GateHouse Media officially announced the "resignation" of co-president and co-chief operating officer Randy Cope today in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
According to the filing, Cope told the company Dec. 19 that he planned to resign effective Jan. 2:
In connection with his resignation, and in lieu of any payments or benefits to which he would be entitled under his employment agreement and management stockholder agreement with the Company, the Company will (a) accelerate the vesting of all of Mr. Cope’s outstanding restricted share grants to the effective date of his resignation, (b) continue to pay Mr. Cope his base salary for a period of two months following the effective date of his resignation, and (c) continue to provide Mr. Cope, for a period of up to 12 months following the effective date of his resignation, coverage under the Company’s medical plan at the same levels as such benefits have been provided to Mr. Cope and, in connection therewith, Mr. Cope will continue to make contributions at the employee-required levels.
Cope's departure will apparently end more than half a century of involvement of the Bush/Cope family in the Neosho Daily News, one of the newspapers owned by GateHouse Media. The family sold the Daily to American Publishing, the United States subsidiary of Hollinger International. Cope and his father, former Neosho Daily News Publisher Ken Cope, remained with the company and, in fact, climbed quickly to the upper levels of company management.
The smaller newspapers in the company broke away (with the help of payments to Conrad Black and David Radler) in 1998 to become Liberty Group Publishing. The name was changed to GateHouse Media two years ago.
Cope appeared to be on the fast track to success with the company, especially after the departure of former Liberty Group Publishing CEO Ken Serota, but his star began to diminish after the arrival of former Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc (owner of the Joplin Globe) CEO Michael Reed and the hiring of several Reed confederates at positions with more power than that held by Cope.
Cope's position as of today's announcement is "co-president and co-chief operating officer responsible for our Southern Midwest Region," according to the GateHouse Media website. Cope had been executive vice president from April 2002 to June 2005.
From 1995 to 1998, Cope was publisher of the Northwest Arkansas Times in Fayetteville. Prior to that, he had been publisher of the Neosho Daily News, a position he resumed when he joined Liberty Group Publishing in 1998 and held until he ceded that responsibility to Rick Rogers in June 2005, when a news release from Liberty indicated Cope and Scott Champion were the new heads of the company replacing Serota. As noted in the June 7, 2005, Turner Report:
Neosho's Randy Cope is officially the top man at Liberty Group Publishing. At least he will be one of two who will share that position.
The announcement was made today, along with the announcement that the purchase of Liberty by Fortress Investment Group LLC has been finalized. The move had previously been publicized in the Daily, with the announcement that Rick Rogers had been promoted to the publisher position, and in Editor & Publisher, a newspaper industry trade publication.
When Fortress Investment Group purchased Liberty, it pushed for the hiring of Reed, after which Cope's power and influence in the company diminished.
It will be interesting to see what the removal of Cope will do to the area newspapers which have been affected so much by his decisions of the past few years. Chip Watson,the manager for the newspapers in this region, who has been with Cope from the American Publishing days through the years at the Northwest Arkansas Times and then back to Liberty and GateHouse, has been under fire in recent months and no longer has his chief protector.
The news could also spell trouble for Carthage Press Managing Editor Buzz Ball, whose close ties with the Cope/Bush family extend to the days when his father, Bill Ball, was the Daily's sports editor. Ball has done little to endear himself to Press readers during the months he has been at the helm.