by Max Brantley
I erred last night in saying Exxon Mobil wanted a Mayflower school PTO meeting about a $15,000 Exxon grant to be closed to the press. Exxon Mobil was not present for the meeting and did not tell the school that the media was not welcome, an Exxon PR spokesman said. The PTO president wanted the meeting closed and Exxon said it was not even aware of the meeting.
SPEAKING OF EXXON: Coincidentally, I just noticed the Log Cabin Democrat has done some reporting on an issue I'd just asked the Exxon spokesman about. Specifically, the Cabin reports that local law officers are working as off-duty security for Exxon Mobil. The article raises a question:
“I feel like these officers have a real conflict of interest,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association. Police and deputies working off-duty shouldn’t just do everything Exxon says to do, he said.
The question is pertinent to earlier reports that local law officers had ordered environmentalists off private property they say they had permission to visit. Were these uniformed officers working for the public then, or for Exxon Mobil?
The Cabin article mentions Mayflower and Faulkner County officers working for Exxon at unspecified rates. (I erroneously included Conway in the original post.) I'm also checking a report that state Game and Fish Commission officers have been enlisted for private security. Game and Fish, given the potential impact to its Lake Conway and surrounding area, might well have a claim to pursue against the oil company in time. A reliable source tells me 17 officers signed on with Exxon at $35 an hour, but I'm still awaiting confirmation on that.
UPDATE: A spokesman for Game and Fish confirms employment of 14 officers by Exxon, but we're still waiting on details of their employment and for a statement about potential conflicts. Spokesman Keith Stephens said later that the agency had no information on number of hours worked or rate of pay. He said the officers were hired through Off Duty Services, Inc. out of Katy, Texas, to provide security for the tankers holding the oil. Stephens said state property, such as cars, is not being used in the moonlighting. Still no statement about concerns of conflict of interest. Some think the state is a victim here, after all.
An Exxon Mobil PR spokesperson didn't respond to my question about security hired from the ranks of local law enforcement agencies.
Game and Fish said supervisors had to approve the work and that the agency director was aware of the arrangment. I'm still trying for agency comment on question of whether Exxon-paid employees might be compromised on protection of the lake — say in reports on potential damage from the spill — by their outside employment.
UPDATE II: Re the conflict question, Stephens said:
No. These officers are protecting the equipment that is owned by other contractors.