At the URTV board’s March 19 meeting, outspoken members Davyne Dial and Richard Bernier kept their seats—for now, at least—despite a recommendation from the public-access channel’s Executive Committee that the two be dismissed.
The board also voted to increase the number of times it meets and scrapped a controversial oath board members had been required to take.
Controversy concerning the channel’s management and operational transparency has continued over the past month-and-a-half. And though those issues were brought up at the meeting, the board avoided any prolonged discussion of them.
During the meeting proper and again during public comment, Bernier suggested that the board discuss questions about transparency and the state’s open-meetings law. But he was shot down by Parliamentarian Bob Horn, who noted that no such item was on the meeting agenda.
Board President Jerry Young revealed that the channels’ Executive Committee had met Feb. 9 and recommended dismissing vocal board critics Bernier and Dial. The meeting place, said Young, had been changed at the last minute to Trinity Baptist Church, where he is a pastor. “We changed the venue, as I was required to be at my job,” he explained. “We do have audio of that meeting, and I’ll be glad to let anyone listen to it that desires to. So that’s my report for right now.”
Treasurer Joe Scotto seemed unwilling to leave it at that, however. “Being that the meeting was called on such short notice and that didn’t give everyone a chance to attend, can we move that we disregard what happened at that meeting and reconvene at another time?” he asked.
“No,” replied Secretary Ralph Roberts. “I wouldn’t support that.”
“No,” Young said. “We met and we had the meeting.”
URTV’s bylaws require four days’ notice for special committee meetings.
Board member Sandra Bradbury asked what had happened at the meeting, noting, “I haven’t seen any minutes.”
Young said the Executive Committee had gone into closed session to discuss “possible legal issues from the recent press about URTV.” When they came out of closed session, he said, they made a motion to recommend dismissing Dial and Bernier. (The final decision rests with the board.)
But after Bradbury asked whether the board had to vote on such a dismissal, Horn responded: “These are reports; You report and then move on. Items of discussion are the things on the agenda.”
However, no motion to dismiss Dial and Bernier was made at the March 19 meeting, and both continued making motions and voting on matters before the board as usual.
A motion by Bernier to scrap a controversial oath requiring board members to keep URTV dealings confidential was approved on a 5-3 vote. Dial and Bernier were joined by Scotto, Horn and Bradbury, while Roberts, Young and Pam Silver voted against the motion.
“URTV’s cornerstone is to be transparent and open,” Bernier declared. “I have sworn several oaths of office, and when I read [URTV’s], it appeared to be a secrecy oath.”
Roberts, however, said he had no problem with the oath.
The board will now devise a new oath.
A motion by Dial to expand the number of board meetings from six per year to eight was approved with only Roberts opposed. (The bylaws had originally called for eight meetings, but the board reduced that figure to six without changing the bylaws.)
Executive Director Pat Garlinghouse was absent, and Young said she was out of town.
Also absent was Asheville City Council member Bill Russell, who is Council’s liaison to URTV. Russell, who was listed as an official guest for the meeting, had previously said he’d show up to “have some pretty frank, open discussions about their charter and bylaws.”
Meanwhile, several speakers during the public-comment portion of the meeting also raised transparency concerns.
“This community got a lot of bad media, specifically from articles in the Mountain Xpress. I think some questions have been raised, and I haven’t heard anyone address those questions,” said Gillian Kearns. “There are a lot of people—at least in West Asheville, my neighbors—who have a really bad feeling about all of this. Any nonprofit, if they make an agreement with a government body, has to abide by that or they’ll get their money pulled.”
Kearns called on the city or county to look into the matter, saying, “This has brought a really bad taste in the community, and I don’t see anyone from URTV addressing it.”
Local activist Jerry Rice called the meeting “a kangaroo court” and took issue with Roberts’ having asked him before the meeting not to film the proceedings.
“It shouldn’t be. It should be respectful and meaningful and respectful to the citizens,” said Rice.
“I still think you’re out of line,” Roberts replied.
“This is a public building, and you can video all you want to,” retorted Rice. “It ought to be a standing thing [for URTV board members] to get trained on what open-meetings law is.”
He added: “I think a lot of the things we’re hearing in the negative is not because you’re not good people but because you’re ignorant. You’re not educated to what you need to be doing. Get yourself in order before you start telling everyone else how to do it.”
Also during public comment, URTV producer Dale Joyner attacked Dial, presenting a petition signed by 26 URTV producers calling for her dismissal.
“Dial has brought undue negative publicity and false rumors to URTV that have served to bring URTV negative press at a very critical period,” Joyner charged, adding that she believes Dial has “openly defied polices of URTV as a seated board member.”
The meeting ended an impassioned plea by URTV producer Matt Howard for the channel to get past its difficulties.
“I’m of the opinion that to pick unnecessary fights is an impediment to productivity,” he said. “There has been behavior and judgment on the part of both sides that has just made things worse. The most important thing to me is that the money is supposedly going to run out come July 2010 [when URTV’s agreements with the city and county expire]. The most important thing to me is that in August 2010, URTV has a ‘still-on-the-air’ party. Everything else comes in second place.”
To view video of the URTV meeting, go to www.mountainx.com.