The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary November 4, 2005

Wal-Mart rep misguided, other letters

To the Editors-

I am writing in response to two letters, the letter from Wal-Mart representative Philip Serghini and the letter from OCRD member Mark Chesler.

Before any Oberlin student hangs their head in shame and regrets saying anything mean about Wal-Mart, I feel compelled to analyze Mr. Serghini’s argument. Serghini states that “Wal-Mart provides good jobs...Wal-Mart provides affordable health care [sic] insurance...Wal-Mart does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.” If these statements are true, one is lead to believe that Wal-Mart is an ethical company and every person should strive to shop at, and work for, Wal-Mart.

Let us look at the first argument that “Wal-Mart provides good jobs.” If Mr. Serghini considers it to be a good job to work in a sweatshop that Wal-Mart purchases its products from, I encourage Mr. Serghini to take this form of employment. The reason that Wal-Mart is able to provide many of its products at extremely low prices is because they are made with cheap materials, with cheap labor, in terrible working conditions. This sweatshop job is one of the many secondary jobs that Wal-Mart provides to citizens around the globe. Looking at the actual jobs that Wal-Mart provides its employees, I would again offer Mr. Serghini to take any of the actual store-keeping jobs of his choosing. Perhaps Mr. Serghini would enjoy the feeling of security Wal-Mart provides its employees when it locks them in their own stores to prevent them from stealing any products. Perhaps Mr. Serghini would enjoy working as a janitor at one of the janitorial firms that Wal-Mart contracts with that have been found guilty of many labor violations. All of these are indeed jobs that Wal-Mart provides, but I will leave it to others to determine whether they are in fact good.

In a closer examination of Mr. Serghini’s second argument that “Wal-Mart provides affordable health care [sic] insurance,” I would again offer Mr. Serghini the option of taking the health care plan his employer provides its storekeepers. According to the Oct.17, 2005 edition of The New York Times, the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland are in the midst of litigation efforts that are trying to force Wal-Mart to provide insurance to its workers. According to the Times, “9000 Wal-Mart workers needed public insurance in Wisconsin, and that more than 10000 children of the store’s workers in Georgia were treated at taxpayer expense.” If I owned a business, I for one would certainly be concerned for my employees, my employees’ children and the health care they received; can Wal-Mart really say the same?

Furthermore, if Wal-Mart truly “doesn’t tolerate discrimination of any kind,” it makes one wonder why according to the July 14, 2005 New York Times, two truckers sued Wal-Mart for hiring bias. It also makes one wonder why Wal-Mart agreed to pay $11 million to the federal government when they admitted they used illegal immigrants to clean their stores. It further makes one wonder why the largest class action lawsuit in American history was filed against Wal-Mart by women employees who claim they have been sexually discriminated by the company. While these may be some of the “isolated incidents” that Mr. Serghini admits to in his letter, they are only a few of the 19 articles that popped up on the New York Times archive that detail discrimination lawsuits against Wal-Mart.

Finally, in regards to Mr. Chesler’s letter, one doesn’t really know where to begin. While it is clearly evident that Mr. Chesler has a grip of the English language or the Oxford dictionary, his letter lacks coherence. That is to say it is hard to determine the focus of his letter, as it varies from criticism of The Oberlin Review’s account of the Living Wage forum to criticism of the Oberlin Planning Board, and has a paragraph that has no relation to any issue at all. While everyone can use big vocabulary words, I at least find more people will understand where you are coming from if they understand what you are trying to say.

– Benjamin Klebanoff
College first-year

To the Editors:

Two weeks ago, I wrote that over the past year and a half “Wal-Mart threatened both the city council and the City Planning Commission with legal action if those bodies did not approve Wal-Mart’s initial plans” for developing a store in Oberlin. Last week, Mr. Phillip Serghini of Wal-Mart called my allegation “beyond outrageous.” I find Mr. Serghini’s reaction curious to say the least; but since my credibility has been called into question, allow me to respond briefly.

First, I have had numerous conversations with members of the council and Planning Commission. These residents of Oberlin and hard-working public servants told me quite bluntly that in several meetings with Wal-Mart representatives, Wal-Mart threatened to sue the city. Although the notes from these meetings are not part of the public record, I have no reason to doubt the honesty or credibility of my sources.

But Mr. Serghini does not need to take my word for it. At a city council meeting of April 5, 2004, representatives from Wal-Mart’s legal team were present. On the agenda were proposed new zoning restrictions for the area where Wal-Mart plans to build, and at question was whether the new restrictions would apply to Wal-Mart, who had recently filed a (very) preliminary request for site plan approval. Wal-Mart’s lawyers stated that they would view any attempt to hold Wal-Mart to these new restrictions as a “taking of their rights” and indicated that they would take legal action against the city in such an event. These comments are part of the public record, as are those of the citizens (myself included) who spoke against Wal-Mart at that meeting.

The next day, a letter dated April 6 from the law firm of Wickens, Herzer, Panza, Cook and Batista was delivered to the City Planning Commission. This letter criticizes a report dated March 29, 2004 prepared by City Planning Director Gary Boyle and suggests that there is “legal support” for Wal-Mart’s position that the new zoning regulations should not, when passed, apply to them. It closes aggressively: “The developer urges the Planning proceed promptly to review its application, as it has been submitted, for site approval.” Admittedly, this letter does not openly threaten legal action. But given the fact that the letter comes not from Wal-Mart, but from their legal representatives, that it cites previous case law as well as Chapter 1357 of the Oberlin City Ordinances and that it was delivered to the Planning Commission before they had even begun discussion of Wal-Mart’s preliminary application, the implied threat is clear enough.

The Planning Commission certainly viewed it as a threat. In their meeting of April 6, Planning Commission member Frank Carlson (himself a lawyer) held up the letter and referred to it as a “shot across the bow.” Both he and Marilyn Fedlchak-Harley requested that Wal-Mart “call off the lawyers” and allow the Planning Commission to do their job with regard to the site plan proposal. Again, this meeting is part of the public record. If, moreover, Mr. Serghini has misplaced his copy of the letter of April 6, 2004 from Wickens, Herzer, Panza, Cook and Batista, I’m sure that the City Clerk will be happy to provide him with one.

Two pieces of advice for Mr. Serghini and his employer: If Wal-Mart does not like being portrayed as a bully, then the retailer should stop bullying local governmental bodies. And if Mr. Serghini plans to write further attacks on my credibility, he should make sure that he has his facts straight. If he does not, I will.

– Kirk Ormand
Associate Professor of Classics

To the Editors:

A message for any readers currently registered to vote in Ohio: Please get out to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8 and vote “yes” on Issues 2, 3, 4, and 5. These issues represent proposed amendments to the Ohio Constitution that, if passed, will implement critically needed reform in this state’s electoral system and campaign finance laws. The following breaks down the four issues, and what you’ll be voting for by voting in favor of the amendments. (Issues 2 and 5 are actually two points of the same amendment. To read the amendments in full, go to

Issue 2:
Early Voting. Would allow Ohioans to vote up to 35 days before Election Day, either by mail or in person at their local boards of elections, without having to provide an excuse, such as military service overseas. Early voting would cut down on crowds and long waits at the polls.

Issue 3:
Reform of Campaign Finance Laws. The current campaign contribution limit of was recently raised to $20000 per candidate. This grant disproportionate political influence to moneyed special interests. The amendment would limit individual contributions to $2000 to statewide campaigns and $1000 to legislative campaigns, with the goal of undermining “pay-to-play” politics in Ohio and according more influence to ordinary voters.

Issue 4:
Independent Redistricting. Politicians have taken advantage of their present legal power to create their own legislative districts, drawing boundaries to split the votes of ethnic minorities and to ensure victories for their own parties regardless of voters’ real wishes. The proposed amendment calls for the creation of a non-partisan Independent Commission to look over individual citizens’ submitted districting plans before deciding district boundaries.

Issue 5:
Independent Election Administration. The current system entrusts the direction of state elections to partisan officials, creating opportunities for corruption. The amendment would assign election administration to a bipartisan Board of Supervisors, similar in function to the County Boards of Elections which already oversee Ohio’s county elections.

You may or may not know about all the many unanswered questions about concerning probable corruption in the 2004 elections, or the indictment of two Ohio election officials two months ago for violation of recount law, or the underhanded exchange of favors between politicians and a top campaign contributor that resulted in the ongoing “Coingate” scandal. But if you voted last year, you’ll certainly remember the three to five hour waits at the polls and you’ll have a good idea how badly Ohio’s voting procedures need to be changed. Demand it. Vote Nov. 8.

– Kevin Brondum
– Jeff Conor
Reform Ohio Now/Ohio PIRG

To the Editors:

The Lorain County Rape Crisis Center offers the following resources to anyone in need of sexual assault support services:

-24-hour hotline response (1-800-888-6161) Ask for rape crisis on-call advocate.

-Sexual Assault Care Unit — collection of evidence

-Legal Advocacy

-Child Advocacy

-One-on-one support and education to survivors of sexual assault/abuse

-One-on-one support and education to significant others of survivors

-Curriculum based support and education group

-Community education

All services provided at Nord Rape Crisis follow the rape crisis model of support and education and the belief and focus that all sexual abuse is about power and control, therefore, examined first and foremost as a crime of violence. Furthermore, services are free and anonymous.

A Nord Rape Crisis Advocate has office hours on campus in Wilder 301 (“The Living Room”) the first and third Tuesday of every month, from 1-4:30 p.m. You do not need an appointment, just stop by.

The Nord Rape Crisis Center also trains and utilizes volunteers both for community education and to answer the hotline. Hotline volunteers have been, and are currently, Oberlin College students, Lorain County residents, people of color, people interested in the justice system, bilingual people, and LGBT persons.

If you have any questions about Nord Rape Crisis Services, please contact Kay Jones, Crisis Advocate, at

– Lori Morgan Flood
Assistant Dean/Director of Health and Life Skills Education

To the Editor:

The City of Oberlin is at odds with itself. We have all been disenfranchised by a local legal opinion pronounced two decades ago that disallows write-in council candidates in Oberlin. I am told this was to thwart the candidacy of an Oberlin College student. It has been long forgotten by those who should have remembered and was neither detected nor corrected in the charter review.

As a result we are prevented by this perverse and probably unconstitutional legal opinion from voting to return a capable current councilwoman. Meanwhile an untested candidate will be allowed to drop into her seat through default and with no voter assessment at all!

They say you get the government you deserve and this does appear to be the case. Seven positions and seven candidates! The diversity, talent and skills of Oberlin citizens are only matched by their lack of willingness to participate in the political process. Because of this we face two more years of the acrimony and knee-jerk obstructionism that has been visited upon Gardner, Peterson and Sandberg by holdover council members since the 2003 election.

I urge everyone who votes to pick only three or four candidates whom they respect and to let none of the candidates thereafter forget how many votes each received. As for the anti write-in opinion, we should demand that city council work to immediately nullify it!

– John Picken
OC ’56

To the Editors:

On Tuesday, Nov. 8 and Wednesday, Nov. 9, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. in Wilder Main, the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) will be sponsoring a pioneering effort to increase the number of people of color and people of multi-ethnic/racial backgrounds currently registered as bone marrow donors.

Every year 30,000 people are diagnosed with diseases treatable with a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant. Patients affected by leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and other blood diseases can potentially recover or get substantially better with a marrow transplant. The transplant works by replacing the unhealthy blood cells with the healthy blood cells of the donor. According to the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), tissue types are inherited, therefore a person is most likely to find a compatible genetic match with someone in their same ethnic or racial group. Since 2001, the Mavin Foundation, located in Seattle, has been working with donor centers, recruitment groups and college campuses across the nation to increase the number of people of color and particularly those of mixed heritage that are registered as potential bone marrow donors. Of those registered with the NMDP only 25 percent are people of color, with mixed race people representing a mere two percent.

Therefore, this year the MRC has decided to take up the challenge of registering a minimum of 100 faculty, staff, students and community members of color and of mixed heritage. The process is not as daunting as people may think. All that we ask is that you complete a brief health questionnaire, sign a consent form and provide a small blood sample for tissue typing. This will automatically register you into the NMDP. It only takes 15 minutes to potentially save a life. The goal of this Marrow-thon is to diversify the pool of potential donors and to decrease the disparity amongst donors, so that all patients have equal access to resources and treatments. Therefore, while at this time, our focus is obtaining donors who are people of color and people of multiethnic/racial backgrounds, we would be more than happy to provide information and opportunities for others interested in registering.

If you are interested in learning more about this project or helping the MRC spread the word, please contact Together we can advocate on behalf of patients for equal access to resources and also begin to redefine our understanding of race, culture and identity.

Hope to see you at the Marrow-thon.

– The MRC

To the Editors:

In the Sept. 30 issue an article was printed in regard to a speech I gave at Oberlin, the article was titled: “Pro-Choice Rights in Crisis.” While I was pleased that a reporter actually took the time to attend and cover this, there are a few corrections and clarifications I’d like to make.

When I said that poor and homeless women/girls will begin dying if an Ohio bill, requiring women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion, goes into effect, it ought to be noted why I said that. First, I’d like to let readers know that the bill went into effect Oct. 10, 2005 at 5 p.m. It requires women to meet face-to-face with a doctor and then wait to have an abortion 24 hours later. This becomes a financial hardship for women and creates an undue burden on them when they need to add another day to arrange day care, transportation and miss work. Women won’t ever stop aborting. If abortion is illegal or a financial hardship, women will continue to abort. This means that some women, in Ohio, will try to self-abort and others will seek illegal abortions. While the 24-hour wait is being trumpeted as good medical practice, that isn’t true — in fact, it’s the opposite. What happened in this country before Roe v. Wade (when abortion became legal) and what happens in other countries, where abortion is illegal, is that there’s a high death toll from botched abortions. So, regardless of what people’s personal beliefs are about abortion, one would hope that people would want women to have access to safe health care to show that they value women’s lives.

In reference to the people/places anti-choice activist’s target when doing a siege: they harass abortion clinics, gay bars and bookstores that they don’t agree with — the bookstores aren’t necessarily gay bookstores. For example, some of the anti-choice community isn’t big on Harry Potter!

While naming some of the shootings and murders of abortion doctors, staff and escorts, this was, unfortunately, NOT a list of “every episode of violence against abortion doctors in a five-year period...” Please go to to see an extensive listing of that.

As for the escorts I recruit, train and organize, they go by the name of the Cleveland Pro-Choice escorts, not the “Cleveland Pro-Choice Escort Services.” Want to make sure people aren’t thinking of this as a different kind of escort service than it is!

Thanks to Nora Sharp for covering this. Your desire to cover this material is much needed, in the future, please double check on info.

– Deb
Abortion Rights Organizer

To the Editors:

Fever of 104? Aching muscles? Flat on your back (sick) for 5-7 days?Yuck, doesn’t sound like fun, does it? Every year after winter term, Oberlin College students, faculty and staff bring the flu virus to our campus community. You can protect yourself and your loved ones this year by having the flu vaccination. The process is quick, easy and relatively pain free. Student Health Services is offering a Flu Shot Clinic especially for students in Wilder Hall on Monday, Nov. 7 from 12-6 p.m. This will occur on a walk-in basis for a cost of $10 (cash or check).

The flu vaccine is recommended by Student Health for all students, but especially for those who smoke, volunteer in public schools or medical facilities, have asthma/allergies or other chronic health problems. By receiving the vaccine, not only will you protect yourself, you will also prevent the spread of the virus to others.

Hope to see you there.

– Laura Hieronymus
Director, Student Health Services

To the Editors:

I wanted to take the opportunity to publicly thank Voices For Christ for appearing at the children’s benefit concert for hurricane victims last Saturday, Oct. 8. With their help, we were able to raise $245 for the Oberlin Community Services Katrina Fund, which is helping survivors who have moved to the Oberlin area. It was also wonderful for the kids to have the experience of singing along with the choir — what fun to hear you together!

A special thank you to VFC’s director, William Brewer, for helping to coordinate the event. And a word to the rest of you: if you haven’t yet heard these folks, you’re really missing out!

– Jennifer Wamsley Bertori
OC ’92

To the Editors:

Regarding Jamie Hansen’s pooly-researched article on Mt. Oberlin (Oct. 7). There’s a whole lot more to Lorain County than just Oberlin. Mount Oberlin has never been the highest point in the county; in fact, it’s never even been the highest point in Oberlin. Until 1990, the highest point in town was actually a body of water, the Bill Long/Pyle Road reservoir, at 840 feet above sea level. Since the 1990 annexation of areas south of Hamilton Street, the highest point in Oberlin is on some farmland just north of route 20, east of Plum Creek, standing at 844 feet. Mount Oberlin is only 834 feet high, according to the Lorain County Auditor’s office and the county engineer.

The highest point in Lorain County is a pole barn on the east side of route 58 at the Ashland County line, 15 miles south of Mount Oberlin. It is 1,120 feet above sea level.

– Rip Smops
Oberlin resident


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