Amherst Media Executive Director Speaks to Lack of Contract With the Town of Amherst

Amherst Media Executive Director Speaks to Lack of Contract With the Town of Amherst


Statement at public comment to the Amherst Board of Selectmen by Amherst Media Executive Direct Jim Lescault on January 23, 2017.

Full text as follows:

Last week during public comment I distributed to you Amherst Media’s Annual Report 2016.   While I spoke about the excessive increase in the number of Government Meetings recorded by Amherst Media, 70 more than the previous year. 

I did not have the time to direct your attention to the 21 attached letters.

These letters are from organizations and individuals who wrote in support of Amherst Media during the Cable Renewal Ascertainment Period.  Each letter describes in detail in what manner Amherst Media works in conjunction with them.

Included in that list are: 

  • Scott Livingstone, Amherst Chief of Police
  • League of Women Voters of Amherst
  • Sharon A. Sharry, Library Director, Jones Library
  • Don Courtemanche, Executive Director, Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Mindy Domb, Executive Director, Amherst Survival Center
  • Anna Holhut, President, Rotary Club of Amherst
  • Tony Maroulis, Director of Community Relations, UMass Amherst
  • Erica Scharrer, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, UMass Amherst
  • Martha Fuentes-Bautista, Professor, Department of Communication & Center for Public Policy and Administration, UMass Amherst
  • Mari Castañeda, Professor, Department of Communication, UMass 
  • Janice Hanson, Professor, Department of Communication, UMass Amherst
  • Sheila Klem, President, Five College Learning in Retirement
  • Amilcar Shabazz, Professor W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, UMass Amherst & Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor for Diversity and Excellence
  • Lisa Fontes, Senior Lecturer, University Without Walls, UMass Amherst
  • Magdalena Gomez, Teatro V!da
  • Sonji Anderson, Director, Youth Action Coalition & Vira Douangmany Cage, YAC Board of Directors Chair
  • Jonathan Kane, President, Amherst Baseball, Inc.
  • Sarah McKee
  • Dorothy Cresswell
  • Josh Wolfsun
  • Charlie Schweik

Additionally, I would like to refer to comments recently made in an Amherst Bulletin article attributed to Town Manager Paul Bockelman that even with this new process that will play out, and no contract yet signed, Amherst Media is still being paid. The arrangement, he added, isn’t much different than a decade ago, when what was then Amherst Community Television operated without a contract from October 2006 to February 2007.

I want to be on record saying there is a very real difference between the period of  Oct. 2006 til Feb.  2007 and the period we find ourselves in today.  Back then ACTV was in negotiations with the Town for a renewed contract.   Lawyer Bill August of August & Epstein represented ACTV using the time to dramatically expand and modernize the language from the contract issued in 1996.  Throughout that period, ACTV knew it was in negotiations, had legal representation and was actively engaged in the dialogue.

Whereas during this period of over 90 days, Amherst Media has been without a contract and we are not in negotiations or even discussion with the Town. 

We have offered examples of how 17 Western Mass Towns and Cities have found a satisfactory method in which to keep the PEG providers Independent and funded.  To date this option has not been pursued with us.

We advised the Town Manager that state-wide efforts were underway to place the needed 30B exemption for non-profit providers of PEG service into state legislation. Again, resulting in no local conversation. 

Legislation has already been introduced at the State House to mandate the provision of High Definition and Electronic Programming Guide for all PEG channels.  While these were issues identified by our Amherst subscribers, the Town like so many other locales was unable to obtain them during cable renewal negotiations.

To conclude:

Why does the Town feel it is normal to treat an organization that has collaborated with it for the past 41 years in such a disrespectful and dismissive manner? 

While throughout these three months, the Town’s expectation is that Amherst Media continues coverage of all Select Board meetings, like tonight, and tomorrow School Committee and Wed. planning and Thursday Finance Committee and next Monday the Special Town Meeting, as if we still had a contract.

We have continued to make the overtures to the Town for dialogue and continued to perform our duties as defined within our lapsed contract in good faith, that we will be paid for our services when Comcast‘s February quarterly payment comes to the Town.

Given the uncertainties of what the Town will decide to do, Amherst Media is requesting a written commitment from the Town to pay for services rendered.  This is just good business sense supported by common sense.  

Production Date: 
Monday, January 23, 2017

Amherst Media Contract

Amherst Media, the oldest non-profit media access center in the country, is facing the potential loss of its independence by the Town of Amherst.  After 41 years of service and collaboration between the organization and the Town, the Town is determined to change the longstanding relationship.  

Amherst Media has been without a contract since October of 2016, when the Town signed a new 10 year contract renewal with cable giant Comcast. Throughout this nearly four-month period, Amherst Media has continued to cover all of their obligated recordings as outlined in their lapsed contract.  The organization continued to request an opportunity to speak before the Select Board, only to be denied.  They resorted to using the public comment portion of the Select Board meeting to speak to the Town officials and the public at large. 

We encourage the residents of Amherst to email the Town Manager and the Select Board members and demand that they enter immediately into good faith negotiations with Amherst Media.

Jim Lescault, Executive Director, Amherst Media


Mar 22, 2017

Amherst Media is elated to announce that Amherst’s Town Manager and Select Board have reversed their decision to post a Request for Proposal (RFP) and instead is heeding the recent findings from the MA Inspector General’s Office and Department of Revenue.

This excerpt from the Town Manger’s report to the Select Board on Monday, March 20, stated the following:

What does this mean? In short, we are moving back to the way we have accounted for funds and contracted for services as we have in the past.

Next Steps: 

Mar 16, 2017

At the Monday, March 13, 2017 Select Board meeting, Jim Lescault, Executive Director of Amherst Media, spoke during public comment, presenting to the Select Board a very real alternative to the path of Request for Proposal the Town was on.  The Office of Inspector General had written their opinion regarding PEG services and 30B procurement totally redefining how the Town of Amherst’s government had interpreted the regulations.

Mar 6, 2017

There unfortunately continues to be many unanswered questions circulating around the Amherst community regarding the recent decision by the Town Manager and Select Board regarding the proposed changes in how the Town contracts Amherst Media for the Cable Access Public, Education & Government (PEG) services.

While the Town will be providing an on-line opportunity for the community to give input to the RFP, we feel there exists a real need for a community dialogue on such a monumental change in policy.

Feb 24, 2017

In an age of mass media consolidation, access to public information to insure government transparency is more vital than ever. Amherst Media, one of the oldest community access centers in the country providing that kind of transparency to its community, is in a contract dispute with the Town of Amherst. And as with many other such centers across the country over the last ten years, its future is far from certain.

Feb 24, 2017

Dear Friends of Amherst Media,

Our contract saga continues, but now, with legal counsel, we are ready to mount an exertive effort to bring the Town and Amherst Media to the table for negotiations.

A letter was submitted to the Select Board requesting that Amherst Media be placed on the Feb. 27 evening’s agenda. The letter stated that Amherst Media had obtained legal counsel as of February 20 and that our counsel would like to discuss the Town Manager’s February 3 offer to extend Amherst Media’s expired contract through June 30, 2017.