The Message

Role Reversal

Plenty of people long to be in front of cameras, behind microphones or opposite journalists jotting down their every word -- but that doesn't mean the experience of serving as press fodder always leaves one feeling fine the morning after. Witness onetime Denver Deputy Manager of Aviation Amy Bourgeron, who says a series of reports by Channel 9's Paula Woodward turned her into a victim of "drive-by journalism. You don't have to stop and get distracted by any of the facts. You just point and shoot."

Woodward's description of her Channel 9 work -- which may have been a contributing factor in a job-ranking shift that lowered Bourgeron's salary by over $30,000 per annum -- could hardly be more different. She set out to simply "state the facts as we knew them," she says, and she stands behind her coverage that began on April 24.

Down the line, Woodward may be compelled to do so before a judge. On July 1, Bourgeron filed a complaint against the city and assorted members of the Career Service Authority Board over her demotion to the position of public and employee relations coordinator; the case is currently in federal district court, with a first hearing slated for mid-September. Bourgeron's attorney, Marc Mishkin, subsequently issued a statement about a July 18 Woodward followup, in which he employed legalistic language such as "Paula Woodward is trafficking in rumor and innuendo in wanton and reckless disregard of the facts." When asked if these remarks should be interpreted as a prelude to another lawsuit, Mishkin says, "Ms. Bourgeron has an option of including any actions against the media in the present suit if they're directly related to it, or filing against any media outlet whose actions have given her what she feels is an actionable claim."

The prospect of a judicial faceoff is especially intriguing, given that Bourgeron has spent most of her nineteen-plus years as a city of Denver employee serving as a conduit between reporters and the government. In 1982, she was hired by the city as a contract worker, and she became a Career Services employee two years later; the Career Service designation gives individuals job security that isn't affected by elections or changes in administration. Bourgeron served as communications director for the Department of Public Works from 1987 to 1998, after which she was appointed Deputy Manager of Aviation for Public Relations and Marketing at Denver International Airport by former Mayor Wellington Webb. (Bourgeron accepted the position on the condition that her previous Career Service job be held for her so that she could return to it after her stint as an appointee ended.) In addition, she worked for a time as Webb's press secretary and coordinated information dispersal for two of the highest-profile events to take place in the area during the past decade: the Oklahoma City bombing trials and the G-8 Summit, a gathering of world leaders such as Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin.

These experiences have made Bourgeron something of a go-to person when it comes to handling news-organization onslaughts. After the Kobe Bryant case broke, she says, she was contacted by "someone involved in assisting Eagle County with some of their preliminary media concerns. They wanted to know, 'What was the first thing you did, Amy? How did you put your arms around this issue?' I walked them through the steps."

Her DIA tenure has hit occasional turbulence. Following 9/11, a number of reporters went public with complaints about problems in the public-info department Bourgeron headed, with one calling the airport "the most insulated government office in the city, and probably in the state" ("Talking Points," September 27, 2001). Still, she and her team can be credited with helping to turn around DIA's reputation as a baggage-eating white elephant beloved mainly by late-night comics to what Time magazine dubbed America's best-run airport in July 2002, and for luring seven new airlines to the facility over a two-year span.

Bourgeron racked up this track record without benefit of a college degree. She received four semester credits in commercial photography from the Colorado Institute of Art, but no sheepskin -- a deficiency that, while seemingly trivial at this stage of her career, served as the spur for Woodward's reporting. In one offering, Woodward quizzed Jim Yearby, ex-director of the Career Service, Authority, who said then-DIA manager of aviation Bruce Baumgartner asked in 1998 if Bourgeron could be transferred directly from her public works position to the gig as deputy manager of aviation. Yearby told him that wouldn't be possible, because a college degree was a prerequisite for the job, according to Career Service guidelines. Later, Mayor Webb made Bourgeron a political appointee, which skirted the degree requirement but meant that, under ordinary circumstances, her time in the job had to end when he left office in 2003 and the position would come back under the Career Service umbrella.

The city allowed individuals to apply for the impending deputy manager opening beginning in October 2002 -- and, in a break with the past, the listing stated, "Additional appropriate experience or education can be substituted for experience or education." Because Bourgeron was the most prominent person to benefit from this new policy, and because Baumgartner was ultimately in charge of choosing her over other applicants, Woodward's late-April piece, broadcast at the start of a sweeps ratings period, lumped her hiring in with two others that it dubbed "questionable." Also on the roster was Allen Webb, Wellington Webb's son (and a man with a sizable rap sheet), who was fired from one Career Service job in 2001 but hired for another the next year. He was eventually fired from that position, too.

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