“We had 350 members. Our classes were full. The bottom line is, we were delivering the goods.”
— Former URTV General Manager Kurt Mann
“We’re looking for a more buttoned-down management style at this point.”
— URTV Board President Mark Wilson
Public-access television station URTV went on-air last month after years of sometimes heated public debate and months of planning and preparation. The outset looked auspicious enough: The station had ample equipment and space, as well as a promising first manager in the person of Kurt Mann, a local production-company owner who was hired by the station’s board of directors after a nationwide search.
But as of last Tuesday, Sept. 12, Mann was out of his post.
“This was a complete shock to me,” Mann told Xpress a few days later. “I had my six-month performance review three months ago, and I was encouraged to improve my organizational skills. Things didn’t get any more specific than that.”
Last week, the URTV board told Mann it would not renew his one-year contract come November. Confronted with the inevitable, he chose to resign.
“I was given the choice to resign,” Mann says. “I was told that I had to turn in my keys and leave the premises within 24 hours. And that’s the part that hurts the most.”
When Mann was hired, he accepted the limitations of his 12-month contract with the station despite a personal feeling that he “needed 18 months to two years to get the job done properly,” he says.
To Mann’s eyes, at least, the station was making more-than-adequate progress.
“We had 350 members. Our classes [videography, program production] were full. The bottom line is, we were delivering the goods.”
News of Mann’s departure came as a surprise and source of dismay to producer Jason Scholder, whose program, Laura Can’t Cook, starring Laura Morton, debuts on the station this fall.
“I have to say I was shocked and disappointed,” said Scholder. “I thought Kurt was the perfect fit for the job. Whenever he meets someone who shows any level of dedication to the station, to the work they’re doing, he’s ready to encourage them. If you’re enthusiastic, he matches that enthusiasm.”
Regarding the former general manager’s administrative style, Scholder said, “He’s an individual. I suppose he’s not accustomed to working with a board. But he’s certainly capable of it.”
The day he resigned, Mann sent an e-mail to the station’s members citing “irreconcilable differences between the current URTV board and the board chairman, Mark Wilson” as the reason for his departure.
“That’s not the way the board sees it,” counters Wilson, telling Xpress that “we saw our management needs going in a different direction.”
“Our priority now is getting content, getting producers,” he adds. “It’s a pretty cut-and-dried situation from here on out, and, understandably, the work is not as exciting as it was. We’re looking for a more buttoned-down management style at this point.”
The URTV board, it would seem, had ample warning that the task of taking station programming from nil to 24/7 would be a long-term prospect. During the station’s inaugural reception on July 31, Programming Director Jen Mass asked the public “for patience” as programming got off the ground.
Part of the station’s covenant with the community is to provide free production classes to members as a way of giving them the skills to videotape and air their own programs. Funding for the station comes in part from Charter Communications, which is obliged to provide the community with a public-access channel in return for the privilege of running cable through public rights-of-way. Additional funding comes from grants and station-member dues.
Where the money would come from was an initial point of concern about URTV. Other worries included the specter of shows laced with obscenities and the chance that programming might be dominated by one political persuasion or another.
But programming wasn’t what led to Mann’s departure, all parties insist. Wilson says the station has “received no formal complaints” about content since its inception. Likewise, Mann said his departure is “absolutely not about the content.”
In interviews with Xpress, both men spoke admirably of each other, but Wilson says that generating content is now the station’s priority, and that Mann’s skills lay in “production skills and his community contacts.”
Wilson says the search for a replacement general manager has already begun, but adds he’d “hate put a date” on how long it will take. Given the station’s leadership crisis, board members are having considerably more day-to-day contact, Wilson says. “We’re moving as quickly as we can.”
Though he would not comment on individual differences between himself and board members, Mann says he expects the 10-member board’s Sept. 28 public meeting “to be feisty.”
Still, he says that his departure “is just a blip in the scheme of things,” and entered a plea for support and continuity at the station.
“I encourage everyone to support URTV, and to hold the board accountable for this great community resource. We need dialogue — a good, healthy, open dialogue.”
Editor’s note: Xpress News & Opinion Editor Nelda Holder is a member of the URTV board; in accordance with the newspaper’s policy, she had no role in the preparation or editing of this story.
URTV Public Meeting
The URTV board of directors will hold its next public meeting at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28, at the station’s offices (31 College Place, Suite 20-A). For more information, call URTV at 255-8848 or visit www.urtv.org.