Thursday, March 19, 2009

Information Please

Monday's City Council meeting revealed that Channel 74 is basically on life support until more "resources," aka staff, can be hired.

According to City Administrator Marc Dashield, staffing levels "don't exist."

At the council's next meeting, a contract will be offered to re-hire a consultant who had been helping out with programming and production for Channel 74.

The issue arose during questioning of why the city can't offer viewings of school board meetings, even if all that is needed is to play a recording of a meeting. Councilwoman Linda Carter asked why a DVD of a meeting simply couldn't be played, but Dashield answered, "We don't have the resources to do it."

Public Information Officer Jazz Clayton-Hunt was recently let go from the staff, leaving only one employee in the department. Although that individual was taping the council meeting Monday, Dashield said the station was just being maintained with existing content and there was no capacity to run the TV station.

Council President Rashid Burney called for a detailed discussion at the next council meeting, which will take place April 6 at Emerson Community School.

The city receives more than $100,000 annually in franchise fees meant to fund operation of the local channel and Councilman Adrian Mapp said, "I am just at a loss to know why the station is not functioning."

Councilwoman Annie McWilliams asked for a schedule of what is currently being aired.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the Cable Television Advisory Board on March 12 did not have a quorum, Carter said. The board is supposed to oversee operations of the local origination channel and also to conduct hearings on cable matters.

Plaintalker has an archive on this issue as related to Comcast of the Plainfields. The advisory board had several duties it was supposed to undertake regarding franchise renewal. Franchise fees are supposed to double when Verizon's FiOS reaches a certain level of penetration in the city, but Plaintalker has not been able to get information on how far along FiOS is in the city.

However, as evidenced Monday, the franchise fees will not mean much if there is no staff or plan to implement programming.

As much as the incoming administration trashed Channel 74 operations in 2006, it appears not much progress has been made. Here is an opportunity where funding exists and all that is needed is execution, which remains lacking.

--Bernice Paglia


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