Friday, March 11, 2011

After years of wrangling

Years of wrangling over the creation of public-access television in Buncombe County culminated in a unanimous vote of support from the Board of Commissioners at their Jan. 18 meeting. The board approved both a 10-page management contract with URTV Inc., a nonprofit corporation, and a funding-distribution plan that will substantially underwrite operations at the station for the next 10 years.

In the public-comment period preceding the board's formal meeting, URTV opponent Fred English reiterated his concerns about content on any public station, reading what he identified as a news story in which a white supremacist had used public-access television to incite a murder. English also worried that future funding shortfalls might find the URTV board demanding more money from the county.

But three speakers representing at least a dozen people in the audience spoke in favor of the public-access plan and the county's collateral efforts in government and educational television.

Sandy Mush resident Kurt Mann, the owner of Asheville's Ironwood Media and a longtime advocate of URTV as an incubator for the local film-and video-industry, urged the commissioners to provide substantial backing at the outset. "We need enough funding for URTV to get a good manager, in order to avoid some of the problems that others have warned about." He suggested that adequate funds would permit the hiring of a veteran broadcaster rather than a recent college graduate without much experience.

Asheville resident Rose McLarney spoke to the same issue. "It is discouraging to think that after all the work that has been done, URTV might be underfunded," she said, which "will make it difficult to hire good administrators."

Sharon Willen, director of business and industrial services at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and a board member of the Media Arts Project, also asked for full funding of the URTV media center.

URTV will immediately receive approximately $380,000 from the county's escrowed PEG funds (fees added to cable TV bills to cover the costs of public, educational and government television channels). In coming years, the project will receive between $95,000 and $108,000 per year.

Getting it wrong
This first formal session of 2005 followed the board's annual retreat, a day-and-a-half confab that included the commissioners, county administrators and staffers, school-board administrators, representatives of A-B Tech and the Sheriff's Department, and members of the local media.

During that conference, board members conducted a lengthy discussion of the URTV proposal, particularly concerning the distribution of funds. In the formal session, it was discovered that the numbers under discussion at the retreat had been low by a factor of three, and the apportionment of cable TV fees had been inaccurately described -- a slip-up for which County Manager Wanda Greene took responsibility. This resulted in a five-minute recess of the Jan. 18 meeting, so the corrected information could be distributed to commissioners. Although the numbers changed, the underlying consensus about URTV did not, and the funding was passed unanimously. (See "Full Retreat" elsewhere in this issue.)

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