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Republick My Boots
At the Arizona Republic, the survivors may envy the executed.
Publisher and CEO John Oppedahl remained comfortably invisible in the days after his cashiering of 60 journalists at a time of record profits for Central Newspapers, Inc., the Republic's parent company. Oppedahl was no doubt at home (guarded by Republic security), contemplating how he'll spend his fat downsizing bonus (hire his own, full-time security force).

The remaining staffers cowered in trepidation as they awaited word of which cog they would occupy in the "redesigned" Republic news apparatus.

As the dust begins to clear, conventional wisdom holds that Oppedahl and his toadies have emerged victorious in an epic struggle against executive editor Pam Johnson and her loyalists.

Johnson presided over the late '80s/early '90s heyday of the Phoenix Gazette. It was a time when the Gazette regularly made the Republic look slothful and irrelevant, which, come to think of it, really wasn't that hard to do. When the Gazette and Republic news staffs merged last year, many Gazette stars got plum assignments over their Republic counterparts, who were led by Oppedahl.

That trend has been reversed. Johnson's wings have been severely clipped. Under the "redesign," Oppedahl consigliere Steve Knickmeyer is running the show. The two became friends when both worked at the now-defunct Dallas Times-Herald. Knickmeyer now has been christened with the hilarious title of "managing editor/content."

It was the Knickmeister who, shortly after the 1994 election, huddled with the Republic's statehouse reporters and told them the paper's content mustn't offend Governor J. Fife Symington III.

Knickmeyer, once seen as a serious newsman, is now widely despised for his coddling of staff pets and for his selling out to CNI bean counters. His bloody prints are all over the "redesign." Anyone who had ever offended the Knickmeister--especially those who deigned to argue for their stories--was fired. Many of them were of a heretofore unknown demographic: Uppity Women with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Survivors who were loyalists of Johnson's were demoted, carted off to suburban gulags and generally made to feel badly. One notable example is Mary Ann Nock, a close friend and an ally of Johnson's who before the "redesign" was an assistant managing editor. The redesigned Nock is a "team leader," a post most consider to be a demotion.

"Pam is largely a figurehead now," one Republic staffer says. "It must be that way, because if Pam had had any influence, she would have used it for Mary Ann Nock."

One source says Republic management has another round of firings planned. But don't expect any stirring Norma Rae scenes anytime soon (despite the possibility that the newspaper guild that former Republic publisher Duke Tully busted is still certified, albeit dormant). Leaders of the active guild at CNI's Indianapolis newspapers aren't so laconic. We hear they didn't enjoy last week's New Times account of the Republic's bloodletting.

Meanwhile, the January 25 Republic carried a breathtaking religion story titled "Corporate soul-searching: Some firms learn that treating employees with respect is good for business." The lead writer was Ben Winton, who had been summarily fired the week before.

Nice Ride, Man
Local-art-world mover and shaker David Therrien recently received quite a jolt: A team of thieves stole the "Fear Coaster," a beloved roller coaster that stood outside The Icehouse, Therrien's downtown art venue.

An Icehouse fixture for four years, the onetime kiddy ride (rumored to be the roller coaster that once graced Encanto Park) had been souped up with a variety of arty effects, including a fire-breathing deer's head over the highest slope. The coaster was a favorite of art scenesters and ravegoers alike.

Dismantled in preparation for sandblasting when the heist happened, the ride was stolen from behind a nearby warehouse on January 9.

According to a neighbor who witnessed the crime--but didn't think to ask questions until it was too late--the robbery required the better part of an afternoon, with thieves making four separate trips to haul off the four-ton coaster.

Because crooks were unable to get at three coaster cars and the "drive unit" portion of track--making the coaster inoperable--cops theorize the ride will be sold off as scrap metal.

Therrien, meanwhile, envisions a more exotic, if unlikely, scenario: He expects that the crooks will return to the scene of the crime for the rest of the coaster, then spirit the landmark ride off to Mexico.

Can Anyone C. Diane?
It's taken weeks--perhaps months, even--for anyone to notice that C. Diane Bishop has left her post as the Fifester's education adviser.

Or has she? And if so, why? Was she fired? Did she quit? Is she just taking a leave of absence? And if so, where? Back to Tucson? Over to Santa Fe, to her on-again/off-again husband, Richard Morse?

Bishop, the former state superintendent of public instruction (and, by the way, former Democrat), was appointed to the governor's staff in 1995, a payback for her support of the governor's pet education project: vouchers.

Even when Bishop was definitely on the job, no one heard much from her. It soon became apparent that she wasn't being paid $75,000 a year because anyone needed her opinion on any subject.

But during the past few weeks, the silence has become so noticeable that people in the education community have begun to ask, "Where's Diane?"

State Senator Ruth Solomon, a Tucson Democrat and a member of the Senate Education Committee, tells The Flash, "I was talking to one of the governor's aides and asked who was going to be the governor's education person, and was told that he hadn't made a decision yet. And I said, 'So is Diane gone for good?' And the answer was yes."

And, indeed, a moving van was recently sighted outside Bishop's downtown Phoenix condo. (Was there a roller coaster in it?)

But wait! She still has voice mail at the Governor's Office, and just Monday, there was a C. Diane sighting on the Capitol grounds. Tune in later for further installments in the ongoing saga of "Where's Diane?". Better yet, call The Flash with news of her whereabouts.

One Sorry Jurist
A judge who outraged relatives of a murder victim because he was too busy to hear their statements has apologized to the family. Through a colleague.

Family members say they heard it from the judge, Armando de Leon of Maricopa County Superior Court.

During a December 6 hearing for a confessed co-conspirator in the murder of Dariel Overby, de Leon berated Overby's sister, Diane Keith, as she sat in the witness stand and tried to describe the murder's impact on her life. "I can't be here all day listening to you," de Leon said after Keith had spoken for about 30 seconds. That led to an angry exchange, and Overby's survivors walked out of the proceeding, a presentence hearing for a man who rode in the killer's getaway car.

Overby's father, Bernie Truter, a retired Phoenix cop, complained to every authority who came to mind, including the governor and presiding criminal court Judge Ron Reinstein. Reinstein quickly reassigned the sentencing to Judge Greg Martin, to whom courteousness seems second nature. Finally, last week, Martin sentenced 22-year-old John Anthony Davis on a charge of attempted armed robbery. (The young man who actually shot Overby in 1994 during an attempted carjacking previously had been sentenced to life in prison.)

During the sentencing, Martin announced that de Leon had asked him to apologize for his behavior.

Truter says, "I stood up and told him, 'I can see you apologizing for the court system if you have one among you who can act like that. But please put this on the record. If there's going to be an apology, it should come from him.' Judge Martin just sat there and kind of nodded. I said, 'Furthermore, when he comes up for retention, I will campaign against him.'"

Feed The Flash: voice, 229-8486; fax, 340-8806; online, flash@newtimes.com


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