The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

January 7, 2014

Takeover?: Plan would put PEGASYS in city of Enid's PR department

ENID, Okla. — Public-access television station PEGASYS could face dramatic structural changes over the next few months.

Dr. David Vanhooser, who represents Ward 6 on Enid City Commission, told his colleagues Tuesday he wants to fold PEGASYS into the city’s public relations department under PR Director Steve Kime.

Doing so would eliminate the nonprofit’s board of directors and eliminate Executive Director Wendy Quarles’ position. Vanhooser also wants to cancel plans to spend more than $240,000 on constructing a new office and studio inside The Non-Profit Center, and instead spend about $100,000 on a studio elsewhere.

The purchase of high-definition, all-digital equipment already was expected to happen this year with existing funds.

By the end of this month, the PEGASYS board will vote on whether to award the construction contract.

“If there was a time to look at where we are with PEGASYS, it’s now,” said Vanhooser, who sits on the station’s board as the city’s representative.

PEGASYS, founded in 1986, is a mostly independent nonprofit agency funded by the city. The funds come from part of a franchise agreement Enid has with cable provider Suddenlink.

The city currently spends that $185,000 supporting the agency’s annual operations and payroll.

It provides production and broadcast services to the public over three television channels. One of the most visible products PEGASYS offers is the live broadcast of Enid City Commission meetings.

If the agency’s current affiliation with the city ends, the cameras, production truck and other equipment likely would revert to the city’s sole ownership. The membership program also would be eliminated and two current employees there would become city employees.

Vanhooser’s plan drew support from City Manager Eric Benson, who said he has not seen data showing whether PEGASYS is successful in its mission.

“When I’ve sought that data, it’s not been forthcoming from either PEGASYS or our own research,” Benson said. “I can’t tell you without a doubt we’d be killing some sacred cow. If we retain all of those capabilities for a set period, a year, and examine them in detail for their applicability, their profitability or their interest, I think we’d be in a better position to make whatever changes are necessary.”

He further stated PEGASYS ideally would continue typical operations for one year before any decisions could be made about whether to eliminate, modify or add functions to the agency. Those decisions would be made by the commission in concert with the city manager who replaces Benson, who retires at the end of 2014.

“By putting it back under the commission’s control, we remain in charge of where the programming goes, what parts we want to keep and what parts we want to expand,” Vanhooser said.

PEGASYS Executive Director Wendy Quarles declined to comment when reached Tuesday.

Vanhooser said he has not consulted with the PEGASYS board about a takeover.

“It’s not a PEGASYS board issue. It’s a city council issue,” he said. “Whether the PEGASYS board, per se, is on board with it or not on board with it, it’s not really their decision. I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s something the city council decides.”

He has, however, been publicly critical of the money spent on PEGASYS and whether it has satisfactory viewership.

Board member Bill Maxwell was at Tuesday’s study session where Vanhooser introduced his plan. He lampooned Benson’s idea to study the entity’s effectiveness.

“If that report is so important, why has that report not been paid for already as a part of the expense of this take-over?” Maxwell said.

He also slammed the notion that the city’s PR department would be in charge of running it.

“The (city of Enid) does not have enough to do and it wants another agency to run. The commission believes it can confiscate the public, nonprofit entity and convert it into a city propaganda machine,” he said.

Vanhooser said in an interview before the study session he doesn’t foresee the city obstructing freedom of speech through the airwaves, and would only be against pornography and similarly crude broadcasts.

Maxwell also wants Vanhooser to relinquish his appointed seat on the PEGASYS board because of what he calls a conflict of interest.

“If he’s loyal to the city commission only, then his conflict is he’s not a member of the board for PEGASYS,” Maxwell said. “He’s not pursuing the best interests of PEGASYS.”

The commission could vote in as little as two weeks whether to put the brakes on construction at The Non-Profit Center and set a timeline for the takeover.

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