Producers upset by NCTV shutdown
September 3, 2013
When longtime Nevada County television producer Gil Dominguez learned of the decision by the station's board of directors late on a Friday afternoon to shut down the community's public access station, he said he was shocked.
"It feels like somebody is ripping out my guts," Dominguez said.
Part of the shock is in reaction to the decision itself, Dominguez said, but some of his anguish is over the way NCTV's board of directors did not include the station's producers — many of whom outdate the board's members — or the community they serve in making the decision to shutter the station.
While the NCTV board reportedly made the decision at a closed-door special meeting Aug. 15, it was not announced until Aug. 23. That announcement came in the form of a press release to Nevada County media, emailed at 4:45 p.m. that Friday.
"There is a culture of lack of openness, and that is the core of it," Dominguez said.
Dominguez said he only learned of the impending closure of the station by reading about it on The Union's website. It wasn't until two days later, he said, that the producers were notified — by being emailed the press release.
"People are wondering why they weren't consulted," Dominguez said. "Why didn't you bring in the producers and say that there is a problem and we need solutions?"
Nonprofit, tax-exempt agencies like NCTV, or Nevada County Digital Media Center, as it is registered with the Internal Revenue Service, are required to disclose their annual tax records to the public, which include many of their financial facts, such as income, expenses and payroll.
However, nonprofits such as NCTV are not required to adhere to the Brown Act, an open-meeting law that government agencies must obey, said Jan Masaoka, executive director of the California Association of Nonprofits — unless they have publicly elected officials assigned to their board.
"Basically, the Brown Act in California doesn't apply to nonprofits," Masaoka said.
Even though NCTV is not bound by the Brown Act, its board members did pledge to follow the law's transparency practices during the last public flap with producers over the resignation of former Executive Director Paul Minicucci, amid the transition to new facilities that spurred calls for board members' ouster over complaints of secrecy, among other grievances.
"Notices of future meetings (date, time, place), agendas and board-approved minutes of meetings will be posted on the site," read the minutes of an April 17, 2012, board meeting under a section titled "Improving communications." The minutes also say: "Meeting agendas will be sent to the membership."
No minutes have been posted on NCTV's website since that April 2012 meeting with that portion of the website attributing the omission to technical difficulties.
Former board member Susan Rogers, who was board president in April 2012, did follow through with her promise to establish an email list, which she still manages, disseminating notices and notifications for regularly scheduled board meetings, she said.
However, even Rogers was not informed of the special Aug. 15 meeting, when the board decided to close down NCTV, she said.
"No one was warned about the meeting. People are still finding out for the first time that they made this decision," Dominguez said. "Am I surprised? No. The producers have been kept out for years."
Board President Karen Marinovich defended the exclusionary meeting as a matter of a "personnel" issue, regarding the loss of NCTV's two key staff members — its executive director and its engineer — both of whom volunteer most of their time.
"The fact that the executive director was leaving was more public than we knew," Marinovich said, "but the engineer's choice to leave was asked to be held in confidence."
She added, "Ultimately it was a personnel matter, and he asked us to hold it (confidentially)."
The nonprofit was fortunate to have part-time volunteer leaders, but that is not sustainable, Marinovich said.
"They never should have been put in this position in the first place," Marinovich said. "It is not their responsibility to keep the (nonprofit) afloat. It is the responsibility of past boards to have laid a financially sound foundation … in this case, that did not occur."
Based on still-to-be refined financial records, NCTV's 2012 fiscal year expenses were more than $160,000, of which more than $60,000 were restricted funds only to be spent on equipment, while the nonprofit's expenses were approximately $130,000, according to the board president.
"Having to hire an engineer and then hiring an executive director, we would very quickly run a deficit of about $12,000 a month," Marinovich said. "There is not a way to raise that money as fast as we need to raise it. We would quickly be in very deep debt."
The Union requested NCTV's financial records Thursday, which Marinovich indicated were available but noted that one of the current board's primary tasks has been untangling the organization's books. While providing the big-picture finances, the board president said the nonprofit's finances would be available in a more readable format by a Sept. 5 meeting between NCTV's board and representatives from Grass Valley, Nevada City and the county and educational officials from Nevada Union High School.
NCTV producers have also been invited to attend, said Nevada County's Chief Information Officer Steve Monaghan, whose agency has been eyed to take over the public broadcast of governmental meetings.
"It would be good for them to hear from the board about the challenges," Monaghan said, talking about government officials. "We want to understand what brought them to this decision."
However, Monaghan said the public and members of the press will not be allowed at the meeting.
"It's a staff working meeting," Monaghan said. "I don't think we get the frank conversation from the board on what the challenges have been if the press and the public were there."
Monaghan points out that no decision on NCTV will be determined at Thursday's meeting. "This isn't a meeting to determine the fate of NCTV by any means," he said. "This is a meeting to determine what brought NCTV to this point."
While Dominguez and some producers are calling for the board to step aside and let the members run the station, Marinovich is describing NCTV's closure as akin to a bankruptcy restructuring.
"This model cannot continue; it is time to restructure," she said. "It just isn't going to work and needs to be totally rebuilt, and it takes resources to do that."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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