An internal audit by Buncombe County on the state of public access channel URTV has found “no indication funds have been spent inappropriately [but] URTV has failed to adequately understand and comply with open meeting laws” and faces a “financial crisis.”
“While there is no indication funds have been spent inappropriately, at the current spending levels and anticipated declines in major revenue streams, the organization is likely to exhaust its financial resources midway into fiscal year 2011,” the audit concludes.
Conducted by the county’s internal auditor Tim Flora, the audit reviewed the channel’s financial statements for the last five years, analyzing its revenue and spending trends as well as the organization’s bylaws and operating agreements with the county and City of Asheville. County staff also met with the management and board of URTV (now part of the WNC Community Media Center) and consulted with the UNC School of Government.
While the audit found no indication of financial impropriety, this was not the case when it came to following the state’s open meetings law.
“Contrary to the May 2009 URTV Bylaws and expectations of both the County and City governments, URTV has failed to adequately understand and comply with open meeting law,” the report reads. “This is an issue the Board and management have grappled with since the organization’s inception and has led to mistrust and discontent among members and constituents alike. Closed sessions are allowable but only for certain circumstances. Budget and finance discussions are not acceptable closed session topics.”
Furthermore, the report continues, “The Board is required to keep full and accurate minutes of all official meetings. A number of minutes reviewed failed to provide adequate information on attendance, Board appointments and transacted business.”
The audit recommends that the media center develop an action plan to address the station’s financial situation, “replete with details addressing how additional revenues can be increased and/or expenses reduced.” In June, word emerged URTV would close its doors this September without more funds. The Board of Commissioners balked at giving the center additional funds but did transfer $48,000 in PEG funds — raised from fees on cable subscribers designated for public, government and educational channels — to URTV. According to board members, the funds are enough to last the channel another year.
On the subject of open meetings law, the report recommends that “the Board and management need to understand and comply with open meetings laws, [and] a standardized format should be used for meeting minutes.”
The audit contains a response from URTV board President Jerry Young, asserting that “monies allocated for operating URTV originally were not sufficient for traffic, demand, community participation and contract compliance… it is only through stability and product development that a public access operation can begin to pursue outside funding.”
However, the response also declares that “the Media Center, as other public access operations, pursues outside grants, program service fees, commodity sales and donations to supplement funding. Such monies have increased each year and will sustain operations through FY 2011.”
On the subject of open meetings law, the response from URTV asserts that the law “applies only to government bodies with legislative, administrative, public policy and other governmental functions” but that “the Media Center has successfully negotiated with the City any requirements related to NC OML (open meeting law) into the WNC Community Media Center management contract.”
— David Forbes, senior reporter