Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

No Dry Eyes



Feel-good story of the week: 51-year-old Eureka resident Brian Connors, a friend of the Journal, has been one of the unluckiest people in Humboldt County in recent years. Back in December 2006 he was laid off from his job at Pacific Lumber. Then company's then-parent corporation, the infamous Maxxam, promised him and 89 other laid-off workers a severance package ... but promptly declared bankruptcy a couple of weeks later, leaving the severance in legal limbo.

Connors later got a job at Evergreen Pulp, the old pulp mill in Samoa which had been taken over by the multinational Chinese paper firm Lee & Man. Then, late last year, Lee & Man abruptly shut down the mill and split town, leaving workers unemployed and obligations to their medical insurance plan unfunded. (Connors wasn't the only person in the county to experience this particular double-whammy, of course.)

Then, this month, everything turned around. There was some good news just a couple of weeks ago. Connors picked up a job as a bus driver for Humboldt Transit Authority, about a secure a gig as you can get in this economic climate. On Monday, though, something miraculous happened. Completely out of the blue, there arrived a check for $8,000. The long-promised and mostly forgotten severance package from Maxxam had finally arrived, courtesy of the bankruptcy court trustee.

It's not certain, but it seems that the same story played itself out in the households of the 89 other people who were in that round of Maxxam layoffs with Connors. Supervisor Mark Lovelace said Monday afternoon that he had been in touch with a few people in Connors' cohort, and reported back that one had received a check that same day.

In his enthusiasm -- and because he and others had assumed their severance was lost forever in the bankruptcy proceedings -- Connors made a slight error. He credited the new Humboldt Redwood Company, Pacific Lumber's successor firm, with unilaterally sending out the promised checks simply to be decent people.

"I don't know why [Humboldt Redwoods'] Fisher family said, 'OK, let's pay them,'" Connors told the Journal shortly after opening the envelope. "But it tripped me out, dude."

This turns out not to be the case. In fact, payment of the severance packages (or a high percentage of each one) was part of the deal Humboldt Redwoods and its partners struck in court. "Certainly we're really happy for folks, and we think it's meaningful for them to get paid at this time, but it was a matter of law and it was how the bankruptcy proceeded," said Humboldt Redwoods President Mike Jani Tuesday.

The county can rejoice along with the recipients of the long-overdue packages: As Connors pointed out, the payments amount to perhaps $1 million suddenly injected into the local economy, maybe more.


Feel-bad story of the week: Noble old bullock that he is, it was unbelievably touching to watch McKinleyville's Charles Ollivier -- French bon vivant and retired longshoreman -- stand up and take his final bow at the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning. The occasion was the board decision not to reappoint Ollivier to represent Humboldt County on the North Coast Railroad Authority, the public agency that owns the 10-years-dead tracks through the county. The railroad is one of the key components of the grand vision of cargo-centric economic revitalization that Ollivier has done more than anyone to promote, and his seat on its board of directors was the last perch from which the man could have had any direct influence on policy.

"I'm a cheerleader," the smiling Ollivier told the Board of Supes Tuesday afternoon, after thanking them for allowing him to serve and giving them permission to go ahead and do what they needed to do. "Either way, I will continue to be a cheerleader for the creation of jobs here."

And after a wrenching goodbye from gentlemanly supe Jimmy Smith, and over strong protest from Supervisor Jill Duffy, the board went ahead and cut the cord. They appointed new Eureka City Councilmember Linda Atkins, a former Caltrans engineer, to replace Ollivier on the NCRA board, thus acknowledging the fact that: a) the happy warrior lost his last election to the Humboldt Bay Harbor District by a 2-to-1 margin, and b) the large majority of the electorate now thinks that his vision of moving international freight through the county as an economic development strategy is impossible bordering on ludicrous.

None of which should prevent anyone from raising a glass of fine Bordeaux to the lovable old codger. Here's hoping that he will infest our public spaces for many years to come.

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