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Hasenjaeger quits embattled WCTV Board

November 18, 2013

Update 11/19/13: Selectmen plan to vote at their Dec. 3 meeting on a proposal, presented by Chairman Mark Gallivan, to create a seven-person task force to review the town’s cable access needs, and to make recommendations going forward. On this task force, there would be one representative of Selectmen, one representing School Committee, one representing town government as a whole, and four members of the public who would apply to serve. Gallivan suggested in his remarks that this task force would review whether it is possible to create a new independent entity to run cable access, and that the task force would be free to explore all possibilities for cable access without WCTV.

Less than a year after being elected, Kathy Hasenjaeger has stepped down from the Walpole Community TV Board of Directors out of continued frustration with the cable station’s current state of affairs.

In a resignation letter that she sent to the four other members of the Board – Bill St. George, Guy Giampapa, Paul Clerici, and Michael Power – last week, Hasenjaeger said she felt “compelled to resign” because of “deep regret and frustration” with her inability to help reform the embattled cable station.

“I have spent many hours trying to improve things on behalf of Walpole cable subscribers,” she wrote. “However, I have been thwarted at many turns. I now realize that I will continue to remain in the minority with the current Board and, in frustration, I hereby submit my resignation,” she wrote in the letter.

A major source of her frustration was that the other members of the Board would not agree to institute five major reforms that Selectmen had demanded from WCTV during cable negotiations last year and earlier this year in exchange for allowing the station to continue to serve as the town’s cable access provider.

Selectmen asked the Board, in those five reforms, to open their meetings to the general public, to subject themselves to state ethics laws, to conduct annual financial audits of the organization’s operations, to permanently end compensation of Board members, and to allow representatives of the Selectmen and School Committee to serve on the Board.

According to Hasenjaeger, the Board had agreed in discussion to change their composition to allow for one appointed member each from the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee, respectively. They also did stop paying themselves annual stipends, which they had done from 2010 until 2012. The organization also conducts annual audits. Other than that, the Board still refuses to open their meetings to the public and it has resisted calls for more accountability and transparency in their finances.

Selectmen have directly criticized St. George, the president of the Board, in particular for using WCTV funds to hire himself to design the station’s advertising and promotional materials, and also obtaining a job for his wife at WCTV as a receptionist.

St. George and other Board members have argued that they should not be required to open their meetings to the public because they are a private organization, and that they believe the town is intervening too much in their financial affairs and operations, possibly in an effort to take their lucrative revenue stream for town use.

Selectmen, unable to get the Board to agree to all five provisions, ratified a new cable contract with Comcast this summer that effectively cuts off WCTV’s revenue stream permanently, by directing all PEG revenue, from now on, to the town, to then be appropriated by Selectmen. The previous contract between the town and Comcast sent all Comcast PEG money directly to WCTV – more than $200,000 per year.

The town’s existing contract with Verizon, the town’s only other cable provider, already appropriates all Verizon PEG revenue to the town for appropriation. In practice, this money has been appropriated to WCTV.

PEG revenue comes from a 5 percent tax on the bill of each Walpole cable subscriber. The money can only be used for cable access-related expenses, per federal law, even though the money is now under the control of Selectmen.

At their meeting this upcoming Tuesday, Selectmen will present plans on how Walpole cable access channels will operate without WCTV. It is not known whether Selectmen plan to establish a new independent, non-profit entity that will provide cable access in town, or whether they will run cable access as a government operation. Most likely, the ultimate arrangement will be a mix of the two. It is possible that if WCTV begins cooperating with the town, they could apply through Selectmen for access to the PEG revenue going forward. WCTV itself will still be able to operate with about $1 million that it has saved up over the years, though it remains unclear what their future is or what their plans are for the money.

In her letter, Hasenjaeger said she felt strongly “that the Town should not take over and run public access television,” and was disappointed that her Board’s recalcitrance may have forced Selectmen to move in that direction.

In an interview with 180 after she submitted her resignation, Hasenjaeger said Selectmen have unfairly criticized the station and Board as a whole, rather than focusing on just a few Board members who evidently want to play by their own rules and are tarnishing the organization’s reputation. Hasenjaeger noted that neither she nor Power were on the Board at the time the Board paid themselves, and Hasenjaeger has never sought to profit from the cable station.

Hasenjaeger, who has hosted a show on the cable station for more than a decade, said her major goal on the Board was to work in the best interest of cable subscribers. She was supportive of the reforms that Selectmen wanted to implement, but also maintained concern that the town wanted to take WCTV’s money and PEG revenue stream for expenses unrelated specifically to cable access.

The core of the station itself, with its rich history in the community, should be preserved, she said.

One move that Selectmen roundly criticized was the Board’s proposal to move their studio to a new location on South Street. There was a perception that Hasenjaeger, who is a real estate agent in town, wanted to directly profit from the transaction. But Hasenjaeger said she volunteered her time to find the new studio site, and had no intention of earning a commission from the deal. She advocated for the relocation because she felt it was important for the station to have a fresh start.

Hasenjaeger is not the first member of the WCTV Board to resign since January’s election. At that election, Hasenjaeger was joined by Daniel Ryan as new members of the Board, replacing Jack Lee and Charles Sudhalter. Ryan, like Hasenjaeger, came in to the Board as an outsider who aimed to implement reforms, but he resigned shortly after being elected, out of similar frustration as Hasenjaeger. Ryan was replaced by Power, who was the runner-up in the January election.

Hasenjaeger said she wished Ryan had stayed on the Board, because they could have worked together to fix the station’s issues.

Both St. George and Giampapa will be up for re-election in January, in an election that will be open to all town cable subscribers. Residents who are interested in reforming WCTV, which, even though it has lost its revenue stream from the new Comcast contract, still has control of almost $1 million that has been saved up from the PEG tax on cable subscribers, are encouraged to participate in that election. Details will be published on 180 when they are known.

For background of the WCTV saga, read 180’s article from February here.

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