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Chainsaw Chancellor

[whitespace] Barry Munitz
Transition Team Player: Barry Munitz' stints as vice-chairman at Maxxam and controversial CSU Chancellor has angered some environmentalists and educators.

Associated Press/Mark J. Terrill



The other résumé of Governor-elect Gray Davis' transition team leader, Barry Munitz

By Cecily Barnes

THREE WEEKS AGO, California's governor-elect, Gray Davis, made his first appointment since being elected governor. In a hurried conference call with reporters less than one week after the election, he announced that former California State University Chancellor Barry Munitz would direct his transition team.

For Davis, who had clearly trumpeted education throughout his campaign, Munitz appeared to be the perfect choice. First, there was his former role as CSU chancellor and second, his current position as CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. What seemed less perfect, however, were some of the other qualifications spattered across Barry Munitz's résumé, which Davis decided not to tout.

Munitz was the man who toiled for nine years as vice chairman of Pacific Lumber's vilified parent company, Maxxam Corp., blamed by environmentalists for illegally clearcutting in the Headwaters region of California's north coast. In his educational endeavors, Munitz was also the man who oversaw substantial fee hikes in the California State University system and who has been accused by faculty of attempting to "corporatize" the CSU campuses.

Munitz's third untouted accomplishment surfaces on a Web site titled "Jail Hurwitz." The man who will usher in 100 new gubernatorial staff appointments and offer advice on allocations in the state budget is currently a co-respondent in federal Justice Department hearings with Maxxam president Charles Hurwitz over the crash of a Texas savings and loan, which bombed after Hurwitz and others allegedly invested in high-risk junk bonds. According to attorneys in the U.S. Treasury's Office of Thrift Supervision, Munitz has been charged with unsafe and unsound banking practices and certain regulatory violations associated with the United Savings Association of Texas, which failed at the end of 1988.

WHILE THE mainstream media have scarcely scratched the surface of Munitz's record, environmentalists have been quick to dredge up his past, openly criticizing Gray Davis' decision to make Munitz his first appointment. Still stinging from the contentious Headwaters deal, in which the California Legislature agreed to pay some $495 million in state and federal money to buy at least 7,500 acres of the old growth forest, environmentalists say the newly elected governor seems to be arming his camp with a former buddy of the timber trade.

"This means that many of Davis' appointments are going to be screened, selected and approved by Maaxam's former vice president," lamented Earth First activist Darryl Cherney, who has tracked Maxxam president Charles Hurwitz for more than a decade. "It's an insult to the voters of California, and I think Gray Davis is a traitor for appointing him. "

Defeated Green Party gubernatorial candidate Dan Hamburg, who has been griping with environmental buddies via the Internet, sings a similar tune.

"My first thought was to wonder whether this was arrogance or stupidity on the part of Gray Davis," Hamburg says about the appointment. "I sincerely hope it's the latter. Either way I think this appointment really confirms that Gray Davis is not appreciably different than the two governors who preceded him. This is the new Democratic Party. You wouldn't see Barry Munitz appointed to that position by the traditional Democratic Party."

Chris Campana, a Davis spokesman, responds that Munitz's function as transition team director is to bring organizational skills and management savvy to the process, not to undercut a strong foundation of environmental support.

"Gray Davis has a 25-year record in the state of California of protecting and preserving environmental causes. He will be no less dedicated to the protection and preservation of the environment no matter who is on his transition team," Campana says. "Mr. Munitz has exceptional credentials and has experience dealing with bureaucracy. We see him as one of the strengths of the transition team."

Besides, Campana points out, the position lasts only two months and comes with no salary.

Despite the concerns of Headwaters die-hards, the Sierra Club, which endorsed Davis, has shrugged its shoulders over the appointment.

"As far as I can tell, he hasn't done anything environmental [whether good or bad] since he left Maxxam," Sierra Club spokesman Mike Paparian says. "Davis when he appointed him really emphasized the education issues, having Munitz emphasize education. If he were to move into other positions, I might have a stronger concern."

However, given that Sierra Club president Carl Pope was pied just a few weeks ago for his support of the Headwaters deal (criticized by some environmentalists as too little forest for too much taxpayer money), Sierra Clubbers may be weary of judging anyone else's environmental stance on the ancient forests.

Indifferent mumblings about the Munitz appointment were also heard from Sen. Byron Sher's office, although the tree-friendly senator would not return repeated calls. Finally staffer Jeff Shellito was tracked down, only to offer the official "no comment" response.

BUT MUNITZ HAS been criticized for more than sharing a redwood frame bed with Hurwitz. Hamburg points out that he hiked student fees, chopped enrollments and faithfully phased out affirmative action as CSU chancellor. He also flirted with big business, a fan of swap deals between high-tech companies and the university system--whereby companies would donate money or technology in exchange for exclusive rights to provide services on CSU campuses.

Shortly before Munitz left for the Getty Trust in 1998, he moved to wrap up his legacy as chancellor with an unprecedented deal between GTE, Hughes Communications, Fujitsu, Microsoft and CSU. The specifics of this deal, deemed the California Education Technologies Initiative, were never fully uncovered, since they fell apart after the California Faculty Association offered strong opposition. However, according to CFA president Terry Jones, the corporations would have brought the CSU system up to speed technologically in exchange for some sort of product monopoly or property rights on the CSU campuses.

"Private corporations would do the wiring, provide software and hardware, and in exchange we would use their products," says Jones. "Our concerns were that it could possibly have some impact on the terms and conditions of employment, or that there could have been instances of farming out labor. And the ultimate concern was that it should have required consultation with the public."

MUNITZ, HOWEVER, was disliked long before he rubbed elbows with big business in his chancellor's robe. He has been deemed the "Texas Chainsaw Chancellor" by environmentalists because of his involvement with the crashed Texas bank and Pacific Lumber. When Munitz first came on board with CSU in 1991, a small group of SJSU students forged a special election and overwhelmingly gave Chancellor Munitz a no-confidence vote. Barry Munitz failed to return repeated phone calls from Metro.

The past of this key Davis appointee has received little prominent exposure. The argument stands that his involvement with Maxxam was long ago, and the stain of that affiliation should be well worn away. However, Hamburg and other environmentalists think otherwise.

"Gray Davis supported a moratorium on the logging of ancient trees," Earth First's Cherney says. "Now he's choosing someone who is so corporate and high-profile that he's currently on trial."

As the transition-team leader for Davis, Munitz will help crunch the new state budget, as well as recommend and help interview more than 100 appointees. However, Davis always has the final say, Campana notes. "No one is making decisions for Gray Davis in a vacuum," he says.

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From the December 3-9, 1998 issue of Metro.

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