Gazette: Amherst Media Pushes For Immediate New Contract

On January 15, 2017, the Daily Hampshire Gazette published an article penned by staff writer Scott Merzbach regarding Amherst Media current status of providing services to the town of Amherst without a contract.

AMHERST — Raising concerns that an adjustment to how Amherst Media gets its funding could diminish public access to the community, officials with the nonprofit are pressing for a new contract immediately.

Demetria Shabazz, an Amherst Media board member, told the Select Board last week that similar nonprofit entities have been lost in other parts of the country when funding mechanisms change.

“It’s during a time in which so much is riding on the role of independent media to bring us fair and balanced reporting, the extinction of access media stations is a frightening prospect,” Shabazz said.

Shabazz said it is distressing that a new contract is not yet in place, after she served on the Cable Advisory Committee that negotiated a deal in which Comcast agreed to collect around $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.

“This is something that is a disservice to our longtime partner, Amherst Media,” Shabazz said.

The delay is caused, in part, by new guidelines from the state revenue department’s local services division, which no longer allows the 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.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Friday 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.

Bockelman said he is collecting samples from other communities before issuing a request for proposals.

Amherst Media Executive Director Jim Lescault said Friday that Amherst Media is asking the Select Board for the opportunity to discuss and come to a contractual agreement that will be mutually beneficial to both parties. He hopes this can be at the board’s Jan. 23 meeting.

Select Board member Andrew Steinberg said he and other board members are still trying to understand how to proceed with getting to a new contract.

As Amherst Media continues to broadcast even without a contract, Lescault wrote a letter to the board stating that a public bid for services is not necessary, and that Comcast could make quarterly payments directly to Amherst Media.

“Part of that discussion is looking at it as a serious way to move forward here, and hopefully we have that discussion in the near future,” Lescault said.

According to its annual report, Amherst Media has increased its coverage of town government and the services it provides by 60 percent, producing 356 programs, or 1.4 shows per work day. Nearly 30 percent of all meetings recorded were not contractually obligated by Amherst Media.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

 

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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.