Wednesday, November 26, 2003

PL says it backed DA recall effort [North Coast Journal]

PL says it backed DA recall effort [North Coast Journal]

by Hank Sims, North Coast Journal

The Pacific Lumber Company has recently contributed "significant" time and money to the drive to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos, according to an internal company letter obtained by the Journal.

The letter, which is printed on Pacific Lumber letterhead, is signed by CEO Robert E. Manne and addressed to company employees.

If the letter is authentic, the move represents a switch in position for the company, which is the subject of a multimillion dollar fraud suit brought by the DA shortly after Gallegos took office. Previously, PL had stated that it would not take a stand in the recall effort.

"As a company, we had not participated in the recall effort until recent weeks when our employees, community members and the recall committee sought our support," read the letter, dated Oct. 24. "We decided to contribute time and money to the effort to give the voters of Humboldt County an opportunity to decide the question of recalling the DA for themselves.

"In that spirit, PALCO and other businesses and individuals, who are concerned about the DA’s actions, contributed significant funds to ensure that the voters would have their say. To date, our support has totaled more than $40,000 in `in-kind’ support of the signature gathering effort."

The Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos’ most recent campaign finance disclosure forms, which cover a three-month period ending Sept. 30, make no mention of any Pacific Lumber donations to the campaign. Instead, they show only $500 in donations from three employees of the company and Britt Lumber, a PL subsidiary.

Committee spokesman Rick Brazeau said that he was not certain what, or how much, the company had given to the campaign, but said that the information "will be filed at the appropriate time."

Manne’s letter was sent the day after the committee handed in more than 16,900 signatures gathered in support of the recall. During the previous week, the campaign hired an out-of-town signature-gathering firm, US Petitions, to orchestrate a last-minute push for signatures. During the push, signature gatherers were paid a fee of $8 per signature, which led some to believe that the campaign had received a large infusion of cash in its final days.

In the letter, Manne calls the county’s lawsuit against the company "baseless and politically motivated," and asks, rhetorically, whether the company should simply "sit back and allow [it] to happen." He also charges that the Gallegos administration undermines the moral fabric of the county.

"[A]re the citizens to sit back and allow the family values of Humboldt County to be deteriorated on a weekly basis by our new DA?" the letter asks. "If we had known this, would we have voted for him? I think not."

Repeated calls to Manne and other PL officials were not returned Tuesday.

Richard Salzman, coordinator of the pro-Gallegos Alliance for Ethical Business, said on Tuesday that the letter confirms what Gallegos supporters had long suspected — that PL was behind the recall drive.

"In PALCO’s world, this is how you fight a lawsuit," he said. "You remove the prosecutor."

The Oct. 24 letter, together with an earlier Manne letter to PL employees on Sept. 11, also provides insight into how the CEO views critics of the company’s logging practices.

In the earlier letter, Manne discusses "character and integrity," and argues that the DA’s office, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Environmental Protection Information Center and residents of the Freshwater area are all lacking in those qualities.

"The only conclusion I can reach as to why they continue their attacks against us is that they lead empty lives and need to put blame on everything around them in order to negatively impact those that are happier than them," Manne writes. "This gives them power with their constituents and importance in the eyes of their friends and other PALCO haters."

Mark Lovelace, president of the Humboldt Watershed Council, said that Manne’s characterization of the company’s critics was wide of the mark.

"I know that there are people in the community who believe that the environmentalists just want to shut down the timber industry," he said. "That is simply not the case, and I would expect a more nuanced view from the CEO of the company.

"I don’t know which is worse — if he believes this stuff or if he doesn’t believe it, and just puts it out there to divide the community."

Reached at his office Tuesday, Gallegos said that he was not a "PALCO hater" and did not have a "get PALCO attitude."

"Pacific Lumber is a defendant, one of the thousands of defendants we have here," Gallegos said. "They are entitled to a presumption of innocence, they are entitled to a day in court. Let’s settle this case in court."