By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
For 16 years, Public Access Video (PAV), owned by Jerry Abraham, has contracted with the city of Little Falls to operate its cable channels 6 and 12, through Central Minnesota Access Television (CMAT). In a letter Monday, he informed the Council that he’d like to terminate his contract, effective Nov. 1.
Programming consists of community events, government meetings in Little Falls, such as the City Council, School Board and Morrison County Board of Commissioners. Church services, videotaped by the church communities, are aired, as well as monthly shows by the mayor, county administrator, various organizations and other individuals.
“It’s safe to say, there are not a lot of cities our size that do the amount of programming that we do,” said Abraham. “It shows the city’s commitment to put money toward Channel 6 to help run it; not a whole lot of cities do that.”
Funding for public access television comes from a license fee charged to city residents by the city through Charter, the city’s cable service provider.
Abraham said he sometimes helps with production of shows to be aired, but said he is not required to do so under the contract. However, should any community member bring in a video to play on air, it will be shown, although PAV has the right to determine the time slot and number of times the show will air.
Abraham told the CMAT Board Aug. 14, that he planned to ask to terminate the contract with the city and why.
He said he felt harassed and bullied by resident Robin Hensel. Abraham had for a time helped Hensel and resident Theresa Skorseth record a show put on by the two who called themselves, “The Reality Players.”
He said, “I used to help her produce her show and at the beginning, some of the shows were actually pretty good. She did a show on climate change with a professor from St. John’s. That’s the whole idea behind local access television. I was kind of happy to see her do that.”
Abraham said when the shows began to be about attacking people, not just City Hall and grievances there, but “committees and people volunteering their time to help the city — attacking people personally and saying their names, I had trouble with that.
“I didn’t say she couldn’t do those shows,” said Abraham. “I just said I wouldn’t help her with the shows. Now every week she comes in, calls or sends emails with a cc to her attorney.”
Hensel told the CMAT Board that it was in April 2012 that she and Skorseth came to Abraham to ask him to videotape their show for airing.
She pointed out numerous shows with numerous people — sports wrap-up, a program for Camp Ripley, the mayor, Council Member Loren Boyum — all filmed in studio by PAV.
“And he was with Theresa and I after we met with the Cable Board in April 2012,” said Hensel.
The shows were taped in the studio until Hensel said she and Skorseth told Abraham about one of his employees cutting out five seconds of audio when Hensel was speaking during a Council meeting, which she called altering public data.
Hensel said after this incident was exposed, Abraham no longer agreed to videotape her show.
Hensel said she has spent $100 getting her shows videotaped and put on DVD to air on public access television. Some of the DVDs don’t work in the equipment at CMAT, Abraham said.
Hensel told the Cable Board she was troubled that Abraham said he’d been harassed and bullied by her. “I’ve never been anything but polite when talking to him,” she said.
But she said he hadn’t had the same response back.
She said she had asked at least four times, very politely and respectfully, to film the show in studio. She wants help with two television shows that she’s been helping to produce. “And he has said lately, no he’s not going to.”
Abraham said several times, Hensel has implied she would add him to her lawsuit against the city, which he said made him feel threatened.
Hensel said she felt Abraham was obligated to tape her shows under section 5.1 of his contract with the city, which outlines PAV’s responsibilities with CMAT, one of which includes “videotaping programs to be aired on Channels 6/12.”
“My plan was to work two more years and see the city through the cable franchise renewal with Charter, then to work part-time, or totally hang it up,” Abraham said. “But I’m tired of having to deal with what I’m dealing with right now.”
Abraham said he still wants to help the city with a technical conversion needed, that will require equipment upgrades.
He’d also like to help the city with policies to help with the problems he said he’s dealing with now.
“The city definitely has to develop some policies to address problems we’re having,” said Abraham, who has researched policies used by other public access stations.
The Council approved dissolving its contract with PAV, effective Nov. 1.
In the meantime, the CMAT Board Council representative, Loren Boyum, City Administrator Dan Vogt, the city’s attorney and Abraham will meet to chart the course for public access television in Little Falls.