Source: Sherman Publications

Village has strong words for township cable proposal

by CJ Carnacchio

January 18, 2012

“They’re kind of trying to overstep their bounds and get a little power-hungry.”

That’s how Oxford Village President Tom Benner described Oxford Township’s Dec. 14 proposal to change the voting composition of the Oxford Area Cable Communications Commission. The proposal was discussed at the Jan. 10 village meeting.

The township board voted 5-2 to recommend the cable commission change its composition to consist of three voting representatives from Oxford Township, two from Addison Township, and one each from the villages of Oxford and Leonard.

This new makeup would give one additional vote to both Oxford and Addison townships, take away one vote from Oxford Village and completely eliminate the Oxford Public Library’s seat on the commission.

“If you wanted to see what I consider a blatant power grab in a political environment, this is a good example of it,” said Councilman Kevin Stephison.

“I’m not in favor of this,” Benner said.

Oxford Township officials believe they should have the most voting members on the cable commission because they contribute almost 80 percent of the funding to operate Oxford Community Television (OCTV), the local public access station.

Last year, the township contributed $70,489 in franchise fees it received from Charter Communications from January to June and $46,189 from AT&T for the first three quarters of 2011. Checks from Charter for the last six months and AT&T for the final quarter have not yet been received.

Oxford Village officials were concerned about the amount of control this proposal would give the township.

“Essentially, all they need is one vote to run that board,” said Councilman Tony Albensi.

“I don’t think the township needs three votes,” Benner said.

Stephison said he was “flabbergasted” when he read about the proposal in the newspaper and was particularly irked by a comment from Oxford Township Trustee Sue Bellairs, who referred to Oxford and Leonard as “two little villages” at the Dec. 14 township meeting.

“Last I looked, village residents are township members,” he said. “It smacks of us versus them. I find this, in my personal opinion, repugnant.”

Sue Bossardet, one of Oxford Village’s two representatives on the cable commission, was particularly bothered by the township’s desire to eliminate the library’s seat because it does not contribute any funding to OCTV.

She told the council how Judy Doublestein, who served as library director from 1984 until 2007, “started the cable commission.”

“If it hadn’t been for the library and Judy Doublestein, there would be no cable; there would be no public (access) television in Oxford,” Bossardet said.

In a Dec. 22 letter, Bryan Cloutier, the library’s current director, informed officials that the library was relinquishing its voting privileges and seat on the cable commission.

Cloutier cited “strong-arm political tactics” by Oxford Township and the fact that “political agendas supersede common good” as the reasoning behind the library’s decision.

“I was very disappointed that the library chose to step out of it,” said Bossardet, who noted the library’s representatives have a history of providing stringent financial oversight on the cable commission.

“Judy (Doublestein) was like a hawk with the (cable station’s) finances and then after her, Bryan (Cloutier) was like a hawk with the finances and after that, Chris (Bishop) was even worse with the finances,” she explained. “For them to step away is really going to hurt that commission.”

Bossardet noted how the cable commission representatives from Oxford and Addison townships were usually the ones making the motions “in support of all the spending.”

“I do disagree with the township taking over this and I agree completely with Bryan’s letter,” she said.

Bossardet suggested the village discontinue funding the cable commission. Since July 2011, the village has been contributing 50 percent of the franchise fees it receives from Charter and AT&T.

“If it were my choice, I would take and bank my other 50 percent and not give it to the cable commission,” she told council.

Bossardet was quite critical of OCTV and the “tired, old programming that we have.”

“Some of those public programs . . . are like 10 years old,” she said. “It’s very dry and nobody wants to listen to it including myself. We are still showing (the Oxford High School) graduation that happened in June of last year and I see no reason for that.”

Bossardet also noted how when it comes to government meetings, OCTV provides out-of-date information regarding board members and incorrectly-spelled names.

To change all this, Bossardet said OCTV needs “a dynamic station manager” to “get some programs that actually reflect this community.” She indicated the cable commission needs a manager who will completely overhaul the station.

“And until we get somebody in there, I would withhold my money, too,” she said.

Back in December 2010, the cable commission shrank from nine to seven members when Oxford Community Schools, which also contributed no funding to OCTV, withdrew and gave up its two votes on the board.

“Since we do not provide funding for the local community television station, it would not be right for us to have representatives on the cable commission board,” wrote Oxford Superintendent Dr. William Skilling in a letter to the commission.

Cable commissioners, at a Dec. 12 special meeting, amended the board’s bylaws to eliminate the school district’s seats.