Mullen: Won’t Back Down 

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It’s been one of those weeks when a few people intent on intimidating others into submission seem especially busy. Today, I offer two examples for your consideration.

First, we have Boss Coal—you know him better after his three weeks in Utah as Bob Murray. His work completed for now at his Crandall Canyon mine in Huntington Canyon, Utah, Murray boarded a sleek corporate jet on Aug. 27 for the Midwest. Free of those messy meetings with grieving families of miners, Murray can start prepping, for three separate congressional investigations into his mining and safety practices set to begin in early September.

What an impeccably timed exit. One day earlier, the news broke that Murray, co-owner of the collapsed mine that still holds six miners 1,700 feet below its surface, would close all three of his operations in Carbon and Emery counties. He announced 170 layoffs would follow.

Murray said he is simply trying to ensure the safety of his employees.

As I write this, a handful of Utah miners have just boarded a bus for either Ohio or Illinois, where they’ll work temporarily at one of Boss Coal’s other mines. And Murray, I’m betting, is comfortable in some notion that he succeeded in intimidating a bunch of blue-collar workers into believing that an increasingly critical Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. had a serious role in their unemployment. Hell, if you believe Murray, Hunstman is on the edge of tipping the whole region into recession.

And at least one news outlet shares the blame, too, according to Murray’s Utah-American Energy Inc. A company press release issued this week, singled out “biased and very unfair reporting of [The Salt Lake] Tribune,” all but blaming the newspaper for the chaos, uncertainty and shattered lives that will result from Boss Coal shuttering his mines.

Ah, the intimidation factor. It shows up beautifully at moments like these, along with its close sibling, blame shifting. It isn’t Murray’s dangerous practice of retreat mining, which experts say resulted in the compromise of Crandall Canyon’s support structure, that led to the mine’s increased “bumps,” then collapse, then deaths, then closures, then layoffs. Blame Huntsman. Blame the U.S. House and Senate committees that have ordered probes into Murray’s operations.

As governor, Huntsman oversees the health and safety of every last Utahn—above and below ground. As for Congress, one of its constitutionally mandated roles is to provide oversight of federal operations like mining. Six men are trapped in a mine and three others have died trying to pull them out. Do you think—maybe—it’s time for an official investigation?

As I mentioned up top, it’s been a week of punk efforts at intimidation. On a much smaller scale than Murray’s PR ploy, a City Weekly reporter and his editors have been targets of similar tactics.

This week’s cover story, “Will Smile for Cash,” by senior staff writer Stephen Dark is a well-researched investigation into the organization and funding mechanisms behind Salt Lake City’s emerging science and technology museum, The Leonardo.

Voters gladly helped finance The Leonardo’s start by approving a $10.2 million bond. As Dark explains, The Leonardo’s end of the bargain was to match the bond through fund raising.

The Leonardo’s board of directors and staff has asked the Salt Lake City Council to cough up an extra $13 million to help out. As we saw it here at CW, that’s not necessarily a problem—so long as taxpayers know what they’re getting into, and that the museum provides them with a reasonable mission, purpose, and timeline for construction start and completion.

As Dark’s story points out, we have precious little of that information.

The City Council is likely to vote on the extra funding this fall. Dark’s story is the first I’ve seen to offer any depth on the topic.

But in the past few weeks, Leonardo executive director Mary Tull, public relations consultant Lisa James and Leonardo board president Marshall Wright have each tried muscling CW into publishing a story that meets their exact specifications.

In a series of e-mails and phone conversations, Dark has been urged to “be honest in spirit,” and repeatedly nagged for “attention to accuracy.” In an e-mail dated Aug. 7, James mentions following up with people Dark has interviewed, and of the “misconceptions” he has about “certain items.” In referring to an anonymous and widely circulated e-mail questioning some of The Leonardo’s practices, James even infers it might have been generated by Dark, presumably to gin up controversy. “Considering some of the similarities between [the e-mailer’s] questions and yours—I thought it might possibly be you (although ‘why’ is a real mystery),” James wrote. “I’m relieved to hear it’s not.”

And finally, on Aug. 24, Wright finished an interview with Dark this way: “you’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to pay for them.”

 I don’t think you’ll find the story as damning as the folks at The Leonardo have anticipated. I do think you’ll find it informative and enlightening, which is always a good thing when $13 million more of your tax money is at stake.

More Mullen:

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