Originally published in Current, Oct. 3, 1994
By Karen Everhart Bedford
In a controversial election procedure, with an absent board member apparently casting the decisive vote, the CPB Board last week elected its new chairman, South Carolina ETV President Henry Cauthen.
A standing-room-only audience for the board's Aug. 27 annual meeting watched member Victor Gold pound the table and furiously accuse Chairman Sheila Tate of engineering an illegal election of her successor. Tate shouted back at Gold and pushed ahead.
Board member Diane Blair said the election procedure had "a taint about it'' and suggested in vain that the vote be postponed.
Martha Buchanan, who lost the chairmanship to Cauthen, observed, "I have only one regret and it's not that I was not elected chairman. My regret is that the atmosphere surrounding this election was not what Henry deserved.''
Cauthen, recently confirmed by the Senate for his second term on the CPB Board, has been president of South Carolina ETV since 1965, and is credited for building the network into one of the leading educational telecommunications systems in the country. A senior leader in public broadcasting, he has strong ties to such influential policymakers as Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, former governor of South Carolina.
He was elected on a 5-4 secret ballot, but members' statements suggest how they voted. Cauthen most likely received the votes of Tate (who had earlier backed him), Ritajean Butterworth (who nominated him), Honey Alexander (who seconded his nomination), Cauthen himself, and new board member Frank H. Cruz, who was detained in Los Angeles and sent in his ballot by Federal Express.
And Buchanan almost certainly received the votes of Gold (who publicly endorsed her), Blair (who nominated her), Carolyn Bacon (who seconded the nomination) and Buchanan herself.
Though a number of the board members are active Republicans or Democrats, the vote for chairman did not follow party lines. After the election, Buchanan said the "biggest difference'' between herself and Cauthen was that she favors a stronger, more participatory role for the board.
But that inclination did not decide the day's second election--for vice chairman. Carolyn Bacon, whom Buchanan called her "running mate,'' was elected vice chairman to serve along with Cauthen. Bacon, executive director of the O'Donnell Foundation in Dallas, defeated Ritajean Butterworth.Cruz voted by FedEx
That the election would become contentious was clear from the moment Tate convened the board's annual meeting. She informed CPB directors that their recently confirmed colleague, Cruz, would participate in the election via telephone and that, by showing up, the other board members had waived their right to notice of the "special telephonic portion of this meeting.''
Gold, the board's most outspoken Republican member, immediately objected, challenging the identity of the man on the other end of the phone line, a person he and most other board members had never met. "This could be Michael Eisner affecting Mickey Mouse. This is not legal.''
After CPB President Richard Carlson verified that it was Cruz's voice on the speakerphone, Gold began shouting: "What you are doing is improper. We know what the purpose of this is--it's to steamroll the nomination.''
Responding to questions from Gold and other board members, Tate and CPB General Counsel Sylvia Winik explained that CPB bylaws provisions for special "telephonic'' meetings allowed absent directors to vote on issues before the board. The most important objective of the bylaws is that all board members be permitted to vote, Winick said.
Tate had arranged for the election to proceed despite Cruz's inability to attend, but Gold and others noted that supporters of Buchanan had not been informed before the meeting about the special arrangements and that Cruz had completed his secret ballot before the formal nomination process and sent it by FedEx. Gold called for a vote on the propriety of the election process, but Tate refused to consider it, and she later ignored Blair's request to postpone the election until all board members could be present.
Gold also proposed that the board cast public votes for officers, but the board voted 5-4 to use a secret ballot, as it has done since 1980. Those casting voice votes for the open ballot were the same members who apparently supported Buchanan.
After the defeat of Gold's resolution, and the formal nominations of both Cauthen and Buchanan, Blair expressed concerns about how the election process would reflect on the winning candidate. "I am very uncomfortable with either of these fine candidates being elected through a process which has a taint about it,'' said Blair. She was uncomfortable that "some, but not others'' were aware of the plans for a telephonic meeting, and that the vote would be taken by secret ballot.
"I wonder whether it would be better for both candidates ... to postpone this election until we have a full complement of members present,'' she added. Without responding, Tate asked for a motion to close the nominations.Gold undercut by chairman
Before the election, Tate had adeptly undercut Gold's credibility in public session. During an early portion of the meeting reserved for directors' remarks, Gold objected to the delay in the Senate's confirmation of CPB Board nominee Alan Sagner, which has been blocked for months by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Gold questioned McCain's objections to Sagner and noted that the senator had been "singularly silent'' two years ago when Gold accused Pacifica of anti-Semitic programming.
"Are you suggesting anti-Semitism on the part of Sen. McCain?,'' asked Tate. She told Gold not to "play cute'' with such a charge. "Say it, don't insinuate.''
"I am asking Sen. McCain, 'Is he anti-Semitic?' '' Gold responded.
Tate, who had done research beforehand, then read a list of McCain's ties to the Jewish community. "I want to publicly disassociate myself from the remarks and insinuation of Mr. Gold,'' said Tate. Gold's "ugly'' remark "offends me and I believe offends every fair-minded person, including Alan Sagner.'' Gold, clearly abashed, made conciliatory remarks about the senator.
In the otherwise subdued audience, a vocal critic of public broadcasting, Laurence Jarvik, laughed boisterously as the board's usual decorum dissolved. The candidates for the chairmanship, Buchanan and Cauthen, by contrast, were silent during much of the ruckus.
"I was sickened by the atmosphere and environment surrounding the election,'' said Buchanan in an interview the next day. "I determined before ... [the] meeting that I was not going to descend into the abyss.''
Cauthen compared the tenor of the annual meeting to what goes on in Congress, where members fight on one bill and come back and work together on the next. "It was just a moment of trying to work toward who would provide leadership in the next year,'' he told Current.
He doesn't expect the divisiveness of the election to prevent board members from working together. "The board is committed to making public broadcasting the best it can be,'' he said, and it is not divided in its aspirations for the field.
Web page originally posted Nov. 14, 1996
Current: the newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.