In a special meeting Thursday, URTV’s Board of Directors unanimously approved new bylaws that concentrate more power in the board’s hands, but kept the current membership structure intact.
Originally, the new bylaws proposed for URTV would have done away with the station’s current membership entirely, replacing members with categories of “associates” created by the board and eliminating their ability to elect members to the board or vote on matters before the station. However, after URTV cancelled its last board meeting when board members couldn’t enter the locked Buncombe County Television offices, those parts were removed.
“All of my concerns have been addressed,” new board member Matt Howard said before the vote.
The new bylaws give the board’s executive committee — consisting of the public access channel’s officers — all the powers of the whole board between meetings, except for dissolving URTV, changing the bylaws or appointing new board members. It also increases the size of the board, from 11 to 13. The two additional members will be appointed by the sitting board of directors.
Also, the new bylaws create an appeals process for board members that are removed from their seat (by a two-thirds majority of the board). Those board members can appeal to the Executive Committee within 48 hours of their removal.
Ironically, in the two most recent attempts to remove board members — those of Davyne Dial and Richard Bernier — it was the executive committee that recommended their dismissal in the first place.
The special meeting, which was announced on Tuesday, was in violation of URTV’s own bylaws, which require seven days’ notice before such a meeting.
Bernier, who was not present for the meeting but has not yet been formally removed from his seat, objected to it on those grounds, saying the short notice didn’t allow sufficient time to consider the implications of the bylaw changes.
“I’m concerned that this is being rushed upon us to consider; without considerable time being spent to go over in detail what each change means,” Bernier wrote in an e-mail. “Since much of the new bylaws are written in a vague manner, it is difficult to understand what they mean and what the implications are. Personally I’d like to go over these changes line by line for clarification & even open this up for our membership to ask questions along with the general public.”
Reactions to the bylaws at the meetings differed, URTV producer Christopher Chiaromonte applauded the bylaws change and simply said “Bravo!” while John Blackwell compared the vote to fascism.
“It was unanimous — wasn’t that the way they did it in Germany?” he said.
Producer Robert Howland, who has been critical of the attempts to remove Dial and Bernier, expressed mixed feelings about the bylaw changes.
“It seems like there has been some positive progress with the board,” he said. “The progress that I’m seeing unfold today is that member-elected board members can still vote. You’ve moved in that direction and I appreciated that.”
“But where I’m hazier is the conflict of interest, balance of power and oversight issues,” he continued. “I guess maybe there should be more county and city members. This is a really sticky area, but it’s critical that in case things go amok, for any reason, things can be reined in. I guess I’m saying I trust the city and county more than the internal board structure to rein things in.”
Dial was also present to weigh in on her removal from the board — done by a 33-12 vote of URTV members — which she has asserted was done improperly.
“I put up a good fight,” Dial said. “You got your way and now I’m off.”
Dial read a letter from Mayor Terry Bellamy expressing appreciation for Dial’s “efforts to uphold the bylaws.”
Before the meeting, there was an argument between parliamentarian Bob Horn and Blackwell about his filming from the front row.
“You have to be back in the room with the other camera [operated by Chiaromonte],” Horn asserted. “You’ll be fine. It’ll pick up fine.”
“I don’t believe so, I’ve had trouble in the past,” Blackwell replied.
“If you can’t do that, then we request you leave,” Horn said.
“I think I’ll stay and film from a spot where my camera can pick up,” Blackwell said.
“This is our meeting, you’re a guest; if you can’t abide by our rules, you’ll have to leave,” Horn answered.
However, Blackwell remained throughout the meeting and filmed from his seat.
State open meetings law allows a board to establish a single area for cameras to be set up, but also specifies that the area cannot impede the camera from filming.
— David Forbes, staff writer