Saturday, May 5, 2012

IMG: we have ‘no involvement’ with Payson

By Jim Keyworth
Gazette Blog Editor
You may have read the Payson Roundup progress edition article on March 30 containing explicit details about a “heart-stopping twist” -  negotiations between the Rim Country Educational Alliance and “multi-billion-dollar sports empire IMG to build a sports academy here as part of a campus complex.”

Exciting stuff, right?  The latest in a series of Roundup stories about Payson Mayor Kenny Evans’ claims and promises about the four-year university he vows is coming to Payson soon. 

The only problem, a lot of it appears to be BS – at least the part about IMG.  Because IMG denies any knowledge of any negotiations and, in fact, is not happy that its good name is being bandied about in Payson.

Credit for uncovering the truth goes to Stephanie Landers, the news director at KMOG.  Back on March 27, she read yet another Roundup article about IMG negotiating with the alliance.  Subsequently she did her own news story on the subject based on a talk Evans had given at The Rim Golf Club during which he claimed, “The IMG Sports Academy is still running strong as a possibility…(and) could potentially begin transitioning into the Rim Country area by this summer.”

What a great development, she thought.  She picked up the phone and called IMG for what she expected would be their enthusiastic reaction.

“I was looking for a happy story,” Landers said.  “I thought it was a completely legitimate story.  I was calling for confirmation and just a feel-good quote about how they’re excited to come to Payson.  I did not expect to hear what I heard when I got ahold of them.” 

The person Landers talked to and had subsequent exchanges with was IMG Public Relations Director Kim Berard.  Landers recalls what Berard told her: “Somebody sent us a copy of the newspaper yesterday from Payson, Arizona.  I passed it around to every person in this building.  Stephanie, I work with all of the top executives.  Nobody knows what this is about.  We’ve got our attorneys looking into it right now.”  

"(Berard) is the media liaison and she talks to all of the executives,” Landers explained, “and she was very clear about the fact that nobody knows anything about it.”

The next day Landers made a follow-up call to Berard.  “Did you find anything out,” she asked.

Berard said no, and told Landers that the information had been sent on to global headquarters in New York.  Landers was in hot pursuit.

“I called headquarters in New York and they said the person you want to talk to is Kim Berard,” Landers explained.  “They’re like, she knows everything before anyone else does.”

Landers broke the story immediately.

“I Tweeted it.  I posted it on our Facebook page.  I put it on the news,” she said.

Unfortunately the story attracted little attention.

Besides making Evans aware of what she had learned (he continues to insist IMG is “a legitimate deal”), Landers also told Roundup Editor Pete Aleshire about her conversations with Berard.  To date the Roundup has chosen not to tell its readers what it knows.  In fact, Aleshire told another Gazette source that Evans is now claiming another group is negotiating on behalf of IMG. 

The Gazette Blog contacted Berard and asked her directly if the information Landers was given was accurate and if, in fact, another group was negotiating on behalf of IMG.  Berard’s response: “You are welcome to say the truth, which is that we have no involvement with the Payson project and we have not authorized anyone to have discussions on our behalf.”

Here are two questions that beg to be answered:
If the IMG negotiations are a myth, what else is not true about the four-year college endeavor?
Why would the Payson Roundup sit on this story?  Shouldn't its readers be told what's going on?

Understandably, Landers does not want to jeopardize her local contacts, so much of what she knows remains off the record.  But she is aghast: “I’m just disgusted by the whole situation,” she said.  “I feel so frustrated.”

A responsible newspaper is, well, responsible.  It reports the facts whether those facts mesh with its previous stories or not.

A lot of people have high hopes for this project. A lot of people have based personal and business decisions on what they have read in the newspaper.

They deserve – we all deserve – nothing less than the whole truth. 

The Gazette Blog has been skeptical about this project from the start.  Not that it wouldn’t a wonderful thing.  It surely would be. 

But from the start, it just hasn’t added up.  Now, it appears there is solid evidence to back what was before just an editor’s uneasy feeling - that this thing just wasn’t quite right.

In the meantime, town officials are tiptoeing around the subject of IMG.

“It’s like the elephant in the room right now,” Landers said. 

But it is refreshing to know there is at least one real journalist practicing the trade in town.

“I’m not finished with it,” Landers vowed.


Anonymous said...

Sad, very sad...what a tangled web we weave, when at first we practice to deceive! I for one am NOT HOLDING MY BREATH on ANY COLLEGE coming into this town. There are too many old grumpy citizens that want Payson to be a "retirement" town only. We have lost over 2000 citizens since the downturn of the economy and Payson is circling the drain...

Anonymous said...

Sad isn't the word. Dishonest comes to mind. People want this college so bad they are willing to believe just about anything Kenny says. And if the local paper just prints everything he says without question how do you get the truth?

What will happen on Thursday's Forum when Aleshire is on the air. Will the subject of IMG come up? Will somebody call in and ask the question? I'm sure Aleshire will be ready with an answer by then. I'm guessing something like: "We're looking into this; these things take time."

But the fact remains: the Roundup knew about this weeks ago and chose not to tell its readers.

Anonymous said...

I hope Stephanie does follow through on this, but the Payson Trinity (KMOG, Roundup, Evans) might have different ideas. One of Stephanie's favorite people is Pete Aleshire, who bumped Jim Keyworth out of the Thursday slot. I will be very interested in how they approach the subject Thursday. If they mention it at all. I like Stephanie's morning show and hope KMOG will allow her to go futher with this story. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Anonymous said...

I think I smell some gabardine burning.

sportscenterisnext said...

Jim we the people of Payson don't have a choice! Fast Kenny and Slick Pete are the only ones doing the talking!

People want leadership, Payson has been lacking this since Bob Edwards was defeated, you'll notice our Mayor and T.C. run unopposed and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership.

People don't drink the sand 'cause they're thirsty. They drink the sand 'cause they don't know the difference.

Why is it Mike Vogel is on the town payroll? Exactly what is Mr. Vogel's duties? What JOBS has he brought to Payson?

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Stepahine she is one smart investigative reporter.

Anonymous said...

I've been saying since 2010 that the ASU story was a complete fabrication ! A friend of mine knows Michael Crow and he was told that it would be a ' cold day in hell ' when an ASU full fledged campus would be in Payson!

Most of the stories coming out of town hall have all of the hall marks of BS!

Hey ! How come Engler's Murder down in Scottsdale got the complete cover up treatment by that Corrupt County Attorney Andrew Thomas? Doesn't anybody care about Justice?!