According to Andrew Bergey, station manager of Community Access TV of Boulder, or CATV, "It's pretty much been business as usual around here" -- but perhaps "business as unusual" is a better way to put it.
Beginning last November, when Boulder public-access star and dedicated eccentric Jann Scott was suspended by CATV amid a flurry of charges involving harassment and fraud (all of which were subsequently dropped by Boulder authorities), the operation has been in disarray, with Scott and a handful of like-minded producers aligned against CATV executive director Bobbie Carleton and her mainly supportive board of directors. The conflict escalated to such a degree that in January, Boulder City Manager Ron Secrist ordered that CATV's contract for 2000 be placed in administrative limbo pending the recommendations of a performance-review committee ("Access Denied," February 10).
The committee's report, which suggests that the contract be extended through year's end while all sides in the dispute work to resolve their differences, finally reached the public on May 3, more than a month after its scheduled arrival -- and by then, even more weirdness had gone down. Specifically, Guy Errickson, the CATV boardmember friendliest to the Scott contingent, resigned his post in mid-February, after which he publicly accused his former peers of being opposed to free speech. (Current board chair Richard Byron Peddie calls this claim "the biggest red herring you can imagine.") Then, on April 12, Errickson tried to videotape a CATV board meeting with one of the facility's own cameras, precipitating a mini-melee that had to be broken up by police. Two days later, Carleton announced that she would resign effective at month's end. She'd been at CATV for less than a year.
Carleton declines to comment on her reasons for stepping down. But Peddie, an attorney with a background in film and video production, believes that the bad publicity generated by this latest bizarre incident wasn't a factor in her decision. "She regarded that as amateur night. She could spin that like a top," he says. "The real problem was that she was hired as an executive director of a nonprofit to run a public-access TV station, and she discovered after several months that her hands were tied. She had none of the authority an executive director should have and no ability to protect the organization, its staff or the producers who would come into the facility from harassment and abusive behavior and rather hellish circumstances. And the reason for this is because the city insisted on interfering constantly in day-to-day operations and micromanaging and second-guessing her decisions."
Assistant Boulder City Manager Benita Duran, one of four members of the performance review committee, doesn't think the city was guilty of these sins, but she concedes that there was confusion among assorted parties about the precise relationship between CATV and Boulder.
Carleton insists that CATV is independent of Boulder government (even though Boulder provides most of its funding). But Errickson, who's produced nearly 200 programs for CATV over the past three years, many of them part of a music series dubbed The Naked Stage, believes that by doing their best to establish CATV as separate from the city, Carleton and the board were really trying to transform it into a private enterprise. "It's an attempt to control the content of the public-access channel and minimize independent citizen use of the facility and allow commercial rentals. If you can minimize citizen use, then all that extra time and space is available for rental, which helps boost the budget."
To back up these contentions (and myriad more), Errickson has assembled more than four inches worth of paperwork he says demonstrates CATV violations of its bylaws and contract. He met with the review committee to present several synopses of his findings, including one that was forty pages long. But he's upset that the committee greeted his request for an additional three-hour session to go over each and every one of his allegations in minute detail with a polite no thanks. "It took me a week to pull all of that together," he says. "They should have at least looked at it."
Then came the April 12 board meeting. According to the incident report that Errickson filed with Boulder police, he showed up packing an S-VHS video camera and a tripod -- but as soon as he turned on the power, boardmember Frank Ohrtman asked what he was doing in what Errickson took to be a hostile tone. Things became more heated when Ohrtman subsequently took the camera from Errickson and attempted to remove its videotape -- and when station manager Bergey placed himself between the two men, Errickson says Bergey shoved him off balance with his right arm, causing him to injure his back. In the midst of this scuffle, Errickson asked producer Donna Marek, another CATV critic, to dial 911; a few minutes later, Carleton phoned the police herself. No arrests were made, but Boulder Detective Rick Guzman says the investigation is ongoing.
The scuffle was certainly well-documented: Both Errickson and Jann Scott, who also turned up with camcorder in hand just prior to the main action, captured the high points on videotape. Nonetheless, opinions about whether anything criminal occurred could hardly be more divided. Because the case is still open, neither Bergey nor Ohrtman, a telecommunications consultant, would comment about it, and Marek concedes that she wasn't even in the room when the dispute came to a head. Errickson, meanwhile, contends that Bergey assaulted him, and he's backed up by Scott, who says Errickson's biggest mistake during the altercation was his failure to swing his tripod from side to side to keep his attackers at bay. "That can be a really effective defensive weapon when you're in a volatile situation," he notes.
On the other side of the fence is Carleton, who argues that Errickson "has had a fairly substantial history at this point of having conflicts with the staff," and Peddie. "Guy Errickson lunged at Frank Ohrtman, and Andrew Bergey interceded to prevent a violent situation," he says. "So any contact was precipitated by Guy Errickson's own physical movement. I'd hate to think that he hurt himself doing that, but unless he thinks that people are made out of Nerf, he shouldn't be lunging at them."
Given this level of discord, it's no surprise that the city's Duran uses psychiatric terms to discuss the performance review report. "I think it is the beginning of the healing process," she says, adding, "Many times, the committee felt that we were in a group therapy session when we were talking to people. We had to listen to a lot of very directed anger and frustration, which is why I would hope the process would solve some therapeutic need that was out there."
The committee clearly wants everyone to keep talking. The twenty-page report addresses six major areas -- contract specifics, mission and focus of CATV, CATV autonomy, CATV relationship with producers and users, CATV involvement of the public and lack of communication and ability to resolve conflicts -- and the recommendations shy away from specifics in favor of urging the combatants to sit down together to work out clear, mutually beneficial solutions. To accomplish these goals, the committee suggests that the antagonists employ a "neutral party" to "assist in designing and facilitating the processes."
In Duran's view, cooperation is especially important given the vagaries of Boulder's current cable franchise situation. Back in 1996, Boulder voters rejected a plan that would have given the franchise to TCI (now merged with AT&T) for more than a decade, precipitating a lengthy back-and-forth between the city and the company that's still grinding on; a three-year interim agreement is set to expire in September, and Richard Varnes, Boulder's municipal cable director, predicts that it will have to be extended. In the meantime, Boulder has given US West permission to negotiate an agreement of its own with the city (it won't move ahead until a federal court determines whether or not an election must be part of the procedure). And to confuse matters further, Wide Open West, another cable operator, has asked Boulder for a cable franchise as well. During the May 16 Boulder city-council meeting, Varnes will present a requisition for approval of a telecommunications permit for the company, as well as a second request seeking an okay for a ballot item in an election that would take place on August 8.
What does any of this have to do with CATV? Boulder's cable franchise agreement calls for AT&T to provide public, educational and government access channels -- and if city officials get completely fed up with the situation at CATV, they could recommend that community access requirements be dropped, or that funding of such a facility to be drastically reduced. (AT&T could also ask for changes in the agreement.) Duran doesn't see any of that happening -- the performance review states that CATV is valuable to the community -- but board chair Peddie isn't quite so certain. "With the franchise negotiations," he says, "the chickens could come home to roost in a big way."
Peddie concedes that some of the performance-review committee's advice could ultimately aid CATV, but he wishes that the evaluation hadn't been linked with its contract. "This entire process could have gone through without such a heavy-handed approach by the city. By basing the refusal to renew on the report, we've been unable to apply for grants for four months, which has caused great damage to CATV, and we've lost our executive director.
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"Bobbie Carleton has fabulous administrative skills, and she instituted some absolutely wonderful programs in her short tenure with us," Peddie goes on. "But now we no longer have access to her talent and her creativity, and we'll never be able to replace her. Once it becomes clear that any executive director in this organization is just a marionette to the city manager's office, anyone who's foolish enough to step into that position will not be worth his or her salt."
For his part, Jann Scott isn't boo-hooing over Carleton's departure. He's been calling for her resignation for months, and now that she's made his dream come true, he sees no reason to be a gracious winner. "Bobbie Carleton got into a testosterone battle with me, and there was just no chance she was going to win, because I'm a testosterone monster; the testosterone just blows the hair right out of my head. She would never and could never be man enough to win a fight with me, because even though I have a little dick, she has absolutely no dick at all, and her clitoris, even in its most prominent moments, is not nearly as big as my little dick."
And he's done at least seventeen consecutive shows on his gripes about CATV, showing the Guy Errickson video in one and imitating boardmembers while wearing a Nazi helmet and a brown shirt in another. His ideas for solving the CATV problem once and for all are equally extreme.
"My hope and expectation for the immediate near future is that I will be named to the board and eventually be elected benevolent dictator of CATV," he says. "Armbands all around."