The air's not dead at Boulder's Community Access TV, but it sure isn't feeling very good.
In January, Ron Secrist, Boulder's city manager, put a new CATV contract for the year 2000 on hold until after a review panel appointed by the city council investigates charges that the organization is completely out of control.
But just as surprising as the hullabaloo itself is the person who spurred it: Jann Scott, a Boulder nutball whom practically no one has ever taken seriously.
Or at least no one used to take him seriously.
When did Scott's mojo start working overtime? Date it to last October and the final days of deliberation by the JonBenét Ramsey grand jury.
Reporters from around the globe (not to mention The Globe itself) had been in the city for the better part of a week, breathlessly awaiting an announcement. They surrounded the center ring (the Boulder County Justice Center) during the days and well into the evenings, shoving microphones in the faces of perturbed passersby, shouting questions at anyone whom they even suspected of being a government official, and speculating wildly about possible killers, potential motives and/or the gynecological condition of a six-year-old child who by then had been dead for nearly half as long as she'd been alive.
But when it came to the most obnoxious of this obnoxious lot, no out-of-towner could compare to the man who for over a decade has worn the crown as the Boulder media's King Pest: the one, the only Mr. Scott.
Of course, plenty of journalists don't consider the fifty-something Scott (profiled in "Big Mouth," November 25, 1992), a part of the legitimate Boulder media at all. His TV shows, Jann Scott Tonite and Jann Scott Live, appear on public-access stations (CATV/Channel 54 in Boulder and DCTV/Channel 57 in Denver), not powerhouse area outlets or sizable cable operations. Even those who do like Scott appreciate him mainly as comic relief: KHOW yakker Peter Boyles says, admiringly, "Jann Scott is crazier than a shithouse rat, but, boy, is he fun."
Such characterizations don't phase Scott in the slightest. In his mind, he's a heavy hitter, and no one can convince him otherwise. As the grand jury mused behind closed doors, the five-foot-four-inch Scott hung with the national and international press's big boys and girls, flitting around with his underwhelming camcorder (the one you picked up for your grandma at Circuit City looks more impressive) like a psychotic troll seeking out his next victim. Who else would aim his lens at a reporter and ask if she had slept her way to the top? Who else would ask another one if her coldness to his questions meant she wouldn't go out on a date with him that evening?
But Scott's most notable coup came only after grand jurors decided not to issue indictments in the slaying. The next day, October 14, Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter held a nationally telecast news conference during which he tried to reassure the JonBenét industry that he and his minions still believed it was possible to bring the little girl's murderer or murderers to justice. Throughout, Hunter worked overtime to say nothing of interest, and for the most part, his questioners let him get away with it. But then, in the midst of the proceedings, Scott's head (barely) popped into view. "Did you get a true bill signed by the grand jury?" he asked Hunter. "And how many dissenters were there?"
Hunter's expression might have been describable as barely disguised contempt had he gone to the trouble of barely disguising it. Instead, he glared at Scott as if he had just vomited on his new suit. "Jann, you need to read the statute about grand jury secrecy. Next question," Hunter snapped. And then, not quite under his breath, he muttered, "Jerk."
Cut to that evening's Larry King show, which found the avuncular, oft-wed CNN icon in the company of Patsy Ramsey's sister and mouthpiece, Pam Paugh; America's Most Wanted host John Walsh; Newsweek correspondent Dan Glick; attorney-to-the-stars F. Lee Bailey; the Rocky Mountain News's Lisa Levitt Ryckman; O.J. expert witness Dr. Henry Lee; and CNN legal correspondent Greta Van Susteren.
Following a commercial break, King said, "Here's something Greta Van Susteren had expressed a lot of interest in. It was asked today by a reporter named Jann at the press conference. Watch." And then he rolled a clip from earlier that day featuring Scott's query about a true bill (a report supported by at least nine of twelve jurors that becomes an indictment if it's signed by a prosecutor) and Hunter's testy reply.
After the snippet ran its course, King noted, "The last word, 'jerk,' was obviously heard. Greta, was that a jerky question?" And while Van Susteren didn't offer a ringing endorsement of Scott's wisdom -- "Well, I think, he didn't ask it very well," she said, and went on to offer rephrasings that might have been "more clever" -- she was still talking about him! On CNN! With Larry King!
King Pest, indeed!
Unfortunately for Scott, his triumph was fleeting. The woman who brought him up short, so to speak, was CATV general manager and executive director Bobbie Carleton.
Carleton, who moved to Colorado in 1994 and had a three-year run as marketing and public-relations manager for Rocky Mountain PBS, is hardly a CATV veteran; she was hired as general manager and executive director by the organization's dozen boardmembers last June and didn't start working full-time at CATV's headquarters, at 2590 Walnut Street, until August. Before that she'd had a long career in the Navy, handling radio and television functions prior to a four-year stint as the public-affairs officer at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Because a number of Miramar personnel were present at Las Vegas's Hilton Hotel in 1991, when the assault of former Navy Lieutenant Paula Coughlin by several naval officers led to what became known as the Tailhook scandal, Scott has floated the rumor that Carleton helped coordinate damage control for the Navy, even pinning her with the handle "Tailhook Bobbie."
But Carleton says she was not a public spokesperson for Miramar during this period, and after leaving the Navy, she became the voice for Women Active in Our Nation's Defense, Their Advocates and Supporters (WANDAS), writing editorials critical of the Navy's response to Tailhook that ran in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"I'm also a gay person," Carleton says. "Believe you me, my career in the Navy was very difficult. I know what persecution is like." (She knows what it's like in her present post as well: Scott, calculating his remarks for maximum offensiveness, refers to her as "a big bull dyke" who, when she gets angry, goes into a "carpet-munching frenzy.")
Upon her arrival at CATV, Carleton discovered that her view of the operation differed substantially from the city's. In her mind, CATV is an independent, nonprofit organization that contracts with Boulder to provide community-access television: "That makes us part of the independent sector, which has traditionally not been subject to the identical requirements of governmental agencies," she says.
Technically, Benita Duran, Boulder's assistant city manager (and city liaison to CATV), agrees with this contention. But Duran points out that the city essentially created CATV, instituting bylaws requiring open board meetings and city council oversight, mandating that the council appoint the majority of CATV boardmembers and providing most of the station's budget. "It was a spinoff of the city's efforts," Duran says, "and the bylaws reflect that." To put it another way, CATV could be as independent as it wanted -- but only if it followed the city's rules.
CATV producers had no shortage of rules, either. For instance, producers who wanted to maintain "member volunteer" status, thereby gaining unfettered access to the equipment and facilities, were supposed to either do two hours of volunteer work per month at the station or pay a $10 fee. This dictate was widely ignored, but Carleton, in an attempt to impose some military discipline on the operation, changed all that, asking CATV staffers to strictly enforce the measure.
When Frank French, producer of Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival, had his editing privileges revoked in December for failing to kowtow to this directive, he was incensed. "Either it's public access or it's not," says French, who's been making programs for CATV since 1998. "It should be unconditional, with no bullshit. That's what the whole idea of free public access is all about. You're not supposed to have to pay for it."
Money was part of another dispute as well. According to Carleton, the CATV guidelines allow producers to line up sponsors for their programs as long as the shows themselves are non-commercial in nature: no infomercials allowed. But she feels this decree also precludes producers from "using the facilities of a nonprofit organization for their own private profit."
Enter Jann Scott, who's been making his living off his public-access programming for years. Granted, it's not much of a living: He's dwelled in the same modest, overstuffed Boulder apartment for years. ("It's poverty, is what it is," Scott says. "And it hasn't gotten any better.") But a wide variety of businesses, mainly in Boulder, do pay him to be listed as sponsors -- and since he regularly collects more from his sponsors than he has to pay in production costs, Carleton concluded that he was taking advantage of CATV.
So she started sniffing around, and discovered that there was a teensy little problem with the Recovery Project, the nonprofit corporation to which Scott's shows were being copyrighted: It didn't exist. To Carleton, this raised the prospect that Scott was defrauding people by making them think their contributions were tax-deductible when they weren't -- and she feared that CATV could be in just as much trouble as Scott for letting him get away with it. "Suddenly, we were exposed to the possibility that someone in town was using our facilities, our name, and God knows what else to raise funds under false pretenses and pocket the proceeds," she says.
Scott's response to this allegation doesn't pivot on complete innocence. He says he's used the Recovery Project name for many years (he is a reformed drug and alcohol abuser) and had intended to get it registered as a nonprofit, but he just...sorta...never got around to it.
Nonetheless, argues Lee Hill, Scott's attorney, this admission doesn't prove that his client did anything wrong. "Jann can assign a copyright to Donald Duck if he wants to, so that means very little. And he never misrepresented himself in order to defraud individuals or organizations out of a contribution. The fact is, all the sponsors who wrote checks to keep the show on the air wrote them to Jann Scott, and no one, to our knowledge, ever declared a deduction based on a contribution."
"I have no idea why they brought any of this up," adds Scott. "The whole copyrighting thing has always been a joke. I've even copyrighted some of my shows to Steven Spielberg, because nobody really gives a shit. So what the hell was Bobbie Carleton doing?"
Even more, as it turned out.
Carleton was concerned about what she regarded as a potential threat Scott made to two women broadcasters at KWAB-AM, a Boulder talk outlet that he had previously dubbed the city's worst radio station. By her telling, she received a call from KWAB general manager Chuck Lontine, who said that Scott had been "telephoning personnel at the station -- harassing them, scaring them." (Lontine declined to discuss the matter on the record.) In fact, Scott asserts, he called to challenge the women to a boxing match as a gag -- an idea that occurred to him during one of his shows. (In the program, Scott actually retracted this proposal after making it because he thought he might get his "ass kicked.")
"There was no credible threat against KWAB personnel," says attorney Hill. "Anyone who's seen a typical ten-minute segment of Howard Stern's show could recognize that."
Carleton didn't view it that way. In late November, she brought the copyrighting and KWAB matters to the CATV board, which continues to support her to this day. Says Shaun Dalrymple, the board's chairman, "I think Bobbie's been more than willing to listen to people's input and has been very even-handed in enforcing policies." It was no surprise, then, when the board suspended Scott for one year. In early December, Carleton followed up on this ruling by asking the Boulder police department to look into the possibility that Scott's infractions constituted criminal behavior. Detective Dave Spraggs says his department completed its investigation in January, when it handed its evidence over to the Boulder County District Attorney's Office -- which is run, you'll recall, by Alex "The Man Who Thinks Jann Scott Is a Jerk" Hunter.
After being suspended, Scott ran screaming to the city's media, arguing that the accusations against him were being used as pretexts for censorship and violations of his First Amendment rights -- and he also called in some favors from law-enforcement types he'd supported on his programs over the years. Among those offering public testimonials on his behalf were Boulder County Sheriff George Epp and Boulder Chief of Police Mark Beckner. "I do allow that Jann can be somewhat unconventional," Beckner wrote, as quoted in the Boulder Daily Camera. "However, I have never doubted his sincerity or his commitments to the community."
Not everyone rushed to Scott's defense. Daily Camera columnist Clint Talbott editorialized against him, implying that Carleton probably had a point, and Daily Camera editor Barry Hartman turned down Scott's request to write a Beckner-like salute, saying he didn't think it would be appropriate. But Hartman did put a pro-Jann item into one of his three-dot columns, even though he admits he's never seen any of Scott's programs, "and I've yet to run into anyone else who has, either."
This support, such as it is, pleases Scott, but it didn't immediately get him what he wanted most: the return of his shows to CATV. Carleton and Hill hammered out an agreement that Scott would be reinstated once the Boulder authorities had cleared him of any wrongdoing, but because the district attorney's office was in no rush to do anything about the case, he was off the air in Boulder for over two months, costing him, he contends, over $20,000 in lost revenues and legal fees.
Scott didn't sit around eating bonbons during this period. He still had programs running on DCTV, and he put ten more in the can that he describes as "special surprises" for CATV. But he had more extra time on his hands than he liked.
How'd he decide to fill it? Laughing, Scott says, "By ripping Bobbie Carleton and CATV a new butt."
Scott's methods were simple: He declared a jihad against CATV.
Knowing that CATV's budget and procedures for the year 2000 were coming up for review, Scott spent untold hours looking for anything objectionable in them. Then, after finding what he felt was an arsenal's worth of smoking guns, he voiced his complaints at virtually every city council meeting from late November to the present ("I'm not really used to having someone screaming that I'm a Nazi with a camera in my face," says CATV board chairman Dalrymple about Scott's antics at one of them) and e-mailed a slew of often-hysterical indictments to councilmembers and other city officials.
By mid-January, the city manager's office had on file over fifty pages of such messages -- and virtually every other local decision-maker received a similar-sized load. "They were very...pleasant," says city councilmember Spenser Havlik, with exaggerated politeness.
The sheer volume of Scott's effort simply overwhelmed the natural inclination on the part of some to dismiss his gripes as the ravings of an engaging but certifiable loony. Says assistant city manager Duran, "Anytime someone devotes that kind of energy and attention to something, you can't ignore it or think it's without merit, since it's so consistently in front of you."
Even so, officials might not have acted so quickly on Scott's objections were it not for two other producers whose concerns dovetailed with his own: Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival's French and another CATV regular, Donna Marek.
The former society columnist for the Daily Camera, Marek came to CATV in May 1998. After meeting the requirements to become a producer there, she put together several episodes of GOOD SPORTS, an extreme-sports program that subsequently ran on CATV and other public-access outlets throughout the state and may wind up on commercial stations by mid-year. (Marek says a deal has been made, but she won't give any additional details.) In the months that followed, she put together two other projects: The State of Boulder Today, a live talk show, and Crossing the Line, which she calls a "metaphysical series."
But she says that what had been a positive experience began to sour around the time of Carleton's arrival and her subsequent decision to drop GOOD SPORTS from the CATV schedule without telling Marek why -- although she swears this didn't influence her to line up against Carleton and CATV. "The timing was a coincidence," she says.
Whatever the reason, Marek began cataloguing problems at CATV, and she came up with loads of them, ranging from alleged rudeness by CATV staffers (two of her crewmembers wrote officials complaining about poor treatment) to the purchase of expensive new digital equipment no one knew how to use instead of paying to repair broken gear everyone had trained on. Even more serious in Marek's eyes were the holding of board meetings that she said weren't open to the public (a violation of CATV's bylaws) and attempts to "privatize" CATV by allowing commercial producers to use the facilities as part of a three-tiered system developed by Carleton, in which designated "public-access users" would pay nothing, while "nonprofit users" and "commercial users" -- like Jann Scott -- would be charged escalating fees.
Then there was the mysterious alliance between CATV and the Media Arts Center, an organization formed by Russ Wiltse, a co-founder of Boulder's Dairy Center for the Arts; for a time last year, CATV staffers answered the phone with the phrase "Community Access TV and Media Arts Center," as if the groups were one and the same. And a change in CATV bylaws concerning the number of city appointees on its board was made without the approval of the Boulder council, as required by CATV's own regulations.
Marek didn't quite know what to do with all of this information, but she was upset by the treatment meted out to Scott and miffed that she wasn't allowed to take a closer look at the CATV budget during an early-December board meeting. So Marek went to city hall to eye the figures, only to learn from assistant city manager Duran that her office hadn't received a copy. Duran had to find out from Marek that CATV had requested $246,000 from the city for the year 2000 (a whopping $40,000 increase from the previous year) as part of a total budget topping out at almost $320,000 -- also a major bump up from 1999. (The remainder of the total was expected to come from grants, membership fees and other sources.)
Duran responded to this news by informing Carleton that CATV would have to hold another budget meeting in January to allow for public input, and added that the proposed bylaw shift would not be valid until the city council considered it. And after Marek and Frank French drafted a memo to city manager Secrist enumerating their grievances and calling for the powers-that-were to "dismiss CATV as the city's access provider and dismiss the entire board of directors, staff and executive director," the city manager decided on still more requirements.
In a January 10 letter to CATV board chairman Dalrymple, who'd attempted to refute or explain away most of Marek and French's allegations in a letter of his own, Secrist proposed a ninety-day contract extension and the formation of a review panel (Duran eventually would be named to head it) to determine whether CATV deserved a new contract or, in essence, a good paddling.
After attending the January budget meeting, Marek felt like dishing out the latter. The whole thing was a bit of a farce, she says: Of the handful of people who showed up to discuss the numbers, only Marek stuck around until 11 p.m., when the item finally came up on the agenda -- and the board approved the budget about twenty minutes later. "They all seemed to have made up their minds already," she notes.
So, too, has Marek. She thinks the budget is wasteful and extravagant, pouring big bucks into bureaucracy when it should instead focus on the bare-bones essentials -- giving people a chance to put on shows of their own with an absolute minimum of interference. She accuses Carleton and CATV of misplaced priorities. "They've never really explained why they think Boulder should spend $320,000 on a public-access television station, when only about ten people use it," she says.
To this last contention, Carleton and her supporters say "Ha!"; their records list about a hundred CATV producers. But Marek and Scott point out that many of them hail from outside the area or are no longer active. Their argument is strengthened by the CATV schedule, which is usually a mix of staff-assembled programming such as Boulder Arts and Boulder Connections, productions like The Prophetic Word that are put together by folks in far-flung locales (in its case, Texas), hour after hour of scrolling community bulletin boards and, oh, yeah, a smaller batch of shows made by Boulder independents.
In short, only a relative handful of people are making extravaganzas of their own -- a phenomenon that's mirrored in several other local communities. Since the '80s, most cities in Colorado have required their cable operators to provide public-access channels as part of their franchise agreements. But in many of them, few citizens take advantage of the opportunity.
Denver Community Television, which was engaged in a Scott-like battle with one of its producers several years ago (producer Tony Palange took DCTV to court after an explicit, gay-themed program he made was blocked from airing; in 1995 a jury ruled in his favor, but awarded him just $1 in damages), is on the upper end of the community-participation scale. Carol Naff, DCTV's community-outreach manager, says DCTV has about 250 current program proposals and produces approximately 100 hours of new programming each month. (A controversial example: An excerpt from a how-to suicide video is scheduled to be shown as part of a Live on 58 look at the Hemlock Society, scheduled to air at 7 p.m. on February 10.)
But in Littleton, Vicki Harmon, chairperson of the Littleton Community Communications Corporation, reveals that only about seven producers are making programs for the public-access channel, and Judy Marino, program manager for Wheat Ridge Community Access, says the situation is much the same in her town.
Kelli Narde, assistant to Littleton's city manager and the overseer of the cable franchise in the city, feels that the fall-off in interest concerning public-access TV has everything to do with technology: "In the early '80s, nobody had computers and nobody had home video cameras -- so it was very novel and unique to be able to shoot a program about your child's first birthday and put it on the air for everyone to see. But now people do have cameras, and with the advent of computers, people can edit and manipulate videos and graphics in ways that you couldn't do without a studio before and then put them on the Internet themselves. The things public access offers they can now do at home."
Consequently, the public-access facilities in Littleton and Wheat Ridge have been opened up to commercial production, just as Carleton wants to do in Boulder. That way, they don't sit empty all day and help to justify their continued existence.
Yet Carleton wants to take things considerably further. She says she's done surveys that show that nonprofits and other organizations in Boulder would love to have programs made about their efforts, but since few independent producers are interested in doing them, she's advertising to hire a staff producer who could handle such chores. She has extra cash to do so because of the departure late last year by Isabel Olivera-Morales, who had been CATV's community-relations coordinator. Olivera-Morales says she left after Carleton changed her salary structure in a way that reduced her income by 20 percent; Carleton insists that money wasn't discussed. But when Olivera-Morales filed for unemployment, Carleton disputed the claim. Last month the state employment department ruled in Olivera-Morales's favor.
In addition, Carleton wants to break as many ties as possible between CATV and the City of Boulder (while at the same time continuing to take community money). "The city treats me like a city employee, and I'm not one, and I don't want to be one," Carleton says. "I'm interested in television, community service, and so I'm sometimes taken aback when the city says you have to do this and that, when none of these things are in the contract."
She thinks most facility's users want "the city's role minimized" and describes the attempt to lower the number of city appointees on the CATV board as part of an "evolutionary" process.
"I think the city may perceive me to be a troublemaker," she says, "but I'm not trying to thumb my nose at them. I'm just trying to look to the future."
Right now that future is cloudy. CATV's temporary contract runs out at the end of March, and decisions made by the city-council-appointed review panel may have a big impact on a longer-term pact, if one is approved at all.
In the meantime, the organization's major 1999 upgrade -- the development of a Web site, www.commtv.org, that would have offered live streaming video of all CATV programming over the Internet -- has been a bust. For one thing, it raised broadcast-rights issues that led the producers of Free Speech TV, a trademark on CATV, to temporarily drop off the station (it returned in late January). Worse, the site seldom worked correctly, and when it broke down, staffers generally couldn't fix it. Carleton ultimately decided to shelve the entire notion. "We're taking a step back," she says.
Scott wants Carleton to keep walking. Despite pleas from his attorney, Lee Hill, to play nice for a while ("What makes for a riveting television broadcast isn't necessarily what makes for effective negotiations and constructive policy review," Hill says), Scott went on Donna Marek's The State of Boulder Today in late January, spending most of his time in front of the camera pillorying CATV in general and Carleton in particular.
Then Scott asked Wayne Laugesen, a columnist for the Boulder Weekly who'd celebrated Scott's clowning amid October's JonBenét craziness in a loving piece titled "Jann Scott, Carnival Freak," to act as a front for a series of anti-CATV programs dubbed Jann Scott, Banned in Exile. Laugesen, who saw no ethical reason to keep his distance from this offer despite the Weekly's continuing coverage of Scott (come on -- it's Boulder!), readily agreed, but Carleton rejected the programs sight unseen on the grounds that Laugesen was merely trying to circumvent Scott's suspension. That's something Laugesen readily admits: "My sole goal was to get a show I've enjoyed for ten years back on the air." But he regards Carleton's decision as "prior restraint" and says he would have considered a lawsuit against CATV if Scott had remained in broadcast limbo.
In the end, though, such a legal challenge wasn't necessary, because on February 3, the Boulder District Attorney's Office finally decided against charging Scott with any wrongdoing. Detective Spraggs agrees with this judgment: He says the decision by the two KWAB employees not to file a complaint against Scott was fatal to that part of the case, and while a contract Scott gave to some sponsors was potentially misleading (it included a line identifying the Recovery Project as a nonprofit organization), he feels it didn't rise to the level of criminality, largely because those who signed it understood that they were buying advertising, not making a tax-deductible contribution.
That gets Scott off the hook with everyone but the Internal Revenue Service, which asked Spraggs for an update on the case. But Scott isn't worried about that: "I haven't committed any tax fraud," he says. Instead, he's focusing on his return to CATV. His first program after being cleared aired on February 4, more or less: A technical problem knocked it off the air after about nine minutes, just when he was in the middle of a CATV-must-go screed. He hopes things go better in the future, thanks to an agreement between Carleton and attorney Hill to schedule his shows at 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday beginning in April.
But even though Hill confirms that he and Carleton made such a deal, Carleton is trying to give herself some wiggle room. "It's certainly possible that Jann will be on five nights a week," she says, "but programming is determined on a first-come, first-served basis. And just because Jann's back doesn't mean he's all of a sudden got some special guarantees that aren't available to anyone else."
This philosophy extends to the city's review of CATV, Carleton goes on. "I think it's much more important in that context that the citizens in general be served, and not just one person."
Them's fightin' words to Scott, and he's ready to spar. He thinks CATV or the city -- or somebody -- should make up for his lost revenue. Furthermore, he wants Carleton to write a letter to his sponsors telling them that they should feel free to advertise on his shows again. "I've had people go, 'Are you allowed to take money anymore?'" he says. "And I'm like, 'Oh, fuck.'"
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But what Scott's really pining for is an even bigger score. He recently delivered to Boulder officials a CATV budget of his own -- it totals around $100,000 -- complete with a proposal that Carleton be replaced by...him!
"What Carleton is asking for is ridiculous," he says. "I could run that place for a third of what they want, and it would be wild and wacky and fun, and there wouldn't be any rules, except don't break the stuff and no drugs. And I guarantee that every wingnut in town will have a show.