Don’t blame the messenger

Published 8:17 am Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In the cast of villains at International Paper Co., Jeannine Siembida is an easy target.

The Franklin mill manager stood before the media and dumfounded community leaders a few weeks ago and delivered the equivalent of a swift kick in the gut: the announcement that the mill would close by next spring, putting 1,100 people out of work. On Monday came the news that Siembida already has landed on her feet — as manager of an IP mill in Georgetown, S.C.

Some of her critics, irresistibly, have deemed Siembida the “grim reaper,” offering the good folks of Georgetown some words of caution: Enjoy your mill while it’s still there.

That’s a bit of a stretch.

It’s extremely unlikely that the decision to close the Franklin mill was made in Siembida’s office — or that she even had a say in the decision; more likely is that the decision was made hundreds of miles away, at the company’s headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., by its top management and Board of Directors.

What’s more, there is nothing to indicate that Siembida had anything to do with IP’s earlier decisions to close mills in Gardiner, Ore., and Terre Haute, Ind. — facilities she once worked at, the latter as mill manager. She was also the mill manager in Prattville, Ala., and manager for finished products at the plant in Vicksburg, Miss. Both of these IP facilities are still up and running.

In the cast of villains at International Paper Co., Jeannine Siembida is an easy target.

Conspiracy theories abound that IP has secretly been planning to close the Franklin mill for years — and dispatched Siembida here two years ago to help execute that plan. These suggestions are improbable. Siembida’s job was simply to run the mill in Franklin, and from most accounts she did that job well.

If this community has a beef with Siembida, it is her decision to live outside Franklin and commute to work from metro Hampton Roads, ending a long tradition of resident mill managers who were intricately involved in community affairs. Siembida never showed much interest in Franklin.

The news that she found another job so quickly naturally elicited a response from citizens who are still hurt and angered by IP’s decision to close the Franklin mill. That anger is better directed at CEO John Faraci and the other corporate executives who made it — and who lacked the courage to come to Franklin and explain it. Instead, they made Siembida deliver the news and take the bullets.

We wish her and the people of Georgetown good luck in their future endeavors. We also remain hopeful that the other 1,100 workers from the Franklin mill will find new employment quickly as well.