During his final days in management at the Arizona Republic, Steve Knickmeyer confided that he had been ordered to improve abysmal newsroom morale.
He finally accomplished that goal, by "resigning."
"Short of finding out he was torn apart by rabid jackals, this is about the best news I could imagine," one longtime Republic employee enthuses.
Journalists literally danced on their desks Monday, buoyed by news of Knickmeyer's ouster, which came in the wake of disparaging remarks he made about 60 journalists fired by the Republic last year.
The company line had been that layoffs were necessary because of the closure of the Phoenix Gazette.
But in its most recent edition, Columbia Journalism Review quoted Knickmeyer as saying the fired employees were "fat, lazy, incompetent and slow."
Newsroom wags say some of those fired were none of the above. Some, they say, had offended Knickmeyer by standing up to him.
Upon reading Knickmeyer's CJR comments, some former employees began looking for a lawyer, and there's talk of creating a legal aid fund for the allegedly defamed parties.
Republic higher-ups must have been thinking about legal exposure as well when they penned the memo that accompanied Knickmeyer's "resignation." "Steve made a remark in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review that did not accurately reflect the selection process used last year when we closed The Phoenix Gazette and had to let 60 staff members go. The Republic disavows the statement he made in the article," executive editor Pam Johnson wrote.
Johnson didn't explain why many of those "had to go" staff members have been replaced.
Republic journalists have loathed Knickmeyer for five years, but he was tight with the right people--namely, publisher John Oppedahl; the two worked together at the late Dallas Times-Herald and were poker-playing buddies.
But a consultant hired to assess the newsroom told top management that Knickmeyer was the single largest cause of pitiful staff morale. When rumors circulated that he had been ordered to undergo psychological counseling or testing, he appeared in the newsroom in a straightjacket, with a sign dangling from his neck that read, "I'm Not Krazy."
Ex-Republic staffers are choosing their words carefully. "It's difficult for me to speak much, because I don't want to libel him," says former music writer Sal Caputo, adding, "I can say this: I felt upset when I read the substance of his comments, even though I knew he felt that way."
Knickmeyer will be remembered for his unfeeling treatment of subordinates, for instructing statehouse reporters to lay off Governor J. Fife Symington III, for his dirty work as Oppedahl's henchman, for making his reporters quote him in news stories and as architect of the Republic's logo-rific "Saving Arizona's Children" campaign.
The Knickmeyster saved all of Arizona's children, but he couldn't save himself.
Hear a Cavalry Bugle?
After playing a crucial role in developing evidence that eventually lead to the criminal convictions of Charlie Keating, Gary Driggs and Fife Symington, Phoenix fraud-busting lawyer Michael C. Manning has a new target: Sheriff Joke Arpaio.
Manning has been hired by the parents of Scott Norberg to represent them in a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit against Maricopa County. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix last year.
Norberg was asphyxiated on June 1, 1996, in the Maricopa County Jail after he was placed in a "restraint chair" and had a towel wrapped around his face while his head was forced to his chest. Norberg, who had ingested methamphetamine earlier in the day, was placed in the chair after skirmishing with jail guards. More than a dozen detention officers were involved in the melee.
The Norberg family is seeking $20 million in damages from the county and are said to have a strong desire to take the case to trial. Scott Norberg was a star football player at Tempe High School and later attended the University of Nebraska. His father, Jaron, is a former top executive at Arizona Public Service Company.
The Sher is too much of a coward to talk to New Times, but has belittled the lawsuit in the past, calling it a "petty" case. "The truth will come out in court," the Jokenheimer told radio listeners last year.
The Flash predicts Manning and his legal partner on the case--Phoenix heavyweight attorney, William P. French, (one of the men who prosecuted the impeachment of former Governor Evan Mecham impeachment prosecutor)--will hold Arpaio to his statement.
The bottom line: Bad news for Joke. Huge settlement for the Norbergs. Eventually, safer jails for all.
Another of Sheriff Joke Arpaio's vigilantes--er, posse volunteers--finds himself in trouble.
For months, residents of the Sunrise Heights trailer park have complained to police that someone was slashing the tires of their cars.
The midnight avenger struck only before dawn and targeted cars which violated the park's rule prohibiting overnight parking on its streets.
On January 12, Phoenix Police officers finally nabbed the tire-killer who had taken the trailer park's harsh justice into his own hands.
Police cited Gene Kratzer, a member of Sheriff Joke's Operations Posse, one of the "Joe's Posses" created in 1994 to handle the overflow of gung-ho citizens who wanted to carry a badge and look just like a deppity.
The Sheriff's Office fired Kratzer the day after he was caught red-handed.
Kratzer admits getting caught, but he says it was the first and only time he'd knifed an offending auto. The habit of an elderly neighbor to leave her car blocking traffic, Kratzer says, finally pushed him too far.
"It's really embarrassing. . . . I just lost my temper and I just got mad because this little old woman was parking in the middle of the street for years," says the former posse man.
Retrieve those old Arizona Lottery tickets from your bedroom floor. You just may have a winner.
Turns out Webmasters at the official Arizona Lottery Web site (http://www.arizonalottery.com) were inadvertently transposing Lotto and Powerball numbers until player Fred Griisser noticed the error last Friday and reported it.
Since that time, the page has been fixed. In an e-mail to Griisser on Friday, public relations assistant Jill Marszalek thanked him for calling her attention to the matter. "We would certainly never have allowed this to happen had we been aware of it," she wrote.
Griisser tells he Flash that he appreciates lottery officials' quick response but wonders about all those unclaimed and disposed of tickets. "The more I think about this the more I get frosted," wrote Griisser in an e-mail to Marszalek. "I've trusted this page for a long time and can only wonder how many winning tickets I (and others) have disposed of due to erroneous information."
The site makes no note of the error but now lists the correct winning numbers for the past 180 days.
Feed the Flash: voice, 229-8486; fax, 340-8806; online, [email protected]