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.