Off the Desk
Despite a possible legal flap over its name, the Texas Freedom Alliance continues to roll forward on its promise to become the antidote to the radical right in Texas, regularly staging events throughout the state. At a December 13 forum designed to increase awareness of hate violence, the group aired a 30-minute, PBS-produced film entitled Not in Our Town, which highlighted the successful efforts of the citizens of Billings, Montana against white supremacist activity. A panel comprised of local religious leaders led a discussion afterward. "We should stop hate long before it becomes crime," said Rev. Joseph Parker, pastor of David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Austin. -- R.A.
Cliff Olofson, longtime manager of the Texas Observer, died last Saturday of cancer. He was 64. He often worked late into the night on the bi-weekly publication, on weekends and holidays, and frequently did so without a salary, to keep the Observer solvent. So for years, with no money to afford an apartment or home, he slept on a mat in the Observer's office. His work was his life, and he went about his work with a devotion that bordered on the religious. Someone once said that an institution is often the lengthened shadow of one man. The Observer, for all the distinguished writers who have graced its pages, is the lengthened shadow of Cliff Olofson. -- R.B.
Robert S. Boyer was subdued. "My friends tell me I should be happy," he said,
less than two hours after University of Texas Chancellor William Cunningham had
announced his resignation from Freeport-McMoRan's board of directors. But
Boyer, a professor of computer science and philosophy at UT, wasn't happy.
Instead, he verged on the morose. His reason: the new molecular biology
building on campus is still to be named for Freeport CEO Jim Bob Moffett. Until
that name gets changed, Boyer said, he will not do any celebrating.
Cunningham Caves In
Cunningham's resignation came the day after Freeport sent letters to Boyer, UT computer science professor Alan Cline, and anthropology professor Steven Feld, threatening legal action. The letter, which was also sent to Bill Bunch of the Save Our Springs Legal Defense Fund, Lori Udall of the International Rivers Network, former Austin Chronicle writer Daryl Slusher, and this reporter, was apparently the last straw for UT president Robert Berdahl. According to several sources on campus, after Boyer and Cline got their letters, they forwarded them to Berdahl, who reportedly told the professors that he would put an outside law firm on retainer to defend them against any legal action from Freeport. Two UT sources say that Berdahl then called Cunningham directly to voice his displeasure.
Although Cunningham's resignation from Freeport had been sought by students and others for weeks, it was not public pressure that finally forced him to tender his resignation. Instead, it was a major blunder by Freeport. By threatening UT professors, the company put Cunningham in an untenable position: His part-time employer was threatening the staff of his full-time employer.
In his statement to the press, Cunningham was defiant. "A few highly vocal opponents of Freeport have distorted the facts and used personal attacks in a continuing campaign to discredit the company," he said. "I am convinced that the charges of human rights and environmental abuses levied against Freeport are totally unfounded. I have maintained that no conflict of interest arose because of my membership on the Freeport board while also serving as Chancellor. I have never been more confident of that fact."
While Cunningham, who will not talk to this reporter, has terminated his board membership at Freeport, there are still a number of unanswered questions:
* What happens to Cunningham's stock options and how much are they worth?
* Does he still support the naming of the new building after Moffett?
* Will the company pay him his full $40,000 annual director's salary even though he didn't serve a full year?
As for Boyer, he remains focused on a single issue: the naming of the Moffett building. "I walk to work from my home," says Boyer. "And along the way, the natural course is to go by the Moffett building. So I pass in between the Moffett building and Moore Hall. R.L. Moore was the best professor I ever had. And I just kept getting sicker and sicker, and decided I just couldn't stand it any more."
Boyer and several other faculty members favor naming the building after H.J. Muller, a Nobel Prize-winning geneticist who once worked at UT. (For more info about the building naming or Muller, check out Boyer's Web page at http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/boyer/fp).
"Many people are going to view the threat of lawsuits against the Freeport Seven as an attack on everybody's free speech rights," Boyer said. "That in itself may be sufficient grounds for many faculty members to ask the regents to change the name."
And that, Boyer said, would make him very happy indeed. Finally, he offered a bit of unsolicited advice. "To me, the graceful thing for Moffett to do is to withdraw his name from the building. That would end a controversy whose end otherwise is not visible." -- R.B.
Seven South Korean business leaders were indicted on bribery charges in Seoul,
reported The New York Times on December 6, including Lee Kun Hee,
chairman of the Samsung Group, as part of an anti-corruption sweep by the new
reformist Korean government. Former president Roh Tae Woo was also indicted,
and jailed, for allegedly setting up a "slush fund" for bribes paid by the
Korean company heads. The Times article notes that the company heads are
suspected of giving up to
Keep That Bottle Corked
$30 million each to the fund, in exchange for lucrative government contracts, and other favors.
The indictment of the Samsung chief will not affect the company's plans to build their first U.S. plant here in Austin, contend company spokespersons from Edelman Public Relations in Washington, D.C. Samsung PR counsel Jeff Lender said on December 15 that Samsung Electronics, the world's largest maker of computer memory chips, remains "committed to Austin," and the proposed $1.3 billion plant that would employ up to 1,600 workers and further Austin's growing status as one of the country's leading centers for the semiconductor business. The original construction starting date was set for the end of this year, with production beginning in 1997, and Lender said there will be "no changes. We are going ahead as scheduled."
This latest development, however, adds to a series of questions regarding the company's project here in Austin. Nearly a year ago, Samsung announced that it had narrowed its location choices down to Austin and Portland, Oregon, and both cities scrambled to offer the biggest incentives. Negotiations between Samsung and local elected officials and business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce led to the City of Austin's offer of tax abatements and other incentives totalling $76 million over a 10-year period, while Travis County kicked in extensive infrastructure improvements. The offers paid off when Samsung finally scheduled a press conference on September 27 to announce their intention to locate here. Yet, even while the city and county planned the event and stocked refreshments for the reception to follow, the company backed out on the announcement with hours to spare, citing "internal planning deadlines" that had to be met before a formal announcement could be made.
Lender could not say when the company would be able to make the formal announcement as promised. Samsung is "still in the process of completing internal requirements in the planning and development division. But the recent events in South Korea do not affect Samsung's global initiatives," he said. -- L.C.B.
The Austin Transportation Study (ATS) may soon ask the Texas Department of
Transportation (TxDOT) to slow down its area road maintenance activities on
days when high ozone levels are predicted. The proposal was presented to the
ATS at its December 11 meeting by Scott Johnson of the Austin Air Force, a
coalition of business, government, and environmental organizations dedicated to
reducing air pollution. Johnson noted that diesel construction equipment and
related road building machinery produce 20% of Austin's nitrogen oxide, one of
the two main ozone precursors. Scott said that TxDOT began a similar policy
earlier this year in San Antonio, where, on ozone warning days, the highway
department postpones or reduces use of asphalt materials, mowing, and road
maintenace activities that create traffic congestion.
Slowing Down the Ozone Machine
However, State Representative Michael Krusee of fast-growing Williamson County demanded a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal. "How much is it going to cost TxDOT if we have 25 or 30 ozone action days?" asked Krusee, "and do they they have to keep paying workers on days that they shut down?"
"How much will it cost if we have all that stuff in the air?" retorted State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos. "The bottom line is that we need to step back and look at the whole broad picture of what we're doing to the air."
State Representative Sherri Greenberg added that another cost to consider is that of becoming a non-attainment area according to federal air standards, which would place expensive federal controls on the region.
Both the Austin Air Force and TxDOT are supposed to provide estimates of costs and benefits at ATS's February meeting. Johnson commented that health benefits derived from preventing ozone exceedences might be hard to evaluate in purely monetary terms.
Dan Krause, Office Manager of the Sierra Club, told the ATS that the key to solving air pollution is to build mass transit instead of roads. He noted that no Texas city has yet used powers granted by the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act that allow shifting federal money from the National Highway System (NHS) to transit. (See transportation story, p.18.) "Capital Metro can't afford to build light rail," said Krause, "Why can't we set a precedent and help Capital Metro?"
Barrientos rejected Krause's suggestion, explaining that the Texas constitution prohibits using NHS funds for transit. Krause argued that while Texas' gasoline tax may be constitutionally dedicated to road building, the same does not apply to NHS money, which comes from the federal gasoline tax. After the meeting, TxDOT's Urban Transportation Administrator, Ed Collins, confirmed that Texas metropolitan organizations like the ATS can, in fact, request transfers of NHS funds to transit. -- N.E.
Editor's note: In light of UT Chancellor William Cunningham's recent resignation from Freeport-McMoRan's board, the Chronicle will not run a transcript of the chancellor's remarks to KOOP "Austin Air Waves" host Jim Ellinger concerning the developer's Indonesian mining operations. n