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Wakefield selectmen quizzed about public access channel

August 18, 2011
WAKEFIELD — The Wakefield Board of Selectmen's 2-1 decision to "absorb" the duties of the Cable Advisory Board on July 13 attracted a fair number of questions and comments at their next meeting on Aug. 10.

Resident Jim Miller was the first to broach the subject during the first public comment session of the meeting. He said he was concerned that the situation involved more work than the board seems to think and that selectman can't do what is needed. He pointed out the Cable Advisory Board (CAB) was responsible for two things: 1) the cable contract, which is now in a lawyer's hands; and 2) helping out at the public access television station. He said there was a lot of work to be done, citing the need to maintain the bulletin board, to get Time Warner to upgrade equipment, and to purchase needed accessories for the cameras the town purchased.

Miller asked, did the selectmen have a plan or strategy on how to cover for the CAB? Did they plan to do a little bit at every meeting or have separate meetings? He said he hated to see duties neglected, even for a short time. The bulletin board in particular needs work, he said, claiming that it did not change in three weeks.

Selectman Peter Kasprzyk responded that he had talked with Parks and Recreation Director Wayne Robinson to see if a volunteer could cover events. He also asked Town Administrator Teresa Williams to contact John Kenney to get help installing the town cameras.

Selectman Mark Duffy said he went through the Wakefield Community Television Policies and Procedures and found them "pretty good," needing only minor changes. He said in his view there were only a couple of issues with the Time Warner contract, such as including a senior discount, which Time Warner is balking at. As for the television station itself, Duffy said it should be a separate nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, "out from under the Board of Selectmen and political issues," and maybe even out of the Town Hall building. "Making it a nonprofit would be a big step."

Kasprzyk added that the issue of audio quality "is big, especially for seniors." Duffy agreed: "It's well below technical standards and it's more important that great video."

Duffy said that the station needs to get franchise fees from Time Warner to develop. He added that the CAB started to become the Wakefield Cable TV board, and that the station needs to run on its own and keep politics out. "The station will grow a lot faster without politics," he said.

As for the bulletin board, Duffy said it can be accessed through the internet and updated: that feature just has to be set up.

Kasprzyk added that a secretary position has been funded for the station, which could be converted to an Assistant Station Coordinator responsible for the bulletin board.

Selectmen Chair Ken Paul, who had voted against absorbing the CAB duties, finally spoke up. "There will be dozens of issues that will come up," he said, adding that he was not in favor of spending a half hour of every meeting dealing with them. "Talk about politics," he said: "We've put three politicians in charge, and the board doesn't have the time, especially during budget season."

Duffy pointed out there is a Station Coordinator (Jerry O'Connor) who runs the station and has asked for an assistant to help. Selectmen are providing oversight, not running the station. In his opinion the station is running much better than it did two or three years ago and would be even better if it were separate from the town, like Wolfeboro Community TV.

Resident Dave Mankus, who had applied to be a member of the CAB before it was disbanded, stated that "the committee was of the wrong political color," and that is why it was done away with. He was referring to applicants who were members of CROW (Concerned Residents Of Wakefield), including Steve Brown, Relf Fogg and Charlie Edwards, as well as himself. The only non-CROW applicant was Rick Sager, who is also Town Counsel.

Mankus said the videos of movies should be made available on the internet and stated that Miller was technically capable of doing that. "More people have computers than cable," he said. With meetings available on the internet, people would not have to ask for copies of the DVDs, which can be expensive.

[Jerry O'Connor has told this reporter he had made hundreds of DVDs over the past two years and only sold four of them for a total revenue of $30. The blank discs have been donated for the purpose of making copies by a number of people, including Mankus.]

Williams said she is looking into putting meetings on the internet with the Webmaster and agreed it would be a good idea.

Both Kasprzyk and Duffy asked residents to be patient, pointing out there has only been one meeting since the CAB duties were absorbed. "We have to take baby steps," Duffy said, "and model what we do after other towns."

Selectmen then reviewed the existing policies and procedures for Wakefield Community TV and asked Williams to merge their suggestions with those of Miller and bring back a revised text for review. Paul recommended making minimal changes, posting them on the town Web site, and holding a public hearing.

Among changes agreed were changing the name of the organization to Wakefield Community Television, reducing the listed price of a disc from $20 to $2, reducing the time allowed for political candidates from 30 minutes to 15, and allowing volunteers to produced videos on warrant articles.

Later in the meeting selectmen approved unanimously the hiring of Valerie Ward as Assistant Station Coordinator.

Other business

The board agreed to set a budget guideline for department heads for 2012 of a one percent reduction, as recommended by Paul, who said his taxes went up $800. Duffy preferred to keep the budget flat. Kasprzyk said he was concerned about infrastructure deteriorating.

Selectmen agreed to purchase five long tables from the Lions Club at a cost of $100.

It was agreed the board should meet with Donahue Tucker and Ciandella on the cable contract as soon as possible.

The next meeting of the Board of Selectmen will be Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall meeting room.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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