MONTPELIER — As Vermont Public Television’s funding remains in jeopardy pending two investigations, staff members called for the resignations of the chairwoman and vice chairman of the board of directors.
A staff letter presented Monday asked the board to consider the resignations of the members “referenced in the complaint” — Chairwoman Pam Mackenzie and Vice Chairman Rob Hofmann — in the wake of admissions that the board failed to open meetings to the public.
“While these allegations alone have put a strain on the trust we have built with our viewers and members, a financial blow of this magnitude could result in a reduction of station signal coverage, cutbacks in quality programming, and the loss of valuable staff members,” the letter, signed by 19 staff members, said.
“We do firmly believe that the resignations would help expedite investigations,” Chuck Bongiorno, the station’s major gifts director, said.
In response, board member Thomas Pelletier said that every board member has expressed support for Mackenzie and Hofmann and no one will be resigning “in the near term relative to the current situation.”
Pelletier will be heading an audit committee responsible for an internal review and the re-certification of the station in compliance with open meeting requirements. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting will also be conducting a review.
An anonymous complaint was lodged against the television station in December, prompting the CPB to launch an inquiry.
Pelletier said he hoped the internal review at VPT would be completed by the end of February.
CPB provides just under $1 million for the station, 16 percent of the station’s operating budget, Bongiorno said. The station cannot spend the grant money until further notice, according to Bongiorno.
Rick Rockwell, director of the International Media Program at American University, said public trust would be the greatest loss for the station because it could affect viewer contributions.
“Let’s face it, public stations exist because their viewers are willing to put money in their pockets,” said Rockwell, who teaches and writes on media ethics.
Jim Wyant, who says he is a major donor, spent 13 years on the board but resigned in November. He praised the board’s culture during most of his tenure, but said that in the past two years, the climate became “adversarial.”
Scott Milne, another former board member who resigned this month, also is a corporate underwriter for VPT.
Milne said fixing policy would only be one step toward changing a “culture of closed meetings.”
“You’re addressing the symptom but what is the disease?” he said.
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