Off Beat

Touchdown!

AFTER A SPATE of defections to its fatter rival across the river, the Pioneer Press has finally scored. Last week the paper lured away Don Banks, the Star Tribune's top Vikings reporter. When Banks checks into his new office this week, he can compare notes on his days in the Mill City newsroom with fellow traitors Joe Soucheray, Nick Coleman, and Bob Sansevere. Best as anyone can recall, however, the Banks hiring represents the Pi Press's first successful recruitment of a Strib reporter since Sansevere bailed back in 1990--a long drought during which plenty of prominent Pi Press talent has moved to the Strib. (For a recent update, see David Schimke's April 7 cover story "Black & White...and Red All Over.") "It's a heckuva coup for us," confirms Pi Press sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz. "It gives us the best, most experienced Vikings reporter in town. He's been a thorn in our side for quite some time. It's a great boost for our newsroom to have somebody over there look at what we do and decide we do it better and join us." According to Garcia-Ruiz, Banks--who scooped the Pi Press last year on the sale of the Vikings--didn't make the jump for money. ("If we get in a bidding war with the Strib, we're dead," the editor concedes.) Instead Banks was attracted to the prominence the rival paper gives its Vikes coverage. At the Strib, meanwhile, news of Banks's departure was met with puzzlement. "It's a real head-scratcher," says one staffer. Banks was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment, and Strib sports editor Glen Crevier says he doesn't care to discuss the defection.

Built on Beanies

THE RAINFOREST CAFE hasn't exactly been a Wall Street darling lately. On Friday stock in the Hopkins-based company closed at an anemic $5.19 per share, far below its all-time high of $25.33, reached in December 1997. The stock plunged 40 percent on January 7, 1998, after the company revealed that revenues for the quarter wouldn't meet analysts' expectations. Shareholder lawsuits, er, ensued, pointing to the fact that six company insiders had sold more than $3.6 million in shares in October 1997, when the stock was riding high, and alleging that the execs had known bad news was coming. The initial suits were dismissed but then refiled with more detailed allegations early last month in federal court in Minneapolis. Having always had a weakness for court papers, Off Beat took a look. Okay, so it wasn't exactly the Simpson case. But we did arch an eyebrow upon seeing the contention that the Rainforest's continual hyping of the success of its retail sales--particularly its proprietary brands--was a bunch of hooey. "[T]he only retail item that the Company's stores were successfully selling was 'Beanie Babies,'" states the complaint. "[I]f not for Beanie Babies the Company would have experienced insubstantial revenues from retail sales in each unit's retail store." To make matters even worse, the plaintiffs contend, sales of Beanie Babies generate a very low profit margin because they aren't a proprietary product. Rainforest president Kenneth Brimmer--who was among those insider sellers back in 1997, selling 39,400 shares for nearly $1.4 million--isn't impressed with the new version of the lawsuit, asserting that it's not much different from the last one. "I'll refer you to the judge's ruling: He dismissed it. I see nothing new," he says. As for the charges that the company's retail mix relies heavily on Beanies, Brimmer says that's hardly a revelation: "That's always been true; we've never in the history of the company made a secret of that."

CODE Blues

"Nobody's going to get everything they ask for," state senator Allan Spear (DFL-Minneapolis) warned Hennepin County criminal-justice agencies back in April, when they requested $5.2 million from the Legislature to cover a jump in expenses related to Minneapolis's highly publicized CODEFOR (Computer Optimized DEployment Focus On Results) policing strategy. (The strategy, which uses computer mapping to identify crime hotspots and target misdemeanor offenders, has been the subject of numerous City Pages stories, most recently "CODE Red," on April 7.) How right the senator was. Late last month Gov. Jesse Ventura signed a bill providing CODEFOR a one-time grant of $1.5 million, including $795,000 for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office (which had asked for $2.2 million) and $420,000 for the public defender's office (which wanted $1.5 million). "We were just lucky to avoid a line-item veto," says Spear. "It was clear from the beginning that the governor's budget was fairly tight." Rep. Richard Stanek (R-Maple Grove), who sponsored Hennepin County's request in the state House, notes that the county will get some relief from other legislative actions, such as an appropriation for more judges in state courts. Stanek, a Minneapolis police commander, also points out that no one can say exactly how much of the county's law-enforcement outlay is related to the city's strategy: "How do you I know if I've made a CODEFOR arrest or just arrested someone for pissing in the street?

 

At Off Beat our motto is "Staying informed so you don't have to." Call (612) 372-3788 or send an e-mail to offbeat@citypages.com with any poop that's fit to print.

 
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