On January 28, 2017, the Daily Hampshire Gazette published an article written by staff writer Scott Merzbach on the continuing lack of a contract between Amherst Media and the Town of Amherst for providing services to the town of Amherst.
AMHERST — As municipal meetings and events continue to be covered by cameras operated by staff and volunteers for the local community access company, Amherst Media’s executive director is expressing increasing concerns about the uncertainy caused by not having a contract with the town.
Executive Director Jim Lescault came before the Select Board Monday to request a written commitment from town officials that ensures it will continue to be paid.
“This is just good business sense supported by common sense,” Lescault said.
Lescault also said he feels there has been a lack of respect.
“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?” Lescault asked.
Comcast is next due to provide Amherst a quarterly payment in February, after having negotiated a deal with the town in which it will provide about $300,000 a year in gross annual revenues to support the PEG channels — the public, educational and governmental channels people associate with traditional cable access.
The Select Board didn’t immediately respond to Lescault’s request, and Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he wouldn’t comment on Lescault’s views, other than to note that Amherst Media continues to get paid.
Bockelman points to a process required by new guidelines from the state revenue department’s local services division, which no longer allows the so-called pass-through of these revenues. Instead, the town has to include these revenues in its budget, and then will have to either create an enterprise fund or a special revenue fund to pay Amherst Media.
But Lescault insists that a public bid for services is not necessary, and that Comcast could make quarterly payments directly to Amherst Media.
While a decade ago Amherst Community Television didn’t have a settled contract until February 2007, after the town renewed its deal with Comcast in October 2006, Lescault said the difference is that negotiations were occurring and lawyer Bill August of August & Epstein was representing ACTV and using that time to dramatically expand and modernize the language in the contract issued in 1996.
“Throughout that period, ACTV knew it was in negotiations, had legal representation and was actively engaged in the dialogue,” Lescault said.
Select Board Chairwoman Alisa Brewer said in an email that she hopes a timeline for how to proceed will be unveiled at the board’s Feb. 6 meeting.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at email@example.com.