Stop APT’s downward spiral

Published 12:00am Saturday, July 28, 2012

Editor’s note: Charlie Grantham is an Andalusian and the COO of Alabama Public Television. He submitted a copy of his letter to Gov. Robert Bentley addressing recent issues in the organization, to be printed here.

 

Dear Gov. Bentley,

Having worked in several capacities for Alabama Public Television (APT) under the Alabama Educational Television Commission (AETC) since 1978, I feel it is time for me to make an open statement concerning the recent firings of two of my co-workers—co-workers and leaders who have led APT in becoming one of the premier educational television institutions in America. Under the direction of Allan Pizzato, education was the primary focus within the organization. APT is currently looked at nationally as a leader among public television stations as to how to best serve the educational needs of teachers and students, with teachers being anyone who wants to share knowledge and students being anyone who has a thirst for knowledge.

Aside from education, another area that was an important focus for Mr. Pizzato was the quality of locally produced programs and documentaries that showcase the great state of Alabama. When Mr. Pizzato became the leader of Alabama Public Television (APT) in 2000, there were zero Emmy awards on the shelves. Because the bar was raised under his leadership, APT has garnered some 17 Emmy awards with over 25 nominations in the last seven years. There have been numerous other awards, but the Emmys are the “Best of the Best.”

APT has also been selected as one of three initial television stations, commercial and public, to test a new way of transmitting warnings to the public over mobile/handheld television. This honor was a direct result of the forward thinking of Allan Pizzato and the APT management in working with other agencies on both the state and federal level.

These are only three areas where APT has become known locally and nationally as a leader. In all circles, Alabama Public Television is spoken of highly. APT is one of the bright and shining positive lights of which all Alabamians can be proud. Much of this positive image has been due to the leadership and drive of Allan Pizzato and his devotion to Alabama Public Television. We are one of the things that are nationally considered positive about Alabama

Pauline Howland, former Deputy Director and Chief Financial Officer of APT, is the perfect example of what you want in someone looking out for your money. She is honest to a fault and a stickler for all rules and regulations being followed. AETC is audited by two different state agencies, and, in addition to these two required audits, APT subjects itself to a yearly independent audit by an outside audit firm. During the years that accounting has been under the direction of Mrs. Howland (since 2000), there has been not one finding of wrong doing.

Now a shadow is being cast over APT by its own directors. The seven-member commission, AETC, at its June 12, 2012, meeting abruptly fired Mr. Pizzato and Mrs. Howland, saying only that they wanted to move in another direction. It is my belief that the firings were based solely on ideological differences and personality clashes between Mr. Pizzato and some of the commissioners; Mrs. Howland’s firing was just . . . well, I just don’t know why. Within 48 hours, the commissioners mysteriously asked Mrs. Howland to continue to work from home for six weeks for the purpose of preparing APT’s FY2013 budget, while at the same time, one of the commissioners was accusing her of doing something unethical while employed at APT. This begs the question: Why would you allow someone full remote access to all records and files if you had true grounds for a dismissal?

Several of the commissioners have their own agendas, which may or may not have been in the best interest of APT. One commissioner has suggested dropping PBS programming. Is he going to answer the phone and explain to parents why their children no longer can watch such programs as Sesame Street, Clifford and Curious George? When told that some actions might jeopardize the licenses of APT, they went looking until they found a legal firm that would see things from their point of view. On programming and other issues, at times the commissioners did not want to hear the advice of the management team—a team made up of Pauline and Allan and myself, who just between us three have nearly 100 years combined broadcasting experience. In their actions leading up to the firings, several of the commissioners may have broken some of Alabama’s Sunshine laws along the way. The courts will have to decide that matter.

The staff of Alabama Public Television has endured a lot in the past few years caused by budget cuts. Since 2008, APT has seen its state funding cut by over 60 percent. Even with these type cuts, the leadership of APT, along with a very dedicated staff, has managed to still keep its bright light shining. Now it seems we are being stabbed by the very people who, according to the Alabama Constitution, are supposed to help us solve our problems. The staff morale is the lowest I have ever seen and we have no confidence in our commissioners. Our public and private foundation members resigned after the firings. What kind of message does that send when leaders in the communities who love APT resign in protest? Our commissioners have caused literally thousands of dollars in private support to be pulled from the organization. Each day more and more of the citizens of Alabama, along with businesses, are pulling their support based on the actions and perceived future actions of the AETC. Some of the changes made by the commission may jeopardize future federal funding. All the commissioners say when asked by the staff “why the changes” is “they want to move in a new direction.” When you are recognized as one of the best in all categories, a change of direction means you are moving away from greatness. Alabama Educational Television was the first educational television network in the United States and under its now former executive director and deputy director/CFO was maintaining being a leader and a bright light on Alabama.

If something is not done immediately to stop this destructive spiral, it may be that history will record that under the watch of Gov. Robert Bentley, Alabama Educational Television died an untimely death.

 

Sincerely,

Charles Grantham

COOAlabama Public Television Network

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