Say you’re Touch America. You just lost an arbitration case to Quest for $59.6 million plus interest, you’ve been delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, and you’ve seen the value of your stock drop from $23 a share to under a buck. What are you going to do?

You’re going to Disney World!

Even as Touch America is embroiled in a spectacular financial mess, and with management considering bankruptcy, the company recently dipped into the petty cash and sent 20 employees on an all-expense-paid trip to the house that Walt built.

“We pay our sales force with commissions and we have sales contests,” says Touch America’s director of media and investor relations Linda McGillen. “The people that went, this was part of their compensation.”

McGillen won’t comment on how the company managed to foot the bill for airfare, hotel and a couple dozen of those cute little Mickey Mouse Club ears that always looked so fetching on Annette Funicello. But she says that Touch America still has enough to pay its employees.

“That payment was part of their salary,” says McGillen. “Whether it’s paid that way or in a straight salary they are going to be paid.”

In another Touch America story relating to the Sunshine State, Florida resident Brad Kelley has purchased 491,900 more shares of the company as of early April. The chairman of a discount cigarette manufacturer and a race horse investor, Kelley now owns 13,328,400 shares, or about 13 percent of the company. Kelley says he has no intentions of taking over the company—he’s just a savvy investor. Huh?

The first journalist who can link Kelley’s investment in Touch America to the employees’ trip to Disney World will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Destination Montana.


The wild spirit of the West suffered a major setback in recent days as three Montana counties sent out strong messages to one of our foremost symbols of wilderness—wolves. That message: You are not welcome here.

Phillips, Valley and Fergus counties have all adopted resolutions stating in no uncertain terms that wolves need not apply to live within their borders. Local governments in the three counties stated that, as agriculture is of the utmost importance to their communities’ economic livelihood, wolves constitute a menace to society that cannot be tolerated.

The gray wolf is currently under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, but Montana, as well as neighbors Idaho and Wyoming, will likely be taking control over wolf populations once acceptable management plans are presented. Whether the feds deem “shoot ’em if you see ’em” acceptable remains to be seen.

Fergus county’s resolution used particularly strong language, defining wolves as an “unacceptable species” and prohibiting their “presence, introduction, or reintroduction” within county boundaries.

It is uncertain whether the wolves will abide by the resolutions, and some skeptics argue that they are unlikely to have much effect, particularly since studies have shown that the animals are not capable of reading the English language.

Still, two other Montana counties, Blaine and Chouteau, are considering passing similar anti-wolf resolutions, in hopes the wolves will read the unified message loud and clear.

Asked for comment on how the resolutions would affect his community, one unidentified gray wolf stared at an Independent reporter for a number of minutes, then walked off into the woods without a word.

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