Managers try to form a more perfect union

Elections ahead for public TV's Forum

By Steve Behrens

The major defeated amendment, to attach the Forum to APTS, came from Judy Stone of Alabama PTV. Above: Stone and core group member Jim Pagliarini of Twin Cities.

The major defeated amendment, to attach the Forum to APTS, came from Judy Stone of Alabama PTV. Above: Stone and core group member Jim Pagliarini of Twin Cities.

Austin, Tex. — The Convention of Stations on Nov. 5 [1997] created a Forum for public TV’s national decision-making, opening the way for new cooperation in the fragmented field as well as new varieties of bickering.

The new Forum may find itself locking horns with PBS’s board, for instance. Several backers spoke of the Forum as a means of giving guidance to PBS and reallocating functions in the field.

The Core Working Group that proposed the Forum is now planning to hold elections as soon as December for the 13-member Council that will operate the Forum. One of the Council’s first tasks will be planning for the Forum’s first meeting, already scheduled for March 22, just before the annual APTS Capitol Hill Day, in Washington, D.C.

Station chief execs voting in person or by proxy at the day-long convention in Austin voted 85 percent in favor of creating the Forum. Soon afterwards, 62 percent agreed to join the Forum. Additional licensees that supported the idea through proxies are expected to sign up; many of those were included in the 22 percent that abstained on joining immediately.

The percentage results were very much the same when stations’ votes were weighted by station size, using PBS “purchasing power” data, indicating no obvious skew toward large or small stations in the voting.

Forum leaders have a big job ahead: selling the rest of the stations on membership. Out of a total of 179 licensees eligible to join, just 117 were present for the ballot on joining and only 73 immediately voted to join. But if the remaining stations vote to join in the same 10-to-1 ratio as those present, the Forum could have up to 170 member licensees.

To vote in the Forum, stations will have to join it and pay dues. But the convention tried to minimize that hurdle, approving a budget that would need estimated dues ranging from $693 to $3,464 per station, depending on the station’s size. The budget of $260,000 is less than one-tenth of APTS’s $2.8 million budget.

While the convention did try to hold down dues, the majority did not accept the major proposed anti-bureaucracy amendment of the day, which would have put the new Forum “under the aegis” of APTS. The amendment, proposed by Judy Stone, executive director of Alabama ETV, also would have given the APTS Board most of the seats on the smaller elected Council that will guide the Forum. The amendment failed in a 65-42 show of hands.

The idea of hooking the Forum to APTS, Stone had said, was that it would save money by avoiding duplicative staffing and by consolidating meetings to avoid travel costs. Opponents said tight affiliation with APTS could create conflicts of interest and isn’t necessary to save money — the Forum also could contract with APTS or other existing groups for staff services and fiduciary responsibility. “We’re not anticipating a staff and secretaries when you come in the front door,” said Core Working Group member Allen Pizzatto of WSRE, Pensacola.

Part of Stone’s amendment — simply to put the Forum “under the aegis” of APTS — failed again a few minutes later by a narrow 51-48 show of hands.

In the spirit of Stone’s amendment, however, the convention did change the proposed formal name of the Forum’s parent corporation. Instead of being an “Association,” it became “the National Forum of Public Television Senior Executives.” Bill Reed, president of Kansas City’s KCPT, proposed the name change but later said he wouldn’t vote for the Forum.

Though Stone had spoken for changes in the charter, she told Current later that she expects to enroll Alabama PTV as a Forum member. She respects the democratic process that was followed and can live with the expected dues, she said.

The convention also adjusted the Forum’s rules for passing “resolutions” — decisions that member stations will be honor-bound but not legally bound to abide by. Amendments made it slightly easier for the Forum to consider a resolution and fairly hard to pass. A quorum of at least 51 percent of members must be present for a resolution vote, down from 67 percent in the draft charter. But the convention clarified the charter to state that passage of resolutions will require 75 percent votes of all members, including proxies, by both methods of tallying: by one-station/one-vote and by financial weight of stations.

By 4 p.m., after six hours of work, the convention had heard numerous proposed amendments and disposed of few of them. Station executives had already swept out of the room at one point, requiring a break in proceedings, and now they were thinking about their airline flights home. Eric Douglas, the consultant who had facilitated the Core Working Group for many months and was moderating the convention, suggested that minor charter amendments be handled by a transition committee.

With amendment piled upon amendment, “we occasionally got awfully close to chaos,” Douglas said later. He had been “walking a fine line” between speed and the openness necessary to give people comfort with the outcome, he explained. Some observers, including core group members, said Douglas had spent too much time on the earlier amendments.

The convention sped through a couple more amendments. It rejected a change in representation on the elected Council, which would have given smaller stations more proportional representation. And it adopted an amendment about resolutions that affect existing national PTV organizations: the council will meet promptly with those organizations and request a response in “a timely and agreed-upon manner.”

In debate on the charter, Peter Morrill of Idaho PTV, Pat Fitzpatrick of WBGU in Bowling Green, Ohio, and Donn Rogosin of WMHT in Schenectady questioned the need for a Forum, saying that the stations should reshape their existing organizations if they need new functions performed. APTS is the stations’ organization, said Fitzpatrick — “let’s have them do the Forum.”

Core Working Group members pointed to a fondly remembered ad hoc meeting that station executives called last January, without PBS or APTS leaders. “This is the next step,” said Pizzatto. The Dallas meeting “operated in a somewhat data-free environment,” pointed out Mark Erstling of WPSX, University Park, Pa.

After 5 p.m., the convention voted to create the Forum: 90 “yes,” 16 “no,” and 7 not present (in the halls, perhaps). Weighted by size, the vote was 86 percent “yes,” 10 percent “no.”

By 6 p.m., the ensuing budget discussion had moved quickly to the low-cost option and adopted a first-year budget of $260,000 instead of $471,500, with dues assessed in three categories, depending on stations’ amount of nonfederal fundraising.

Then, as hotel workers laid out dinner in the hallway, the convention took a roll call on joining the Forum: 73 licensees voting “yes,” 7 voting “no,” 37 abstaining or out of the room.

“It was over faster than I thought it would be,” core group member Bryce Combs recalled last week. “We got to where I thought we would be. I was very pleased.”

The convention concluded the Countdown 98 project launched last year by APTS to give public TV a nimbler and more coherent way of making national decisions. APTS spent $550,000 on BMR Associates consultants to study the options and facilitiate meetings; CPB laid out tens of thousands more for related travel. Since June, the 13-member Core Working Group of station execs had worked 80 hours in face-to-face meetings, held 19 hour-long conference calls and made hundreds of other calls, said Erstling.

Chief advocate of the project, Joseph Traigle, a Baton Rouge businessman on the APTS Board, said he hopes Nov. 5 “will be known as the first day of the new world of public broadcasting.”

“This not about a new organization at all,” he said. “This is about convening an organization that has been in existence 30 years. It has been somewhat dormant.”

Two days later, Nov. 7, was the 30th anniversary of President Johnson’s signing of the Public Broadcasting Act — a 30-year mark for CPB funding of the field.

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