Council wants policy in place before deciding the future of local access television
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Programming for Central Minnesota Access Television (CMAT) Channels 6 and 12 in Little Falls has been off the air since Nov. 1, when Jerry Abraham retired.
For 16 years, Abraham operated CMAT through a contract with the city of Little Falls.
Scott Wonderlich, Board president of Great River Arts (GRA) told the Little Falls City Council Monday, the GRA was interested in running CMAT.
The Great River Arts Center is housed in the same building as CMAT. Wonderlich explained the center was being developed into an event center for Little Falls.
It won’t be just an arts center, but an event center where meetings, receptions, performances and more can be held, he said.
The television and studio in the back would be used for a stage area, making use of the lighting and wiring.
“We are looking to do the same in the front,” Wonderlich said.
The GRA would continue the programming in place and wants to see children’s programming and church services back as soon as possible.
“Essentially the continuation of the same for now,” said Wonderlich.
In the future, Wonderlich said the GRA will expand programming and improve the quality of the content and production.
Little Falls School District Supt. Stephen Jones indicated the school was interested in CMAT as well and had met with members of the GRA Board to discuss a collaboration.
Jones said he had “a little history” with public access television, having started a public access channel in one of his teaching positions.
Jones and members of the GRA Board met to talk about a collaboration, with students handling some of the broadcasting.
“A school is meant to learn, to train, it’s about teaching kids,” Jones said. “Do I think there can be a collaboration with GRA? Absolutely.”
However, Jones said after the meeting when he read the minutes he became concerned that a premature decision to let the GRA run CMAT would require a do-over for the school to work on the educational channel.
Council Member Greg Zylka said he’d love to see a collaboration between the two.
“It’s a great educational tool; it could potentially open up vocational training to students,” he said.
To Wonderlich, he said, “I think what you guys are doing is incredible.”
“At this point, in my opinion, this is premature to hand over to another organization until policies are in place,” said Council Member Loren Boyum, who is the Council presence on the Cable Board.
Boyum said he would like to see a policy completed by the end of December, brought before the Council at its first meeting in January and approved at the next meeting.
“It’s important to do this in an orderly process,” he said, to maintain the best interests of the community.
When Abraham retired, he suggested the city put in place policy guidelines before contracting with another entity to run the station. He offered to research other cities’ policies.
However, Abraham said Monday that while he thought it would be easy, when he read policies in place for other access channels, “I did not find one policy that fits the needs of Little Falls.”
He said the policies were drafted in “legalese” and difficult to understand. Abraham said he wasn’t able to put a policy together and recommended the city contract with a professional to draft a policy, but in the meantime contract with an organization to run local access television.
“Look at getting the channels up and running with the understanding that policies will be in place July 1 (2014),” Abraham said.
“I would love to see it run properly, with policies in place,” said Council Member Frank Gosiak. “I’m a little bit skeptical, we have to do it right.”
Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem said, “If we just jump in, it may run amok. We’re in a day and time when we need these policies.”
The Council directed city staff to do some research and possibly work with the city attorney in coming up with a policy for CMAT before a decision was made to contract with any organization to run local access television.