The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

January 22, 2014

PEGASYS chief Quarles targeted because of letter to churches

ENID, Okla. — PEGASYS’ executive director will face questions from her board of directors today after implying churches could lose their privileges on the public-access television station.

Board Chairman Jeff Herbel confirmed the board would talk about the accuracy of a letter Wendy Quarles sent to religious organizations that show their services on PEGASYS. They then will huddle in a closed-door executive session to discuss Quarles’ employment.

“There were some letters sent by the executive director to churches that some of the board members thought were inappropriate or misstated some things in it,” Herbel said.

The PEGASYS board meets at 1 p.m. today at The Non-Profit Center. Based on discussions in the executive session, the board could discipline Quarles, demote her, fire her, accept her resignation or take no action at all.

This comes amid a fight to keep the PEGASYS Board of Directors intact. Today is a sort of reckoning day for the agency because Enid City Commission could vote later tonight to absorb the station’s operations. Ward 6 Commissioner David Vanhooser’s proposal also will be discussed at the special meeting. He has proposed dissolving the board and the nonprofit corporation it controls, then folding the station’s operations into the city of Enid’s public relations department. The city’s PR director likely would take over Quarles’ role.

The Rev. Sheila Combs-Francis said her church, New Hope United Methodist, received the letter Monday. She provided a copy to the Enid News & Eagle. In the letter, Quarles referenced Vanhooser’s resolution and said the station’s assets would revert back to city ownership.

“As a result, the city would not be able to televise religious programming. They would be able to allow any nonprofit group access to the equipment,” Quarles wrote. “You would, then, be able to continue to use the TV production equipment to tape your services and programs and make DVD copies of your program to give to your homebound. You would also be able to stream your programs on your website.”

Combs-Francis said she hasn’t seen anything about this from the city government, and if the letter is accurate, “I’m really unhappy with the city commission.”

“It sounds like they’ll air everything except the religious programs,” she said. “I think PEGASYS needs to rewrite this letter because there’s no other way to understand it.”

In an email, Vanhooser wrote that Quarles’ letter is inaccurate and misleading.

“The most difficult challenge I have encountered in trying to improve PEGASYS television service for this community has been getting out accurate information. The letter sent by the PEGASYS executive director to local churches is unfortunate,” Vanhooser wrote. “It is inaccurate and misleading. My proposal will not stop religious programs from being televised.”

Board member Lori Coonrod came to Quarles’ defense Wednesday, saying adding discussion about the letter to the agenda is “clouding the issue.” The special meeting originally was called to further address Vanhooser’s resolution. That topic remains on the agenda.

“We’re getting off track with the original reason for the meeting,” she said. “We need to focus on the immediate subject at hand. That’s the whole point.”

When reached Wednesday, Quarles said the issue she raised in the letter is the separation of church and state.

“As I saw it, a government is not allowed to produce religious programming,” she said. “It would just be the PR department of the city, as I see it, and there’s a possibility there would be a conflict. That was just something to consider.”

Quarles seemed shaken by the row that now threatens her job on two fronts.

“I really don’t know what to say. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Hopefully, at the meeting tomorrow we can get it all cleared up,” she said. “Everything I’ve done has been proper and legal, as far as I know; I’ve done things under my board’s direction. I’m just really sorry all of this is happening because it’s going to affect PEGASYS.”

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