Back in 2006, when Cheshire TV was a fresh — in more ways than one — entry into the local TV scene, we commented on then-director of operations Lee Perkins’ choice not to even screen the content for vulgar or otherwise objectionable content. His view was that public access content ought not to be censored. Ours was that while that was a principled stance in theory, the fact that FCC content rules and other laws apply to public access as much as to other ventures likely meant at some point the station would have to revisit its policies. Eventually, it did, when complaints made clear that community standards vary, and not all content is acceptable here.
Call it an early growing pain. It happens. Another came a year or two later when the organization ran into financial difficulties, needing to be bailed out by Time Warner and the three communities served by Cheshire TV. In the years since, Cheshire TV has mostly done its thing out of the public eye and without controversy, save for battling the city for more money once or twice.
The organization has shown its value to the city of Keene and the towns of Marlborough and Swanzey, airing public meetings and events live and offering locals the chance to make their own tele-visions come true. (Marlborough ended its relationship with the organization a few years ago.) It’s expanded its reach both by putting its content online and by adding a second station to separate governmental coverage from its entertainment offerings.
It’s evolved into an enterprise that churns through an annual budget north of $200,000. It receives $15,150 per month from Keene alone. It’s been a number of years since the venture has had what might be seen as an existential crisis.
But it’s having one now.
Rumblings of discontent emerged late in 2019, when Perkins, who left his position more than six years ago to travel the country but remains a member of the nonprofit, complained bylaws weren’t being followed, nor were required elections for board members being held.
Cheshire TV’s bylaws provide for 12 seats on the board of directors: six of them to be elected by the organization’s membership, one each from Keene State College and the Keene School District, one from each of the organization’s contracting municipalities and one appointed through a majority vote of the board.
At a City Council committee meeting in October, board Chair Jodi Turner was questioned by Councilor Terry Clark, who later said he’d resigned as the council’s representative to the Cheshire TV board after just one meeting last summer. He cited the firing of longtime producer David Kirkpatrick of Antrim as one issue.
By that October meeting, though, a petition had been circulated among the organization’s membership, calling for a meeting to dismiss board members. That meeting took place Jan. 12 through Zoom. It was a massacre, with Turner and four other board members ousted by the more than 40 members who tuned in. A week earlier, five new members had been elected to the board.
Notably, Kirkpatrick was among the leaders of the coup, though the board’s lawyer argues only residents of the towns served by Cheshire TV can be accorded membership. Attorney Bradford Cook said he thought the voting wasn’t legal because several of those casting votes wouldn’t qualify under that bylaw. Perkins, who also spoke against the board members, said longtime practice has been to allow nonresident members.
Cook also took issue with the removal of appointed members, including N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 representative Robert Milliken. Cook said the members don’t have the authority to “fire” appointed members and, in any case, they can simply be reappointed.
As Sentinel staff writer Mia Summerson, who attended the online meeting, reported: “The group was even unable to agree on when to adjourn the meeting when, after the votes to remove both Turner and (Conan) Salada, the board found itself without a chairperson or a secretary.”
Overall, the meeting was filled with more drama than pretty much any scripted offering on Cheshire TV during its 15 years in existence. And it’s surely not the last we’ll hear of the rift. Already, Swanzey Town Administrator Michael Branley, that town’s board member, has since resigned and said Swanzey will no longer contribute funding to Cheshire TV due to “grave concerns” about the organization’s direction.
Time to take a breath.
These sorts of blow-ups between board members and others involved in nonprofit ventures aren’t unknown. They often turn out to be the product of personality conflicts.
In just the past few years, both Stonewall Farm and the Monadnock Humane Society went through similar turmoil. In both cases, things were eventually sorted out and calm was restored.
Cheshire TV is a similarly meaningful part of the region. We hope, and expect, order will be restored. Aside from board politics, there are still challenges to be met, and funding to be sorted out — even moreso if Branley’s pulling of Swanzey’s contributions remains in effect.
Somehow, the nonprofit needs to sort out who its board members are, and that board needs to meet with the organization’s members at large to find a way forward in a fashion suitable for airing without running afoul of community standards.