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Published: Sunday, 12/21/2008

Tribune Co. is owned by employees

Dan Simpson's Dec. 17 column regarding, among others, the Tribune Company and Sam Zell, contains several errors that are important to correct for your readers. It may help them better understand Tribune's decision to become a private company last year and the impact of that decision on the company's employees.

To be clear, Sam didn't buy Tribune Company, as Mr. Simpson claims. While Sam serves as Tribune's chairman and chief executive officer, the company is 100 percent employee-owned. The transaction in which Tribune became a private company was financed by bank loans made to the company - not to Sam - and the loans totaled slightly more than $8 billion, not the $12.8 billion put forth in the column. Sam did put up $315 million of his own money.

Finally, and most important, Tribune employee retirement benefits played no role in financing the transaction. Mr. Simpson's assertion that "the company's pension funds" financed the transaction is simply wrong. In fact, employee-related benefit programs such as the 401(k) plan and employee stock purchase plan collected about $600 million in the transaction. Employee holdings in pre-existing retirement-related accounts remained in those accounts as the transaction moved from announcement in April, 2007, until closing last December.

As a private company, Tribune established a new retirement plan for employees with three components: a cash-balance plan to which the company contributes 3 percent of employee pay (the first contribution was made earlier this year); a 401(k), and an employee stock ownership plan or ESOP.

There has been no allocation to the ESOP accounts of employees - right now they have no value. The first allocation was to occur during the first quarter of 2009. News reports suggesting employee retirement accounts are in jeopardy are misleading. Employee accounts connected to the cash balance and 401(k) plans remain intact; the value and structure of the ESOP going forward will be determined during the restructuring process.

The going-private transaction was extraordinarily complex, and there has been a great deal of confusion about our ownership structure (fueled, to some extent, by inaccurate media reports). Thanks for this opportunity to explain the facts.

Gary Weitman

Senior Vice President

Corporate Relations

Tribune Company

Chicago

On Dec. 6, the Toledo Technology Academy hosted the F.I.R.S.T. Lego League regional tournament. F.I.R.S.T stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. It is part of the vision of Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, "to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes."

Twenty-two teams of children ages 9 to 14 and their mentor coaches gathered at DeVilbiss High School, where they were greeted by Toledo Technology Academy Director Gary Thompson, an army of students, and many other volunteers.

After a day filled with teams that competed like crazy but treated one another with respect and kindness, awards where presented to the teams. Invitations to the Ohio FLL state competition where also presented to several Toledo-area teams.

If you want to experience something very special, plan to attend the state competition at Ervin J. Nutter Center in Dayton, on Feb. 14 and 15, 2009.

The Toledo Technology Academy is a Toledo public high school that has been rated "Excellent" for the last 5 years. Mr. Thompson is a science and technology hero. All of the TTA teachers, staff, students, and parents should be very proud. I am.

Dean Weygandt

Harvard Boulevard

Once again, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has it wrong when he talks about the Fairness Doctrine and the Equal Time Rules that were formerly part of Federal Communications Commission regulations.

As a longtime broadcaster in this area who dealt with both sets of rules for many years, let me set Mr. Finkbeiner and the record straight.

The Fairness Doctrine only dealt with issues of public importance. As such, a broadcast station had to determine what issues were important in its service area and then present programming that fairly presented balanced viewpoints on those issues. These issues could cover a broad range of topics such as the economy, education, illegal drug use, or health care.

In contrast, the Equal Time Rules only dealt with political candidates. This came into play when a political candidate appeared in a broadcast. If such an appearance occurred, the station had an obligation to invite other candidates who were running for the same office to appear in a broadcast. As such, the other candidates were entitled to equal time.

The Equal Time provisions only dealt with declared candidates for a political office. Once a candidate was elected, these rules were no longer applicable.

Since the FCC could not make a rule that violated the First Amendment, news broadcasts were exempt from both sets of rules and regulations.

William J. Shock

Maumee

I was pleased to see The Blade's Dec. 7 article regarding the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Mich. Charles Howard was my great uncle. He was born a small town boy in a house that he would live in his entire life in Albion, N.Y. His professional life was the stuff of legend, first playing Santa in a school play and later making toys in a store window in downtown Albion. Charles' first school was opened in 1937, and in the late 1940s he started to convert three barns behind his house to open what became "Christmas Park," a place that held many happy childhood memories for our entire family.

Charles also appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from 1948 to 1964 and was an advisor in the making of Miracle on 42nd Street in 1946. Meanwhile, students came from all over to attend his school, and in 1965 he was asked to go to Australia to teach a special school there. I am happy that even though Charles Howard has been gone a long time, his legend lives on, a fact that I am sure would make him extremely proud.

I will end with one of his memorable quotes: "To say there is no Santa Claus is the most erroneous statement in the world. Santa Claus is a thought that is passed from generation to generation. After time, this thought takes on a human form. Maybe if all children and adults understand the symbolism of this thought, we can actually attain peace on Earth and good will to men everywhere." Merry Christmas to all Santas everywhere.

Nancy Haefner

Blissfield

In response to the Dec. 8 letter in the Readers' Forum, "It's too easy to simply blame dogs," I am beginning to think that bashing the dog warden must be the newest sport in town. The idea that Tom Skeldon's job is to "offer incentives for people to become better pet parents" is ludicrous. I'm guessing that the letter writer has never been attacked by a vicious dog. There are people who are not responsible and never will be responsible enough to own a pet. There are people who are not responsible enough to have children, but they still do.

Of course "dog problems are people problems." Just as human beings have to be removed from society when they commit crimes against other people (even though they had a bad childhood) so it is with animals.

I am a dog lover, and I know many people consider their dogs family members. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, I wish that all of the people who are expending time and energy trying to remove the dog warden would channel their efforts into something useful. Possibly they could start a treatment program for dogs who behave badly and the people who own them.

Bonnie Brooks

Marengo Street

Thanks to Allan Block for the full-page ad, Double Standard.

My copy is held by magnets to the front of my refrigerator.

The senators who voted no should be ashamed, embarrassed, and ousted posthaste.

SANDRA SIMON

Sylvania



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