URTV board president muzzles board members on official station business

The URTV offices were dark and the doors locked at 8 a.m. on Feb. 9, making it unclear if a planned special meeting of the public-access channel’s Executive Committee was inside.

URTV board President Jerry Young originally called the special closed session for Feb. 6, without disclosing the topic. But in a Feb. 4 e-mail to committee members, Young tried to reschedule the meeting to Feb. 9, explaining, “We do not have a quorum for Friday.”

When Xpress arrived at the channel’s offices at 31 College Place on Monday, however, they were locked up tight, with the lights off and no one visible inside.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 5, Young had also sent all board members an e-mail restricting them from talking about the organization.

Both moves came amid continuing controversy over the transparency of the URTV’s operations. Some board members have criticized several recent measures, including a confidentiality clause in an oath administered to board members (which was later changed), and video footage of Executive Director Pat Garlinghouse making remarks to the board that a North Carolina Press Association attorney later said misrepresented the state’s open-meetings law.

A fee charged to cable subscribers provides the bulk of URTV’s funding. The money is funneled through Buncombe County and the city of Asheville, which allocate a portion of it to the channel. Specific clauses in URTV’s agreements with the city and county require it to follow open-meetings law.

According to the September 2007 version of the station’s bylaws, the Executive Committee is composed of the “officers of the corporation,” identified as the president, vice president, treasurer and clerk. URTV’s Web site, however, lists the current officers as Young, Treasurer Joe Scotto, Secretary Ralph Roberts and Parliamentarian Bob Horn—a position that isn’t mentioned in the original bylaws. Garlinghouse serves on the committee as a nonvoting member.

The bylaws also state that “The Board may at times, by majority vote, give the Executive Committee the power to make specific decisions when no regular Board meeting is scheduled.”

In order for the board to legally go into closed session, a quorum (in this case, six members) must be present, and a majority of them must vote—in open session—to go into closed session, which the state’s open-meetings law allows for only certain specified purposes, such as discussing property, personnel or legal matters.

The Feb. 9 meeting came as a surprise to board member Richard Bernier, who, along with board member Davyne Dial, has criticized what he sees as a lack of transparency in URTV’s operations. “This is news to me,” Bernier told Xpress when asked about the meeting.

In the Feb. 5 e-mail to board members, which Young called “a reminder about information protocol,” he wrote: “It is my understanding that no board member is authorized to speak to the press on behalf of URTV. Either to print publications or on web-based sites.”

Young added: “I understand that as Board President I am the only spokesperson for URTV. It is also my understanding that no single board member may ever speak on behalf of URTV. I understand that I can designate the Executive Director as the Press Contact but I am the only person who can authorize information on behalf of URTV.”

Finally, Young instructed board members, “Any request for information, or response to questions, should be directed to me.”

But according to North Carolina Press Association attorney Mike Tadych, the First Amendment rights of members of any board subject to the open-meetings law can be restricted only “if they give them up in advance—through a clause or bylaw that they agree to—that limits that right. Otherwise, they can voice their own opinion.” Such a board, he added, can designate an official spokesperson.

Young did not return phone and e-mail requests for clarification on the meeting and the note concerning information protocol.

To view documents related to URTV, go to www.mountainx.com/xpressfiles.

SHARE

11 thoughts on “URTV board president muzzles board members on official station business

  1. AvlResident

    Now that the Internet/Web and such outlets as YouTube offer all people the opportunity to express themselves, in words, pictures and moving images with sound, to a worldwide audience, why do subscribers to cable television, who pay very high rates, need to subsidize an operation like URTV?

  2. Biased Journalism

    Why does the Mountain Xpress let David Forbes get away with his onslaught of negative press on URTV?

    These articles continue because he thinks he’s got a scoop. He’s acting as the mouthpiece for two recently appointed Board members with abundant conflicts of interest (AshevilleTV, anyone?). And why don’t we see a series of articles putting their character and intentions on trial? Maybe we should.

    URTV is not a public body. Public access is not a part of the government, does not take public funds, and its Board members are not public officials. It is subject to open meetings contractually (not because it is a public body), and it has never disputed this, only the manner in which meetings are recorded. URTV is a business, and must be run professionally. Bernier and Dial do not hold themselves to that standard, and Forbes really ought to.

    This series of biased Xpress articles and the disgruntled folks that the Comments section brings out are abundant evidence that URTV must protect itself from those who do not have its interest at heart (even though some think they do).

    Why is it not enough for some for URTV to tape its own meetings and provide them for viewing at the facility? Because what some really want is to harangue the staff and Board, not solve problems and keep a watchful eye.

    By framing this “issue” (which could have all been settled in a Board meeting, if not for Richard “Sign-it-then-show-it” Bernier) as some sort of expose on the secrecy and abuse of a public organization, it’s no wonder Forbes doesn’t get statements from the ED or the rest of the Board.

    What we’ve got here is a rookie journalist creating his own narrative, two Board members with conflicts of interest and well-known personal vendettas against the ED, and a Comment section filled with ill intentions from Peter Brezny and others (Peck is sour to everyone, so URTV shouldn’t take it personally, and Blackwell is off the deep end).

    They crow and pout all day long, but none of them know the first thing about the universal obstacles of running a public access center.

  3. URTV is not a public body. Public access is not a part of the government, does not take public funds, and its Board members are not public officials. It is subject to open meetings contractually (not because it is a public body), and it has never disputed this, only the manner in which meetings are recorded. URTV is a business, and must be run professionally. Bernier and Dial do not hold themselves to that standard, and Forbes really ought to.

    I dunno. The name “URTV” would mislead me to think that this is a public station.

  4. Ex-Pat

    Yeah, I have to agree with the letter-writer who called this a “tempest in a teacup.” Really now, this is the type of over-hyped flap-up that tars a valuable resource in our community far beyond the merits of the subject’s newsworthiness. I admit I’m a long-time URTV member so I’m biased. But even if I wasn’t, I think I’d feel the same way.

    This commotion is starting to take on the exaggerated character of an Office episode. How about investigating some local banks latest moves towards transparency (like an update on Chuck Taylor’s Blue Ridge scandal) at a moment when accountability and vigilance should be demanded…not the microscopically-by-comparison influential URTV.

    Groan…

  5. AVL Resident…

    youtube is a place to showcase amateur videos. I have a couple of clips on there.

    As a member of URTV I have access to professional equipment that I can use to produce quality programing.

    Main stream media is censored for content. Public access allows Freedom of Speech and I use that platform to provide information that is not heard on main stream media.

    URTV showcases local bands, festivals, events, etc that you only get glimpses of on other local programing.

    It provides access to equipment that is a whole lot cheaper than paying for school. Hands on learning is real reality TV.

  6. AvlResident

    Glolady states what URTV does but does not answer the question as to why Cable subscribers should be forced subsidize it. URTV states:
    “URTV is funded by Charter Communications subscribers and by grant money raised by the URTV Staff and Board. Asheville and Buncombe County negotiated the funding for public access television as part of Charter’s franchise agreements. Only cable subscribers pay.”

    Biased Journalist says,”Public access is not a part of the government, does not take public funds, and its Board members are not public officials. It is subject to open meetings contractually (not because it is a public body), and it has never disputed this, only the manner in which meetings are recorded. URTV is a business, and must be run professionally.:

    URTV does indeed take public funds. On its filing with the Internal Revenue Service, as a non-profit (Not as a business, as Biased Journalism says), it states, “I certify that the organization is not a private foundation because it is. . .an organization that normally receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or from the general public.” In addition, the same filing says, “Public support percentage . . .98.19 %.”

  7. Congratulations to the Mountain Xpress for keeping a vigilant eye on the long string of disturbing misdeeds that are suffocating the public interest at URTV.

    This is why MX has been, and continues to be the journalistic leader in Asheville.

    Keep it up.

  8. Becky

    URTV must protect itself from those who do not have its interest at heart

    Whoah. That is one weird comment. Protect itself from “those”? Good grief. Something is very strange in that URTV bunch.

    Jeff Fobes, a rookie journalist? Methinks not. Somebody’s got their feathers ruffled – a little defensive, are we? Secret meetings, ousting people from the board, afraid to have open meetings … wassup ya’ll? What are you hiding, exactly? Sounds like a bunch of control freaks to me.

  9. you said it becky…

    “a little defensive, are we? Secret meetings, ousting people from the board, afraid to have open meetings … wassup ya’ll? What are you hiding, exactly? Sounds like a bunch of control freaks to me. “

  10. Tonight from 6-8pm @ Rosetta’s
    Join the Asheville ABC Series to discuss:
    Community Journalism & Indy Media in Asheville
    URTV, MAIN, WPVM, WRES, blogging, tweeting, & more.
    Where are we standing & what are our opportunities & challenges?

    If you miss tonight’s meeting keep in touch with the (coming slowly but almost ready to function fully)
    http://www.AshevilleABC.com

Leave a Reply