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Embattled WCTV hosting Open House

July 21, 2014

Walpole Community Television, which has been under fire during the past year and a half over various allegations of impropriety with their funding and lack of accountability, will host an open house at their studio on East Street on Thursday, July 31 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., according to a flyer posted on their website.

WCTV will apparently give away prizes at the televised open house, including a flat-screen TV, and free t-shirts.

“Original giclee prints,” made by WCTV President Bill St. George, will also be given away.

The town of Walpole cut off WCTV’s revenue stream last year, and the station is currently operating solely with more than $1 million in funds that have been saved up over many years of operation. Until Selectmen cut the organization’s funding, WCTV was funded through PEG fees – essentially a tax – on cable subscribers. WCTV removed their Director, Bob Hood, earlier this year, to save money. However WCTV’s most recent tax return, from 2013, shows that the Board has continued to spend money on questionable or frivolous items, including more than $15,000 in advertising expenses to a firm owned by the Board’s president, more than $11,000 in compensation to Board members, more than $2,000 in production expenses to two Board members, and more than $50,000 alone on what is categorized as “advertising and promotion.” St. George’s wife also is the organization’s paid administrative assistant – a position that had not existed before about two years ago.

WCTV spent more than $30,000 of cable subscribers’ money on legal expenses, primarily to fight Selectmen in their efforts to enact accountability and oversight for cable subscribers. As a result of the Board’s resistance, Selectmen recently formed a task force to explore new options for cable television in the community. This task force’s ultimate proposal could result in a totally new cable station being built while WCTV eventually spends its money down and dissolves.

In a letter to the editor in The Walpole Times in early June, St. George said that “the subscribers’ money is safe and being used wisely,” and that because “the funding has been taken by town government,” WCTV is “now at a standstill.”

WCTV’s troubles came to a head at an explosive special membership meeting that was held in February, during which the defiant Board, which at the time had only four members, responded to questions from a number of irate cable subscribers on live television. The meeting, which was even attended by a uniformed police officer to keep the peace, had been held because of a petition circulated by cable subscribers to force the Board to answer questions about the controversies swirling around the station.

At that meeting, cable subscribers attempted to orchestrate the removal of several members of the Board, which is permitted under the state laws governing non-profits, but were rebuffed by the Board’s attorney (who was ironically being paid by the cable subscribers themselves.)

Selectman Mark Gallivan and Finance Committee member Susan Lawson attended the meeting, along with several influential members of Town Meeting.  The Board refused calls to hold a special election so that cable subscribers could elect a new Board. After that meeting, the Board appointed a fifth member, Richard Morton, on their own, without an election or public input process of any kind. The Board has maintained that they intend to hold a public Board election in September, which had been postponed by the Board from its usual date in mid-January. They also expressed interest in restarting negotiations with the town to restore their funding, but would not agree to certain provisions that Selectmen requested.

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