I have been unnecessarily unkind towards Susan Thomas, author of the Mountain Street Memo, in a couple of my blog postings of late. I’m still annoyed by the memo, but for most folks it just looks like another political street fight - for which we are rightly famous in Fayetteville.
There are several things that we will be discussing (debating?) Thursday night at the Issue Forum sponsored by Fayetteville’s Telecomm Board. One of the key items is the role of Cable Administrator, and their role in the grand scheme of things.
I still remember the huge political battle in Fayetteville over the decision to install the position in the early 1990s. Fayetteville Open Channel (of which I was a board member) felt that having a cable Administrator was a huge offense to not only us, but to the people of Fayetteville.
We were public access, we cried - why should we be accountable to anyone? Well, not in those exact words, but pretty close. Oversight over a city contractor?
The dark hand of government would soon be interfering with public access programming, telling us what to have on, and what not to have on. Some on the FOC Board thought that was a bunch of hooey, and we were fighting amongst ourselves as furiously as we were with the city.
To say that we looked unprofessional would be the understatement the century. Finally, in November 1991, eight board members of FOC resigned during a board meeting - on live television. They later founded Access 4 Fayetteville, which competed for (and won) the access contract.
4F later morphed into C.A.T.
In 1992 Shea Crain became the first Cable Administrator, followed by Marvin Hilton. While both became a little too fond of paperwork for the liking of some, there can be no doubt of either’s fierce determination to protect both the Government Channel and public access, often under unsympathetic city administrations.
Many cities across the United States have Cable Administrators. I think often in Fayetteville we don’t actually look at other cities and see what works before blundering into ill-advised plans. Maybe before we think of tinkering - or demolishing - a system that works pretty well, we should examine why it works so well across the country.
C.A.T. is doing pretty well, and probably doesn’t need much oversight - right now.
But it doesn’t matter that today C.A.T. is doing an exemplary job, or that we have a city administration that at least goes through the motions of being progressive. We plan for the future. We always have. We always do. Someday C.A.T. may have an incompetent board of directors or an incompetent manager (the same danger that all non-profits face), or we may have a city adminstration opposed to free expression of ideas, or discussion of issues on the Government Channel.
That’s why we have this system in place, in preparation for the day that may happen.
The C.A. is part of the public’s safety net. If you remove that, and you end up dealing with what amounts to a glorified clerk (with no authority), who benefits from that?