URTV Executive Director Pat Garlinghouse has not answered calls from county staff trying to contact her about ongoing transparency controversies at the public-access channel, and Buncombe County may delay funding for the station, County Manager Wanda Greene said at the Board of Commissioners meeting tonight.
“We did have the executive director from URTV come in and meet with the expert that we use on [PEG funds, which are cable-company fees distributed by Buncombe County and the city of Asheville] and public-access franchises,” Greene told the board. “We thought we understood one another. We have since tried to reach her on four different occasions in a variety of ways and she has not returned our calls. But we will pursue that again tomorrow to make sure that we address this issue.”
“So the director has not contacted you since you’ve asked for her?” Vice Chair Bill Stanley inquired.
“We’ve tried to contact them several times,” Greene replied.
“Well, I hope if we’re in charge of their money we’re holding it up for a little while,” Stanley said.
“We did relay that message,” Greene added.
The county and the city of Asheville both oversee PEG funds, which make up the lion’s share of the public-access channel’s revenue. According to its management agreement with both local governments, URTV is required to follow open-meetings law
The remarks came after comments from Davyne Dial, a URTV board member who, along with fellow board member Richard Bernier, has been critical of what they see as a lack of transparency at the station. In a closed session on Feb. 9, URTV’s executive committee voted to remove both Dial and Bernier. The board must vote to finally dismiss them, but has not yet scheduled a meeting to do so.
Dial called for the county to conduct an independent review of the station.
“It’s intolerable to me and others that a public-access station that should be a beacon of First Amendment rights is muzzling its board members,” Dial said. “I would hope if this review was able to be done, we could get a complete cross-section of points of view about this.”
But Stanley also noted that, due to changes in state law, as soon as another company besides the now-bankrupt Charter Communications — such as AT&T — begins to provide cable service to the area, the PEG funds will dry up.
“The county doesn’t really have much clout with it anymore,” he noted.