News & Editorial Archives, 2010-2012

Kittling Fundraiser Donates $400 To Local Cat Shelter
December 24, 2012

On Friday the 21st of December, I was very proud to hand Carolyn of the New Life Cat Rescue a check for $400.00.  This year was the most successful Kittling Brusky Memorial Fundraiser ever, topping last year's total by nearly forty dollars.

Since Kittling passed away in November of 2009, her memorial fundraiser has raised over $1,000 for local, volunteer, non-profit cat shelters.  Many people have donated over the years, but some of the key donors I'd like to mention are Jodi Breault, Bob & Carol Butt, Ron & JoAnne Vandenboom, Michelle Genrich, Arl Brooks, Don & Carol Held, Jana Novak, Cindy Seefeldt, Jerry Halkoski, Walter Unglaub, Tom & Lisa Hare, Jeff Winard, Kathy McGarry, Agatha Ulrich, and all the members of my family.  A complete list of donors is found on the memorial website.

Starting this year, I have changed the way donation amounts are mentioned on the site.  Many people offer one-dollar donations, and, since every donation is important no matter how small, I now group all donations under ten dollars into a Friends (bronze) category.  Donations of ten dollars or more are grouped into a Patrons (silver) category, donations of twenty dollars or more are grouped into a Sponsors (gold) category, and donations of fifty dollars or more are grouped into a Benefactors (platinum) category.

Ousted Polka Organization President Protests, Starts Recall Petition

Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011

(Mashapotato, WI) Vladimir Siegheil, former president of the Polka Promenade organization, was seen collecting signatures at area polka events this weekend in an effort to recall newly-elected president, Mike Freedman. Siegheil was unanimously voted out of office earlier in December.

Siegheil claims his recall petition has the support of the National Polka Radio Broadcasters Union, an organization he admits he founded last week. "This is a union matter, now," explained Siegheil. "Union power! Union power! And recall Scott Walker, too!"

As of yesterday, Siegheil's petition has gained four signatures, all of them apparently family members. "I would have five signatures by now, but my mom is still on the fence." Siegheil needs to collect 140,000 signatures by the March 17th deadline.

As if a recall petition were not enough, Siegheil has launched a protest movement which he named Occupy Vliet Street. As with all of the other occupy movements taking place across the country, we have not been able to determine the exact purpose of the protest. However, according to Occupy Vliet Street's Facebook page, the protest seeks to "...admonish large corporations, tax the bejeezus out of the wealthy, and get me my job back!" Occupy Vliet Street's current membership consists of Siegheil, four members of his family, and some homeless guy named Kevin. "Again," added Siegheil, "my mom is on the fence."

Ironically, the protest is seeking corporate donations and bequests from the wealthy.

Siegheil currently serves as president of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei. When asked about his involvement with socialist workers' organizations, Siegheil replied, "The shortest line to the American Dream, my friend, is a soup and bread line."

Social Networking Is NOTworking For Me
Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011

Back in September, when Facebook began controlling the flow of information by filtering their users' newsfeeds, I quit. Yes, I am one of the few people in the world who actually quit Facebook and survived. I was so offended by Facebook deciding which of my friends' news updates I would see and which of my friends would see my news updates, I said good-bye to over 450 friends, permanently deleted my account, and haven't looked back.

Just as I left Facebook, I joined "the other social networking service" Google+. I immediately became enamored with G+. It was designed so well. The user interface and privacy settings were free of the sheer idiocy that plagued Facebook.

It didn't last long.

At the end of October, Google+ introduced "What's Hot on Google+", a feature that injects posts from random strangers into users' news feeds. Nobody knows why Google began doing this, but it is believed that whereas Facebook encourages their users to only friend people they personally know, Google+ encourages their users to meet and connect with strangers.

One major problem with this feature is that the random posts may occasionally contain profane or obscene content. In one week's time, I opened my news feed only to be greeted by a post crammed full of F-bombs and an image of a man groping a woman's chest. Another major problem is that there is no simple way of disabling the posts from showing up in your news feed.

One month later, Google+ still hasn't made an effort to give their users the ability to block the intrusive posts. While there are third-party browser extensions that can hide the "What's Hot" feature from the news feed, these extensions are not viable solutions for the average user as they require intermediate computing experience to download and install.

I refuse to belong to a social networking service that knowingly and willingly forces unsolicited and potentially offensive material into users' news feeds without providing a means of blocking it. Therefore, as of December 1st, I have quit Google+.

Since neither Facebook nor Google+ meet my minimum standards for providing a safe, reliable social networking service, my primary method for dispensing news has reverted to the use of my website and email.

National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Shame
Friday, August 27, 2010

Many people, including myself, were surprised to see that my latest CD, The First Forty Years, was excluded from the list of eligible recordings received with the 2010 award nominations form. My fans, friends, and I were quite skeptical because this was the second time in a row this has happened to me. The first time was in 2006. [The annual list of eligible recordings is compiled, in part, from new recordings received at the Polka Hall of Fame. Both years, my recordings were received by the Hall of Fame, so it was their responsibility to include them on the list.] In 2006, I assumed my CD missed the list of eligible recordings due to a clerical error, so I didn't bother to bring it up. But, after having witnessed this happen again in 2010, I decided to search for answers.

Every year, a list of recordings eligible for nomination is sent out with the nomination forms to the members of the Polka Hall of Fame. Since members can simply choose a recording from the list, omitting any recordings from that list can have serious consequences. Obviously, the nomination scales will be tipped well in favor of the listed recordings.

When I noticed my new CD was not on the list, I immediately contacted the Polka Hall of Fame and alerted them to the error. They reaffirmed that my recording was still eligible for nomination despite being omitted from the list, but my concern was not about me or my recording -- my concern was that the Polka Hall of Fame made an error that tipped the scales and would almost certainly result in slanted nominations. Their entire membership received an incomplete list of eligible recordings. If not corrected, the error could easily steer the nominations -- a serious violation of ethics for any awards program.

The Polka Hall of Fame had plenty of time to correct their error, but, to my shock and disbelief, they chose to let their error slide, and accepted the results of the slanted nominations. And slanted they were. My recording, which the Hall of Fame kept off the list, was, of course, not nominated. Had it been included on the list like it should have been, the results could have been entirely different.

The Polka Hall of Fame's unwillingness to fix their own error shows that they are not above engaging in fraudulent activity. Is letting an "error" slide which steers the outcome of the nominations any less indefensible than intentionally rigging the awards? Mistakes are, by definition, accidental. But when the person or people responsible for correcting a mistake chooses not to, then is it still an accident?

This matter raises a few questions: How long has this been going on? How many times have the Polka Hall of Fame's "mistakes" resulted in keeping certain nominees off the ballot? (I've talked with other Wisconsin musicians who have experienced the same "accidental" omissions of their recordings.) If the Polka Hall of Fame is willing to let its own "mistakes" influence the nominations process, how far will they go to influence results of the awards? Who is the Polka Hall of Fame trying to keep off the ballots, and why?

If I ran the Polka Hall of Fame and it was brought to my attention that an error made by my organization's staff resulted in a slanted nomination form, I would immediately void the form and send out a new one with an explanation and an apology. There is absolutely no question about it. I'd want my organization's membership to know that their awards program was being run with the utmost dedication to equality.

This article was not written out of vindictiveness. Those of you who know me know that I do not care much for awards. What I do care a great deal about is fairness. All these years, we members of the Polka Hall of Fame have unwittingly assumed the awards program operated fairly. Then I learned the truth. I wrote this article out of a sense of obligation to share that truth with all of you.

I do not hold anything personal against any of the board members of the Polka Hall of Fame. They will all continue to have my utmost respect for their hard work and dedication to promoting and preserving Cleveland-Style polka music. My displeasure is only with the bias with which the organization runs its awards program.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, major operational and personnel changes will certainly need to take place if the awards program is going to maintain any semblance of integrity. Until then, I am publicly revoking my lifetime membership.

Follow-Up Comments Regarding My National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame Editorial
Thursday, October 7, 2010

I've received quite a bit of feedback about my editorial on the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame. So far, all of it has been in support of my article, as many people seem feel that the awards program has always been tainted by corruption, and that the corruption needed to be exposed. The two most-popular comments I've received are "I'm sorry your recording was not nominated" and "It's always the same people from Cleveland who win". I want to address those two comments.

Please do not feel sorry for me for not being nominated for Recording of the Year. It was not my intention to get on the ballot. The only reason I contacted the Hall of Fame and questioned why my CD was not included on the list of eligible recordings is because I was suspicious, since this happened to me twice in a row. I did not need to be on the list. I did not need the nomination. I just wanted to know why my recording was denied a fair chance of being nominated. I wanted to find out if it was accidental or intentional.

For people who say that it's the same people from Cleveland who get nominated every year, it's important to understand that an organization whose membership is mostly local will often vote for mostly local musicians. If the Hall of Fame's membership is made up of mostly people from Ohio and Pennsylvania, then most of the nominations will naturally be for musicians from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

On the 2010 awards ballot for the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame, there were 42 nominees for the music-related awards (Band, Musician, Vocalist, etc.) Of those 42 nominees, I believe only three or four were from outside the Cleveland-Pittsburgh polka belt. I also believe this disparity is due largely to the demographic of the membership. When I went public with my complaint about the Hall of Fame, comments by musicians from both inside and outside the Penn/Ohio polka belt supported my evidence that the organization is not above a little corruption. But what I don't know is who the organization wants to keep off the ballots, and why. Do they slight musicians because they are from outside the Penn/Ohio region, out of vindictiveness for personal reasons, or a combination of both? Every musician will surely have his or her own opinion on that matter.

Although it is not the Hall of Fame's fault that its membership will tend to keep the nominations local year after year, I believe wholeheartedly that because the organization is national, it has an obligation to work as hard as it can to expand its membership across the entire country to prevent local favoritism from continuing to dominate the awards program. If you want to be national, you have to be all-inclusive. In my opinion, the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame seems far too content with local favoritism. If they were the Penn/Ohio Polka Awards, then nobody would care. But they have "National" in their title, and are therefore obligated to see to it that musicians from all over the country are given better chances of being recognized and honored. I think Tony P. always did a pretty good job of exposing Wisconsin bands to the Cleveland crowds for his annual Thanksgiving weekend polka fests, but bringing in out-of-state bands once a year not enough. The Hall of Fame needs to drum up membership outside the Penn/Ohio region. Wisconsin alone is so rich with polka music, yet so many polka fans up here know absolutely nothing of the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame.

[Side note: Another example of an organization that needs to broaden its membership is the International Polka Association. This statistic will blow you away: According to the IPA's own website, 51 out of the last 55 music-related awards (Band, Recording, Vocalist, etc.) were won by Polish-style bands/musicians. Only one non-Polish-style musician, LynnMarie, has won an IPA music award in the past ten years.]

These are my five suggestions for the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame:

1. The status quo has got to go. My situation has proven that there is willful negligence lurking in the organization. The upstanding members of the board need to clean out the dirt and make restoring integrity to the organization their #1 priority.

2. The recording submission process must be streamlined. The Hall of Fame needs to come up with a single, concise way for bands to submit CDs. They should establish specific parameters by which every band must abide, such as an official submission form, and publish the submission form on their website. I also suggest that as recordings are received and accepted as eligible, that the Hall of Fame list them on their website so that the bands and the general public can verify that the Hall of Fame has, indeed, acknowledged and accepted all eligible submissions.

3. The nomination forms should not be used to narrow down which recordings will go on the ballot. Instead, the Hall of Fame should use the forms to harness the collective knowledge of their entire membership by asking them to write in the names of CDs they believe may be eligible. When it comes time to print the ballot, the Hall of Fame should put every recording on there that they've determined to be eligible. That may mean having twenty recordings on the ballot, but that shouldn't be a problem.

4. A reputable, independent accounting firm should be hired to tally not just the ballots, but the nominations, too. If anyone from the Hall of Fame tries to tamper with the nominations, the accounting firm will be able to catch it. Even if no one desires to tamper with the nominations, using an independent accounting firm will boost both the membership's and the public's confidence in the organization.

5. The membership needs broadening. Now and then, the Hall of Fame should send an emissary to polka events outside the Penn/Ohio region to expand their membership. Cleveland-style musicians like Ron Sluga, Eddie Rodick, Christine Hibbs, and Fred Ziwich are phenomenal, award-deserving musicians in every way, but so are Scott Koehn, Mike McIntyre, Cliff Penniston, Chris Doszak, Tony Sabo, Jeff Walker, Bob Breuer, Jeff Winard, Neal Zunker, Don Hunjadi, Billy Micale, Mark Wenzlaff, Craig Ebel, Jeff Heinz, Mike Kramar, Scott Bixby, Joe Grille, Steve Meisner, Kenny Brandt, Dave Stolowski, Mike Schneider, Jerry Bieniek, David Austin, BB Carter, Grant Kozera, Denny Anderson, Gary Hendrickson, Danny Tutsch... need I go on?

Response to the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame's Editorial In the Polka Times
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame states that I said the list of recordings printed on the letter mailed out with the nomination forms was slanted toward Cleveland bands. That's not quite what I said. The vast majority of bands and musicians who win the awards live within the vicinities of either Cleveland or Pittsburgh, however, that may be a circumstantial result of the majority of voters also living in that same region. It's possible that whoever is allowing the slanting of the nominations may favor bands and musicians within the Cleveland/Pittsburgh polka belt, but that's only speculation. I do not know exactly what criteria is used to hinder a band's chance of being nominated. All I know is that I apparently meet that criteria.

The Polka Hall of Fame also states that I failed to notify them to nominate my album, but what the public may not know is that the Polka Hall of Fame compiles their list of eligible recordings from two sources. When the 2010 nomination forms for the awards were mailed out to voting members, a letter from the Polka Hall of Fame was included with the forms which states, "On the reverse side of this letter you will find a list of new Cleveland-style polka recordings released during the period of June 1, 2009, through May 31, 2010. The list is compiled based on notification from polka bandleaders who wish to have their recording considered for nomination AND FROM NEW RECORDINGS RECEIVED AT THE HALL OF FAME." [Emphasis mine.]

If the Polka Hall of Fame is not aware of a new CD that is released, then of course it's the bandleader's responsibility to make sure the Polka Hall of Fame knows about it so that they can consider it for eligibility. Sure, I could have chosen to mail yet another CD to the Hall of Fame just to attach a note reminding them to put my CD on the list of eligible recordings, but the point is that I didn't have to -- the Polka Hall of Fame already had my CD in their possession, they knew it was brand new, and, according to their own information, new recordings they receive are used to compile of the list of eligible recordings sent out with the nomination forms.

To make sure I was correct about this, I contacted the Polka Hall of Fame. In an email correspondence regarding the recent recording of mine that was omitted from the list of eligible recordings, a representative of the Polka Hall of Fame stated, "If the recording was carried in stock by the PHOF Gift Shop and was entirely new, it should have been on the list. I saw the list of new recordings which was compiled from the daily log posted by the clerks, and did not see your album on the list." The representative then went on to say that she would forward my concerns to the Hall of Fame staff "to let them know how important it is to list new recordings on the log we keep." She also added that the staff at the Hall of Fame gift shop handles many duties and implied that they should not be blamed for making such a mistake.

I am very understanding of honest mistakes. I make plenty of them myself, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. The volunteer staff at the Polka Hall of Fame gift shop are wonderful people to do business with, and I don't blame them at all for what happened. A clerical error is no big deal. The problem is that when certain decision makers at the Polka Hall of Fame learned of the error and were reminded of how it could seriously influence the nominations if left uncorrected, they clammed up and seemed to brush the entire matter under the rug. No matter how many times I asked the Hall of Fame for an official explanation that I could share with my upset fans and friends here in Wisconsin, the Hall of Fame would not offer one.

My reason for writing this editorial is not to whine about not being nominated. If awards were important to me, then I surely would have used multiple means of ensuring the Hall of Fame didn't forget to consider my recording for nomination. The only reason I wrote this editorial was to inform the membership and public that the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame, a very storied and prestigious organization to which many people pay money to belong, has been caught engaging in unethical practices. The people responsible for that must be stopped if we are going to take the protection of the sanctity of our heritage seriously. There is no room for politics in polka music.

My thoughts that follow are not written out of vindictiveness -- they're just my personal and professional opinion on how the Polka Hall of Fame's problem with corruption could be remedied.

If certain ingrained powers that be are allowed to remain in power, I believe they will continue using the awards program to tarnish the the integrity of the Polka Hall of Fame through their willful neglect of ethics. They're not bad people -- they've done a lot for the organization and for polka music and will always have my respect for that -- but, over the years, they've somehow lost the understanding that what's best for polka music may not always agree with what's in their own, best interests.

The upstanding members of the board and membership will have to take an unprecedented stand if they want to restore integrity to their organization. If I were on the board of the Polka Hall of Fame, I would respectfully but dutifully motion for a vote of no confidence to oust those whose questionable actions pose a liability to the organization's reputation. That would open up room for new leadership who can bring much-needed interpersonal communication and problem solving skills to the organization. It would also send a clear message to the membership and to all of polka music that the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame is determined to be more important than the people who run it.

Gene Mikrut's "Polkatively Yours" Editorial - Some Needed Clarifications
Thursday, December 18, 2010

Gene Mikrut wrote an editorial in the November issue of the Polka Times newspaper in regard to the recent incident with the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame (NCSPHoF). He did a great job of explaining in detail the disadvantage recordings experience if they are omitted from the ballots, however, I believe he meant to say the nomination forms, not the ballots. The nominations determine who makes the ballot, and I personally do not know of any circumstance in which a bona fide nominee was omitted from a NCSPHoF ballot.

Along with the nomination forms, the NCSPHoF mails out a list of recordings eligible for the Recording of the Year award. This list is necessary, because without it, members won't know which recordings are eligible for nomination. By having this list in their hands, members can easily pick a recording to nominate. Obviously, if a recording is omitted from the list, all voting members who use the list to nominate a recording will not nominate the one that was omitted. I believe that Gene Mikrut made an honest mistake with the terminology, and meant to refer to this list, and not the ballot.

To avoid putting any recordings at a disadvantage, the NCSPHoF has an obligation to make sure the list of recordings they've deemed eligible -- the same list they mail out to the voters -- does not have any omissions, whether intentional or accidental. The entire focus of my editorial about the NCSPHoF was to explain that they knew of an omission that was shown to be their mistake, had plenty of time to correct it, but willingly chose not to.

Gene stated that, according to me, all recordings purchased by the organization's gift shop become eligible for placement on the ballot. I know what he meant to say, but it's not quite accurate. The NCSPHoF accepts recordings for eligibility by notification by bandleaders and by the new recordings received at their gift shop. A newly-received recording does not go directly onto the ballot -- it must first be screened for eligibility, and then if it is deemed eligible, the title of the recording is included on the list mailed out to voters along with the nomination forms.

Awards programs can be a little confusing. It's easy to get terminology a little mixed up, and it's also easy to misunderstand the specifics of how processes unfold. Regardless, I believe the main point of Gene's article was to explain, in detail, exactly how an omitted recording is put at a decisive disadvantage. If a band's recording is omitted from the list sent out with the nomination forms, the only way that band could still share the same chance of being nominated as the recordings on the list would be very expensive. The band would have to know exactly when the NCSPHoF was going to be mailing out the nomination forms to their members, somehow get a hold of the NCSPHoF's membership mailing list, and mail out postcards to all the members explaining that their recording is also eligible. I've estimated that it would cost somewhere in the range of $400 to accomplish.

Obviously, no band would ever attempt such a feat. That is why it is of the utmost importance that the NCSPHoF adhere to a code of ethics by making absolutely certain that no band, musician, or recording is ever denied an equal opportunity to be nominated.

If the NCSPHoF wanted to do the right thing, they would have rejected the slanted 2010 nomination forms and mailed out another set of forms, and I estimate that it would have cost them roughly $650-$700 to do so. However, I did not want them to actually do that. I only wanted them to offer to do that. Had they offered, I would have immediately told them to stop the presses and not to bother. I don't care about whether or not I'm nominated -- I just wanted to see if the organization had the integrity to be fair and honest no matter the cost.

We all know how that turned out.

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