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TV station hangs in the balance after joint work session

WL and OC explore alternatives for Willamette Falls Media Center

West Linn and Oregon City city councilors met at West Linn City Hall Aug. 2 to hear presentations and discuss options for an alternative to the Willamette Falls Media Center.

Both cities are concerned with the mismanagement and questionable financial activity of the Oregon City-based station and are looking for other options. If the two cities decide to pull their funding and go with a different provider, it would mean the end of the long-standing public television studio.

'There will be no decisions tonight, because this is just a work session,' said Amy Clearly, the meeting facilitator and member of the Clackamas County Dispute Resolution Services.

A longstanding service

Since 1980, the WFMC has provided local cable access services to both cities. At the start, West Linn and Oregon City supplied a third of their cable franchise fees to operate the media center. However, as of July 2011, both cities cut their contributions in half, from 32 percent to 16 percent, which translates to $122,000 from West Linn and $106,000 from Oregon City.

The cut comes from the two cities' discontent with other jurisdictions getting a comparable level of service for less than half of what they pay. These other jurisdictions include Damascus, Milwaukie, unincorporated Clackamas County and Wilsonville.

Concern was also raised after a May 2011 audit, which showed 'questionable' spending by the studio in the range of $48,000. The audit did not show fraud, but it did bring to light financial mismanagement, which could cause fraud to go undetected. A lack of itemized receipts was the basis of concern as investigators looked at station purchases made with credit, checks, and petty cash.

As a result, an oversite committee was suggested with the Clackamas Cable Access Board (CCAB), which manages WFMC. However, Oregon City failed to pass the ordinance and the committee was never created.

Decisions, Decisions

'There have been some issues with the management of the facility. We are exploring other options for public broadcast services,' said John Kovash, West Linn's mayor.

The councils heard two presentations Tuesday night, one from Dan Holladay, board chair of the CCAB; and another from Bruce Crest, a representative of the Metropolitan Area Communications Commission.

In response to the audit results, Holladay presented an idea to turn the station into a non-profit organization. This would cut down the costs and make sure there'd be more oversight of the station.

'I believe we could switch over in 2012 to the non-profit model,' Holladay said.

However, the cities would have to supply someone who could negotiate a cable franchise agreement with Comcast, the cities' cable provider. West Linn City Manager Chris Jordan raised concerns over getting someone who could do that.

'We just don't have anyone who is qualified to negotiate a franchise contract, and so it might be in our best interest to find someone who knows that sort of thing to ensure we're getting the best deal,' Jordan said.

MACC made it clear that it has handled franchise contracts before and that it is willing and able to strike a deal with Comcast on the cities' behalf. Crest also mentioned the fact that MACC has strong interior control because of an elected committee, which oversees financial and managerial conduct.

However, West Linn City Councilor Teri Cummings voiced a concern about MACC. Her point was that, since MACC's station is in Beaverton, people who wanted to produce a cable access TV show would have to go to its headquarters to pick up the equipment, instead of traveling to it's current location at 1101 Jackson Street in Oregon City.

'I couldn't stand the idea of telling people to go to Beaverton just because we couldn't get our financial house in order,' Cummings said.

Share ideas in September

The councils resolved that it'd be best to discuss the information independently before reconvening in September to share their ideas. However, with such an important issue at hand, some council members are getting antsy to see results.

'We either need to rewrite the Intergovernmental Agreement to make new governments, or Oregon City has to pass a similar ordinance to give financial and managerial oversight to someone outside of WFMC. That will take some legislative action,' said West Linn City Councilor Mike Jones.

Whatever the councils choose to do will take time to implement. If they decide to restructure the current station and add oversight, or go with MACC, it might be a while before the cities see a change.