Page 23


by campaigning to keep conservative Texas Democrats within the fold; now, he would call in some of his political IOUs. No sooner was Carter installed in the White House than Briscoe began pestering top presidential aides to prevent the release of the grant. Dolph even showed up in person to plead his case and also used his clout to line up congressional support for his crusade to save South Texas from the Raza Unidatied co-op. The Community Services Administration, the federal agency with control over the money, suddenly started finding a whole lot of things wrong with the Zavala proposal. Details of the transfer of co-op ownership rights from the ZCEDC to farmworker members became the source of grave reservations about the proposal on the part of CSA director Graciela Olivarez, a Carter appointee. The Zavala grant proponents . were somewhat mystified, because identical arrangements in previous grant proposals approved by CSA had sailed through without a word of objection. Inadequacies in ZCEDC’s management also surfaced as an obstacle to release of the funds soon after the change in administrations in Washington. Gutierrez maintains that the local development corporation complied with all federal regulations, and that the grant had been okayed by the civil service types in the CSAonly the political appointees refused to endorse it, he recalls. CSA officials deny this and say their concerns were based on the work of a congressional oversight committee out grants to the Zavala development corporation as being out of compliance with regulations in late 1976. Another criticism the CSA leveled against the ZCEDC proposal was that the cooperative would not go far enough in promoting the economic well-being of chicanos in Zavala Countythat it would merely create a “new class of stoop laborers.” Gutierrez argues, however, that the corporation would pump thousands of dollars into the depressed local economy, paying more than 200 employees an average of $3.50 per hourmuch more than the typical substandard Valley wage. And ZCEDC farmworkers, he adds, will at least’ be landowning stoop laborers. Gutierrez also points to the success of another federally subsidized community development corporation set up by the Raza Unida party in San Antonio. Managed by the Mexican-American Unity Council, the eight-year-old local investment, health and social services corporation currently generates more than $13 million annually and employs hundreds of San Antonians. Nonetheless, the result of all these new-found difficulties was the suspen sion of the grant on the grounds that the Zavala group had failed to follow agency instructions and meet CSA conditions in setting up its program. Traces of Briscoe’s influence on the decision were, to say the least, substantial. There was, of course, the record of the White Hou’se meeting and of a spate of complaints Briscoe had sent to the White House. But also, through a Freedom of Information Act suit, attorneys for the Zavala group got wind of a whole series of White House memoranda on the subject of their grant proposal, and though they didn’t win release of the details, it seemed as though an awful lot of toplevel staff time had been spent on the $885,000 CSA grant. The ZCEDC sued to force the agency to let go of the money, alleging that the denial of the funds was a political payoff by the Carter administration to Dolph Briscoe. Just two months ago they lost a bid to compel disclosure of the contents of the White House memoranda and with it, their best chance to prove their case. But the legal proceedings that led up to the dismissal of their claim only served to confirm the thesis that the real objection to the Zavala plan was political. U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell was assigned the case and he urged the CSA to settle with the corporation and so avoid a trial. CSA attorneys then presented ZCEDC a compromise solution, under which the grant money would have been released to the organization, contingent upon a withdrawal by the corporation’s board of directors from a direct role in running the cooperative enterprise. Basically, the CSA insisted only that the venture operate as a strict cooperativethat is, that only workers should vote on management policy. ZCEDC attorneys immediately flew to Crystal City to obtain authority to accept the pretrial settlement. But the next day in the Washington courtroom, CSA attorneys astonished everyone by withdrawing their settlement offer on the grounds that both Attorney General Griffin Bell and President Carter had personally objected to the agreement’s language. Left with no choice but to proceed with the trial, ZCEDC attorneys appealed for the release of the BriscoeCarter memos dealing with the grant, but to no avail. The President claimed executive privilege, and Gesell concurred, finding “no evidence” of wrongdoing to justify overriding that principle of non-disclosure as he had in the Watergate case. While Gesell’s ruling on the executive privilege claim may have been legally sound, his decision that CSA director Olivarez had “exercised her unbiased judgment in the matter” doesn’t square with much of the evidence that emerged at the trial, let alone the last-minute White House blocking of the pretrial settlement. Olivarez admitted that there had been repeated White House inquiries about ways to terminate the grant, and acknowledged that the President’s congressional liaison man, Frank Moore, had cautioned her about trouble with the Texas congressional delegation if the grant were released. She also conceded that she had told another agency official who had dealt with the Zavala corporation that “Gutierrez had picked an unfortunate time to very vociferously criticize the Carter administration’s illegal alien proposals.” \(Carter didn’t mention that at a June press conference when questioned about the Zavala case, but he did note that Governor Briscoe course, Olivarez testified, she was totally free of White House pressure as soon as she informed Carter’s aides that it would be impossible to cut funding without a reason. It was just coincidence, it seems, that so many good reasons came so readily to hand at about the time Briscoe called in his chips at the White House. Having spent $20,000 on legal fees already, the Zavala corporation couldn’t afford to appeal Gesell’s ruling, and it looked as though the Zavala cooperative farm idea had been finished off for good. The federal money which had long been set aside to pay for the project was slated to revert to the Treasury on July 31, and Dolph was gloating. He told reporters, “I have been opposed to it from the beginning. I still oppose it. I will always be opposed to it, and I will continue to fight it in any way possible.” The lame-duck governor’s promise of undying opposition to a project that already seemed dead may have betrayed a premonition of what was about to happen, because the CSA soon made a partial about-face and extended for four months the time limit for approval of a revised grant proposal and disbursement of the money. That puts the new deadline just a month or so shy of the day Dolph Briscoe leaves office, and the Zavala group is guardedly hopeful that their co-op will be considered for once exclusively on its merits now that he has expended his political capital. So it could yet turn out that by the time Governor Briscoe gets back to being a plain old millionaire rancher-banker from Uvalde again, he’ll have to put up with the Raza Unida cooperative in his own backyard after all. It would serve him right: it’s about time the farmworkers of Zavala County got this chance to practice a little of the land-owning private enterprise that, as Briscoe preached in that impassioned speech two years ago, “built this state and this nation of ours.” Lisa Spann, an Observer staff assistant, is a 1978 graduate of the University of Texas. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11