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Wal-Mart in Jefferson
|On Trusting Wal-Mart
A proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter in the town of Jefferson has stirred up more controversy than the police station and senior center combined. Both pro and anti Wal-Mart "facts" were laid out before the citizens of Jefferson in two recent forums: the Wal-Mart informational meeting, presented by Wal-Mart officials, and the Al Norman presentation, sponsored by a semi-anonymous anti Wal-Mart coalition. Unfortunately, the only thing they seemed to agree on was that the other side was spreading misinformation, and members of the public should "do their own research".
If recent letters to the editor are an indication, research seems to consist primarily of phone calls to communities that have been successfully courted by Wal-Mart. Soliciting opinions from officials and/or residents in towns with Wal-Marts generates a lot of anecdotal information, but such information is usually tailored to one's predisposed point of view. If you are pro-Wal-Mart, you start with city officials and the local Chamber of Commerce. If you are anti-Wal-Mart, you find businesses adversely affected by Wal-Mart Supercenters (pharmacies, grocery and hardware stores). Such biased data collection proves little, other than there are two sides to every story.
People who don't the like the message try to shoot the messenger. Wal-Mart is the richest corporation in the world. It can defend itself - and does so vigorously in the 9,000 to 10,000 lawsuits pending against it at any given moment. Mr. Norman, though compensated for his appearances, his fewer resources (and presumably fewer lawsuits). He has taken quite a verbal beating from Wal-Mart supporters; the basher has become the "bashee"'. I believe Jefferson owes Mr. Norman a debt of gratitude for reminding city officials that the Jefferson's Master Plan should guide all new development. I doubt whether the joint meeting of the Planning Commission, the JDC, and city common council to review the Master Plan would have taken place without Mr. Norman's impetus. Personally, that meeting helped me understand that a huge discount store is (regrettably) compatible with the Master plan's annexation policy for the proposed site. Score one for Wal-Mart and its supporters.
It is time to lift the moratorium on big-box stores so that the city officials and Wal-Mart can sit down and start talking specifics. Although my opposition to Wal-Mart remains strong, I believe more information about their proposal is needed, and that isn't going to happen until the moratorium is ended. I would, however, advise the city to proceed with caution and "get it in writing". Wal-Mart has a well-documented history of being less than forthright with the public. According to a feature article in the Cleveland Scene 9/4/2002, Wal-Mart has the dubious honor of garnering more judicial sanctions (at least 75) for discovery abuse than the rest of the Fortune 500 companies combined! Discovery is the process where lawyers ask questions of the opposition to get the facts in a case - before the trial begins. These "discovered" facts are then presented before a judge and to a jury. If a party intentionally conceals or misrepresents facts during discovery, the judicial process is sabotaged.
Not believing everything I read in a newspaper, I did some research of my own. I found a group of official court documents and law journal articles that catalog "a corporate policy of frustrating the discovery process" on the part of Wal-Mart. My favorite quote, from a 5/3/99 article entitled "Wal-Mart cited for discovery abuse" in The National Law Journal, comes from an Alabama judge: "(W)hat do they teach in Arkansas? Is there something in the drinking water in Arkansas that says perjury is all right?" I wonder if Doskosil workers share this opinion about Arkansas, since it is home to the corporate headquarters of Tyson Foods as well as Wal-Mart.
It boils down to this: how far can you trust information supplied by a corporation that has a documented history of misleading the courts, much less the public? A link to a PDF file containing some of that history is available at http://www.gojefferson.com, as are viewpoints that support Wal-mart. Visit, read, and decide for yourself.