In a scathing letter to Cheshire TV Tuesday, Swanzey’s town administrator announced he will be leaving the organization’s board. He also said the town will cease its monthly financial contributions to the public-access station.
The announcement by Swanzey Town Administrator Michael Branley, who had recently replaced selectboard Chairman Kenneth Colby as the town’s representative on the CTV board, followed a dysfunctional meeting last week in which the organization’s membership ousted nearly half of the board. Branley further asked that his name be removed from CTV’s membership rolls, calling the station a “failed organization.”
“When I agreed to serve on the Board of Directors I hoped to be a part of moving Cheshire TV in a positive direction,” Branley wrote in the letter, dated Tuesday. “I was deeply disappointed by the actions by the members of Cheshire TV at the special meeting on January 12th.
“At the Town of Swanzey we value and celebrate our volunteers — even when we may disagree with them or if they make mistakes,” Branley continued. “To see volunteer members of the Board of Directors unceremoniously dismissed without so much as an explanation, debate or an opportunity to defend themselves was appalling.”
Along with his resignation, Branley sent out a second letter, also dated Tuesday, announcing that Swanzey would no longer contribute funding to Cheshire TV due to “grave concerns” about the organization’s direction.
In a separate email to The Sentinel, Branley explained that the town receives a franchise fee — something given to towns by cable providers operating in their jurisdiction — and a portion of that income has been going to Cheshire TV. The amount of Cheshire TV’s allotment fluctuated monthly but was usually around $3,800. The organization used to have a similar agreement with Keene, but the city now pays it a flat rate of $15,150 each month.
During the special meeting on Jan. 12, which was called specifically for the purpose of discussing the removal of directors, the group’s members — people who produce shows or otherwise have a stake in the organization — voted out five of the 12 board members. Those leading the charge, including CTV founder Lee Perkins, who had left the organization in 2014, said the effort stemmed from various sorts of mismanagement, such as not properly keeping minutes, not holding elections and skirting CTV’s bylaws.
Perkins told The Sentinel Tuesday that he would like Branley to clarify why he’s “appalled” by the members of CTV voting without laying out their reasoning.
“The membership exercised their right to vote,” said Perkins, who is still an active CTV member and serves as a volunteer consultant for the organization. “They don’t need to explain themselves to anyone.”
The Jan. 12 meeting was anything but smooth, with members frequently interrupting each other and a number of people asking for those who moved to oust board members to explain their reasoning. The five board members who were removed were then-Chairwoman Jodi Turner, Kristina Germano, Robert Milliken, David Payson and Conan Salada.
The vote left the board without both a chair and a secretary. The remaining board members called an emergency meeting Friday in which new officers were elected, including new board member Ruzzel Zullo as chair. David Kirkpatrick, CTV’s former field production manager who was fired over the summer, was appointed as acting executive director.
Branley’s letter said that, “through accident or intention,” he was excluded from the Friday meeting. Kirkpatrick attributed this to CTV’s having the wrong email address for Branley on file.
Kirkpatrick said that losing Swanzey’s support will hurt the organization and that, with many of its costs being fixed, labor is the one area where the organization can cut costs.
He emphasized some members’ concerns about the prior board’s conduct — including its failure to hold elections for a period of time and failing to provide the city of Keene with a detailed financial report — and said that those who voted to remove the five board members were doing so because they wanted to see CTV get back on the right track.
“It makes me sad that their response to what happened is they will tear the thing down rather than see it be administered by the people who were fighting for us to follow the rules, be compliant and do the right thing,” he said.