Gazette: Amherst Media Exec Still Concerned for Lack of Contract With Town

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 smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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News

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.