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Paul Hager, president and founder of Northfield’s public access television station (NTV), emailed me last week with some more information about the city government’s financial relationship with his non-profit organization. The full text of his email is below, with a comment in brackets from me.
“Maren Swanson, the city attorney, heard of a law change that disallowed a city from having a contract to fund a non-profit, but a city could contract for services from a non-profit. There is a difference. The law must have been passed in 2002 or 2003, Maren could tell you those details.”
[Swanson has told me in the past that she does not answer questions from the general public unless a member of Northfield’s city government staff asks her to respond. Members of the city’s staff told me the details of financial dealings between the city government and NTV could be found in in the city’s files.
I submitted a written request to see any NTV-related documents having to do with contracts or finances. Only one of the documents seemed to refer to the law Hager mentions. That document, dated July 21, 2003, is titled “Resolution 2003-211: A Resolution by the Mayor and the City Council of the City of Northfield, Minnesota, relating to agreement with NTV 26.”
The part of the resolution that references a state law reads “It is important that the legal status of NTV 26 as an independent non-profit corporation be confirmed before August 1, 2003, so that it is clear that NTV 26 and the city are not required to comply with the requirements of Minn. Stat. 465.719, which might otherwise apply.”
I still have to find out from Hager if he met that confirmation deadline. I could not find “NTV” or “Northfield Television” on the non-profit listings on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Web site.
The resolution shows the City Council unanimously approved an interim financial agreement between the city and NTV in 2003. The interim agreement read “NTV 26 will continue to provide services to the City and the community as it has recently been providing, without further compensation from the City.” NTV had typically received anywhere from about $10,000 to $85,000 in the previous 17 years.
The resolution also states city government staff would work toward negotiating “the terms of an on-going contract with NTV” and present it to the council by Oct. 31. The staff requested multiple deadline extensions and the council did not approve any significant changes to the interim agreement until 2005, when NTV’s money reserves began to run out. NTV received $3,000 at that time.]
“We had the option to dissolve NTV, become part of the city, or contract for services, which is what we did. By mutual agreement, NTV and the city terminated our agreement (in 2003) to provide public access services and agreed to a new contract (in 2005) to provide access services as an independent contractor.”
“Starting in 1985, our funding had always been somewhat secure, but the possibility remained that the funding by the cable company could evaporate overnight and the city could direct the franchise fee to other purposes and public access would go dark. So I saved money and built up a reserve to fund operations in the event of a funding failure. I built a reserve large enough to buy us time to operate the channel for up to a year during which we would either reorganize or find a new funding source.”
“With a new franchise agreement with Charter Communications and a new agreement with NTV, the city wanted to come up with a new idea for public access. Until that idea was in place, NTV would spend its reserve and not receive any funding from the city. All PEG and franchise fees would go into the city’s cable account. (See more information about franchise fees and fees for programming for education and government).”
“Susan Hoyt, then city administrator, proposed a new model for access: Hiring a new “cheerleader” of public access to encourage people to produce programming. Susan also contacted the public schools to see if they (the school system) would be interested in taking over public access, but the schools declined. Susan left her position at the city and the city did not come up with a new idea for access.”
“I submitted my proposal to the City in October 2005. The council asked Scott Davis to convene a committee (task force) to address the issue of public access, media and my proposal. The history of that committee is documented, I believe, but the item of note for this discussion is that the future of public access was not resolved in the meetings of the committee.”