Wakefield cable board dismisses complaint
November 04, 2009
WAKEFIELD — The Wakefield Cable Advisory Board has dismissed the town attorney's call for the ouster of its station coordinator. However, on Tuesday, the board gave the coordinator a verbal warning for making a minor mistake, which was indirectly brought to light through the attorney's complaint.
On Oct. 27, Town Attorney Rick Sager wrote a letter to Selectmen's Chair Mark Duffy seeking to have Relf Fogg removed from his post as the community television station coordinator. Duffy is also the selectmen's liaison to the cable advisory board. Among other allegations, the letter states Fogg used his position to repeatedly air the Oct. 5 Concerned Residents of Wakefield (CROW) meeting. Sager states there were defamatory statements about him made at that meeting. Sager stated he was writing the complaint as a resident and not as the town attorney.
On Tuesday, the cable board decided to give Fogg a verbal warning, but not for any of the reasons in Sager's letter. The board found that Fogg failed to have a responsible person sign a certificate of compliance before the CROW meeting aired. Fogg was supposed to have the producer or sponsor of the video sign a certificate stating the program adheres to policies of the station. Those policies cover issues such as advertising, defamation, and obscene material.
Members of the board characterized Fogg's mistake as minor. Cable board chairman David Tibbetts noted the station is new and officials are going through a learning curve.
"Relf has done an excellent job," said Tibbetts. "I have no intention of getting rid of him."
Cable board member Jerry O'Connor accepted some of the blame and offered to take a verbal warning as well. O'Connor is the assistant station coordinator and was also involved with making a DVD of the CROW meeting.
About a dozen of Fogg's supporters came to Tuesday's meeting. Several people, including board members, said Sager should have appeared as well.
Resident Steve Brown loudly defended Fogg and his outbursts caused Tibbetts to threaten to adjourn the meeting early. Brown worried that in the future officials would find a reason to levy more disciplinary actions against Fogg and that would lead to harsher punishments.
But Fogg said he was comfortable with taking the warning.
"If I do my job properly there won't be a next time," said Fogg who accepted responsibility for failing to get the certificate but described Sager's letter as "a censorship effort."
The letter became public during last week's selectmen's meeting when residents handed out copies. Duffy said he had e-mailed the complaint to O'Connor because he didn't have e-mails for Tibbetts or Fogg. Selectmen declined to address the letter during their meeting because they hadn't time to review it. Selectman John Blackwood was absent due to an injury.
In the letter, Sager alleges Fogg intentionally played the defamatory meeting dozens of times in an attempt to wage war on him. Sager states that the video shows CROW members insinuating that he misused his position as town attorney to obtain a permit to build a cabin on Belleau Lake.
"Just because I am also the town's attorney is no basis to allow the PEG channel to be used as a weapon of political character assassination," writes Sager.
Further, Sager alleges the conversation was staged so it could get on television.
However, Fogg rejected Sager's complaints in an interview last week. According to Fogg, the CROW meeting was only shown 12 times over a three-day period. An average selectmen's meeting may air 16 times in seven days, said Fogg. He also dismissed allegation that conversation at the CROW meeting was preplanned. According to Fogg the remarks about the cabin came up in a spontaneous conversation.
"I think a lot of the things Mr. Sager says are silly," said Fogg.
As for the cabin in Belleau Lake, Fogg says there are still legitimate questions about how it was approved.
Fogg said he'd like Sager to explain on camera how the property went from being an unbuildable conservation lot to becoming a buildable lot. Fogg said in exchange, Sager could ask him questions.
O'Connor and Brown also challenged Sager's claims about the meeting being defamatory and preplanned.
"I don't remember being in a conspiracy," said O'Connor on Tuesday.
But Duffy said he thought remarks made at the CROW meeting were defamatory, especially because Sager wasn't there to defend himself.
Several of Fogg's supporters described Sager's letter as being defamatory. The letter describes Fogg as a "wolf" and a "loose cannon" who is "almost manic in his desire to assume the reins of power in town."
Sager asked selectmen to remove Fogg under a section of station bylaws that prohibit the station from airing defamatory content and are meant to ensure the station coordinator is "free from coercion for any political purposes."
"He is obviously a member of the anti establishment CROW organization," writes Sager. "Mr. Fogg as station coordinator is the same as allowing the wolf to guard the henhouse. Could the inappropriateness of Mr. Fogg's involvement in the situation be any clearer?"
But Fogg, who also sits on the board of assessors, said he didn't have any ambitions to take over the town.
"I have no political agenda," said Fogg. "I just hope to show both sides of every issue."
However, Sager states Fogg has made no secret of his desire to "rid the town hall" of town administrator Robin Frost and other officials.
Fogg said he's been critical of several decisions Frost has made but he stopped short of calling for her removal.
CROW co-chairman Arthur Fulton said CROW will continue to have its meetings broadcast on the community television channel despite the requirement for the certificate of compliance.
"We are not going away," said Fulton after Tuesday's meeting.