KCTS board to consider station chief's early exit; public meeting set for today
Seattle Times staff reporter
The board of Seattle's financially troubled public-television station will decide in a closed session today whether president Burnie Clark will leave within weeks.
Under Clark's leadership, KCTS has racked up millions in operating losses, projected unrealistic revenue and fallen behind in dues to PBS and rent to Seattle Center.
Clark, 61, announced his retirement last week, saying he would stay until October, but others questioned whether he should run KCTS for another six months.
Tuesday Clark told board members he would step down by June 30 at the latest or as early as next week, if they wanted.
Clark said he moved up his exit because he has continued to be at the center of controversy about station mismanagement. "I didn't want to be a distraction," he said. "Unfortunately, that hasn't happened."
Doug Beighle, board chairman, said of Clark's decision, "I couldn't quarrel with his assessment."
The board had already scheduled a closed session at today's quarterly board meeting to discuss whether Clark needed to step down sooner, Beighle said.
The board also has scheduled 30 to 45 minutes of comment from people attending the public portion of the 2 p.m. meeting, which takes place at the KCTS offices, 401 Mercer St.
Clark has suggested to board members that Mark Leonard, Channel 9's chief administrative officer, head the station while the board searches for a new president.
Beighle said he didn't know whether the board would promote Leonard but is certain he will be important in providing continuity in the interim.
Leonard, 46, began at KCTS in 2000, coming from KYVE in Yakima, where he was general manager. KCTS owns KYVE.
As interim president, Leonard would oversee the station reorganization that Clark announced last week. The station will shift focus from producing national programs to local efforts. As part of the change, 11 employees were laid off and as many as 19 more will lose their jobs within 30 days.
"If the board wants me to take this challenge and help lead it, I'm willing to do that," Leonard said. "If they feel strongly they need to go in another direction, that's fine."
Local efforts must become the backbone of the station for KCTS to weather its crisis, Leonard said. As examples, he cited call-in public-affairs shows and series on issues such as taxes.
"We're an institution that has a public trust, we are local and we are charged exclusively with serving the public interest," he said.
The station must re-establish trust with viewers and with its employees, Leonard said.
The board must not only act quickly but carefully, longtime producer Jean Walkinshaw said. Good local shows that are carefully executed will help rebuild trust, she said.
"I just hope that in the distress of the financial situation we don't make the wrong choices in the direction we need to go," she said.