is about the same as six years ago. 

The survey is another way the City seeks your input. It will be a good guide for us for the next few years.

Which result surprises you the most?




[UPDATED August 26, 2019]

For years, I have heard people say that Mequon needs more restaurants.  Heck, I have said that also.

However, in reality, I doubt there is another community our size with so many places to eat. Here is the list I put together (let me know if I missed any). I originally published this list in April of 2017, and this is the second time I have updated it. The list excludes our four grocery store delis, two private country clubs and gas stations like KwikTrip that sell sandwiches. Of course, we can always use more!

  1. Anodyne Coffee
  2. Bavette La Boucherie
  3. Beans & Barley
  4. Bowls
  5. Café 1505
  6. Café Corazon
  7. Café Hollander
  8. Chancery Pub & Restaurant
  9. China Buffet
  10. Colectivo Coffee
  11. Crave
  12. Culver’s
  13. Dairy Queen
  14. Dominoe’s Pizza
  15. Einstein Bros Bagels
  16. Ferrante’s
  17. Fiddleheads
  18. First Watch
  19. Happy Dough Lucky
  20. Harvey’s Central Grill
  21. Highland House
  22. Hong Anh Palace
  23. Jimmy Johns
  24. Jodi’s 19th Tee at Mee-kwon Park
  25. Landmark
  26. Leonardo’s Pizza Parlour
  27. Libby Montana
  28. McDonald’s
  29. Mequon Pizza Company
  30. Mr. B’s
  31. Nines American Bistro
  32. Noodles & Company
  33. Panera Bread
  34. Pizza Hut/Wing Street
  35. Purple Door Ice Cream
  36. Range Line Inn
  37. Ruby Tap
  38. St. Paul’s Fish Market
  39. Santorini Grill
  40. Screaming Tuna
  41. Sobelmans Pub N Grill Mequon
  42. Spanky’s Hideaway
  43. Starbucks
  44. Subway
  45. Taco Bell
  46. The Fox Den
  47. Vietnamese Noodles
  48. Wooden Goose Café
  49. Yummy’s
  50. Zaffiro’s
  51. Zarletti

Additionally, Thiensville has another 10 places:

  1. Baree, The
  2. Cheel, The
  3. Chuck’s Place
  4. Cousin’s
  5. Downtown Pizza
  6. Falafel Guys
  7. Fiddleheads
  8. Prime Minister Family Restaurant
  9. Remington’s River Inn
  10. Skippy’s Burger Bar

The variety is fairly extraordinary: fine dining, family, sports bar, a public market and fast food places.  Note also that less than 20% of these restaurants are national chains.

Mequon and Thiensvile collectively have about 27,000 people, and there are 61 places to eat (excluding the four grocery store delis, two country clubs and KwikTrip). That means there is about one restaurant for every 440 people.

Plus, the Foxtown development will soon have a couple of places to eat.

Bon Appetit.

(Please let me know if I missed any.)

Highland Road Interchange

The state funded I-43 reconstruction in the most recent biennium budget. As part of that, the Mequon interchanges would be reconstructed, at least according to the most recent plans, and an interchange would be added at Highland Road. Of course, adding a project to a budget and actually completing it are two different thngs and, in all probability, changes will be made; however, it is never too early to start planning.

Many people express concerns that, from what they hear, an interchange could not fit at Highland Road because of the railroad tracks and existing uses. Here is a depiction of the interchange prepared by Wisconsin Department of Transportation engineers:

highland road interchange

Rest in Peace, Brian Schneider

I have waited to post anything because I wanted to make sure friends and family were first notified. Tragically, Alderman Brian Schneider passed away yesterday.

Brian was devoted to his sons and fiancée Renee. They are in my prayers. He contributed greatly to youth sports and stepped forward to serve Mequon as an alderman and candidate. He wanted to make our community a better place. I am saddened for his sons and Renee and by the loss of a passionate life cut far too short.Schneider3

The New Planning Commission Policy Subcommittee: the Future of Port Washington Road

East GrowthOn Monday, the Planning Commission’s Policy Subcommittee will have its first meeting. I appointed the Subcommittee because the Planning Commission has been spending most of its time reviewing applications and, often, failing to review the policies that underly those applications. Mequon’s developments and planning are only as good as the policies and ordinances the Planning Commission and Common Council apply.

Mequon has a reputation for being difficult. I have long believed part of that reputation is based on a failure to listen to the market, state to the market what is allowed and then consistently following through and approving consistently with that message – no less, and no more.

Among the Subcommittee’s highest priorities will be a review of land use on Port Washington Road.

To start the process rolling, I state below what I would allow on Port Washington Road (subject to results of the citywide survey and the Subcommittee finishing its work). Being so forthright is risky. It is easier for an elected official to keep opinions hidden and stay “flexible” so as not to rile up people. I think that is the wrong approach.

During the recent mayoral campaign, I stated the following:

With the completion of the East Trunk sewer project, there will be pressure to develop north along the Port Washington Road corridor. I will initiate a comprehensive review of that entire corridor. I share many residents’ concerns over retail creeping north, vacant stores, traffic and some recent architecture. Much of the northern portion of the corridor can and should remain residential. Whatever happens there needs to be done correctly, both to avoid sprawl and to ensure that the southern part of the corridor does not suffer. The vitality of that southern portion is important to both the vitality of our community and to our tax base.

I am not changing my position now that the election is over. We need this process.

The City commissioned a market study for the area along Port Washington Road north of Highland Road in mid-2013. That study suggested a lot of changes – four-plus story buildings, multi-family housing, tax incentives, significant public infrastructure expenditures and high-intensity development. The study said the most likely and best developments would be four-story hotels, a sporting or other entertainment venue, some office and apartments. It said that there would be limited demand for manufacturing and cautioned that it would require many thousands of new residents in the vicinity, or destination centers, for retail to work without it cannibalizing existing retail. The report effectively suggested another area as intense as the Town Center, just different.

From what I heard during the campaign, and during my years as an alderman before the campaign, I do not think that is what most Mequon residents want.

If I am proven wrong by the citywide survey, so be it. I will adjust my approach. However, until I learn that Mequon wants that kind of intensity, I will not support it.

I believe that we have adequate retail areas. The city needs those areas to thrive. We should encourage redevelopment in those areas to meet additional needs.

If I were a one-man committee, here is what I would suggest for Port Washington Road:

  • Encourage redevelopment of tired properties, particularly on the southern end of the road.
  • Direct most intense uses to the areas between County Line and Mequon Road.
  • Allow in-fill south of West Glen Oaks Lane similar in intensity, height and size as the surrounding retail and business properties (with the west side of the road being less intense).
  • Except for a couple of acres on the corner of Port Washington and Highland Roads (which could be neighborhood commercial, a restaurant or an office building), keep the west side of Port Washington Road zoned single-family residential from Highland Road to just south of Pioneer Road. The residential would be ¾ or one-acre density, in conservation-style subdivisions. These would be great subdivisions, particularly considering the amount of undevelopable land that would stay open.
  • Allow the market to dictate the east side of Port Washington Road from Highland Road to just south of Pioneer Road, but exclude retail uses, large apartment buildings and uses similar to retail (e.g., hotels). Missing Links is great there. That area would be a fine location for another Newcastle Place, senior housing (not to exceed two or three stories), duplex or townhouse condominiums, light industrial, medical or office. Some of the deeper parcels might even be appropriate for single-family housing.
  • Allow a limited neighborhood commercial or business park node near the on-ramp for I-43 at Pioneer Road.
  • Keep uses so that Port Washington Road, north of Highland Road, remains a two-lane road for the foreseeable future.

It is worth noting that there are hundreds of acres of wetlands along Port Washington Road that will never be developed. That is good. It provides open space.

In my opinion, this would be a realistic plan. Details would need to be worked out. For example, I believe that we need decent architectural guidelines for the area to avoid some of the more controversial buildings that have been built on Port Washington Road in recent years.

However, this plan would enable property owners to utilize their properties while not creating problems, exploding our population or cannibalizing existing uses. Coupled with the hundreds of acres of wetlands, it would be consistent with the character of Mequon. The development of the Highland Road interchange will further assist with traffic issues, particularly south of Highland Road. Sewer and water would either be extended, or property owners might be allowed to develop their properties under this plan using on-site facilities with the expectation that they would hook-up when sewer is extended.

Unless and until the comprehensive study or the citywide survey dictates something else, developers have the existing zoning or they can apply for rezoning along the lines described above. Until then, I will oppose rezoning applications that are inconsistent with the above-described plan.

Hopefully, this gives the Subcommittee, and the public generally, a starting point for discussion.

Future of Our Fire Department


Mequon has maintain an excellent paid-on-call and paid-for-service fire department with qualified, dedicated fire and ambulance personnel. However, considering the difficulties many paid-on-call and volunteer departments have in attracting and retaining members, and our changing demographics, it is imperative to be proactive in planning for continued success.

I have appointed a seven-member committee to take a comprehensive look at what other communities’ successful departments are doing and to examine what we are doing. The committee is charged with examining ways to optimize the future viability of our fire and ambulance services.

Safety services should always be our highest priority.

I tried to balance the committee to ensure that it comprehensively analyzes options. I want more than rehashed political and staff opinions. I appointed the most experienced Common Council member and one of the newer members; had the Chief appoint one member; had the department’s Association appoint another; and appointed three members with little City involvement (fresh perspectives) but excellent skills and professional experience.

The Committee includes:

Ald. Dale Mayr (Chair)
Ald. Brian Schneider
Deputy Chief Kurt Zellmann
Rick Lemke (Mequon Fire/EMS Association)
Melissa Bleidorn
Kirsten Hildebrand
Lynn Streeter

Thank You, Sen. Darling

Darling-AlbertaTonight, the Joint Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Alberta Darling, fixed its earlier proposal by including cities in the one-time appropriation proposed yesterday (the overall one-time appropriation is at a lower dollar amount than proposed yesterday). They also included money for reconstruction of I-43.

All Republicans other than Sen. Dewey Stroebel voted yes. All Democrats voted no. The difference between the parties was over what kind of tax should be increased to fix roads. Democrats favor higher gas taxes. Republicans, who control the legislature, favor higher registration and similar fees.

Sen. Stroebel voted no presumably because he opposed the spending on roads.

This is a long way from done. The vote among Republicans in the Senate will be close.

Then, even if it gets out of the legislature, it is unclear what Gov. Evers will do. The appropriations are similar to his original proposal, but he presumably opposes the Republicans’ plan for paying for it. Plus, this will be part of a comprehensive budget, There clearly are far bigger differences between the parties over other parts of the budget.

Thsi will be a long summer in Madison.

Sen. Darling & Sen. Stroebel: Don’t You Love Our “Town”?


Mequon has a Town Center, but Mequon is not really a town. And that is a problem.

The legislature is debating the transportation budget. The budget will establish the state’s transportation spending for the next two years. Over the past few years, the legislature has received criticism for arguably not appropriating enough money for roads.

Today, in response to that criticism, 10 State Senators (including Senators Darling and Stroebel) proposed a $130 million one-time transportation aid package for “local government.” But, they define “local government” strangely. Their proposal is only for towns and counties. Cities and villages, like Mequon and Thiensville, are not towns. They would get nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Mequon already over-subsidizes the county, and in turn towns.

Mequon has only 27% of Ozaukee’s population but pays 40% of the county’s taxes. That is concerning enough. But the county does not use that money equitably among communities. Instead, the county pays part of the way for towns (like the Town of Cedarburg and the Town of Grafton). Towns do not have to provide all of the services cities and villages are required to provide. The county does it for them.

A double whammy – Mequon subsidizes towns twice.  We subsidize towns’ tax collections to the county, and then the county uses Mequon’s overpayment of taxes to subsidize towns’ services.

So, why are Mequon’s senators giving another subsidy to towns? I have theories, but I will let them explain themselves.

If the state is going to help local governments, perhaps it could do it based on the amounts paid. Or population. Or some other across-the-board method.

Or, perhaps, our state representatives should be more concerned about the roads that are the state’s responsibility. My friends in city government might not like that idea – they would like the extra money. And some communities have done such a poor job maintaining their roads that they are way behind, so now they are scrambling for more money

For example (and it is only one example), the state is responsible for I-43. The I-43 corridor between Silver Spring Drive and Grafton was built in the mid-1950s and mid-1960s, and is a main artery for Wisconsin commerce and tourism. On average, more than 75,000 vehicles travel this section of I-43 daily, making it the highest volume 4-lane freeway corridor in Wisconsin. By 2040, traffic on parts of the corridor is expected to increase 32%. This means travel times will become increasingly unreliable, impacting commuters and businesses alike. Clearly, I-43’s age, increasing deterioration and growing congestion are putting motorists at risk and limiting economic development. Crash rates are higher than the statewide average for similar urban freeway segments. Continuing to simply resurface this roadway will result in throw-away costs, perpetual orange barrels in the corridor and motorist inconvenience, while doing nothing to solve the safety, congestion and structural issues.

The I-43 ramp at Highland Road is an urgent need that has widespread support in our community. It will reduce street traffic, making the need for road expansions in communities less pressing, and aid in economic development. The state should fulfill its commitment for the ramp before doling out additional dollars to make towns happy.

Now is the time to move forward with the I-43 reconstruction project. Every year the project is delayed, an estimated $9 million is added to the project’s cost due to inflation, and motorists continue to bear a congestion tax of about $8 million a year.

This is not the only state road issue that should be resolved. The state should get its own house in order before handing out more local money.

Senators Darling and Stroebel, the reconstruction of I-43 would be good for our town . . . errr . . . city.

The Joint Finance Committee will be voting on the transportation budget tomorrow. Let Senators Darling and Stroebel and other state officials know what you think.


Memorial Day 2019

Memorial Day 2019 BMemorial Day 2019


As Mayor, I am privileged to say a few words after the Legion Post’s parade in honor of those who have made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom. Here is what I said today:


May 27, 2019

Remarks by John Wirth at the Mequon-Thiensville Memorial Day Observation

America’s first official Memorial Day observance – then called Decoration Day after the practice of decorating graves – occurred shortly after the Civil War. At that first official observance, the keynote address was made by Congressman James Garfield, Garfield was a former Civil War general and later an assassinated President.

Looking out over Arlington National Cemetery, Garfield recognized the futility in any speech trying to do justice to the personal sacrifice made by our country’s fallen soldiers, saying:

I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung.

But Garfield also recognized the appropriateness of recognizing the nature of that sacrifice. He said, in words more beautiful than any I can come up with, that the dead:

[S]ummed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.

Although Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember and say thank you, it should serve a greater purpose. As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” We must “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

We can regret the lives cut short by war and the families destroyed. But if we stop there, we have missed the point of their lives and their deaths.

The examples of these heroes reinforce the worth of heroism. Their patriotism reminds us to love our country. Their service should prompt us to serve our own communities. Their selflessness teaches that a life worth living is one that puts the greater good ahead of personal gain and comfort. Their ultimate sacrifice in protecting us should remind us to protect those who cannot protect themselves. And their deaths in the pursuit of freedom and liberation should challenge us to fight against those outside and inside our country who are willing to take away rights and freedoms, whether here or abroad.

In these ways, we honor those who, with their deaths, made the down payment for our freedoms.

Thank you to our veterans, living and dead, and God Bless America.

Fiction v. Fact

Friends and Neighbors:

I have avoided responding to my opponent’s emails, believing that Mequon voters can see through the tactics. But the factual misstatements are accelerating. He can have his own opinions, but not his own facts. Mequon deserves a mayor who knows fact from fiction. These are just a few examples:

My opponent says “Since the city must spend the remaining $7 million of the $12 million in TIF funds Wirth approved on improvements for the Town Center, why not an underpass to solve both the connectivity and safety issues of crossing Mequon Road?”

The city has no obligation to spend any of that money. It is like a line of credit – it is there if it is needed. If it is not used, it will ultimately go toward tax relief. The Council voted on the amendment to fulfill state law requirements necessary to be prepared for possible projects and uses. The city has not appropriated the $7 million or borrowed the $7 million. It is concerning that my opponent did not understand what was happening when he voted on this.

My opponent says that the 425+ people who have endorsed my campaign are “the same cast of characters who show up at Common Council meetings disparaging the businesses Wirth opposes.”

I do not oppose businesses. I opposed the location of one business. I have helped dozens of businesses cut through government red tape. There is a reason my endorsement list includes seven past presidents of the Mequon-Thiensville Chamber of Commerce, and why a variety of other local business owners have endorsed me through that the list. The list is truly bipartisan, filled with Republicans and Democrats, and reflects the demographics of Mequon. See the list by clicking here. It is unfortunate my opponent regularly disparages this large group of Mequon citizens. I do not disparage his supporters. We are one community.

My opponent says “Wirth opposes the Mequon Road underpass idea, citing his exaggerated cost estimate of $4.5 million to $8 million.”

Click here for the candidate forum and go to 1:03. My opponent, not I, estimated that the tunnel will cost $5 million to $6 million. Independent engineers have suggested it will be more because of a 30″ sewer pipe at 14′ deep set on blocks, a 6″ water main, private utilities (gas, electric, cable), bad soils, the need to acquire extensive private property and easements, ADA, the need to reinforce the railroad, Mequon’s severe drainage issues, and on and on. Even using my opponent’s numbers, that is an incredibly expensive project. It is hard to imagine how someone who opposes TIF wants to borrow that much money through the TIF to resolve an issue that can be resolved equally well at a much lower cost.

My opponent says, “Since the Town Center was initially approved in 2008, the school district has not attended meetings, added input, nor voted on anything regarding the Town Center.”

Every year since the Tax Incremental District was approved (2008), the school district has sent a voting representative to the Joint Review Board, the body that reviews the Town Center’s TIF. In 2018, over the course of two meetings, the Joint Review Board, including the school district representative, approved the $12 million amendment my opponent describes. That happened while my opponent was an alderman. He should know about it.

My opponent: “Wirth states, ‘[The Mequon Road Underpass] is more than Mequon has spent on all Town Center improvements.’ Either Attorney Wirth is 100% dishonest or he can’t do basic math. In 2008 he approved $9 million for Town Center improvements. After exhausting that he voted for an additional $12-15 million and quickly gave $4.95 million to his cronies at Foxtown. Do the math, John. That’s $13.95 million and counting.”

The amount approved in 2008 was $7 million, not $9 million. Only about 2/3 of that money was used for improvements. The balance was used for development incentives. 2/3 of $7 million is less than his estimate of $5-6 million. I am not dishonest, and I am pretty good at math.

My opponent states that I opposed adding honesty requirements.

I assisted Alderman Gierl, the proponent of the “honesty” provision, to pass two separate ordinances, one that applies to employees and one that applies to employees and elected and unelected officials. Together, they enable the city to exercise the strongest remedies for dishonesty allowed under Wisconsin law. The meeting minutes, in connection with one of the ordinances, provide: “Alderman Gierl stated this was a long time coming and that this is a great addition to the City of Mequon.”  Alderman Gierl supported both ordinances. Read more by clicking here.

My opponent says that “the city has been running a structural deficit for the last six years transferring money from the general fund to hide its deficits. Abendroth and Wirth have been the big proponents of this scheme and the fund balance is now extremely low.”

The General Fund Balance is not low. It is within the guidelines that the city first set about a decade ago. The General Fund Balance is nothing more than the account in which city surpluses are put each year. Through careful resource management, the city almost always has a surplus. The city attempts to keep this balance in an amount equal to 10% of 12% of annual operating expenses. When the accumulated balance exceeds 10%, the city may use it for tax relief in future years. He should know that. He voted to affirm that policy in June of 2018. You can see the policy by clicking here (got to page 4). The transfers described have occurred for decades. The annual budget is always balanced. There are no actual deficits.

My opponent says that “[his tunnel] is better than wasting $1 million on a Gateway Feature that would have been under eight feet of water two weeks ago.”

The city has offered to spend $150,000 toward the cost of the Gateway Feature. The rest would be paid for by private donations, most of which has been committed, and a $50,000 contribution from Thiensville. He knows the city will not contribute if private money is not raised, and he knows the total cost would not be $1 million. In a prior inaccurate email, he said it would be $864,000. And he knew that was untrue when he threw that number out there. He and I (and all other members of the Council) voted to reject bids in that amount only two days before he sent that prior email. Moreover, the proposed location of the Gateway Feature was not under water.

Don’t just read what the candidates write. Judge for yourself by watching or listening to the candidates side-by-side at this week’s forum. You can see it by clicking here (the substance starts just after the 10 minute mark).

I am happy to respond to anything else my opponent throws out there. Feel free to contact me.

Together, we can keep taxes low and have excellent police, fire and ambulance departments, maintain roads, improve the city’s other services and facilities, create more of a sense of community, support our schools and plan for Mequon’s future.

If you think city government generally does a good job, and the city is a great place to live and work, I ask for your vote.  

City Honesty Policy

My opponent tries to make the city’s honesty policies a wedge issue to make me look bad. He either does not know what he is talking about or is intentionally distorting the facts.

Before I was elected in 2016, while I was voluntarily out of office, Ald. Gierl (my opponent’s ally) convinced the Common Council to add an honesty provision to the city’s personnel code. It was already implicit in the code, but it was still a good idea.

He later decided that the policy in the personnel code did not have enough teeth. He decided that he wanted to add something to the city’s ethics code.

Ald, Gierl was still trying to get an honesty provision added to the ethics code when I rejoined the Council in 2016. Trying to work with him, in May of 2016, I came up with an ethics code provision that I thought would work. He liked my language. The Public Welfare Committee recommended approval of my language. Click here for the meeting minutes.  

We at first were all in agreement that we wanted comments from the Ethics Board. In July of 2016, the Ethics Board gave some preliminary comments but reviewed the wrong language. Mr. Gierl did not want to hear more from the Ethics Board. Ald, Mayr and I insisted. Click here for the meeting minutes.

The Ethics Committee did not think that was the appropriate place for the provision. They wanted the ethics code to mirror the state ethics code, where they had precedent to look to in fulfilling their duties, and did not want to be the arbiter in deciding what is true or not true, particularly between elected officials. They did not want to be a political tool. The Ethics Board rules on non-subjective issues. More importantly, under state law, the Ethics Board would have no authority to do anything if it found that someone violated such an honesty provision. It would have been a toothless remedy.

Click here for the Ethics Board memo. My opponent says he wants to rely on city volunteer boards’ recommendations. Apparently not this one.

Even in light of the Ethics Board recommendation, I moved to have the code change go to the Council in August. Click here for the meeting minutes. Staff did not put it on the Council agenda as my motion, seconded by Ald, Gierl, required.

Instead, staff brought the language back to the Public Welfare Committee. I persisted in supporting the idea of trying to ensure that we are committed to honesty.

In August, Ald, Gierl and I changed direction, agreeing that this did not necessarily need to be in the ethics code, but something needed to occur. We asked staff to come up with some remedies for dishonesty. Click here for the meeting minutes.

 In September, we decided to create a two-track process – one ordinance change to the personnel code and a second ordinance to ensure there was a method to review the dishonesty or other bad acts of any elected or appointed official or any employee. I made the motion, and Ald. Gierl seconded the motion!  He agreed to remove the request to change the ethics code and instead go on this new path. Click here to read the September 2016 minutes.

In November 2016, we worked on the language. Ald. Gierl agreed with my proposals. He seconded my motion. Click here to read those minutes.

We continued in December and were in full agreement. Click here to read those minutes.

Through the process, we (the Public Welfare Committee – Ald. Gierl, another alderman and I) toughened the personnel code.  When that was passed by the Common Council in January 2017, Ald. Gierl was happy. As stated in the minutes, “Alderman Gierl stated this was a long time coming and that this is a great addition to the City of Mequon.”

Also at the January 2017 Council meeting, the Council added our language to the Code  ensuring that two Council members could put anything on the agenda, This would allow the Council to censure an alderman (the only thing that can be done under state law) or review anyone else’s conduct.

I worked with Ald. Gierl. I helped him get what he wanted – a clear ordinance that allows the disciplining of staff for dishonest conduct or for retaliation and a process in which the Council (the only body that can under state law discipline an elected official) can review anyone’s misconduct.


Wirth Works to Keep Taxes Low

I have been accused of a lot in this campaign. Despite the falsity of the accusations, I have generally not responded, trusting that Mequon voters have the good sense to see through the tactics. It is sad that each election becomes more outrageous than the last.

I will briefly address one recent accusation – I supposedly am a big spender. That’s odd, because they are also accusing me of not spending enough (without saying what they would cut).

I am not the candidate proposing millions and millions of dollars of new spending without a plan for paying for it. My opponent says he will pay for it from new development but, no matter what kind of development occurs, it takes years and costs go up in the meantime.

Don’t just read what the candidates write. Judge for yourself by watching or listening to the candidates side-by-side at this week’s forum. You can see it by clicking here (the substance starts just after the 10 minute mark).Tax Freeze

In 12 of the 15 years I have been an alderman, the tax rate passed by the Council has either stayed the same or gone down. I proposed, wrote and saw passage of a tax levy freeze that limited our taxes long before the state imposed limits.

Here is a chart that shows what city tax rates have done over the 18 years since I was first elected:

Tax Rate History
The blue line is the actual rate. The reddish-orange line adjusts the rate based on two reassessments. The other two lines show the effect of inflation from two separate sources. No matter how you slice it, our rate has gone down during that period. What other community has done better?

Yes, in three of the 18 years, we had modest tax increases. This past year is a good example. Both my opponent and I voted for the increase, yet he criticized me for it in a flyer. You likely did not notice the increase. But it helped improve our police and fire departments, started a process to improve our inspections department, provided money for a park plan and paid for some additional maintenance. My opponent acted responsibly in voting for those measures (it is okay to agree with an opponent). So was I.

I am the candidate with the proven record of financial responsibility.

Together, we can keep taxes low and have excellent police, fire and ambulance departments, maintain roads, improve the city’s other services and facilities, create more of a sense of community and plan for Mequon’s future.

If you think the community is generally a great place, I ask for your vote.

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