URTV: “Mistrust and discontent”

Among other things, Buncombe County’s audit of the public-access channel’s finances and organizational structure” concluded that “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.”

Released July 12, the report goes on to note, “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.”

The audit also points out, “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.”

To address those shortcomings, the report concludes, “The board and management need to understand and comply with open-meetings laws, [and] a standardized format should be used for meeting minutes.”

But a response by board President Jerry Young that’s included in the audit report paints a different picture, asserting that the state’s open-meetings law “applies only to government bodies with legislative, administrative, public-policy and other governmental functions.”

Nonetheless, Young continues, “The Media Center has successfully negotiated with the city any requirements related to NC OML (open-meetings law) into the WNC Community Media Center management contract.”

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15 thoughts on “URTV: “Mistrust and discontent”

  1. Matt Howard

    For the record the above picture is of Hunter Goosmann, who:

    a. Always seemed like a decent and thoughtful guy in my dealings with him.

    b. Hasent been a member of the URTV board of directors for more than a year.

    So Im a little confused as to what he has to do with this article.

  2. Margaret Williams

    Momentary Internet glitch, now solved. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  3. RBernier

    Matt,
    There you go again felling to let the folks know that you are a sitting board member at URTV why do you do this?

    I assume you will cant talk about this news story for fear.

    Stand of principles Matt though it would be nice to know from you if you think URTV should film their board meetings & comply with NC OBML’s?

    R.Bernier

    Have you talked to your good friend who helped you learn so much about audio?
    RB

  4. Don Yelton

    What do the county commissioners do? Closed door meetings? Jerry Rice catching the commissioners having a discussion with the Institute of Government behind closed doors. Actually adding a page to the report which that says the opposite of the report. Is there any wonder that citizens are quesioning the truth.

    Who is on first?

  5. Johnny L House Jr

    You’d think that after almost sic years of being a County Commission appointed Board Member Pastor young would understand the County requirements on this issue.

    This is straight from the County managers office;

    The County requires any agency receiving money through the county to comply with the open meetings requirements.

  6. kurtmann

    This financial crisis was looming the day URTV opened. In fact the core group responsible for ensuring adequate funding is the URTV Board. They are there to create and administer policy, hire and fire and ensure the facility has the resources to operate.

    What a shame that most of the energy expended by the Board has been defending silly issues like whether to have their meetings taped for community wide consumption. How ironic that a public access channel would fight such an obvious gesture of goodwill and outreach.

    If the Media Center had taken a less narrow approach to development and community wide service and fundraising – it might not be in this dire situation.

  7. Secret Service

    Excellent points Kurt! Much of the damage had been done years before the current Staff/Board ever began working there.

    In fact, some would argue that the success the current Staff has had in turning it around IN SPITE OF the mess they found themselves in is a testament to thier expertise/professionalism.

    As for the taping/broadcasting of the Board Meetings, I can understand both view points. It may seem ironic that the Board of Directors of a Community Media Center didn’t want to be on TV. What’s the big deal? Why not tape and broadcast them?

    On the other hand, the Board of Directors are a Volunteer Board. These people don’t get paid. These are regular people who may not want to be on TV.

    Since the Media Center Board is not a government or public body, they aren’t public officials. Sandra Bradbury made a real big deal about being taped and broadcast. The rest of the that Board came to her defense.

    Again, these are regular folks volunteering their time and energy. Who would volunteer for the level of scrutiny and badgering that the current Board has endured? Show me any other non-profit whose board is under this level of scrutiny. Show me any other contractor for the City/County who must endure this level or vitriol.

    Seems like a few people have really made a mountain out of a molehill with this issue.

    Regardless, the people who mishandled the taping “controversy,” (and spent 3/4 of the money before they left)aren’t on the Board any more–Sandra Bradbury, Maryanna Bailey, Mark Wilson, Nelda Holder, Peter Brezny.

    Coincidentally, these people are also responsible for ruining a good deal of community partnerships and goodwill that YOU built when they dismissed you only a month after the facility opened.

    Again, these people aren’t on the Board anymore. So let’s not associate the people cleaning up the mess with those who made it.

    A lot has changed at the Media Center since you were involved. You should go check it out, talk to Johnathan at the facility. I think you would be pleased to see how it has grown.

    As for the community outreach and fundrasing, the harsh reality is that Asheville is a depressed economy. People only write grants or donate to something they want to put thier name on. Public Access everywhere has this problem, because people see the wierder elements (think the Mad Monk of Montford Show) and don’t want to have thier name next to that.

    Quite frankly, Public Access always needs the PEG fess and a portion of the Cable Franchise fees to operate. Long-term contracts and community leaders that understand Public Access and how it works are essential for its long-term sustainability.

    Professionals with experience and expertise are necesary to run the Media Center so that services are constant/stable and so that someone is accountable for equipment maintenance and keeping porn off the channel.

    Admittantly, there are many people with various opinions about how Public Access should be run here in Asheville. However, there are only a few people with the necesary expertise. The current Staff of the Media Center are those people.

    For the future of the Media Center, I sure hope our community leaders, and people like you, recognize the difference.

  8. Dr Herbert Johnson

    secret service
    When confronted with a court of law and FACTS, the substance of your arguments goes up in smoke.
    Keep in mind; there willbe a day of such a confrontation.
    Is this why you dont tell us your name?

  9. Glad to see Kurt here!

    4 Qs for Kurt:

    1) how did it end up that when Pat Garlinghouse came on board as the new ED – after you left – that there was only 250k left out of the initial million in start up money that was suppose to stretch 10 years? What did you and thew initial board spend 750,00k on during your tenure?

    2) what sources of additional independent funding did you pursue and lock down before you resigned as the ED of URTV?

    3) Nelda Holder has sounded off with an editorial in the Express pronouncing a death sentence for Cable Access in Buncombe County, lamenting how cheaply a station like this could be set up and run and declaring all such a shame. When she served on the board that you answered to, what did she have to say about the way you all were spending money to set up the station?

    4) has David Forbes ever contacted you for input on any of the 30 some articles he has written about URTV over the past 2 years?

    I appreciate your cooperation, i like how you set up the station, but if it was done in a financially irresponsible manner, as Nelda suggests, I think we deserve to hear your side of the story, before we continue passing judgement.

    David Connor Jones

  10. kurtmann

    First of all there are encouraging changes in how URTV is evolving. Transitioning from URTV Public Access to the Western North Carolina Community Media Center is a great step in the right direction. The updated web site and promotional video is excellent. Great job and a good step forward.

    I do think that to understand the current state of affairs, it may be helpful to understand how URTV got to where it’s at today. It’s
    Good to keep in mind that some new public access/media centers go through many tough stages of development before they find their place in the community. I have kept my views to myself to avoid appearing defensive or divisive. But I think a bit of institutional history might be useful as the community dialogue deepens and matures.

    FINANCIAL IRRESPONSIBILITY by the original Board?
    In response to Nelda’s opinion that the station could have been built cheaper…absolutely. Unfortunately since the Board didn’t have experience building a tv facility they wasted a lot of money and made a lot of mistakes. The architect had never built a tv station. Marianna Baily, the Board President had absolutely no experience in television or business. She was not qualified to be heading up this group. Not to say she didn’t work very hard and kept on the City and County to keep the money flowing.

    When I was hired I was handed a budget for building upfit, studio creation and equipment purchase. To make a long story short, the board worked with an architect and a consultant to create a budget prior to me being hired. We wrestled over many details and ended up building a very fine facility.

    Operating capital was separate from Equipment and we had the operating to a bare minimum. With three staff it was projected we would eventually not have enough operational to sustain operations and that money would need to be raised or we would have to simplify operations.

    COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS – Region-wide
    It was my strategy to create a media center that not only could serve Asheville, but be one that innovated and had unique and mutually beneficial partnerships throughout WNC. I’m glad to see that is the direction URTV is finally taking. URTV was coming into existence just as the digital world was exploding. We needed to innovate or become irrelevant. URTV needed to also create great programming, not just be a place where folks get to be on TV.

    UNCA and URTV
    Just a month before URTV opened I had negotiated with Alan Hantz, head of UNCA MASS COMM to commit real dollars for an Adunct Professor (Dr. Hal Marienthal) for a full semester to teach and produce a show at URTV for UNCA students. Dr. Marienthal had 30 years of experience in Hollywood and loved the idea of teaching at URTV. In fact he hosted a major PBS Show in Los Angeles covering the performing arts. The importance of this strategic partnership with the university was to build credibility for URTV and plant the seeds for having a university presence at the center since training was what the general public seemed to want most.

    We also had begun a series of experimental classroom programs with UNCA Media Arts Professor Lei Han, who brought her students in to create their own work and have a place to show what they could do.

    ENHANCED TRAINING
    My intention was to get some classes going at the Center, and generate some income from the University while also using students to train the public.

    CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
    I had special meetings with non-profit organizations, many of whom were nervous about being associated with public access…you know – the problem with penis puppets late night and all. I worked with the Chamber of Commerce – reminding them that public access needed business programming. They ended up producing 7 half hour shows called Asheville Entrepreneur. But they never followed through because the station, after one month being open…because the center of a lot of controversy.

    The MAP/URTV Tug a War
    I also fought (and lost) to have Alison Watson, Executive Director of The Map at the time, set up temporary offices in the studio so we could coordinate the flow of professionals into the facility. The idea being that the more experience we had on site, the easier it would be to teach folks with no experience the art of good storytelling. We also hoped grants for the further development of a media center would flow through The Map.

    I lost that battle with the Board and it was a great set back in terms of integrating the station into the business, university and non profit culture in Asheville.

    In reality, it was the experience and political clout of The Map that finally got URTV funded. There had always been uneasy relations between The Map and the URTV Board. I believe it was a cultural divide. The Map was made up of media professionals, business owners, freelancers. The URTV Board had no experience running a media center so there have been a lot of mis-steps.

    LEADERSHIP MATTERS
    It’s my experience that once a culture for an organization is set in motion, it’s nearly impossible to change that DNA. The operations of URTV might be in good hands with the staff (I have had no experience with Pat G.) but I believe that unless there is a dramatic change in leadership, The Media Center, the Users and the Community will continue to suffer. There really has been no reason for so much drama and so many distractions. Its poor leadership and a lack of transparency. The Board would better serve The Media Center by focusing on policy and fundraising. I also see no reason why Board Meetings are not taped live. I could never understand why privacy by Board members was such an issue. I believe that such a process would force the Board to maintain professional interactions and hold the highest standards of management for themselves. while interacting with the public with courtesy and a sense of service.

    Peter Brezny is right. Times are tough and money is tight. All the more reason to expand partnerships and make sure The WNC Media Center is relevant and sustainable into the future. I don’t doubt that the current Board is doing the best they can. The question is, are they the right group at the right time?

    It’s up to the county and city to decide if the money is being managed wisely by the current group. Sometimes, in order to save the ship, a new captain crew needs to be in charge.

  11. What a shame those excellent initiatives you instated were not followed through upon. In my own Board time, I was perplexed that there was no outreach attempts or activity discussed in any Board meetings. This seemed to me to be a highly important requirement of the management agreement that was being ignored. I attempted to initiate a connection with North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement. I got nowhere, as the current management was tepid or indifferent to the idea, and seemed not to understand the considerable asset offered by a sophisticated & diverse group that is drawn to NCCCR, with time and life experiences on their hands.

  12. Thanks for responding to some of my questions, Kurt. (I hope Forbes is taking some notes here.)

    I am still curious as to who was making the initial major spending decisions when you all were setting up the station, particularly the decisions that you are referring to as “mistakes.” Was it only Maryanna Bailey pulling the trigger on the account? Was this a puppet board, yielding to a neophyte president’s bad discretion? Did Nelda say anything when she was serving this board then about frugality, or has it only been recently that she found her voice on the matter?

    As far as it being “up to the county and city to decide if the money is being managed wisely” goes, what did the city and county say about the management of the initial funds spent by you and your board? Were you ever audited? How was the 750k spent preceding Pat’s arrival accounted for? Do you think your initial management of the money had anything to do with the change in leadership that came about when you were asked to step down as the Executive Director of URTV?

    How many real dollars did you expect to see coming in from UNCA as a source of future Public Access funding, beyond the donation of a professor’s time?

    I think setting up the MAP in the URTV studio space might have been a bad idea, if they even wanted to be there in the first place. You would run the risk of turning URTV and public access into a clique, sort of like the Mt X is becoming. But say they had come in, how would that have led to real dollars for URTV and not for the MAP? Why do you think the MAP would want to share their hard won funding sources with URTV?

    What do you deem to be a “lack of transparency” under the WNC Media Center’s current leadership? What practices are you referring to specifically, and where did you get your information?

    My understanding is that whenever allotted money is transfered to URTV (out of what little money remains in some black hole) I believe it is spent paying for a lease, utilities, and three staff salaries. I don’t know what kind of money is actually left over to actually “manage.” I do think one of the things Forbes has managed to report fairly is that both city and county financial audits of URTV have found no malfeasance on the current leadership’s part. The books got a clean bill of heath from both the City and the County.

    Lastly, if indeed a “change of leadership” is in order – and I am not sure I agree with that suggestion, for I think Pat has been extremely frugal with that small remaining sum in order to keep URTV solvent for the duration of the contract – who would you recommend and why?

  13. kurtmann

    There are a lot of questions there. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting Pat be replaced. It’s the Board and Board Director that are ultimately responsible for the financial health of the Media Center.

    As far as “mistakes” much of the issues had to do with the way the architect layed the station out. We had to improvise and also make adjustments like moving air ducts and changing construction plans.

    Transparency is a simple notion that the community should have access to information. I was specifically referring to broadcasting the Board Meetings. Talk to Davyne Dial about her issues with the Board. She has been trying to see financial documents and has come up against a lot of resistance. I don’t know what she hopes to find that the City or County did’t already see.

    The idea for having MAP on site wasn’t so much about usurping funding destined for MAP to go to URTV. it was more about having media resources based in a single space and working together. I don’t agree that it would lead to a feeling of a clique. Again, giving a chance to work would require mature leadership from all sides. I can see your point though.

    My experience with Marrianna was she called the shots. It was a tough job getting URTV on the air. I think she did the best she could with her level of experience.

    Mmy core issue isn’t about the Staff or even how much money they spend running the facility. It;s a tough job with a lot of demands and it seems they are doing what is required to get programming produced.

    My concern is the effectiveness of the Board President and the Board. If they cannot manage to increase funding for the ongoing operations, they will be the ones responsible for that position. I don’t see why the City or County should bail out the Media Center. If the community really values the programming, any deficit should be raised locally.

    Thanks for your questions. Please know that I am less interested in dredging up the past (although I understand the need to have a view of its history) and would prefer to focus on the future of the organization.

  14. Kurt, you are very correct that the financial health of our public access facility is the responsibility of the Board of Directors. I became alarmed, while on the Board of our financial directions. When I asked for more specificity as per what I understood was the fiduciary responsibility of a director…I was “suspended” within hours of asking. Though requests to the Board Chairman of what I was suspended from was never answered.

    You are correct that going forward, dynamic and vibrant discussion as per sustainability is required. What is the purpose of a diverse group of directors but to brainstorm on ideas to come to a creative solution?

  15. I think focussing on the FUTURE of the WNC Community Media Center, instead of rehashing the past, is a great idea, Kurt. Glad to see that you see Public Access has future potential here, even though some mistakes have been made as the station grew. (Also glad to understand that you were not suggesting that Pat – or any other staff – needs to be replaced when you suggest that some leadership issues may need to be addressed.)

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