Buncombe Commissioners: We will not bail out URTV

At its June 15 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners refused to give any additional funds to URTV as it faces closure in September after hearing from producers.

Here’s a compilation of Xpress reporter Jake Frankel’s live tweets from the June 15 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners:

On hand to accept Buncombe County Green awards are reps from Astral Buoyancy Co. and Green Casket Co. The awards are given to local businesses for demonstrating sustainable practices.

UNCA Chancellor Anne Ponder is now speaking about a new sat. pharmacy ed program at the school. The BCC passes a motion to allocate $600,000 to the pharm. school program. Vote is 5-0. Gantt: The program is a wonderful way to reach out to the community. It’s a monumental step.

The commissioners’ chambers are packed. Are most attendees here to speak out about public-access station URTV later in the meeting? Probably so. URTV Exec. Dir. Pat Garlinghouse has said the station will shut down in Sept. if it can’t get more funding. She told Xpress that she expects many URTV producers to come to today’s meeting to urge the BCC for more funds.

BCC is now discussing construction contracts for the ‘life safety tower’ renovations at the county courthouse. Candler resident Jerry Rice: this construction project is being thrown into the fast lane after some back room deal. Gantt: this project is 30 years overdue. We need new court space. Resolution to fund construction of new court space passes 5-0.

BCC is now hearing a report from their consultant on URTV funding. He says Buncombe owes URTV $48, 000 in PEG funds. He says the payment will be made next week. The other 30 % went to Ed and Gov channels. After that, he says URTV will have gotten over $800 K distributed by county in PEG fees; 70 % of PEG fees. He says county should expect to see $40 K / year in PEG fees for the “foreseeable future” He recommends that the county re-certify the channel and draft a written agreement for any future funding.

Public access Consultant John Howell: The state basically threw PEG funding under the bus. Howell: Now that Charter no longer puts franchise fee towards PEG, did they lower the cost of services, or pocket the money ?

Now public comment on URTV. Producer Brother Chris: URTV is a gem. If all we get is the PEG, URTV won’t last. Producer Brother Chris: Garlinghouse is doing a great job. Rev. Robert Gates: the church’s “phone in prayer line” URTV show has been very effective, they get calls from viewers in hospitals. Producer Randy McCracken: URTV is a wonderful place to learn. Staff is tremendous. It’s like a lending library. Producer Terra Mancey: I don’t know about the politics, but I know that URTV is a positive outlet that creates hope for community.

Richard Bernier: I was removed from URTV board. Board needs more oversight. Maybe URTV could partner with another station for funding? Davyne Dial: It was known all along that this train wreck was coming but the Executive Director didn’t do anything about it. Alan Ditmore: URTV has been mismanaged, spent too much on modern equipment. Wants this URTV to die, a new URTV to rise.

Producer Daryl Griffin of “Just Keepin’ it Real”: We do this from the heart, if URTV were to shutdown, I would be left in a fog. Producer Daughtry: URTV is a family friendly. You need quality equipment to make quality shows. These are professional shows. staff is great. Producer Pat: URTV is a wonderful family of people. They do a great job. It allows us to communicate with the community. Producer Debra Williams: We can’t let URTV die. Global Report show is the only non-corporate news outlet around. Producer Connie Smith: We get so many calls on our show, it’s incredible. I’m about to cry. Please don’t take URTV away. It feels safe.

URTV Prodicer Don Yelton: Consultant didn’t get the $ #s right. Wants URTV to stay but wants transparency. URTV Producer James Latimore with Vets for Peace: You have to to watch URTV. Shows on URTV are as good as anything on PBS.

Producer Nelson Staley: CLT public access has much bigger budget, but less equipment, editing stations, original content than URTV. Former Producer of Mount Dungeon Matt Howard: URTV gave me the experience I needed to get a job as manager of Boiler Room. It’s great.

Jerry Rice: What happened to the URTV audit that was discussed at the last BCC meeting? Will you put it on the Web site? County Manager Wanda Greene: We haven’t compiled it yet. We can put it on the site when it’s done. Jerry Rice: URTV isn’t anything like what people were afraid it was going to be. It’s good and we need to keep it. #avlgov

Gantt to consultant Howell: What happens if URTV goes under? Howell: The channel would go back to Charter. Charter might operate it as a public station, but charge fees to producers to use the time. It would be up to Charter. That’s what happened in Haywood County.

Vice chair Bill Stanley: We can’t raise taxes to bail out URTV. Commissioner Holly Jones: We’ve all been moved by the heartfelt comments. No question it’s positive, but it’s not our responsibility to save URTV. Jones: That fantastic list of services is not sustainable. URTV can’t continue to be done at that level. Gantt: This board isn’t going to bail URTV out. URTV has an independent board and needs to come up with its own solutions. We can provide our consultant Howell to URTV to help figure out a better financial plan. I’d like to see a plan.

Most people leave the chamber as Greene reviews the FY 2010-2011 budget. Board passes the budget 5-0.

Cynthia Barlow is presenting a workforce housing project; it’s designed to provide housing to low and middle income families. Gantt: It’s a cruel reality that not everyone who works in Buncombe can afford to live here. It’s our dirty little secret. Board passes motion 5-0 to loan the workforce housing project $192 K at 0 % interest.

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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12 thoughts on “Buncombe Commissioners: We will not bail out URTV

  1. So lets see what the current BOD is made of. They’ve looked the other way and allowed the ED to decimate the reserve funds of close to $300,000 with no oversight. Many Board Members participated in dismissing those of us who were concerned for the long term viability of Public Access with in our community. Those former and current complicit Board Members are; Joe Scotto, Robert (Bob) Horn, Hunter Goosmann, Rev. Jerry Young, Matt Howard, David Connor Jones, Ralph Roberts. Other BOD members are shown on the URTV web page, they have their responsibilites too.

    No other public access station has blown through money like this station has. Check the 990’s of other stations in North Carolina or around the country that have received comparable funding. From $60,000 to $87,000 in deficit spending over the allotted funds has been blown through, as is shown on the 990’s that show up when “public access” or “community tv” is keyed in on Foundationcenter.org.

    Had the $300,000 in money market reserves been built upon instead of decimated, public access could be reborn in a smaller facility with reducer services and staff…but being left with nothing is going to make it very difficult to survive.

    Now the county puts the BOD on notice to fix this problem. Let’s see if the BOD has the mettle to do so. Their ignorance, and lack of oversight allowed to happen.

    Responsible Boards and Executive Directors plan for the long term goals. When I was on the Board, I was deeply concerned that the BOD and ED seem to be acting and planning very short term and that many on the BOD had no clue as to what was happening right under their noses.

    Bottom line the County has spoken, this Board better figure out a way to fix this betrayal of the public trust and fast…or step down. For shame!!!!!

  2. It sounds like most producers like URTV just the way it is but have nothing to say about the people in charge who have run it into the ground.

    All last year I kept hearing them say that the board and director were doing a great job and that the watchdogs and critics should just shut up.

    Now it is they who will be shut up. Nice going, guys.

  3. After last nights county commissioners meeting it became clear that the main funding mechanism for URTV is ending. As I understand it,
    the state of North Carolina changed the rules for acquiring and distributing PEG monies and now taxes cable subscribers 7 % for PEG and
    then distributes PEG funds at the same level of funding as 2007 multiplied by 2. This amounts to $20k per quarter for URTV which I doubt can
    even keep the filming lights lit.

    Since the current business model of URTV is unsustainable, URTV needs to radically and quickly re-invent itself or it shall end. The current model of PEG
    has an educationally component that as I understand it, is not currently being utilized here in Asheville. My idea is kill both these birds with one new stone and create a new business model that can survive. By getting the educational channel certified to receive PEG funds and by using the URTV facility for a combination of the public and educational PEG channels, we can not only continue URTV but create a new channel for education and share the resources and talent of URTV in the process.

    Apparently part of receiving the maximum amount of PEG monies is to have 5 hours of live programming per day. I can see this happening with the educational channel and maybe even some new possibilities like providing cablecast lessons for snow day makeups or extra credit.

    The bottom line is this. There are lots of critics of URTV but there are not a lot of ideas to fix it. Someone needs to step up and at least try and steer this ship that’s headed for the rocks before it crashes.

  4. “There are lots of critics of URTV but there are not a lot of ideas to fix it.”

    Not true.

    Davyne Dial, John Blackwell and others have, on many occasions, offered several viable proposals to the city and county to restructure and manage a new streamlined and efficient organization that would fulfill the public access mission.

  5. Here’s an idea to “fix it”: Get rid of the boobs who destroyed URTV and replace them with competent adults.

    Ever heard that one before?

  6. Tim, the problem is URTV is controlled independently by a board of directors and not by the county or city. Why don’t you offer your viable proposals to the URTV BOD?

  7. an observing non-and-never-was producer who likes

    One thing not heard is how URTV could cut expenses to continue running (or am I wrong?). I haven’t read reports of anyone (within URTV) coming up w/ an emergency budget proposal to extend the life of URTV. Just, “Give us more money or we’ll shut it down.”
    If it gets shut down, it won’t start back up, which would be terrible. However, no govt. body is going to take measures to funnel money to the current people in charge of URTV, esp. with the current lack of transparency and no financial audits. URTV needs to stay, but things need to change at the top before anyone outside URTV truly cares if it continues or not as it’s currently being run.

  8. Just Me

    The County and/or the City can put provisions in their funding contracts that require URTV to change the way they do business and get back on track. A sort of probation. It’s been done before with non-profits here; and it can work if you have BOD that gets the message and they hire a director that has the energy and savvy to re-organize things and work with what there is.

    Or, in this case, the article mentions that the county is ‘loaning’ a consultant to URTV. They may make provisions that the consultant’s recommendations must be followed.

    While the county does not need to run an outside agency itself, its best interest is to continue to find a way to provide the service the funds are ear-marked for. The County is ultimately responsible for the allocation of those funds and how they are used, so I am guessing they are going to find a way that they will be used effectively and efficiently. It sounds like that is what they are doing with this consultant, and they are probably researching the options already.

  9. Don Yelton

    Thank you just me, you put it right, the county issued the contract for services and it is their responsibility. They are elected to do a job.

    This is a great time to wash their hands and say so sorry.

  10. kurtmann

    As I understand it, the county/city has the power to re-assign the management of URTV to another management group (non-profit or for profit).

    The primary responsibility of the URTV BOD is providing the facility with resources (funding)and monitoring expenses, hiring the E.D.

    Although it’s clear producers have had rich experiences at URTV, the understanding that savings were being expended on operating costs in a way that was unsustainable was clear from the beginning.

    I would like to hear whether URTV has initiated conversations with Charter. It would be unfortunate to have to move from the current facilities as they are designed exactly for production. Maybe the facility can be shared with Charter, The Media Arts Project or UNCA.

    These were all relationships I had developed in the first year at URTV, but were apparently dropped after I resigned.

    I do hope that URTV is able to move through these challenges. But with communities unable to provide basic services for citizens and families having a hard time putting food on the table, it will require some very creative management and hard decisions to keep URTV on the air.

  11. RUBE

    “The primary responsibility of the URTV BOD is providing the facility with resources (funding)and monitoring expenses, hiring the E.D. “

    This BOD has done no funding or monitoring of expenses….and have therefore betrayed the public trust they are responsible for overseeing. They have let the community down.

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