Sunday, April 26, 2009

Keeping an eye on ConcordTV

For anyone who is interested in all the things going on at ConcordTV, the city's cable access center, the non-profit will be holding a budget hearing at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28, in the City Council Chambers, according to the city manager's memo. The meeting will also be broadcast live on Channel 17. I don't know if this is the first time that ConcordTV [formerly CCTV] has had its budget meeting broadcast but it is a good thing either way. Meetings like this should be broadcast live [or at least recorded and broadcast later] for the public to see. In fact, ConcordTV should be broadcasting all of its board meetings since, you know, they are the cable media access center, it exists to improve communication, and I mean, why not?
If anyone is interested in more information about the meeting, they can contact Executive Director Julienne Turner at 226-8872.

In March, I asked Turner whether the center's bi-annual report and update about activities was available [the only version up online was the one from two years ago]. I also asked a number of performance questions including: How many Concord residents and non-residents had taken the training classes; How she would judge the training program and whether it would continue; What the programming ratio for programs produced in-house and outside; and How many local producers generated programs in 2008. Lack of performance and a drop in locally produced programs and active volunteers have been issues in the past, especially when compared to the years when Rick Watrous, now a state representative and part-time teacher, ran the organization with a fraction of the money.
Turner said the new newsletter would not be released until July. Instead of answering the questions about performance, she deflected, saying it sounded like I was writing a story and invited me over to take a tour of the new facility. I appreciated the invitation but really just wanted some basic information about performance, not a tour. Maybe in the future I'll find the time to check out the new digs but the lack of open and accessible information about performance is worrisome.

It is interesting that the center would be having its budget meeting now when funding numbers aren't available yet. Unless, of course, the city manager has already told them what the available amount of revenue will be ... hey, he was nice enough to post the notice in his online memo .... Sure, the center can make assumptions about its budget. But smart minds would assume that since the city is facing a $4 million budget gap, ConcordTV won't get anywhere near the $227,000 it received last year.
Even though we are all in a global economic collapse and the city is getting ready to slash much-needed [and expected] services, there is a scenario where ConcordTV could, shockingly, receive an increase in its budget next year.
There was a rider approved stating that any franchise fee revenue more than $620,000 would be split between the city and ConcordTV, instead of the city just keeping the fees. As more people drop Fairpoint's telephone service in favor of Comcast's phone service, franchise revenue will increase. Let's say the city manager decides to implement another measly 3 percent cut to ConcordTV's budget [$227K down to $220K] but franchise fees are $640,000 and not $620,000. ConcordTV would receive an additional $3K, not a cut, based on the rider. Over the last few years, franchise fees have increased between $20K and $60K per year. So, this scenario is a realistic one. The bigger question though is who in their right mind would be stupid enough to agree to split excess franchise revenue over $620,000 with ConcordTV when they already waste thousands of dollars?!? Wait ... don't answer that ...
The cable access center now has numerous employees compared to one to three employees it has had in the past. And yet, they don't have much to show for it and surely could live with much less. It's true that some folks are earning their keep. The people who record all the meetings are doing the job. So is Turner. It's not easy running an organization these days. But what about the new training coordinator? Should numerous classes a year constitute a full-time job? And we all know that there is at least one other employee who is not cutting it and hasn't for years. The outreach coordinator/development director is paid a generous full-time salary while raising very little, losing tens of thousands of dollars on so-called "development," and all the while, holding down another part-time job at a local radio station and owning a novelty store/sandwich/ice cream stand with her husband. Anyone with a brain knows that this person is probably phoning it in. And yet, this person remains employed. Why? This is like leaving an infection to fester and damage the health of the otherwise worthy host. On a larger, more important scale, this means the franchise fee payers and taxpayers, since the funds for Concord TV come out of the city's general fund, are not getting their money's worth from this employee. If there was any real oversight over the cable media access center, we would have seen the person [or position] cut years ago.
Time and time again, many of us have revealed other wasteful items and expenditures in the cable access center line item to the public and the council: The junkets, IRA benefits, trinkets for what volunteers remain and foodie treats for the board. Tens of thousands of dollars wasted. Year after year, many of us have exposed this waste, fraud, and abuse while other things like the recreation department and library materials and hours have been cut.
But now, in a time of total economic meltdown and multimillion dollar deficits, the taxpayers and citizens should expect no less than a full-on raid of this line item and rescinding of the split scheme, no questions asked. It is time for the council to take action on this malfeasance once and for all.


Ben Venator said...

Free advice to the Concord GOP. Tony and Rick have been talking about this important issue for years, but for some reason, no one pays attention because it is 1) them and 2) as Tony alludes to it, all this is clearly entangled in many ways with the local powers that be.
Grab this issue, don't demonize the institution (although I am not crazy about the policies permitting about individuals running for office being allowed to keep their shows on the air), but present a reasonable proposal for the public that would retain the strengths of Concord TV while making more appropriate use of the franchise revenue.

Anonymous said...

I am confused. Is this a council budget hearing about CTV? Or is this nonprofit (private?) taking over the city council chambers?

You mentioned $227,000... from the city? How can this be? Doesnt the Concord Boys and Girls Club get something like $20 grand? And the city gives CTV 10 times more?

And this is during a time when the city is talking about closing the library and making us pay for our trash??

Something doesnt add up.

Anonymous said...

there is a clear waste of at least $100,000 and that money could be used for other things. thank you tony for continuing to write about this issue. let's hope cctv is finally cut.

Anonymous said...

How can the City contribute $227,000, or even $100,000, to any nonprofit this year?

Anonymous said...

Do you really think that the city will do anything about this? I thought when they brought the new executive director in, things would change. But, it's still the same there. The same losers like Doris, Charlie, David Dumbo Murdo, and everyone else. A bunch of sad sacks.

Anonymous said...

Wow - just when you think there is some healthy, meaningful discourse on the subject, the author of this blog approves comments that amount to nothing more than hateful name calling (Anon 11:16) If I want trash talk, I'll skip over to the comments posted on the Concord Monitor site. Since comment moderation has been enabled here for anonymous posts, it disappoints me further to know that the blog author made a conscious decision to post those remarks. Certainly doesn't help your position any.

Anonymous said...

What would you do differently Tony? You and Rick Watrous have been talking (complaining) about this for years. Your insults are tiring and not amounting to anything. All the public asks is that you please do your homework before mudslinging and saying things that aren't true about individuals. Everyone wants a solution that will work for the community and accusations without actual facts to back them up are not helping the situation at all. I truly hope that there can be some resolution to this "discussion" that has been going on for way too many years.

Tony said...

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting.

There is so much here to respond to but I'm a tad busy so I will keep it as brief as possible.

To Anon12:33: I have made a number of proposals in the past on how the cable media access center could be run more efficiently and creatively. I could go into them here but I don't have the time right now. The council chose not to allow me a fair hearing on the ideas. It's done. It's a moot point.

However, it is hardly an "insult" to show people how money is not spent wisely. My homework is done. My facts are accurate. There is some speculation in the post and it states as such.

To Anon12:18: You know, you may have a point that I shouldn't allow name calling. But I don't think anything is "hateful" in the comment in any way. I made it a policy from the beginning with this site to pretty much allow an "anything goes" posting philosophy. In the past, I have not allowed posts that I felt were libel or dangerous. I don't think name calling rises to that level and nothing in the comments or the post libelous or dangerous. There are worse things I could personally say about some of the people mentioned although I have a new-found respect for folks like Charlie Russell, since I have worked with him on the school issues and taken the time to get to know him a bit better.
However, that doesn't mean other folks who read this site have to like him. Am I suppose to censor them?

Instead of attacking anonymous posters, you should take the frustration of many in this community to heart. It is legitimate. It shouldn't be attacked. It should be studied and understood so that it can be fixed.

Ben, as always, you're correct. FTR, I'm not trying to "demonize" the institution in any way although it may seem that way. In fact, I have praised ConcordTV in the past, especially for getting the programs online. The problem that I see is that there has been a lot of waste, fraud, and abuse in that budget. Many of us have pointed that out time and time again and have been ignored. Before, the city wasn't broke. No one cared. Now it is. For these reasons, the city can no longer afford to give ConcordTV that amount of money.

To the "confused" anonymous poster, yeah, you should be. It's not an official meeting of the council. ConcordTV is using the council chamber.

I have another post which will come out tonight about the fundraising and development effort. Wait until you see the numbers!