The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 24, 2014

Commission OKs plan to de-fund PEGASYS

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A resolution to dismantle the relationship between the city of Enid and the nonprofit organization that provides its public-access television service has passed.

After a contentious debate and narrow 4-3 vote, Enid City Commission agreed with Ward 6 Commissioner David Vanhooser to de-fund PEGASYS, acquire the station’s assets and place operational control of the three public cable channels in the city’s public relations department.

Joining Vanhooser in voting for the resolution were Commissioners Tammy Wilson, Mike Stuber and Rodney Timm. Voting against were Ben Ezzell, Ron Janzen and Mayor Bill Shewey.

The move should be temporary, Vanhooser said, giving time for a citizen advisory panel to investigate and recommend how PEGASYS should look come July 1 — the beginning of the next budget cycle. Vanhooser said city staff still have to work out some technical details to effect the handover of both cash and cameras, but major parts of the resolution become effective Feb. 1.

Technically, the nonprofit entity currently known as PEGASYS will remain intact, as will its board. The practical effect is any assets or funds provided by the city will be placed into a dedicated account within the PR department, leaving the board with little to do aside from deciding what to do with cash from private donations.

City Manager Eric Benson also has been directed to offer jobs to two full-time PEGASYS staffers. Should Executive Director Wendy Quarles be without a job because of the changeover, which appears likely, she would get a city-approved compensation package, according to the resolution.

Vanhooser’s goal all along has been to end the current inefficient structure, he said, while still providing current programming. He stressed his proposal “will not be the end of public-access television.”

“When this fades away and it’s not in the paper next week, people who turn on the television and look at PEGASYS are going to see the same things they’ve been seeing until this body says, ‘That’s not how we want to do it anymore,’” Vanhooser told the commission. “I guarantee you the public’s not going to see a difference and we’re going to be better off.”

Opponents of Vanhooser’s plan urged the commission to let the PEGASYS Board of Directors conduct its own study. In a special meeting earlier Thursday, the PEGASYS board even voted to commission such a study.

During that meeting, board member Lori Coonrod pleaded with Vanhooser, who is a member of the PEGASYS board, to let the board do its job.

“Slow down. Please, slow down and let us think about these things,” she said. “Don’t just call us inept and take it away.”

PEGASYS taped program of the city commission meeting that defunded PEGASYS

In Vanhooser’s eyes, though, PEGASYS has had lingering issues that haven’t been dealt with. He cited years worth of meeting minutes that describe previous commissioners’ frustration with a lack of fundraising and proactive growth.

“The issue of what to do with PEGASYS has been plaguing this commission for at least 10 years,” Vanhooser said Thursday during the commission’s regular meeting.

The resolution itself does not define the reasons for ending the relationship and taking over operations. Instead, Vanhooser listed several that he’s become aware of:

• That PEGASYS does not keep up with current media trends.

• That there are no new ideas for programming.

• That there are no new outside funds raised to support PEGASYS.

• That the station still uses standard definition equipment.

• That only 11 new members were added to the rolls in 2013.

The nonprofit’s most vocal defender on the commission, Ward 3’s Ben Ezzell, said PEGASYS has been acting in good faith since the last budget talks, in which the commission voted to examine its support halfway through the budget year.

At the time, he said, there was no written ultimatum for the PEGASYS board to follow.

“Isn’t this kind of the nuclear option?” Ezzell said. “It’s not, ‘Here’s our suggestions’ at six months — it’s, ‘You’re gone. We’re taking all your stuff and your money.’ It’s kind of a dramatic option.”

Speaking on behalf of the PEGASYS board, Bill Maxwell criticized the failure in communication between the two entities. He also said it would be simpler to ask for the current board’s resignation rather than completely restructure PEGASYS.

Vanhooser previously challenged the agency to raise half its operating revenue by the end of this fiscal year, something Maxwell said would be very difficult.

“Is that what PEGASYS is about? To raise funds? Or is it to provide public-education-government access television?” Maxwell said.

Maxwell, who is an attorney, has hinted there could be litigation to halt implementation of Vanhooser’s resolution. Beyond June, though, when the current funding year expires, there appears to be no obligation for the city to continue supporting the agency as is.