It’s a tough time for the crumbling WNC Community Media Center. In the midst of a continuing struggle with Buncombe County over funds the nonprofit says it’s owed, the media center has vacated the facility that hosted URTV, the public-access channel it contracted with the city and county to run, and is no longer paying staff. On May 23, the city of Asheville began an inventory as a first step toward removing its equipment, after which the channel will go dark.
Meanwhile, several board members have resigned, raising further questions about the organization’s solvency.
Bob Horn, the board’s vice president and spokesperson, announced his resignation in a May 24 email.
“I resigned in protest. … I believe Asheville and Buncombe County citizens will never see their public-access cable channel rise again for obvious political reasons,” he asserted. “Especially when you consider the way the demise of PATV was premeditated behind the scenes by disingenuous maneuvers of Buncombe County.”
His announcement followed resignations by Treasurer Joe Scotto and board member Dale Joyner. City appointee Matt Howard also reportedly resigned, though at this writing, Howard hadn’t confirmed it.
Joyner called the board’s last meeting, on May 12, “a clown show” and “a big joke,” adding that she didn’t favor taking legal action against Buncombe County.
Meanwhile, according to board member David Connor Jones, the Media Center’s attempts to find a lawyer who was willing to work pro bono were unsuccessful. “It’s a sad state of affairs. It’s not been very organized getting a legal team,” he said last week.
Jones said the board has also had a hard time finding production alternatives after closing its studio.
“The plan was to try to keep the channel solvent until we could figure out a new place that would be cheaper,” he explained. “It was going to take a lot of legwork to make it happen, and it wasn’t there — the board’s energy wasn’t there.”
But Jones said he wasn’t quite ready to officially throw in the towel, and he believed former Operations Manager Jonathon Czarny was still looking into the feasibility of transforming the station into an Internet-based portal for locally produced shows. “I’m waiting to see how it shakes out,” said Jones, noting that he and six colleagues remained on the board.
Jones acknowledged, however, that the board had no plans to discuss those options further and that it would be hard to overcome the organizational, financial and contractual challenges.
“It looks pretty much as though it’s dissolved, but I don’t feel comfortable saying that with any definitive authority,” he reported May 24.
City to seek new public-access provider
Lauren Bradley, Asheville’s administrative services director, appeared to have put another nail in URTV’s coffin when she revealed city staff’s recommendation that Asheville not renew the nonprofit’s contract (which expired at the end of April) and seek a new public-access provider instead.
At the May 25 meeting of City Council’s Finance Committee, Bradley sought permission to develop a request for proposals “from the community for the continuation of community-media development services. It’s a whole new world since we launched public access, and there are new ways to communicate. There’s a lot of creativity and entrepreneurship in this community, so we might see some really interesting things come forward.”
The media center — which gets $30,000 worth of cable-TV subscriber fees from the city annually and a comparable amount from the county to operate the channel — had asked Asheville for $115,000 this year, Bradley told the committee. And when asked for a “more creative” proposal reflecting the current budget constraints, the nonprofit responded with a lengthy letter detailing why current staffing and facility costs were fixed. In an April 26 work session, Council members informally rejected the center’s demands.
Bradley also noted that her own communication with the center’s board has broken down as well.
“Is there a board to send notice [of the city’s decisions] to?” Council member Esther Manheimer asked.
“I don’t know. All I know, unfortunately, is what I’ve read in the papers,” Bradley replied. “The board’s not sent anything to Council or to the city.” She said she’s communicated with some of the media center’s former staff.
Council member Bill Russell called the city staff proposals “spot-on,” and the Finance Committee approved them.
— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at email@example.com.