City committee decides not to renew URTV contract, will look for new public access provider

On recommendations from staff, Asheville City Council’s Finance Committee decided earlier today not to renew its contract with URTV, and to put out a request for another entity to take over its public access role.


Administrative Services Director Lauren Bradley presents city staff’s recommendations on URTV. Photo by Jerry Nelson.

After a fight with Buncombe County over what funds were owed to the WNC Community Media Center, the nonprofit that runs the channel, its facilities have shut down, its staff are no longer on the payroll and several board members have resigned. City staff are currently taking inventory of remaining equipment, and will remove most of it. In the next one to two weeks, the channel, currently broadcasting pre-recorded material, will go dark.

Further, Administrative Services Director Lauren Bradley told the committee, communication between the city and the board has broken down.

“Is there a board to send notice [of the city’s decisions] to?” Council member Esther Manheimer asked.

“I don’t know, all that I know, unfortunately, is what I’ve read in the papers,” Bradley replied. “The board’s not sent anything to Council or to the city.” She added she had communicated with some of the center’s former staff.

“We have $30,000 in next year’s budget for public access management services,” Bradley said in an initial presentation summing up the situation. “We had gotten a funding request from [the center] for an amount that was just over $115,000.”

Council, in a work session, rejected that request and directed staff to communicate back that “given our budgetary concerns, it’s just not possible for us to increase our funding allocation by the amount you’ve set forth, but we’re open to new models and other proposals and we’d really like to hear back from you on other ideas of how we could make this work within the funding you know you’re going to get from the city and county. Let’s have dialogue”

In response, she said, the city received a detailed letter back “explaining why that was very difficult to do because of fixed expenses, staffing costs, studio space and difficulty in fundraising and getting revenue outside of video service taxes.”

Bradley was seeking authorization to formally communicate the center’s remaining board “the city’s intent not to extend their contract” which expired at the end of April, due to URTV’s inability to continue providing the service.

The city will continue to receive about $44,000 in PEG funds annually — fees charged to all cable subscribers to support government and public access channels — and Bradley said the city can choose to use those for the government channel if it so chooses, and no successor to URTV comes forward. The city will store the removed equipment in City Hall.

Bradley also sought permission to develop a request for proposal “from the community for the continuation of community media development services. It’s a whole new world since we launched public access and there are new ways to communicate. There’s a lot of creativity and entrepreneurship in this community, so we might see some really interesting things come forward.”

The city has been in touch with the county, and she added they have expressed interest in working together on an RFP for URTV’s successor. This time, however, the RFP might be “more seed money to get something going, but then there would be a viable business plan behind it so city and county funding weren’t necessary in perpetuity.”

Council member Bill Russell said staff’s recommendations were “spot-on” and all the members of the committee supported the course of action. Council member Cecil Bothwell noted that “the old model is fading,” and whatever replaces URTV needed to focus on training for electronic video media as well as traditional broadcast.

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21 thoughts on “City committee decides not to renew URTV contract, will look for new public access provider

  1. Illuminatti_01

    Both the City and county ignored red flags for three years. this train wreck was a long time coming.

    The people’s money went to some very expensive software (Facile) to keep the invoices, hours, equipment, tax records and any other management/bookeeping record necessary to run a public access station. Those records are on the computers run by URTV staff and management. The City OWES the community an accurate accounting of what was spent on equipment, salaries, internet access, coffee machines and iPhones for staff, vs what is in the facility now. Let’s all make sure we get an accurate accounting.

  2. Tim, your input in this – as in most threads – amounts to using a cheese grater as an adult novelty toy.

    Mostly irritating and painful.

  3. sharpleycladd

    The article aptly illustrates the vital role government plays as overseer, seeing to it that taxpayers receive maximum value for franchises granted on behalf of citizens.

    We should applaud city staff for their vigilance.

    ………..

  4. Jason Ross Martin

    Thank you, City Council and other elected officials, for shutting down the abomination that URTV had become. Yes, there were some redeeming aspects of what I observed on that channel. But nothing could undo the depravity of the soft-core porn that looped during overnight hours, and the spiraling lunacy of some of the most tasteless producers, on what was supposed to be a reflection of our communtiy.

  5. I hope the community is paying close attention to this. There needs to be a thorough accounting of equipment vs. invoices. A very expensive software program (Facile) was purchased with public funds to keep track of all URTV dealings. Schedules, programming, bookkeeping, expenditures, invoices, etc., all connected and assessable by staff and management computers. There is approximately $350,000 (maybe more) in equipment expenditures and another $167,000 in facility build out that needs to be acconted for. That’s over half a million bucks of public funding.

    We need to demand an accurate accounting by the City!!!

  6. Lasereye

    Who knows – maybe PATV will rise again – but I would not put much stock in it at this stage. We’ll see – time will tell. The next caretakers need to have their act together when it comes to running a PATV cable channel if they plan to survive long term. At least the surviving producers in the community will have a new venue to showcase their programs to the community.

  7. [NOTE TO MODERATOR]

    This is where the incivility and personal insults began on this thread:

    “Tim, your input in this – as in most threads – amounts to using a cheese grater as an adult novelty toy.”
    …………………….

  8. I am sure the moderators can tell the difference between a personal attack and a valid criticism of your “ideas” and they probably don’t need any helpful advice along those lines.

  9. andrewdahm

    I believe the eternal verities of laissez-faire capitalism should be propounded at every available opportunity, and that we should eschew the immanentization of state control of anything, ever, including cheese graters and adult novelty toys.

  10. Don Yelton

    True to form the government always blames someone else. The Contract was between the organization and the City and the County. Both political entities never exercised their power to oversee the implementation of the contract!!!

    When they were approached they were too busy. Where have you been Ester Manheimer? YOU are elected to oversee the actions of the city and its contractors.

    Where was the appointed council person that said said she was not welcomed there? Is that not a red flag and could the City not have enforced the contract.

    All that David Gant could do was give lip service to citizens and never actually got involved.
    I told you on my show that they would take the money and give it to the government channel.

    Now we are going to see a new venture be successful??? With the current government attitude it will be a totally controlled media meeting their demands on content.

    There is more money now than before. IS that not the way the government works?

    1loutside

  11. I’m hoping there is an entity in the community that comes forward with a viable plan for a scaled down public access. Contrary to the constant rumors, disinformation and speculation, it will not be me.

    A town that prides itself in being progressive should have a public access channel.

    Don Yelton is correct, both the City and County ignored dire warnings from many people about the non compliance with the management agreement, and the highly questionable direction management was directing our public access station.

  12. Dr Milt

    I am absolutely amazed at the prejudgements, bias, and manipulations that continue surrounding the management of public access multimedia that is known as “URTV”. I am a producer of a public access TV show that was on “URTV” and I DO KNOW that the accountings of equipment and the management operations have been professional with full accountability via audits, data tracking programs, and excellent professionalism by the staff.

    The issue of what is on public access was set by the US Supreme Court in 1987(you can look it up through Wikipedia – public access). The content is not and can not be determined by anyone other that the law and the producer of the show being aired. So what is being said about what is aired is nothing but a prejudgement of ignorance. The producers control content as defined by law, not by local government,not by a Non-profit organzition managing operations, or anyone else!

    Now, personal attacks are subject to address through the laws such as slander and liabilities. The staff, board members, and producers have rights that can be address in court and probably will be.

    If the board of directors for “URTV” is fracturing due to the enormous pressure of “BS”, then I can not blame them, yet I wish they would fight the good fight… because it is a 1st amendment constitutional platform, and this is our local resource for “certified” public access and I have investigated to my satisfaction that “URTV” was in good operational order… excellent in fact. So good, that “URTV” operations model was the most successful in the state and has received national attention in media articles. PUT THAT IN YOUR PIPE AND SMOKE IT!

    Now, we citizens and producers have a problem to solve and that is the re-establishment of public access TV (multimedia) as well as to hold accountable ALL those involved… Who’s next?

  13. Half a million in equipment needs to be accounted for. I hope the City protects the public trust and does a thorough accounting. It’s the least they can do under the circumstances.

  14. Sad that some want to “scale down” what has become the top in the state and a model for the nation by professional standards for a public access station.

    The Truth always comes out in the wash….

    Looking forward to the disclosure of the criminal acts to deny 1st Amendment rights to the people of WNC.

  15. sharpleycladd

    “A local “well respected” CPA has a different view.”

    I just don’t think “non-profit” and “management” belong in the same sentence in this town.

  16. Illuminatti_01

    “’I’d like to know more about this “first in the nation” stuff I keep hearing about.”

    Some folks are legends in their own minds. And no amount of hard fact will ever change their grandiose opinion of themselves.

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