•••CORRECTION ADDED MARCH 22, 2009: The original version of this article included a statement, now removed, that said not all of URTV’s board-meeting minutes are on the station’s Web site. At this writing, the minutes are online and can be accessed here.***
Outspoken URTV board members Davyne Dial and Richard Bernier kept their seats — for now — despite a recommendation from the public-access channel’s executive committee that they be dismissed. The board also voted to increase the number of annual meetings and scrap a controversial oath.
Over the past month and a half, there have been ongoing controversies about questions of transparency and management at the channel. Below, a summary of the main developments tonight:
• Board President Jerry Young revealed that the channels’ executive committee had met on Feb. 9 and voted to dismiss Bernier and Dial, who have both been critical. He noted that the meeting place had been changed at the last minute to Trinity Baptist Church, where Young is a pastor, to accommodate his schedule.
“We changed the venue, as I was required to be at my job,” Young said. “We do have audio of that meeting, and I’ll be glad to let anyone listen to it that desires to. So that’s my report for right now.”
Treasurer Joe Scotto asked that, “Being that the meeting was called on such short notice and that didn’t give everyone a chance to attend, can we move that we disregard what happened at that meeting and reconvene at another time?”
“No,” Secretary Ralph Roberts replied. “I wouldn’t support that.”
“No,” Young said. “We met and we had the meeting.”
Board member Sandra Bradbury asked what had happened at the meeting, noting that “I haven’t seen any minutes.”
Young answered that the executive committee had gone into closed session to discuss “possible legal issues from the recent press about URTV.” Upon the board going out of closed session, he said, they made a motion to recommend the dismissal Dial and Bernier.
“These are reports,” Parliamentarian Bob Horn said after Bradbury asked whether the whole board was needed to vote on such a dismissal. “You report and then move on. Items of discussion are the things on the agenda.”
However, no motion to dismiss Dial and Bernier was brought up at this meeting, and both of them made motions and voted on matters before the board as usual.
• A motion by Bernier to pull a controversial oath that required board members to keep URTV dealings confidential succeeded on a 5-3 vote. Dial and Bernier were joined by Scotto, Horn and Bradbury, while Roberts, Young and Board member Pam Silvers voted against the motion.
“URTV’s cornerstone is to be transparent and open,” Bernier said. “I have sworn several oath of offices and when I read [URTV’s], it appeared to be a secrecy oath.”
Roberts stated that he had no problem with it.
The board will now devise a new oath.
• A motion by Dial to expand the number of URTV meetings from six a year to eight — the number originally detailed in its bylaws — passed, with only Roberts voting against it.
• Executive Director Pat Garlinghouse was absent from the meeting. Young stated that she was “out of town today.”
* Also absent was Asheville City Council member Bill Russell, who was listed as an official guest for the meeting and had previously said he’d show up to “have some pretty frank, open discussions about their charter and bylaws.”
• Two suggestions by Bernier to discuss questions about transparency and the state’s open meetings law—on in the meeting proper and one during public comment—were shot down by Horn, who noted that such an item was not on the board’s approved agenda.
• However, transparency was a concern of more than one person speaking during the public comment section of the board’s meeting.
“This community got a lot of bad media, specifically from articles in the Mountain Xpress. I think some questions have been raised and I haven’t heard anyone address those questions,” West Asheville resident Gillian Kearns said. “There are a lot of people, at least in West Asheville, my neighbors, who have a really bad feeling about all of this. Any nonprofit, if they make an agreement with a government body has to abide by that or they’ll get their money pulled.”
Kearns mentioned that perhaps the city or county should look into the matter, as “this has brought a really bad taste in the community, and I don’t see anyone from URTV addressing it.”
Local activist Jerry Rice said the meeting resembled “a kangaroo court” and took issue with Roberts asking him not to film the board prior to the meeting.
“It shouldn’t be. It should be respectful and meaningful and respectful to the citizens,” Rice said in noting that Roberts had approached him.
“I still think you’re out of line,” Roberts replied.
“This is a public building and you can video all you want to,” Rice continued. “It ought to be a standing thing to get trained on what open-meetings law is.”
He added that “I think a lot of the things we’re hearing in the negative is not because you’re not good people, but because you’re ignorant. You’re not educated to what you need to be doing. Get yourself in order before you start telling everyone else how to do it.”
Xpress Multimedia Editor Jason Sandford also called for transparency, and noted that neither URTV staff nor Young had yet responded to a Feb. 2 request — repeated multiple times — for the minutes of the board’s meetings.
“I am just speaking to you, the board, to urge you to be as open and transparent as possible,” Sandford said. “State open-records law requires some response from you guys within a reasonable amount of time.” (Editor’s note: The minutes have been made available at the URTV Web site; click here to see the documents.)
He added that “we really urge an open line of communication. We want to talk with you, we want to hear from you and we haven’t had any formal response.”
• Also in public comment, URTV producer Dale Joyner attacked Dial, presenting a petition signed from 26 URTV producers calling for Dial’s dismissal.
“Dial has brought undue negative publicity and false rumors to URTV that have served to bring URTV negative press at a very critical period,” Joyner said, adding that she believes Dial has “openly defied polices of URTV as a seated board member — and this is Mrs. Dial over here. Mrs. Dial doesn’t represent me as a producer or does she represent the producers who have signed this petition.”
However, as Joyner returned to her seat, producer Robert Howland noted that “I didn’t sign that because I’m opposed to your viewpoint.”
“Your name’s not on there,” Joyner replied.
• URTV producer Matt Howard made an impassioned plea for the channel to get past its difficulties.
“I’m of the opinion that to pick unnecessary fights is an impediment to productivity,” Howard said. “There has been behavior and judgment on the part of both sides that has just made things worse. The most important thing to me is that the money is supposedly going to run out come July 2010. The most important thing to me is that in August 2010 URTV has a ‘still-on-the-air’ party. Everything else comes in second place.”
— David Forbes, staff writer