Lafayette Mayor-President Joey Durel called a 3 p.m. press conference at the Lafayette Economic Development Authority offices on Friday afternoon. BellSouth regional rep John Williams was there early with copies of a letter from to The Advocate's Executive Editor Linda Lightfoot. The letter was distributed prior to the start of the press conference, which drew a significant contingent of the area's media.
In his letter, Oliver essentially calls reporter Kevin Blanchard a liar, as well as any and everyone one at The Advocate who sat in on the editorial board meeting with him and allowed Blanchard's story to run.
After three paragraphs of hemming and hawing about his intent during his two-hour meeting with The Advocate editorial board, Oliver goes into full denial mode:
In closing, let me make it perfectly clear I did not threaten a pullout or a closure of any BellSouth or Cingular center in Louisiana. I am deeply concerned that interpretations of my comments have caused any distress for our employees or our customers. BellSouth values all of our employees and customers, and we want to continue to provide outstanding service to the citizens of Lafayette. We have done so for more than 100 years, and we expect to do so for many years to come.Let's see, in the story, there are the following relevant paragraphs:
Oliver said a successful LUS venture could create a monopoly in the parishImagine, interpreting that as a threat! That's just standard Fortune 500 lingo for the facts: "Do it our way or we hit the highway."
Why would BellSouth want to keep all its operations in a parish where it had no other significant business interest, Oliver asked rhetorically.The call center, which handles customer service tasks for Cingular, could be located in "Timbuktu" and still perform the same services, Oliver said.
"Would you still keep people there?" Oliver said.
No threat. Just fact.
When Kevin Blanchard read Oliver's letter, I happened to be sitting behind him. He turned to Claire Taylor from The Advertiser and said with some incredulity, "He's saying he didn't say what I reported he said!"
In the press conference, Durel said that he was forced to choose between the credibility of Bill Oliver and The Advocate. He said he had to go with The Advocate on this one, based on the record of BellSouth's behavior in response to the LUS fiber plan.
Durel said he believed The Advocate article because the city has been under attack by BellSouth since the fiber plan was first announced. Durel said that BellSouth had first gone to the Legislature to try to kill the effort. Failing there, they proceeded with their partners Cox (and their posse of Sock Puppets) to wage a disinformation campaign against the effort. Failing that, BellSouth, Cox went to court where they won a measure of victory by forcing Consolidated Government to pursue another route towards bond sales.
"This threat is nothing but economic blackmail against the people of Lafayette," Durel declared.
"It is now clear that BellSouth will stop at nothing to try to intimidate the citizens of our community," LUS director Terry Huval said.
The most interesting part of the press conference was LEDA CEO Gregg Gothreaux's description of the approximately $18 million in concessions local and state governments gave Cingular to get that call center here. They include about $10 million in workforce training money under the incumbent Quality Jobs Program, a public ownership bond (without a public vote!) of $1 million for construction of the building, 14 acres of land and, get this, discounted utility rates from LUS!
Gothreaux said these are part of a 10-year contract signed by Cingular with LEDA and the State of Louisiana in 2001. That contract binds Cingular to provide at least 750 jobs at the call center (which is located in LEDA's industrial park off Pointe de Mouton Road) for the duration of the contract. There are currently 1,300 jobs at the call center.
So, BellSouth's backtrackin' Bill Oliver has opened up a new front in his war against the LUS plan. Not content to competing with an inferior network against Cox and other cable providers in the metro markets of the state, Oliver has now provoked a war against the best newspaper in the state.
To believe Oliver, you have to believe everyone else he's taken on is lying.