Despite all The Times-Picayune’s rituals, it was sometimes hard to figure out exactly what was happening. It was impossible if you weren’t on a desk downtown.
In a supposed effort to remedy that, former publisher Ashton Phelps would hold annual meetings in every bureau. These were perfunctory affairs, with everyone knowing the result. Invariably, for example, Scott Threlkeld would argue the St. Tammany Bureau desperately needed a boat, and Phelps would nod sagely, turn to an associate to make sure they made a note of that, and then a month or so later the troops would get the summation.
It would say, “There are no plans to purchase a boat for the St. Tammany Bureau at this time.” One of the rules stressed at these meetings was to take any complaint “up the chain of command.”
Phelps was a stickler for the chain of command. Got a complaint? Don’t go to his office first crack out of the box; first, raise it with your immediate boss.
Well, comes a time some construction is going on at HQ, and it crimped space when parking was already sparse. In the midst of this chaos, some clown got the bright idea to have a car wash under the overpass, his own side business, and in the middle of the day he’d take up several spots. You’d rush back needing to file a story, and these damned ropes blocked off choice real estate.
Finally livid, I took it up with the guy, who held one of those mysterious jobs on the first floor, and he was a complete jerk about it. So up the chain I went.
This led to one Arthur Anzalone (Jr., I think), who had a glass cubicle over to one side of the first floor. Anzalone was a bookkeeper of some sort, and it was immediately obvious he wanted no part of this. He was frantic about it, in fact, just trying to shush us and get us out of his lair.
None of that made any sense until about two years later, when to everyone’s astonishment the authorities marched into HQ, over to Anzalone’s sleepy niche, slapped the cuffs on him and frog-marched him out of The TP.
Turned out, Mr. Anzalone had been quietly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars, squirreling a bit away out of payroll every two weeks until he’d stolen a small fortune. The cafeteria crowd talked about nothing else for a week.
– James Varney