The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 14, 2014

PEGASYS board seeks rejection of ‘takeover’

By Dale Denwalt and Cass Rains, Staff Writers
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A citizen board of directors has circled the wagons to keep hold of PEGASYS, Enid’s public-access television station.

The board has oversight of the agency’s operations and its three full-time employees. It could lose that authority soon, though, if a plan put forth by Ward 6 City Commissioner David Vanhooser succeeds.

Vanhooser has proposed ending the city’s contractual relationship with the nonprofit PEGASYS, absorbing its assets and placing its operations within the city’s public relations department.

PEGASYS’ board of directors met in a special meeting Tuesday and hashed out a plan they hope will win over enough city commissioners to beat Vanhooser’s idea.

Vanhooser, the city’s respresentative on the PEGASYS board, did not attend the meeting.

The board took three actions:

• They will table negotiations with Henderson Construction on plans to build an office and studio in The Non-Profit Center basement.

• Board members unanimously approved writing a letter rejecting the current renovation plan, and requesting the city provide them with accommodations per contractual agreement.

• They will issue a statement rebutting several of Vanhooser’s arguments.

The board also left the door open to a lawsuit. Attorney and board member Bill Maxwell, a harsh critic of Vanhooser, said he would resign from the board to argue the city breached the contract by failing to provide housing for PEGASYS.

If they do decide to seek legal action, Maxwell said he’s “just a rabid dog you’re in control of.”

Restructuring PEGASYS would save the city thousands each year, Vanhooser said.

The city currently funds PEGASYS operations and payroll with an annual appropriation of $185,000. The city likely would eliminate the expense of paying an executive director, a position held by Wendy Quarles, because city spokesman Steve Kime would lead PEGASYS from the PR department.

Commissioners also would save up to $240,000 in the near term by canceling plans for a renovated office and studio, although Vanhooser wants to build somewhere else for less money.

PEGASYS board members challenged the city to find a better place to move, noting when the city first asked them to move the station out of the marked Kress Building, every other option City Manager Eric Benson mentioned was more expensive. The commission landed on The Non-Profit Center.

“They voted for it,” Quarles said. “The majority of the city commission voted for us to be here.”

PEGASYS planned to vote on the construction contract later this month. Vanhooser said this prompted fast action from the city commission to absorb the agency and avoid being locked into a $240,000 contract. However, the commission already agreed last year to spend that much on The Non-Profit Center renovations for PEGASYS.

Vanhooser, who denies this is a City Hall “takeover,” issued a lengthy statement to the board and online Monday, and he distributed a copy of the proposed resolution.

One line of the resolution echoes a statement Benson made at a recent meeting, that the station has failed to meet expectations despite guidance from city leadership.

Quarles steadfastly denied hearing from the city about its goals or expectations.

“There has been no communication,” she said. “If there was, I would have responded. I would have jumped through any hoop.”

The commission meets next on Jan. 23.

Board members Dallas Krout and Troy Cowley said PEGASYS should provide alternatives for the commission to think about rather than just Vanhooser’s plan.

Cowley also said some of Vanhooser’s statements should be clarified, specifically one about a supposed ultimatum about the agency raising half its own operating funds by the end of this fiscal year.

“There was nothing ever voted on. There was nothing ever put in writing to us. If you do something like that, we’ll do our best to comply,” Cowley said. “We may get 60, 90, 120 days and then the rug pulled out from under us. But at least we’ve made the attempt to counter-react Dr. Vanhooser’s (statements) and let the commissioners know there are some inconsistencies with this.”

Vanhooser first brought up the PEGASYS question in budget sessions and suggested the station should raise half its annual operational expenses by 2014 and become self-sustaining within two years.