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Payday 

The vote is in! Result? It's Mendocino Redwood Company, by a mile!

The only major voting bloc in the Pacific Lumber bankruptcy case that doesn't have its own horse in the running is the group of "unsecured creditors," the mostly small-fry type folks who did business with the company, or successfully sued it. (The Journal is one such creditor, to the tune of $85.)

Turns out 98 percent of these creditors voted for the plan being promulgated by Marathon Capital, one of the company's big-time creditors, and its ally, the Mendocino Redwood Company. In addition, that 98 percent — a simple head-count — represents 99 percent of the total cash claims against the company from the unsecureds. A landslide and not surprising, given that a broad swatch of Humboldt County — from nouveau hippie to old-school trucker — has gotten behind Mendo Redwoods as the most stable, sustainable plan for both the economy and the environment.

The unsecureds rejected the other plans — one that would put the lands up for auction, and Palco's own housing development-based plans — by nearly as wide a margin. Everyone else, the high-stakes players in the game, voted for their own plans and against the others'.

One curious outcome of this is that Mendocino Redwoods is the only serious player left at the table that has any sort of plan for the town of Scotia and the Palco mill. If the other major player in the game — the owners of bonds secured against Palco's timber holdings — get their way, the land would go up for auction and the mill would be left to hang.

Though Palco itself had plans for the town, the fact that they could get any of the other parties in the case to vote for them means that they're all but dead. On Tuesday, several of the parties asked the Judge Richard Schmidt to basically declare them so. The cautious Schmidt declined, saying that anything could happen between then and now. But he did agree with the basic premise.

"At this point the plan is not confirmable," Schmidt announced to the courtroom. "Do we all know that?"

One Maxxam plan that's still alive, as far as we can tell: The Scotia Pacific "cramdown plan," in which Maxxam keeps a prime chunk of Humboldt County acreage to develop or hold hostage, leaving the dogs to fight over the rest of the company. No one voted for this either, but the company is still hoping that the judge might yet choose to "cram it down" — that's an actual legal term — on everyone else.

The "confirmation" phase of the bankruptcy trial starts this Tuesday, April 8, and is expected to last for several days. It's going to be a wild, wild ride. In the end, voting could not mean all that much. The judge has enormous latitude in choosing or rejecting the viability of the plans on offer, and the bizarre intricacies of bankruptcy law mean that it could be just about anybody's game, still.

We're going to break from our default cool, detached mode for a moment here. If we keep this bottled up inside any longer our heads are going to explode. So bear with us.

Can someone please tell us how on Earth the leadership at Humboldt State University — wrecked by budget cuts, plagued with a semi-permanent faculty revolt, contemplating a 10 percent fee increase for students — can justify its stratospheric salary levels? Anyone? Anyone?

We are talking about a public university, right? We're supposing that the rewards for the job are not measured entirely in the amount you're sacking away, but in the service you're performing for your fellow man and you're society. Is that completely na?Øve? Do you chuckle? Is the idea of service merely a fairy tale we tell our children, and which some of us dense adults have yet to outgrow?

We're not just talking about HSU President Rollin Richmond, who took a $27,000 raise last year to bring him up to an awe-inspiring $297,870 per year. We're talking about the various subadministrators beneath him, all conveniently listed in the Sacramento Bee's database of state employee salaries. We're talking about Carl Coffey, vice president for Adminstrative Affairs: $194,688; Robert Snyder, provost: $193,500; Steven Butler, vice president for Student Affairs: $182,748; Robert Gunsalus, vice president for Advancement: $180,000. And that's apart from whichever of the customary perks and such still survive.

The CSU system currently is proposing a 10 percent increase in student fees — currently around $2,700 per year — to make up for budget cuts coming down from the state. Humboldt State has around 7,000 full-time students. So the fee increase would net Humboldt State around $1.9 million dollars, more or less.

Look at the other end. There's 55 people at Humboldt State (out of 873 salaried employees in the database) who make over $100,000 per year. Almost all of them are administrators of one kind or another. Rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the school would directly save around $700,000 if each member of the $100,000-per-year club were to take a temporary 10 percent decrease in pay throughout the duration of the crisis. And the university would actually save quite a bit more than that, because some taxes and benefits would also go down with the salaries.

So that simple, valiant, selfless measure would get you at least halfway there. It would demonstrate inspiring leadership and commitment to the cause of higher education, which we'd suspect that each member of the group profess their dedication to once in a while. Let the faculty take a voluntary three percent cut, too — they're far from blameless in this matter — and you've got your problem solved, and you'd almost certainly have a healthy surplus besides.

Do that, or something like it, or else your repeated wailing about the public education crisis in the great state of California amounts to nothing. People will plug their ears when they see you headed their way, and they'll be perfectly in the right.

One more thingregarding the Martin Cotton case, which you can read about elsewhere in this paper: It is unacceptable that county government insists that everyone take its verdict in the case unquestioningly. The county has evidence — or what could be evidence — of a theory about Cotton's death in a county jail cell last fall. That evidence is in the form of a surveillance videotape, in which it is said that Cotton can be seen thrashing about and bashing his head against hard surfaces — perhaps, according to the now-official theory, contracting a fast-acting hematoma. That tape could be released to the public tomorrow if the county so chose, and perhaps all the questions in the case would go away. But the county does not so choose. And one does have to ask why.

The Journal will renew its public records act request in the case, and this time we will renew it with a bit more vigor. At the same time, there seems to be a civil lawsuit pending, and if the lawsuit moves forward the tape will surely be subject to discovery at some point. We hope that the Humboldt County Grand Jury inquires into the matter, for despite the many cases that are surely keeping it busy right now we believe that this is an important one.

Democratic government isn't built on the notion that we all just have to trust our public servants. It can't be. This paper doesn't hold with the far-out conspiracy freaks who snatch up every loose thread to sew into their crazy quilt, but this is a simple matter. A man died in public custody. The evidence is there. It can be released. It should be.

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About The Author

Hank Sims

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