Depends on What You Mean by "Agreement"
Last Thursday Star Tribune business writer Tony Kennedy reported that Northwest Airlines brass assembled at a Senate Transportation Committee hearing to dispel "misperceptions" about how the airline has held up its end of the state financing package that bailed it out of bankruptcy a few years back. After describing Northwest VP Ben Hirst's boast that with its reservations center in Chisholm and its airplane maintenance base in Duluth the airline has created even more jobs than it had promised, Kennedy dropped this little firecracker: "[I]n last year's gubernatorial campaign, a reporter falsely asserted that Northwest did not build the facilities it promised for northern Minnesota. The reporter asked the leading candidates what they would do to Northwest, if elected. Two of the candidates didn't know that the facilities already existed." Accusing a reporter of making false assertions? Them's fighting words. Kennedy, who didn't name the alleged offender in his article, wasn't any more forthcoming when we called to ask him about it, balking when Off Beat quizzed him on the specifics of the lie. A little more sniffing around led us to KMSP-TV (Channel 9) news anchor Jeff Passolt, who freely admits to being the alleged fibber. Except, Passolt adds, his assertion wasn't false at all. Passolt says he asked the question at the gubernatorial debate in Brainerd at the suggestion of a Northwest employee who sent him a fax contrasting the number of jobs the airline promised to create when it struck the original deal with the state in 1992 with the number created after the loan was renegotiated two years later. In 1992, according to Senate Transportation Committee staffers, Northwest agreed to create 1,000 aircraft-maintenance jobs in Duluth. In 1994 then-Gov. Arne Carlson and Northwest's then-co-chairman Al Checchi lowered that number to 350. (So far 416 jobs have been created, including 293 high-paying positions for mechanics.) The 1992 deal also called for Northwest to build an engine-repair facility with a staff of 500 in economically depressed Hibbing, but the re-inked deal required the airline to build a 504-worker reservations center in Chisholm instead; the reservations center currently employs 560 people--at much lower wages than the repair workers would have commanded. Passolt says he has no idea why the Strib would seemingly bend over backward to feel Northwest's pain, but he does have a theory about the cryptic nature of the mention: "There's a reason they didn't name me. Technically, they know I'm right."
The Howitzer and the Flea
Off Beat is still marveling at the colossal tab state and local law enforcement agencies racked up in December to roust a few dozen protesters and bulldoze the seven homes that stood in the way of the Highway 55 reroute. Spending $332,000 for 600 officers to arrest 37 people--that's $9,000 and 16 cops per arrestee! The credit for this creative use of taxpayer dollars has to go to the protesters, who ingeniously managed to convince officials that they were a force to be reckoned with. You know, like in all the great Westerns, the scene where two or three good guys strategically place themselves behind rocks and pretend to be an entire posse. Minnesota Department of Transportation flack Bob McFarlin says that in meetings with state officials, protest spokesmen Bob Greenberg and Jim Anderson claimed "hundreds and hundreds" of supporters would descend on the site at the drop of a law enforcement hat. "Mr. Greenberg described how we might find individuals with multiple locking devices around their bodies," McFarlin recounts, "and how in order to remove them safely there was a particular order in which the locks needed to be undone--if it wasn't done in that order, we could be putting the protester in great danger. As he described it, it was going to be something that police in Minnesota had never experienced before and wouldn't know how to deal with. Mr. Greenberg made it clear that the protesters were very willing to put their lives on the line. And we did find protesters locked down, hidden in areas in the walls, but as it turned out the situation wasn't of the magnitude that Mr. Greenberg had described. But that's why we expected it to take longer, 16 hours or more, to deal with the resistance." With the activists now encamped south of 54th Street near what they've dubbed the "Four Sacred Trees," Off Beat can't help but wonder what police and protesters have in mind for an encore performance.
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