Dear Asheville City Council Boards and Commissions Committee,
It would appear that the URTV board still does not get it. That is not conjecture; it is plainly evident in a recent video produced by a sitting URTV board member:
Fremont Brown, one of the newly appointed board members, is clearly out of touch with the causes of controversy at URTV. He displays disdain for its critics and a casual dismissal of legitimate complaints. Apparently, even yours.
First, this video would appear to violate the proposed "secrecy oath" that Executive Director Pat Garlinghous attempted to impose on board members. This, you'll remember, is the issue that first thrust the problems at URTV into the spotlight. Ms. Garlinghouse consequently withdrew the oath.
Mr. Brown places the blame on the whistleblowers, demonizes them, and completely absolves the board and executive director of any misdeeds. This after video and audio evidence, as well as press reports, show that the picture Mr. Brown attempts to paint is inaccurate.
Mr. Brown claims that URTV has no obligation to comply with open meetings laws and that URTV voluntarily complies with those laws. Of course, as you know, URTV is mandated by you and by Buncombe County to follow those laws. It is a requirement imposed on them, not a favor bestowed on us.
Mr. Brown states that people are welcome to film the meetings. We know from photographic records and personal testimony that the board and executive director have repeatedly obstructed attempts to film board meetings; either by misreprenting the law or through harassment and intimidation.
Mr. Brown claims that Executive Committee meetings specifically are not subject to Open Meetings laws at all. This, as you well know, is false. Meetings may formally go into closed session only for a limited number of specified reasons and closed sessions must be announced at a regular open meeting. No Executive Committee meeting has ever met the criteria for holding a closed meeting.
Mr. Brown claims that Pat Garlinghouse "has brought order to URTV." Surely you must know by now that the opposite is true. Beginning with her overt harassment of Program Manager Jen Mass, to the banishment of John Blackwell, Davyne Dial and Richard Bernier, up to the present moment, Pat Garlinghouse has sown discord and resentment. By virtue of her own actions, problems at URTV have been widely publicized and debated in the media, online, privately, and at their own organizational meetings.
Mr. Brown then tauts the advantages of membership at URTV; such as access to cameras and sound equipment -- none of which have been the subject of any controversy -- as if to say that we should ignore their mischief in exchange for access to expensive equipment and technologies.
Mr. Brown brings up the concealed weapon prohibition issue which was contested but brought to a peaceful resolution. This incident then became the pretext for suspending a politically-oriented talk show that had been the object of long-standing prejudice.
Mr. Brown claims that URTV does not receive public funds. As you know, PEG money disbursed by the City of Asheville and Buncombe County are public funds, regardless of the means employed in collecting those funds. This, in fact, is the basis for your requiring compliance with open meetings laws.
Mr. Brown claims that URTV complies with open records laws by stating that audits are conducted and financial reports submitted to the city are available to the public. Of course, as you know, referring people who request access to financial records to a report filed by URTV with the city is not the same thing as compliance with open records laws. Requests for financial records, correspondence and checkbooks by members have repeatedly been rebuffed by management. We have yet to open a single record.
Mr. Brown asserts that city council should have conducted a proper judicial hearing when Alan Rosenthal spoke during the public hearing on URTV controversies at your July 14th meeting. Mr. Brown accuses Mr. Rosenthal of intending to deceive city council. As you know, speakers have three or ten minutes to make comments only and cannot ask questions or conduct trial proceedings.
Mr. Brown claims that there is no requirement to air board meetings on their station. However, URTV rules state that anyone securing equipment for the purpose of filming a program must submit that programming for airing on URTV. Members have indeed obtained equipment for the filming of board meetings but no meetings have been aired.
Mr. Brown makes many statements in his video but does not bother to respond directly to the 14 points detailed in your committee's letter to URTV Director Pat Garlinghouse and Board Chair Jerry Young. He is either unaware of your letter or chooses not to acknowledge it. Either way, that is not a promising development.
Mr. Brown claims that there are no problems at URTV when it is clear that he himself is one of them. If this is the caliber of leadership emerging in the face of growing public scrutiny, declining membership, policy violation, noncompliance, and subsequent reproof by your committee, then we do indeed have a great many problems at URTV.
This video by Mr. Brown is published on the internet by Board Secretary Ralph Robers and has now been picked up by the Mountain Xpress in their Twitter feed. It is clearly meant to be a rebuttal to recent criticism and is therefore a formal representation of URTV; despite disclaimers to the contrary.
In your letter to URTV, published in the Mountain Xpress, you have demanded that URTV "right its own ship and press on to good places." It would appear to me that URTV has no intetion of "righting its own ship" and is heading in no good places. I would suggest that the misinformation, skewing of the facts, and, above all, the abject dismissal of your admonitions, demand a further clarifying and more definite response than the previous mild approach taken in your letter to URTV management; to include timetables, staff and board improvements, performance measures and explicit consequences.
**UPDATE July 25, 2009**
1. Fremont Brown has been appointed as Secretary, replacing Ralph Roberts, making him not only a board member but also an officer of the board.
2. Twitter report: fobes:RT @ralphr: URTVforums now FORUMS.1vid.com, operating independently of URTV. Ralph Roberts no longer secretary [or] a member of URTV. #mxnow Jul. 25, 5:02 pm
3. The video was uploaded on Monday, July 20th. That is the day the board received city council's letter.
4. Council member Mumpower has responded saying, "What we most recently have is a verbal agreement by the URTV folks to take things to a better place - we will see if they are willing or able to follow-through effectively. I would take the position that we support the Board in taking what stance they deem best and respond from there. URTV's staff and board have received a letter that outlines our concerns. The ball is now in their court to make changes or otherwise respond as they deem best. What they do over the next 60 days will, in turn, lay the foundation for our future actions."
5. Alan Rosenthal writes to city council: "Special note to Bill Russell: Save us from your nonsense. Resign as Liaison to URTV so we can get someone in there who will actually be responsible enough to do the work, You certainly don't wear Robin Cape's pumps well."
**UPDATE July 27, 2009**
Fremont Brown has resigned from the URTV board of directors.
**UPDATE July 29, 2009**
The video of Fremont Brown has been removed from the web. I have a copy.
Mr. Brown has requested that this video be taken down. For reasons why, Contact Fremont Brown, email@example.com, 828-667-9690