|Glenn Davis, executive director of TV30 since July 2005, has resigned, leaving the station with a shrinking staff with only one reporter and facing major financial and organizational restructuring.
Davis, 57, who earned $77,000 a year, has been on a paid leave of absence for the last 2-1/2 months pending an investigation into two sexual harassment charges, one by former News Director Linda Elliott and the second by TV30 television producer Misty Ty, who is still on the job.
Although sidelined since the end of 2007, Davis, who was hired to manage the financially troubled station in 2005, is credited with updating and upgrading old software and hardware, including buying new cameras and computers that brought TV30 and its sister channels, 28 and 29, into the digital age. He also added new programs and beefed up the live news coverage, called "Live at Four," which airs four days a week.
The revenue from the shows Davis produced never paid eough, however, and last year the four cities TV30 serves--Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin and San Ramon--had to bail out the nonprofit with a cash infusion of $260,000 from unbudgeted city funds. With that, the mayors of the four cities, with the approval of their councils, ousted the all-volunteer board of directors and put themselves in the directors' chairs, with their city managers at their side and sometimes filling in. Paul Rankin, Administrative Services Director of Dublin, was named treasurer and charged with reconciling current and past budgets, a process just now being completed.
Now the four cities are being asked to reach into their taxpayer funds again to contribute another quarter-million-dollars to keep the public broadcast system on the air through the rest of its current budget year, which ends June 30.
For Pleasanton, that will require a special appropriation by the City Council of $62,428, roughly the same as the other three cities for a total of $249,000. Although Dublin Councilman Tony Oravtez complained about the surprise budget drawdown a year ago, the councils are expected to approve this month's request. Dublin Mayor Janet Lockhart now chairs the TV30 board and the other mayors approved the most recent bailout.
They're hoping it will be the last. Rankin and the board, working with outside consultants, have identified major cost problems at TV30 and plan to move later this month to stop the financial bleeding.
Key among these is the staff, itself. Expenditures for operating TV30 are heavily weighted towards employee wages, benefits and taxes, along with temporary fill-in personnel costs. Total expenditures for 2007-08 are $737,008, with staffing costs totaling $605,470, or 82 percent of the total. But with falling revenues and a static annual budget contribution from Comcast of about $435,000 a year, the gap between revenue and expenses is widening with, as the consultant said, no end in sight.
To help it better understand viewer interest in TV30, the board commissioned a survey sample of 1,000 Tri-Valley Comcast subscribers. National Research Center conducted telephone interviews with an equal sampling from each of the four cities and is expected to report its findings at the TV30 board meeting March 20 in the Dublin City Hall. Its questions ranged from "Do you know (TV30) exists?" to how often do they watch any of the three channels TV30 hosts
"We're trying to figure out the value to the community and the value of the news, the timing, the way it's presented, and what kinds of programs are we really looking for in our local television system," Lockhart said. "The news program is the most expensive in the station lineup and we have to determine who's watching it."
"It makes no sense to me to have a live traffic report aired at 4 p.m. and then the same news repeated through the evening," she added. "I also don't understand why our local station reports on news you can watch on regular stations, such as the latest Britney Spears scandal."
In a strategic planning session, the four mayors--Jennifer Hosterman from Pleasanton, Marshall Kamena from Livermore, H. Abram Wilson from San Ramon and Lockhart--vowed to develop a budget for fiscal 2008-09 that will not exceed revenue. That won't be easy.
Comcast, in long-term agreements with the four cities that it signed as part of its franchise applications to serve the communities, added 50 cents to each subscriber bill. This 50 cents has stayed the same for nearly a decade although Comcast has more than tripled its subscriber fees. Of concern, too, is the increased reliance on Direct TV satellite programming, which doesn't carry TV30 broadcasts, doesn't collect any fees to support it and yet is nibbling away at Comcast's market.
Also, sponsorships from key revenue-producers obtained by Glenn Davis and his predecessor Bruce Goddard are leaving. Kevin Wing, hired as News Director, has been named interim Executive Director at $20 an hour. With a shrinking staff, he has been unable to spend the time required to retain sponsors or look for new ones. Bay East Realty recently cancelled its monthly sponsored programs; ValleyCare Health Systems has cut its programs back to one every other month; San Ramon Regional Medical Center's popular call-in show, "Ask Your Doctor," has been temporarily shelved; Big O Tires has delayed signing a new contract. These cutbacks have cost TV30 thousands of dollars in anticipated revenue that is still on the books.
In its staff survey, the consulting firm of Kirchhoff & Associates found little cheer among those working or volunteering their services at TV30. Some of the comments:
"The building is way too small and the setup of the building is also bad. There are wires everywhere."
"Technology at TV30 is outdated and needs to be repaired. Today there is no newscast due to a control room breakdown."
"A pay raise is needed in order for me to continue working for this company. I was promised a review and a raise after six months at hiring which, when I brought it up, was quickly shot down."
Kirchhoff's report gave a blistering review on how TV30 is operated:
• This mission of the station is unclear.
• TV30's management lacks the required business skills and financial acumen.
• Programming policies are vaque and are not connected to specific goals.
It's this report, which was based on conditions at TV30 that led to deficit spending, as well as the viewer survey that the board will now use to restructure the station for the coming budget year.
Sacred for certain to the four mayors and their city staffs will be continued live coverage of the City Council meetings of each city; the "Mayor's Forum," a monthly interview with each of the mayors; school board meetings, which the school districts pay for; and specialized reports, such as "COPPS," a program sponsored and produced by the Pleasanton police department.
The mayors have also supported bringing back "Media Roundtable," a monthly discussion session with editors and reporters from newspapers covering the Tri-Valley. The program was dropped by Goddard as too time-consuming and costly to produce.
In leaving the station, Glenn Davis, who has a television production consulting business in El Cerrito, where he lives, called his time at TV30 and in the Tri-Valley "wonderful."
"I've enjoyed working with the great staff at TV30 and will always value the friendships I made there. I can't help but leave a bit of my heart there."
"I wanted the investigator to submit her report so that I could resign with dignity," Davis added. "I didn't want the community to think I was trying to evade those allegations. Now is absolutely the right time to move on."
Lockhart said the investigation into charges against Davis by Elliott and Ty showed insufficient evidence to support their claims.
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