Longform

Snafu 2000

Page 5 of 8

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.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty