Broadcast employees fear layoffs may force some local shows to go

Oregon Public Broadcasting's board of directors will vote Tuesday on a budget that some employees expect will result in layoffs and the axing of locally produced programs 'Seven Days' and 'Oregon Field Guide.'

The anticipated cuts would be the second in less than one year for the network of radio and television stations, which also broadcasts nationally produced programs such as radio's 'Car Talk' and TV's 'Antiques Roadshow.'

Last June, OPB laid off about 15 percent of its staff of 160 including three vice presidents but made no budget-driven changes to programming.

Laurie Kelley, vice president of marketing and planning, confirmed that the agency's budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 will result in cuts. She declined to discuss specific numbers or programs.

'Once the budget is approved, we'll know more about what services might be cut,' she said Wednesday. 'No decisions to cut local programming have been made at this time. This is just a rumor at this point.'

The budget problems and pending board action have caused 'frustration and a lot of uncertainty' for OPB's staff, according to one employee, who said staff members believe that both 'Seven Days' and 'Oregon Field Guide' will be cut and some staff personnel laid off.

'All of us are looking for other jobs, quite frankly,' the employee said privately.

OPB's personnel policy requires employees to direct calls from reporters to its marketing department and to receive preauthorization before giving interviews, according to a memo sent to all staff members after layoffs last June received widespread local publicity.

While the employee agreed that OPB's current financial predicament is real, he and other current and former employees interviewed by the Tribune disagreed with OPB's management about whether it could have been prevented.

'We would not be looking at any budget cuts if we had received state funding for this (2003-05) biennium,' Kelley said.

She said OPB had made up for previous budget deficits with layoffs, cost-cutting and an increase in viewer and listener contributions, which, in fiscal year 2001-2002, totaled $2 million more than they had the previous year.

But OPB employees expressed concerns about what they view as unwise spending priorities including purchase of a building, production of programs for the national and international markets, and excessive salaries for upper management.

State woes are OPB's, too

OPB's latest budget crisis began when the state decided to reduce the amount it would give to the agency for the fiscal year ending June 30 from an expected $1.7 million to $373,353. The reduction was a result of budget cuts made by the Legislature in a special session last September.

Then, in April, OPB learned that none of the $3.45 million allocated to it in Gov. Ted Kulongoski's proposed budget for the 2003-05 biennium would be funded because of the state's expected budget shortfall.

At this point, OPB is 'not hopeful' that any or all of the $3.45 million allocation will be restored, according to Kelley.

However, OPB lobbyist David Fiskum said he has hopes of convincing legislators that its statewide emergency alert and 'amber alert' functions, at least, deserve state funding.

If not, Kelley said, OPB will become the only one of 30 nationally designated statewide public broadcasting networks that receives no funding from its state Legislature.

Another OPB employee, also speaking anonymously, said the state funding cutbacks are management's 'official word' on agency money troubles. But he and other current and former employees said other factors also have contributed, including the following:

• Long-term losses in OPB's National/International Unit, which Kelley said was expanded in the early 1990s to make documentaries for the national and international markets

• The January 2002 purchase of the former Rodda Paint building, next door to OPB's Portland offices at 7140 S.W. Macadam Ave., for 'future expansion' at a cost of $3.2 million

The building, which was purchased by mortgaging OPB's Macadam Avenue office building and other assets, is partially leased but earns less than the amount of the mortgage payments, according to Kelley.

• Compensation packages paid to OPB President Maynard Orme and to Jack Galmiche, executive vice president and chief operating officer

The executives received $211,000 and $178,000, respectively, between July 1, 2001, and June 30, 2002 the most recent time period for which OPB has made such information publicly available.

'None of us even comes close to that,' said an OPB employee. 'I just don't feel like they've cut everywhere they could. It strikes me that they're trying to cut visible programs (like 'Seven Days' and 'Oregon Field Guide') so they can say, 'See? We did make cuts.' '

Contact Janine Robben at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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