As I write this letter I am sitting in my living room with the television turned to Channel 27, Vallejo’s channel for public access programming. Mostly I see community bulletin board announcements. In the last twenty minutes, while I was speaking on the phone with Vallejo Community Access Television (VCAT) board member Bob Boster, and VCAT member Lorelei FLoyd, I saw one short video of footage taken at the recent Waterfront Festival.
According to Clayton Leander, he spent the entire last weekend working to make it possible to play locally produced tapes, by moving equipment to a different room. He said he had to move the equipment because of faulty wiring, and that it will have to be moved back after the studio, still under construction, is completed. He was working over the weekend in anticipation of a shake-up, that did indeed occur on Monday night, July 10.
A closed door meeting, in advance of the regularly scheduled members? meeting, resulted in the exit of Clayton Leander from VCAT’s staff, and also apparently, the VCAT studio before the open meeting. According to Lorelei Floyd, who along with Kevin Humphrey, was the first paid member of VCAT “it was all very hush, hush. They had a closed door session and then exited him out the studio door and then let us in the other door.” Leander, in this closed session, had been asked to give up his position as Executive Director, and accept less hours and responsibilities as the Technical Director, in order to allow for hiring an additional staff member to serve in an administrative role.
Stating that he could not discuss personnel issues, Bob Boster did say that the decision making process was about how to “make some changes in order to be able to move forward and get to a place where we can empower members to participate.” One of the underlying issues that came up in conversation with the other two board members with whom I managed to speak before going to press, Mark Mazzafero and Dan Healy, was the model that VCAT has followed. The model was created by the Buske Consulting Group. According to Leander, the Buske Group has had ?great success? with other similar stations in Santa Rosa, Monterey, Gilroy and most recently in Humboldt County. According to Dan Healy, “we were struggling with the fact that the map we were given didn’t describe the mountains before us.”
“They dropped us off with that process and left it to us to work it out” said Boster. “If we had four times the money and a school system not under state control it might have worked for us. They didn’t look deep enough. They took a model and tried to scale it down to our budget. We were trying to analyze how things could be done better and serve our goals in some other kinds of ways.”
Leander stated that he was aware that changes would have to be made because of the limited budget, (that has been determined by a franchise agreement worked out with the city before the existence of VCAT, and is unchangeable until 2009), but he wished “they had included him in the discussion of how and what should be done.” Boster responded that Leander “came from the same environment as the Buske Group. We needed to make a break from that kind of thinking.”
While everyone did know what the budget was from the beginning, according to Dan Healy, Treasurer, they were “hoping to complete the studio, purchase equipment and have some money left over, but that hasn’t come to pass.” He hoped that Leander would accept the lesser position with less pay. On Leander’s part, he admitted that he “needs to work on his organizational skills,” but said that he also needs to make a living. Ultimately he feels that the current plan “won’t take VCAT where it needs to go. We needed more help than I could offer, but certain key positions need to be handled by staff because we have specific policies and procedures in a first amendment environment.”
The current plan calls for much greater involvement from volunteers, and increased fundraising activities. Whatever the plan may be, as of today, there is no paid staff running VCAT. While members grumble that this will only cause further holdups in what has been a frustratingly slow and continually delayed process in getting going, board members seem confident that new staff will be in place by the end of next week. They also plan to have the VCAT studio ready for the scheduled production class to be offered by Jesse Bethel High School when school starts at the end of August. But that program is part of the educational side of the equation. The public access part is where the issue of freedom of speech arises.
There are doubts by members that the studio will be made available to them, because there have already been so many delays. There is a perception among some of them that the board wants to limit their freedom of expression. Members who signed up early in the year thought that when they paid their dues, and completed basic training they would be allowed to check out equipment to use in the field, get trained in editing and production, and ultimately have their productions aired on Channel 27. But so far, after completing basic training, no equipment has been available for them to use. At least part of the reason for that is that some of the cameras were only very recently purchased. There have also been unforeseen construction delays, and frustrations with working with the school district, resulting in a still unfinished studio located on the campus of Jesse Bethel.
According to Ms. Floyd, trouble arose over a decision by Leander to supervise some field work at the recent Juneteenth Celebration. He decided on his own authority to work with volunteers using the equipment, and document the event. “When we went to the VCAT meeting they said we should have come through them, we shouldn’t have done it on our own. But it was a success. He was very professional, patient, doing the work of five or six people. I know his job was to recruit volunteers and do technical things by himself, but how could he do that when he only got a second phone two weeks ago?”
Mark Mazzafero, who is also Public Information Officer for the City of Vallejo, said, “we want to get those cameras in their hands as quickly as possible.” He acknowledged that Leander had done a great deal to get them to the point where they are today, but he said, “at the heart of our decision is to get VCAT on the air.” That was a sentiment echoed by all three board members to whom I spoke. The exact date that cameras will become available remains to be seen.
Everyone, no matter what position they currently take, agrees that the loss of Ursula Morgan-Kane earlier this year was a great setback to VCAT as a whole. A dedicated volunteer, she put in many, many hours working on every aspect of the organization. Her sudden death at the very first orientation meeting held by VCAT left a vacuum that the board now presumably hopes to fill with the work of several new volunteers. It is unquestionably true that Ursula was a unique gem, and VCAT might never have gotten this close without her efforts. Here’s to hoping that the people of Vallejo will finally have the chance to represent themselves on television as they see fit, bringing Ursula?s dream to fruition, to become her lasting legacy.
Wishing each of you Peace and Poetry
Martha Cinader Mims