KCTS-TV board gets an earful
Seattle Times staff reporter
The board of Seattle's public-television station yesterday decided to bring in an outsider to temporarily run the financially troubled station while it searches for a permanent leader.
The KCTS-TV board also heard from nearly 70 people who jammed its quarterly meeting yesterday, demanding vibrant local programs, a board reflecting the community and an end to concealing problems.
"This board is a preponderance of rich, white guys," said Kathy Keenan, 47, of Seattle. "I don't think you guys need to retire. We need your money, we need your wisdom, but we need more diversity."
Her comment drew laughter and applause.
The 14-member board includes five women and two minorities, with one vacancy.
KCTS President Burnill "Burnie" Clark, 61, retired last week under attack for mismanaging the $20 million-a-year operation. Under his tenure, KCTS has piled up millions in operating deficits and owes more than $2.8 million to the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and $229,000 in back rent to Seattle Center, where the station is based.
Clark will leave the station sometime in May, board Chairman Doug Beighle said yesterday. The board also will meet at 2 p.m. every Thursday "until we see this place settle down," Beighle said.
John Coney, a former KCTS executive producer, defended Clark, crediting him with transforming the station from mediocrity over his 16-year tenure.
"You have been attacked by your commercial competitors," he told the board, referring to The Seattle Times and Seattle Weekly.
Others called for drastic change. Alice Ikeda, a KCTS producer, tearfully read a statement signed by 71 employees.
"We expect our board and management to make an immediate commitment that will put to rest any suspicion of financial mismanagement and to begin a new era of transparency and openness with the staff of KCTS, our viewers and our members," she said.
Nickolas Vassily, a Seattle theatrical producer, called for "the entire board of directors for KCTS to resign. You have stood by for years while this ship listed and is now sinking, and you should accept full responsibility."
Betsy Graef told the board she stopped donating to KCTS two years ago because she was disappointed with its shows and frustrated with how the station was run.
"I will go home tonight and I will write out my new check and I will send it in because I have confidence that you will make the right corrections," she said. "Part of this, though, requires that you reach out to this community."
Floyd Jones and his wife, Delores, have contributed more than a half-million dollars to KCTS over the years, sponsoring a variety of programs. As Jones began to speak, his voice caught. "I'm sorry, I'm a little emotional," he said, then went on to exhort the board to publish its financial report twice a year and to address its problems.
"You stay together and solve this problem," Jones said. "Get it together."
Beighle thanked speakers and promised change. Earlier in the meeting, he detailed other changes:
• The board will meet with station employees individually and with the staff quarterly.
• An oversight panel will monitor the station's finances until a new president is hired.
• The board might include public and employee representatives on the search committee.
The board also voted yesterday to provide copies of the station's annual financial reports to anyone who requests them.
The board reported that the station expects to end the fiscal year in June with $400,000, not counting capital revenue and depreciation costs. The station will only have $170,000 cash on hand. For 2004, the board predicted it will have a break-even budget.
Clark spoke only to give his president's report, which detailed the station's pledge-drive successes and productions. He noted that KCTS has been nominated for a dozen local Emmy awards.
Cheryl Phillips: 206-464-2411 or firstname.lastname@example.org