Snafu 2000

The contracts were in the mail.

And that was bad news for Phoenix officials and volunteers struggling to organize a massive downtown turn-of-the-century celebration that hopes to attract more than 100,000 revelers into the city's resurgent central core for an evening of partying, dancing, music and awe beneath an unprecedented fireworks display.

The dispatching of entertainment contracts worth more than $620,000 immediately threw Celebration 2000 organizers into their own version of a Y2K fiasco.

In an effort to sidestep ponderous rules of governance and public spending, the City of Phoenix -- cited early this decade as "The Best Run City in the World" -- adopted an arm's-length attitude and funneled public funds through a nonprofit corporation composed of volunteers.

What resulted was a management nightmare -- questionable procurement practices, sweetheart deals and conflicts of interest.

Scottsdale promoter Charles Johnston mailed the contracts to the entertainers in late August after receiving tentative approval by Citizens for Community Celebrations, the nonprofit corporation appointed by Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza and chaired by former attorney general Grant Woods.

Johnston, a longtime Valley promoter who handles acts for the Bank One Ballpark (which will be conspicuously dark on New Year's Eve), dropped the contracts in the mail before flying to North Carolina on business, believing he was assured success after months of volunteer work.

He was wrong.

On September 1, Woods and top city officials decided -- belatedly -- that it was time to review the city-financed budget of Citizens for Community Celebrations (CCC). The last-minute budget summit -- conducted after the contracts had been signed by Woods -- concluded that spending was out of control in the face of an embarrassing dearth of corporate sponsorships.

"The city folks and I took a look at the budget and thought it was too much for a first-time event," Woods says in a series of written responses to questions from New Times.

Volunteers had hoped to finance the bash by collecting $2 million from corporate leaders, but by late August, less than $100,000 had been promised.

There was no choice but to deeply slash the Celebration 2000 budget -- from $2.7 million to $1.3 million. The entire event needed to be restructured only four months before the show.

The first action: Unilaterally cancel about half of the contracts that Johnston had negotiated, Woods had signed, and artists had accepted.

Johnston, whose 32-year career as a promoter was built on delivering what he promised, was never consulted about the budget crisis.

Johnston resigned from the committee in a September 3 letter to Rimsza, writing to the mayor, "I got blind sided with an 11th-hour panic -- change -- or who knows what. . . . I now find myself in a terribly embarrassing and humiliating position with a number of my peers."

The mayor never replied to Johnston, delegating that unpleasant task to a deputy city manager.

The contract cancellations triggered a series of nasty letters, lawsuit threats and bitter finger-pointing at a critical time. Fund raising -- already hampered by a muddled vision for the event -- was further handicapped by threats of litigation from agents for the acts that had been contracted to perform.

The fund-raising goal was drastically rolled back to $600,000. Even that has proved to be unrealistic. So far, no money has been collected, although several corporations have pledged a total of about $150,000.

"By the time we got to most of them [corporations], the contributions had dried up," says Bill Shover, retired public relations director from the Arizona Republic and CCC vice chairman.

Despite the lack of donations, the CCC was spending at a prolific rate. The Phoenix City Council had given Celebration 2000 volunteers a $500,000 loan in addition to a $25,000 grant as initial funding.

In a scramble to secure artists and production equipment, Celebration 2000 volunteers executed a controversial $170,000 no-bid contract for staging and lighting equipment and cut a deal giving Jerry Colangelo's Team Shops the exclusive Celebration 2000 merchandise contract.

The stage and lighting deal with On Cue Systems has been criticized as being two to three times more expensive than necessary. Officials say, however, it was important to quickly secure the stages -- at any price -- in order to book acts.

Celebration 2000 organizers gave Johnston the go-ahead to line up artists, and he did. In late June, he secured a $115,000 deal for a reunion of the Tempe band the Gin Blossoms. Johnston also made arrangements with a host of mainstream bands ranging from '60s stars Steppenwolf ($65,000) and Three Dog Night ($70,000), to country stalwart Waylon Jennings ($75,000), to the '40s big band sounds of the Harry James Orchestra ($100,000), and the Rock N Roll Army, composed of acts from the '50s ($70,000).

For most, if not all, of these bands, Celebration 2000 promised the biggest payday in years -- or ever.

While the largess was flowing for mainstream acts, there was little effort to sign a top Latino band, despite the city's historical ties to Mexico and a burgeoning population of Chicano and Mexican transplants.

"That was really never brought up," says Johnston.

When the absence of a Latino band was noted, city parks officials told a Hispanic promoter who asked about bringing on a Latino act that "there was no money," though he was welcome to round up sponsorships and entertainers on his own.

Phoenix's inaugural effort to host a downtown New Year's Eve event stands in sharp contrast to Tempe's 15-year-old Fiesta Bowl Block Party -- a street festival that easily attracts more than 100,000 people.

With years of success under its belt, and a major college football game serving as an attraction for tens of thousands of out-of-town fans, Tempe has the luxury of a deep-pocket corporate sponsor. Tostitos has sponsored the block party the past four years, bearing all the risk for the event. The company oversees the production and guarantees Tempe that all city expenses such as police, fire and cleanup, will be covered. Phoenix, with no corporate sponsor, bears all the risk, has fronted nearly all the money and is covering all the city ancillary costs, estimated at at least $100,000.

The financial pressure is building on CCC as the Y2K countdown quickens. The nonprofit faces a $400,000 bill on December 29 to cover entertainment and production expenses. As of November 24, it had only $36,000 in the bank. Organizers hope corporate sponsorships and advance ticket sales at $10 a head (plus a $2.50 service fee, children under 12 free) will allow them to cover their obligations.

If not, the volunteer committee will have to float a loan and hope revenue from the big night will cover expenses.

Money aside, Phoenix is making a bold attempt to focus the community's attention downtown with a celebration that will rival the parade and rally for the Phoenix Suns after the team's appearance in the NBA finals in 1993, and the historic visit of Pope John Paul II in the 1980s.

Celebration 2000 revelers will pay $15 at the gate on December 31 to enter a fenced area bounded by Jefferson, Van Buren and Third streets, and Third Avenue. Bands will play on three stages scattered throughout the party zone, which will feature beer gardens and a variety of food vendors.

The Celebration 2000 party will culminate with a $90,000, 25-minute fireworks display of unprecedented grandeur. The extended and colorful big bang -- which originally was planned to be even more elaborate but got whacked in budget cuts -- will be telecast worldwide by several networks, since Phoenix is the only major city in the Rocky Mountain time zone hosting such an extravaganza.

"We feel we are going to knock them dead with the show," says Shover.

Planning for the New Year's Eve party began in September 1997, when Mayor Rimsza created a city subcommittee called Celebration 2000.

Grant Woods was named chairman of Celebration 2000 in May 1998, while he was still attorney general. Rimsza made it clear he wanted the committee to think big. He wanted to use the New Year's Eve event as another prop in Phoenix's perpetual drive to be recognized as a "world-class city."

Woods told committee members that Rimsza's vision was, "The bigger and more spectacular the better."

While Rimsza and the Celebration 2000 committee were thinking big, the rest of the city council was thinking small. After more than a year of committee meetings where little was accomplished, Rimsza convinced the city council in December 1998 to award the Celebration 2000 committee $25,000 in seed money to secure equipment and entertainment.

The funds would not go far, especially in the face of unprecedented price-gouging by everyone from entertainers to stagehands who recognized that the laws of supply and demand were converging in their favor. Last spring, millennium fever was at its height, and it was a seller's market. The Celebration 2000 Committee believed it was under tremendous pressure to quickly cut deals or face the possibility of being left out in the cold.

Moving quickly, however, was not something the committee could legally do. Since it was created by the mayor and city council, the committee was required to abide by the state's Open Meetings Law and follow cumbersome city procurement regulations. The committee wanted to get around the sticky rules and decided the best way to do that was to form a nonprofit: Citizens for a Community Celebration Incorporated.

The CCC, composed of the same members as the Celebration 2000 Committee, signed a contract with the city on July 7 to organize and fund the New Year's Eve celebration. With the contract in hand, the city council approved a $500,000 loan to the CCC to help pay for New Year's Eve expenses and dissolved the Celebration 2000 Committee. The city didn't completely cut loose the money. Instead, every expenditure is subject to review by the city's parks department.

The city now had what it thought was the best of both worlds. The CCC could cut deals quickly with whomever it wished and avoid public scrutiny. The parks department, meanwhile, would serve as a monitor and control the checkbook.

"We set this up to avoid the nightmare of public bidding and to allow flexibility in purchasing and meeting," city parks central district director Michael Whiting stated in a July 7 e-mail obtained under the state Public Records Law. "The only role the City has is to watch that the 500K is spent wisely and is paid back."

Prior to the city's recognition of the CCC on July 7, the Celebration 2000 Committee was still subject to the city's procurement regulations and Open Meetings Law. Throughout the first half of the year, the committee continued to post advance notice of its meetings and followed the Open Meetings Law.

But during the same period, city records show the Celebration 2000 Committee flagrantly ignored procurement rules -- with the city's tacit approval.

In late February, meeting minutes show the committee decided it needed to immediately secure stages and lighting for the New Year's Eve show. Rather than preparing a formal request for proposals and circulating it among the half-dozen or so qualified vendors in the Valley, Charlie Johnston cut a deal with On Cue Systems -- a company he regularly contracts with in his private promotion business, Select Artists Associates.

Johnston told the Celebration 2000 Committee at a March 15 meeting that he had spoken to Mark Cockriel of On Cue Systems and had been assured that the company could meet all staging requirements.

In an April 3 bare-bones contract proposal prepared by On Cue Systems, Cockriel promised to provide four stages with minimal lighting for a whopping $42,500 a stage.

The contract between Cockriel and the Celebration 2000 Committee (the CCC had not yet been incorporated) was signed by Grant Woods on May 24, and by Cockriel the next day. Not only did the contract lock the committee in for this year's show, it also guaranteed that On Cue Systems would provide stages for a planned December 31, 2000, celebration at the same $42,500-per-stage rate.

Though Woods had signed the contract, the Celebration 2000 Committee had no money -- even though the city council had approved a $25,000 appropriation last December. On June 17, the city agreed to "rush" the $25,000 payment.

Rather than depositing the money into an account controlled by the Celebration 2000 Committee -- which at that time was the only entity formally recognized by the city -- the $25,000 was deposited into a Citizens for Community Celebration account that Johnston had set up at Wells Fargo Bank. The city made the deposit into the CCC account on June 17, even though CCC would not sign a contract with the city until July 7, records show.

Johnston, who along with Woods, was a signatory on the CCC account, then issued a $10,000 check to Cockriel on June 18 as a deposit for the stages. The deposit check was sent 12 days before the Celebration 2000 Committee reviewed the contract and approved the $10,000 expenditure at its June 30 meeting.

Johnston says he negotiated the deal with On Cue Systems because it was the biggest firm in the Valley. "They are the one company in town that can do this," Johnston says.

Not so, says Joseph Lewis, owner of Spectrum Lighting, Sound & Beyond.

Lewis, who also is a Tempe city councilman, says his company received a call from a Phoenix official last March asking his company to make a bid on the stages.

"We were just asked to fax a quote for six stages," he says. "It was very, very vague."

Lewis says he asked for more details of what was to be required, but they weren't forthcoming. After reviewing a copy of On Cue System's contract provided by New Times, Lewis says his company could have delivered the same product for much less money.

"I guess it would have been around the $25,000 mark per stage," Lewis says.

City attorneys acknowledge that, while On Cue System's contract may have ignored city procurement regulations for failing to issue formal bids, such action is not necessarily illegal.

City attorney Philip Haggerty says the city is only required to seek competitive bids for public-works contracts, such as street and building construction. Nevertheless, the city follows detailed procurement regulations that normally require bidding on such contracts as the On Cue Systems deal, he says.

In this case, since the contract was signed by a city subcommittee -- Celebration 2000, on behalf of a nonprofit corporation, CCC -- Haggerty says there is little motivation for the city to intervene.

"The question is whether we want to force the corporation to go to public bids when they are using our money," Haggerty says. "They don't legally have to do it, and you can satisfy us with a halfway decent reason not to bid it."

The reason not to bid?

"This was an effort to secure those stages quickly so they wouldn't disappear," says Phoenix city parks official Michael Whiting.

Woods says that in retrospect the On Cue Systems contract raises serious questions, especially since the contract called for four stages and, after several acts were canceled, has since been reduced to three. Despite the reduction in the number of stages, On Cue Systems is still being paid $170,000.

"I don't know why it hasn't been renegotiated," Woods tells New Times. "It looks like it should be."

Woods says he has been contacted by a "couple of people" who said they would have liked to have bid for the contract.

"I think it is generally better to bid, but again the committee was being pushed by an urgency supposedly caused by the unique nature of the event, i.e. the 2000 celebration," Woods says.

While city officials refused to intervene on the $170,000 one-source contract with On Cue Systems, they jumped into the middle of a complicated series of negotiations with entertainers with disastrous results.

In late June, Johnston, Woods and Whiting met with Mayor Rimsza to go over planned entertainment. Johnston says he presented a detailed budget that showed the projected cost of each act, along with production expenses.

"Rimsza said, 'What do we need?'" Johnston recalls. "I told him, 'We need money. I need $1 million to do the talent and $500,000 to get it going.'"

Johnston says everybody reviewed the lineup of entertainers and understood how much it would cost.

On July 7, Rimsza and the rest of the city council approved the $500,000 loan to the Citizens for Community Celebration to pay for entertainers and production expenses.

"When the committee got the money, they gave me the authority to make offers," Johnston says.

But Johnson had been cutting deals before the loan was approved.

He sent On Cue Systems a $10,000 deposit check from the CCC bank account (which hadn't been formally recognized by the city) on June 18. Four days later, Johnston secured a $115,000 agreement with Gin Blossoms' manager, Wally Versen. Johnston and Woods forwarded a $10,000 check from the CCC bank account on June 22 to Versen's management company, Titan Music, as a deposit.

Versen's role in the event soon expanded. On July 28, Versen signed a $25,000 contract with Woods and Johnston to supervise, organize and coordinate contracts, contract riders, artist payments, accommodations and ground transportation on behalf of the CCC.

Versen was now working both sides of the table -- managing the Gin Blossoms while also representing the CCC in contract negotiations with bands.

During the next month, Versen landed CCC contracts for two other bands he represents that also include members of the Gin Blossoms -- the Peacemakers for $15,000, and the Gas Giants for $10,000.

Together, Versen's bands had contracts with the CCC worth $140,000 at the same time he was under a $25,000 CCC contract to represent CCC's interests. The CCC steering committee did not review the contract with Versen until September 1, more than a month after it was signed by Woods and Johnston. By that time, CCC records indicate, Versen had agreed to a $5,000 reduction in his contract, to $20,000.

Versen's dual roles caught Phoenix parks department office of special events director Irene Stillwell by surprise. Stillwell's office directly oversees CCC's operations. She says Versen's role with the bands was not discussed when he was introduced during a CCC steering committee meeting.

"The group was told this was a very experienced person . . . and that he might be useful to the committee," she says. Versen's role as agent for the Gin Blossoms and other bands was not discussed, she says.

"None of that was mentioned," Stillwell says.

Versen says his duties to the CCC and the bands do not pose a conflict of interest. The contracts with the bands he represents were negotiated and completed months ago, he says. Most of the work with the CCC now involves solving logistical details such as getting hotel rooms and making sure artists have what they want onstage and backstage. (See Sidebar.)

"It's like different things," he says.

Woods agrees, stating that Versen's experience should help the acts perform smoothly New Year's Eve.

"I don't think this presents any sort of conflict because of his role with some of the bands," Woods says.

At the same time Versen's contract was being finalized, Johnston, Woods and city parks officials hammered out final details of contracts with nearly two dozen individual artists. Woods signed off on the contracts that already had been signed by the artists.

At this point, two conflicting stories emerge.

Johnston says he believed the contracts were approved, so he mailed them on the way out of town to North Carolina.

City officials and Woods have a different story.

"We looked at all the contracts while they were still in-house and we agreed to them," says Diane DeSantis, who was hired by the parks department to serve as a liaison with the Citizens for Community Celebrations.

But DeSantis and her boss, Michael Whiting, were very concerned about the acts' costs. She says they asked Johnston when the deals would be consummated.

"He said, 'When the [deposit] checks accompany the contracts,'" DeSantis says.

Since the checks weren't ready, DeSantis says the city believed it had a few more days to scrutinize the budget. DeSantis, Whiting, Woods and public-relations specialist Jim Gath met and concluded the budget for entertainment was too high.

Gath and DeSantis prepared a memo for Woods outlining significant problems facing the event.

The eight-point memo concluded that it was necessary to "re-think & re-structure the entire event" by slashing the city's exposure in half, to less than $1.3 million. At the same time, it was necessary for the city and CCC to "still deliver an event that is a huge celebration."

The memo concluded on a vague, yet optimistic note: "We have a plan."

The first step of the plan required calling Johnston, who by this time was in Raleigh, North Carolina, and telling him the city wanted to make some changes. Suddenly, the city, which was supposed to be taking a back-seat role in the event, was front and center.

"I said, 'Charles, we need to cancel a few acts. We don't think we can crack this nut. Please don't send the contracts,'" DeSantis says.

It was too late.

DeSantis says Johnston sent the contracts without the checks, "which we understood by him wasn't going to happen."

DeSantis says Johnston told her that it was too late to make changes.

"He said, basically, that we were committed."

Johnston says he never implied that the contracts wouldn't be consummated unless accompanied by a deposit.

"The contract is not validated with the money. The contract is validated when they make an offer," he says.

Johnston says he was shocked that the CCC and the city wanted to renege after Woods had signed the contracts.

"The time to change your mind is before you make the deals," he says.

Nevertheless, Woods, on behalf the of CCC, and with the urging of the city, unilaterally canceled a number of the acts. The agent for three of the acts that were canceled responded angrily.

"We have a very serious situation," Berkeley Reinhold, an attorney for the William Morris Agency, wrote in a September 15 letter to Mayor Rimsza.

William Morris represented the Harry James Orchestra, John Mills, and the Modernaires, which were slated to play on a stage celebrating the '40s. Woods had signed a contract on August 16 committing CCC to pay the three acts a total of $100,000.

"We trust that you and the City of Phoenix do not support this capricious decision made by the CCC to cancel this confirmed engagement . . ." Reinhold's letter stated.

For the next month, city parks officials scrambled to fend off a public-relations disaster. The city eventually reached an agreement with the Phoenix Civic Plaza to host the William Morris acts. CCC is contributing $75,000 of the $100,000 fee, even though the act will be outside the area fenced for the CCC celebration. A private promoter is covering the rest of the fee.

Several other acts that were canceled have landed at the Arizona Center, also outside the CCC perimeter. Once again, the CCC is financially exposed, paying for half of the $23,500 fee for Rose Royce, and Denny Terrio & Motion but collecting none of the proceeds.

The city hoped to keep the contract cancellation fiasco quiet, even after New Times began making inquiries in early November.

City parks official Michael Whiting wanted to steer all press calls to Jim Gath, the public-relations executive with the Motta Company, which is handling CCC promotion.

Whiting encouraged other city officials to allow Gath to handle calls, hinting in a November 8 e-mail that the paper might be easily controlled since "New Times is one of their [Motta Company] clients."

Whiting's e-mail stated that Gath will "handle this very well . . . keeping the city out of the mix."

Citizens for a Community Celebration chief fundraiser Charlie Thompson had been unsuccessful at generating donations other than from his company, Arizona Public Service, which had agreed to kick in $80,000 to sponsor a children's area to be set up on Heritage Square.

Apparently frustrated, Thompson turned over his fund-raising leads to Mayor Rimsza in early October, telling city officials in an e-mail that "we have very little corporate support."

City parks liaison DeSantis urged Thompson to continue his fund-raising efforts. "It is vital that you continue to pursue sponsorships," she wrote Thompson in an October 21 e-mail.

Rimsza's fund-raising efforts also met a cool reception from corporations, which already had been besieged with funding requests -- particularly from the Valley of the Sun United Way, which was breaking previous fund-raising goals by more than $5 million, according to CCC vice chairman Bill Shover.

Shover says the New Year's Eve celebration doesn't resonate well with many corporations, which prefer to make contributions to more traditional nonprofit organizations.

"It doesn't have the appeal of a St. Vincent de Paul," Shover says. "There are a lot of charities that need money for the homeless and for kids."

By late October, city parks official Michael Whiting was in regular contact with city manager Frank Fairbanks over the lack of corporate sponsorship for Celebration 2000. The outlook was bleak and getting worse.

In an e-mail to Woods, Whiting described an October 28 conversation with Fairbanks when he told the city manager that fund raising would likely be less than $200,000, a fraction of the $1.5 million original estimate.

"I said our best hope is advertising and prayer!!!" Whiting's e-mail to Woods stated. "He agreed. Can we schedule a priest for the next meeting!! You think I [sic] kidding??"

As Valley corporations turned a cold shoulder to the CCC, fund-raising efforts turned toward the state, the Arizona Lottery in particular. The CCC asked the lottery for about $30,000 to underwrite the cost of the equipment for the final countdown stage.

Public-relations contact Jim Gath encouraged DeSantis to pressure lottery official Alberto Gutier to sign up -- especially after CNN had indicated it was planning to focus on Phoenix in its nonstop worldwide New Year's Eve coverage.

Gath used some frothy language to encourage DeSantis to press hard on Gutier.

"Hell, the price of this deal ought to double by the end of this coming week," he wrote DeSantis in an October 24 e-mail pep talk. "Act now! Don't' delay! Alberto -- don't let yourself be caught crying in your lukewarm, flat beer, while sitting in some loser bar at midnight of the new millennium. Be front and center. Live large!

"Be a hero to all those shmucks who throw their hard-earned sheckels at a loser's dream! Stand up and take a bow, my man. Do it for the greater good of the Great State of Arizona!!!! Be the MILLENNIUM MAN!!!"

Gutier rejected the deal.

Besides APS, the only other corporation definitely contributing as a sponsor is Hensley & Company, which controls the Budweiser distributorship. Not surprisingly, Budweiser will be the official Celebration 2000 beer. The Hensley contribution isn't finalized, but is expected to be worth around $30,000.

Negotiations are continuing with Wells Fargo over a potential sponsorship of one stage. The potential deal is estimated to be worth around $40,000.

With corporate sponsorship scarce, operational funds have become so tight that Jerry Colangelo's Team Shops agreed to renegotiate an exclusive contract to sell hats, tee shirts and sweat shirts bearing the official Celebration 2000 logo. The Team Shops late last month agreed to advance $50,000 to Citizens for a Community Celebration to pay for the production of the millennium gear.

Details of the agreement with the Team Shops have not been released, although city records indicate the Team Shops will earn about a 3 percent markup on the deal and recoup its $50,000 advance.

"They are not losing money, but they are not making a lot either," says city parks official Michael Whiting.

The lack of sponsorships is putting a squeeze on the CCC's bank balance. The CCC faces a $400,000 bill on December 29 to cover the costs of all entertainers and production expenses. After the contract cancellation fiasco in September, all entertainers wanted to be paid in full before the end of the century. If the CCC receives the expected $150,000 in sponsorships in addition to what is in the bank, the organization still faces a $216,000 shortfall.

The difference is expected to be made up by advance ticket sales at $10 per person. Ticket prices go up to $15 on the day of the event.

Whiting is confident the CCC will sell at least 21,000 tickets in advance, raising the money needed to meet the December 29 payment deadline.

"We don't think there is any problem at all," he says. "We expect 100,000 to 150,000 in attendance."

Originally planned to focus on musical themes from throughout the century, the concept of the event was scaled back after the September 1 budget reduction. One thing that was never cut back -- because it was never included in the format to begin with -- was a Latino entertainment element.

Joseph Romero, who owns Grupo Romero Incorporated, a Scottsdale public-relations firm, has been trying for several months to get a Latino act on board for the event. He's met some rather stiff resistance from the city and CCC officials.

Diane DeSantis, the city parks department liaison with the CCC, met with Romero and made it clear to him there would be no financial support for a Latino act.

In an e-mail to a CCC volunteer, DeSantis wrote, "I cleared up any confusion on who and how a Hispanic band would get to play at the event. He is looking into a Mexican band from Nogales. I told him it was up to him to provide the band and that there was no money."

In an interview, Romero says he's been trying to line up a local band to play for the Hispanic community, "more of a grass roots group versus the upper income." Romero expects to announce who, and where the acts will perform in the next week.

Romero says he's been promised financial support from Art Othon, an Arizona Public Service official, although he doesn't know how much it will be. Othon, who is on the CCC steering committee, reportedly is offering the money as a personal donation. He could not be reached for comment.

"It should be enough to cover the expenses of the musicians," Romero says of Othon's donation, which he says came to the Latino community's "rescue."

Unlike most of the mainstream entertainers, who demanded extraordinarily high fees, Romero says he's confident that the Latino acts will be booked for a reasonable amount.

"These people are not very greedy. All they want is to have the exposure," he says. "We know it's going to be affordable."

Woods said entertainers were selected to attract a broad cross section of the community. "We tried to get acts that everybody could enjoy," Woods stated. "There is no Spanish-speaking act (except the Pistoleros, who have some Spanish-language songs), and maybe that is something that should be done next year."

Woods noted that the entertainment also excludes rap, heavy metal, polka and marching bands.

"But overall, the musical acts represent a decent cross-section of the community," he stated.

With the Celebration 2000 party less than 29 days away, officials already are rethinking the volunteer-based approach to organizing such a huge event.

"Mainly, this has been a royal pain in the ass," Woods stated.

Not because his enthusiasm for the party has waned -- in fact, Woods said he is looking forward to "an unforgettable night of music and fireworks."

His frustration, which is not his alone, comes from the inherent nature of volunteer committees.

"The most difficult part has been dealing with volunteers who for some reason didn't get the job done in many areas," he said.

City parks office of special events director Irene Stillwell saw the problems emerging last summer and attempted to increase the city's role in organizing the event. It was a difficult task.

"Suggestions and timelines presented by staff in an effort to get things moving have been essentially ignored until recently," Stillwell wrote in analysis of the Celebration 2000 volunteer committee last June.

The reluctance to involve the city, which has an experienced staff that routinely organizes special events, slowly diminished, but only as panic set in.

"This is beginning to change due to a new sense of urgency among committee members when it became clear that there were only six months left to prepare," Stillwell stated in her June memo.

Organizational problems have plagued the CCC throughout its existence.

The CCC still doesn't have a chief financial officer to oversee its budget. That oversight has proven costly. Although the CCC steering committee approved spending $500 for a filing fee to receive formal nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service last July, the check was only mailed to the IRS in early October. As a result, the CCC has no legal authority to describe itself as a nonprofit organization and cannot entice contributions from corporations as being tax deductible, says IRS spokesman Bill Brunson.

The CCC's chief fund raiser, Charlie Thompson, says he was telling prospective donors that their contributions could be tax deductible. He was unaware that the IRS has not approved their application and that the filing fee had not been sent until October.

In retrospect, Woods said the event would have been better handled by city staff alone.

"The city has the expertise on these events and they should simply put it on after receiving input from citizens rather than the other way around," he stated.

Ifs and buts aside, the CCC volunteers have focused the community's attention on downtown Phoenix in a way that has never been done before. Whether the event is a success will depend on how many people decide to come downtown and celebrate the new century.

"There are worse ways to enter a new century than to be surrounded by a diverse and cohesive community brought together to enjoy music and look to the future with optimism and hope," Woods stated. "And if it doesn't come off, at least it will have been a nice try."

Contact John Dougherty at his online address: [email protected]

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty