Scottsdale Buys A Newspaper

by John Washington on October 30, 2015

Terrance Thornton reports in the Scottsdale Independent (Scottsdale City Council looks to bolster creation of ‘event-based economy’) that the circularity of the relationship between the city and the Arizona Republic is taking yet another lap around the track.

The newspaper of record –in the person of former Scottsdale Republic editor (now PR hack) Mike Ryan– used to get free airtime on CityCable Channel 11 to host “forums” for council candidates and mayoral candidates. Frequently those candidates had been endorsed by the Republic in previous election cycles, and –no surprise– many of the same were endorsed by the Republic after the forums.

As I have said before, I thought Ryan actually did a pretty good job with the forums. But the larger issue of potential conflict of interest was inherent in this arrangement.

It looked like the CityCable 11 Programming Commission empaneled by Mayor Jim Lane and the city council in about 2011 would put a stop to this practice. However, City Attorney Bruce Washburn and his adviser to the commission, Kay Cooper (now a Maricopa County Superior Court judge who’s recently had some problems of her own), did their best to undermine the Commission. This issue and others became such a political hot potato that the no-longer-reform-minded Lane and his new friends on the council ultimately euthanized the commission short of its stated goals.

As a side-note, it’s worth pointing out that Scottsdale’s CityCable “government access” channel is provided for free by and available to residents through Cox Communications cable service. This arrangement is part of what amounts to a city government-approved monopoly on cable communications service within the City of Scottsdale.

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Susan Bitter Smith

It’s also worth pointing out (bear with me) that several city council members have received nice-sized campaign contributions from Cox, and that embattled Arizona Corporation Commission chair (and former Scottsdale city council member) Susan Bitter Smith is a registered lobbyist for Cox; a conflict of interest for which she’s currently in hot water.

And I’ll also point out (almost there) that the city council recently voted to delay approval of licensing for a Google Fiber roll-out in Scottsdale; which obviously would have created some serious competition for Cox.

So, coming back around to the thrust of this article, Thornton states,

The usage of bed-tax remits [to subsidize events] is made possible by a 2012 action by Scottsdale City Council through Ordinance No. 4019. Since fiscal year 2013-14 the city of Scottsdale has provided $2.4 million in bed tax remits for 39 events, according to a financial breakdown provided by Steve Geiogamah, the city’s tourism development manager.

Jason Rose

These for-profit events range from Super Bowl parties to polo matches promoted by Jason Rose, campaign PR manager for Jim Lane and for several high-profile real estate developments that have been granted massive zoning concessions for height and density.

Thornton continues:

The recent Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships, [for] which the Scottsdale Independent is a media sponsor, and the upcoming azcentral.com Food & Wine Experience are recent examples [of] bed-tax allocations in the name of tourism development.

I think it’s important to note the distinction that the Scottsdale Independent is a sponsor of the polo event. It appears that AZCentral.com (the online presence of the Arizona Republic) is the promoter of the Food & Wine experience, which received $75,000 of your money, at the same time the mayor and city council are begging you to vote to tax yourself for $100 million in infrastructure repair bonds.

Thus, your tax dollars are being spent to subsidize an event for a newspaper that has repeatedly overlooked things such as how your tax dollars are used to subsidize such events…a practice that is clearly unconstitutional under the “gift clauses” in the Arizona State Constitution, and the Scottsdale City Charter.

It’s not exactly a secret that the Republic has been favorable toward the establishment in Scottsdale. I think it was Don Badenoch who first labeled it “The Arizona Repugnant,” and citizen advocates frequently refer to it as the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce Newsletter.

The Scottsdale version of the paper prints weekly publicity for the Chamber, while other important business groups are ignored. And since the Chamber is controlled by real estate developers who buy large ads in the Republic on a regular basis, it’s no surprise that the ink flows their direction.

Thornton’s article also covers a discussion by the city council about creating what sounds like an event venue:

The concept presented includes the creation of an auditorium for public events and potentially a place of commerce for residents to gather and tourists to visit. The Scottsdale City Council has given the idea its tentative approval.

Funny, I thought we already had such a place: the Civic Center Mall (host of several large events every year) and the woefully under-attended Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

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Linda Milhaven

I’ll close by noting a quote in Thornton’s article from Wells Fargo banker and Scottsdale City Council member, Linda Milhaven, who said,

“Let’s not first start with cost; let’s think big…”

Truly spoken like a politician-banker spending other peoples’ money; and, I note, the former chairman of the board of trustees for the private Scottsdale Cultural Council, which enjoys a $4 million annual taxpayer subsidy and a 20-year, no-bid contract to manage –among other things– the taxpayer-owned Civic Center Mall and Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts.

The Republic recently announced yet-another round of their seemingly annual early retirements/layoffs, and the ascension of publisher John “Fiesta Bowl Scandal” Zidich to the lofty post of “president of domestic publishing” for corporate parent Gannett Company.

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Mi-Ai Parrish

Zidich was replaced by Mi-Ai (pronounced “Mia”) Parrish, who’s first quote in the Republic was,

“I know how to drive a business…”

But can Parrish deliver the “news” part of a “newspaper”?

One of her fellow executives was quoted in the same announcement, saying of Ms. Parrish,

“She will be a champion for quality journalism, for holding our government accountable, for taking the lead on local issues, and for finding new ways to connect with our community.”

Hmmm. Seems like I’ve heard this “government watchdog” line before from the Republic. Is it just rhetoric? We’ll see…I’m not holding my breath.

But pandering for taxpayer-funded subsidies from a government you are supposed to be “holding accountable” isn’t a promising start.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine Schild October 30, 2015 at 8:48 AM

I received an email announcing Robert Leger’s retirement, leaving Phil Boas and Joanne Allhands to man the opinion page. The current iteration of the paper is a much thinner version then when Don Badenoch labeled it the Repugnant (I always preferred the Repulsive). The spin-off of the TV side to TEGNA and this most recent restructuring (dare we say downsizing) of the Repulsive looks to be the beginning of the end for Phoenix’s print media.

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John Washington October 30, 2015 at 9:34 AM

Couldn’t agree more, Christine!

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Bob Littlefield October 30, 2015 at 9:46 AM

Ironically the demise of the Repulsive will actually IMPROVE the quality of print journalism in Scottsdale since that paper either under-informed or blatantly MIS-informed their readers about what was going on in Scottsdale. In their role as the establishment newsletter they shamelessly shilled for special-interest projects and politicians. I will certainly not miss them.

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