Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bill Oliver's Little Pattern, New Orleans Should Take Note

A theme 'round here recently seems to be the connection between New Orleans and Lafayette. Well here's another: Both Lafayette and New Orleans have been the target of BellSouth Louisiana president's peculiar anger. The pattern is to 1) threaten, then 2) whine that the threat was a) private and b) misinterpreted.

The pattern plays out in a story about BellSouth pulling 220 employees out of New Orleans that's been pretty widely repeated but is richest in the Times-Picayune original version. That story is difficult enough. The employees pretty clearly think that its part of a long-term pattern taking jobs out of New Orleans and putting them into areas where the pay rate is less than it is in New Orleans. A sort of rural outsourcing. They think that abandoning an essentially undamaged building in New Orleans because the nearby community has yet to return is a pretext for stiffing the city and local workers.

Since this was the building that BellSouth was supposed to have been threatening (#1 above) to take back from the New Orleans Police in retaliation for the city building a municipal wifi network the two stories are linked the T-P article.

Oliver has now moved on to whining (#2 above) that he never really threatened to take back the building. Negotiations are ongoing... And anyway those negotiations are purely between Bill Oliver and Mayor Nagin--they're private (pt a). Whatever he said or might have said to the director of homeland security for New Orleans doesn't count and he isn't going to get into a discussion over the "text" of that discussion. He was misinterpreted. (pt b)

Gee, doesn't that sound familiar? We here in Lafayette are in a position to see the pattern. Recall that Oliver kicked up a big ruckus when he suggested to the editorial board of the Advocate that jobs at the Cingular call center might be in danger of being transferred to "Timbukto" if Lafayette chose to go ahead with its plans for municipal broadband. (#1, Threat)
A follow up story in the Advertiser revealed he'd said essentially the same thing to them. We heard that he'd been saying the same thing in lots of "private" conversations with local businessmen. Upset about the report, Oliver made a major public complaint (#2, whine) that he hadn't really said that and that if he had it wasn't what he meant (pt b, misinterpreted) and anyway it wasn't intended as anything more than background information (pt a, private).

I fully understand that Bill Oliver thinks he's got a right to threaten people in private so that he doesn't have to bear any public cost. But, hey, there are a few real reporters and the occasional plain-speaking public official out there that have this disconcerting tendency to treat a threat like a threat and call a spade a spade. Surely attempts to apply a little ugly pressure privately happens all the time and executives like Bill Oliver get used playing the bully with local elected officials without it ever tarnishing their public image.

For Bill Oliver, those days are over in Louisiana. We're onto him.

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