HANSON — While town officials consider it too early for a vote on the pact, the Board of Selectmen discussed the status of the town’s contract talks with Whitman-Hanson Community Access Television at its Feb. 28 meeting.
Progress reports on building razing and raising projects [see related story, page 3] were also discussed.
“The general consensus that I want to pass along to the public is that we are working on this,” said Selectmen Chairman James McGahan about individual conversations he has had with other selectmen about the cable access contract. He stressed that none of the one-on-one conversations constituted Open Meeting Law violations.
“We have a contract that we are being asked to sign — and this is for another 10 years — and one of the sticking points on it is that we need to follow up on the financial reports that are owed to the town through the Board of Selectmen,” McGahan said.
WHCA TV Executive Director Eric Dresser said Monday, March 6 that he understands the selectmen’s concerns are reasonable, as there are several items in the contract still being worked out.
“I think there’s some things above and beyond the things that they mentioned that they’d like to see, in terms of the reporting, that we’ve got to get on the same page with — as you would in any negotiation,” Dresser said. “We are aware of the areas of the [financial] report that need to be updated and those projects are already in progress.”
He said one was submitted at the end of last week. Cable Access Board Chairman Arlene Dias has since supplied the rest, she said Wednesday. She had not attended the Feb. 28 meeting because she said she was told the issue had been removed from the agenda.
McGahan said Feb. 28 that, while some financial reports had been received, “We didn’t get everything that we need.” He has created a matrix of reports owed to them and a ballpark timetable of when they should be received by selectmen in both towns. He also wants to see audit reports — required every three years — and regular 501(c)3 status updates on the service’ nonprofit status and to require that meeting minutes be posted on the WHCA website, as well as annual reports.
Resident Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett, who has experience with 501(c)3 organizations such as the Hanson Food Pantry, said a copy of the WHCA tax returns could supply much of that information.
“We need more transparency with this group in terms of accountability,” McGahan said of the WHCA Board of Directors. “Otherwise we’re just rubber-stamping this contract.”
Town Administrator Michael McCue said a consensus of the board was all that was needed until its members are ready to ratify the contract.
McGahan said he, McCue and the cable board should meet again to discuss the issue. He also said he would like to invite the board chairman and/or WHCA executive director to selectmen’s meetings on a quarterly basis for updates on programs and services.
Selectman Bruce Young noted that a percentage of everyone’s cable bill supports the local cable access studio Cable rates, especially for seniors, was also a concern raised by Richard Edgehille, a resident and past volunteer videographer for WHCA.
“Seniors can’t get anything,” agreed Selectman Don Howard.
Edgehille suggested transparency could help hold Comcast accountable.
“If everybody in town understands that you’re doing your homework on it, as far as knowing how much it costs for that studio to run, there’s no waste,” he said.
McGahan agreed that it is in the cable board’s interest, as well, to show the money is being spent where it should be spent.
Edgehille also said the second contract should not be a mirror of the first one, because that initial contract was a start-up document.
“It should be tweaked,” he said, noting that much of the original contract language concerned the hiring and job function of the late WHCA Executive Director Steven Roy, who died last spring. “We wouldn’t be talking about this if Steve Roy didn’t leave us. He kept the ship going.”
Dresser said that, while he is a different person than Roy, he plans to brag about the “good stuff we’re doing here” and he wants town officials and the community to know about them.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction to remedy some of those things we’re concerned about,” McGahan said of the contract talks.