For fifty years, Bob Burns has kept Fountain Hills residents informed on local issues as a reporter for the Fountain Hills Times. He quietly shows up to our events and town meetings to keep us in the know, yet few people know much about him.
Bob was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania, near the woods and oil fields.
“I grew up in those woods,” said Bob. “I hiked and camped with the Scout troop. I may have gotten into a little bit of mischief, but nothing significant.”
He stayed in the area until he left for school at the Warren branch of Edinboro College.
“I didn’t have any real plans for what I wanted to study. I went with an open mind, but since I had to declare a major, I decided on a Geography degree. It didn’t take long before I was drawn to the campus newspaper, and that’s where I got my start in journalism.”
It was here that Bob met Linda and was smitten. When her parents decided to move to Arizona and insisted that she come along, Bob followed.
“I immediately enrolled at Arizona State University, and Linda and I got married in 1973. Married life brought along many family responsibilities, so I had less time to take classes. I took what classes I could while I worked full-time wherever I could. Retail, hardware, a plumbing warehouse.”
It took eighteen years, but he finally graduated from ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism in 1988.
“That same year, while I was still at school, I saw a job posting by Alan Cruikshank for a newspaper job in Fountain Hills. They needed a new darkroom technician, and since I’d learned the skills in school, I got the job.”
The new job put Bob on a daily 25-mile commute from Chandler to Fountain Hills that lasted for 29 years until, in 2017, he finally moved here.
“When I first started, I was assigned to report on the Fire District in the town’s pre-incorporation years. Alan Cruikshank immediately took me to Rio Verde to introduce me to people, and I’ve been writing that section of the newspaper ever since.”
Bob has had some interesting experiences in his thirty-five years of reporting in Fountain Hills. After incorporation, Bob’s reporting duties expanded to include the Sanitary District. But the most interesting story he worked on was in 1992 during the standoff in Fort McDowell.
Fort McDowell Casino had a bingo operation for years and added slot machines when Congress authorized the Indian Gaming Act. Arguments brewed for months about the limits of tribal gaming operations when twelve federal agents entered the casino to confiscate 349 slot machines. Fort McDowell residents used their own cars and trucks and a human wall to block the moving vans from leaving the casino. They also blocked the only road that led to the reservation at the time. This was the start of a three-week standoff.
“The standoff started on a Tuesday morning, which, at the time, was production day for the newspaper. I heard about it on the radio that morning, so I drove straight to the casino instead of showing up at the office.
“The tribe held a pow-wow in the parking lot with their drums, and it lasted for most of the standoff. Being May, the evenings were still cool enough to open your windows at night. If you lived near the eastern part of town, you could hear those drums, day after day.”
About two hundred Native Americans from all over the country showed up that week for a two-day march from Fort McDowell to the Arizona State Capitol to protest. The slot machines were eventually hauled away and destroyed. Later in November, the governor signed new gaming compacts for Arizona reservations that allowed slot machines to operate 24 hours a day. The standoff set the stage for future expansion of gaming compacts while reducing government overreach.
Reporting wasn’t always this exciting for Bob, however. His most challenging story was the town’s takeover of the Fire District twenty years ago.
“The town was talking about ending their contract with Rural Metro back in 2000-2001. I felt like the town got bad advice, and instead, Council decided Rural Metro would stay.
“This was a difficult situation for the Fire District because they were already in the hiring process. I remember on the morning of September 11, there were physical tests for new firefighters at Golden Eagle Park. Six weeks later, the Town Council held a special meeting at Noon and decided to take over the Fire District. The Fire District decided not to offer the current firefighters their jobs. They had to apply for their old jobs. That made things messy because it crossed the union.
“I believe, financially speaking, this was the worst decision ever made by Council in this town. There is no tax dedicated to it, so it comes out of the General Fund.”
When asked if he sees himself and the other reporters as historians of Fountain Hills, he points out that Alan Cruikshank was the guy everyone went to for historical stories. People still refer to Mike Scharnow, but Bob doesn’t get many historical questions despite his fifty years of recording the goings on of our town.
“When we recently moved our offices, I started combing through old negatives. I found stuff from the Applewix restaurant fire, the 1995 Rio fire, and other big events in the town. That’s some great history.”
What does a newsman like Bob do outside of work?
“Not much. I have three grandkids to visit. My grandson and I took a road trip to Santa Fe and Los Alamos the week before Oppenheimer came out. My late wife and I used to hike a lot, so I enjoy volunteering as a trailhead host. I have a bike with electric boost that I like riding around.
“I also like to read non-fiction history. I recently read Killers of the Flower Moon in preparation for the movie. I also read 1876, which was the year of Little Bighorn. I grabbed a road atlas to follow where they were throughout the story. I guess that’s the Geography thing coming back.
“I loved to get out a road map when I was a kid to see where we were on vacation. My dad never looked at the maps. My mom and I would tell dad where he needed to go, and he would never do it. We eventually made it to where we wanted to go most of the time. A prime example was when we went to Massachusetts. We visited Concord and Lexington, and we wanted to go to Plymouth. We kept telling him where to turn to get there, and he would not do it. So, we never got there. I still have never seen Plymouth Rock.”