The Check Republic

City officials sidestep rules to avert New Year's Eve entertainer boycott

The $150,000 sponsorship fee paid by the city was nearly twice the amount paid by Arizona Public Service Company to sponsor a stage, records show. The city council approved the appropriation, which required the city's aviation department, the Phoenix Civic Plaza and the city's general purpose fund each to kick in $50,000.

Despite the latest appropriation -- which brought the city's investment in the event to $675,000 -- it soon became clear more money was needed. Advance ticket sales were lagging; fewer than 1,000 had been sold by December 15. Sponsorship income was a paltry $142,000 and huge bills for entertainers were coming due in less than two weeks.

"Many vendors demanded payment in advance, threatening to walk away from their contracts," parks department director James Colley stated in a memo to deputy city manager Alton Washington.

At 6 p.m. on December 16, city finance director Kevin Keogh, city parks director James Colley and central district parks director Whiting held a crucial meeting.

Colley says the meeting was to give Keogh "the heads up" that the CCC was facing a major financial shortfall and the parks department wanted to know if "the finance department could be of assistance to us."

Keogh says he approved the expenditure without city council authorization because parks department officials told him it was a city-sponsored event.

"We made an advance of funds to basically cover expenses through December," Keogh says.

Late in the afternoon of December 17, deputy finance director Barbara Alvarez called Kathy Trocino-Parizek in the city parks department, telling her a $527,000 check was ready. Trocino-Parizek had no clue what Alvarez was talking about. ". . . I had no idea what this check was for," she stated in an e-mail to another parks employee, Chris Curcio.

A few minutes later, Curcio got the answer. "Mike [Whiting] called and it is the amount of money that Kevin agreed to cover at a meeting between Jim, Mike and Kevin at 6 p.m. Thursday," Curcio's e-mail stated.

With the check in hand, the city -- - rather than the CCC -- made a series of payments to entertainers and vendors in the week leading up to New Year's Eve.

On December 28, the city held a press conference attempting to drum up publicity for the ill-fated event by announcing that ticket prices would not be raised to $15 on the day of the show from the advance ticket price of $10.

During the press conference, deputy city manager Jack Tevlin told reporters that the city had reached "an understanding" with the CCC that all performers would be paid.

"This city will cover that expense and we will be reimbursed by the sponsors of the event [CCC] on the money that's made from the event," Tevlin said.

When pressed, Tevlin acknowledged there was no written agreement between the city and the CCC for the city to cover any expenses related to the event.

Nevertheless, Tevlin said, "The city is prepared to back up the event."

Asked by New Times at the press conference how the city could spend money without city council approval, Tevlin either did not know that the $527,000 check had been written or he lied. Tevlin said that no money would be expended unless approved by the city council first.

"We are going to have to go back to the council when we find out what exposure there is, if any, and get their approval to expend city funds to cover that shortfall. But it will have to be a public city action. It's not something that we will do without council approval," Tevlin stated in a taped interview.

In fact, top city officials already had agreed to issue a $527,000 check 12 days earlier to cover the CCC losses without the approval of the city council.

The city's investment in the event -- which could total $1.29 million if the council agreed January 19 to cover funds already spent -- could climb even higher. (This story went to press before the council meeting.)

City records indicate that another $339,800 in bills were due to be paid on January 15.

Among those bills outstanding is a request for a $4,500 payment by the Motta Agency for advertising and marketing services related to Celebration 2000. Motta supposedly had "volunteered" its services to the CCC. The Motta Agency isn't the only "volunteer" who sought reimbursement for activities. Promoter Charles Johnston sought, and was paid, $2,000 for his "out of pocket" expenses.

Contact John Dougherty at 602-229-8445 or online at john.dougherty@newtimes.com

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