MVTV changes at the top carry into New Year

Michelle Vivien filmed Michael West, at the MVTV studio recently. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Martha’s Vineyard Television (MVTV), the Island’s cable public access TV station, is focused on providing a stable environment in which to do its work and on building its new home, new board chairman Ann Lemenager said this week.

Ms. Lemenager took the reins two months ago from interim chairman Ann Bassett who succeeded Denys Wortman, who served as chairman for nearly 10 years.

Mr. Wortman resigned on October 4, the same day the board accepted the resignation of then-executive director Julienne Turner after 15 months on the job, ending a tumultuous summer of change and evident conflict at the 10-year old public access station. It included the resignation of Carl Holt, a key operations and technical support employee, and three other board members.

Ms. Turner’s tenure dramatically picked up the pace at MVTV with large-scale public initiatives designed to provide viewer input in advance of renegotiation of a 10-year contract with cable vendor Comcast, which provides cable service to the Island and, by law, provides most of the funding for MVTV.

Ms. Turner also directed technical support and employee time to an ambitious new five-part documentary series, “We Are the Island,” sponsored by The Donors Collaborative, a consortium of island nonprofit agencies. Island resident Chuck Hughes served as executive producer, and longtime network and local TV producer Peter Temple was the segment producer. Research and reporting is complete for at least three of the five issue-oriented shows, now awaiting final editing and production.

The ambitious project created a strain on time, resources, and occasionally, tempers, at the station.

“Julie did a fantastic job. I am not dismissing her vision in any way, shape, or form. Maybe we were moving faster than the resources allowed. I don’t know. I wasn’t here to see it,” Ms. Lemenager said.

Speaking this week with The Times, Ms. Lemenager was clear that she did not want to rehash events of last summer for two reasons. “First, I was abroad for most of the summer and didn’t observe what happened. Second, I’m aware of ongoing comments but there is too much to do to begin trying to respond. We need to go forward,” she said.

In that vein, Ms. Lemenager also said she asked for and got approval from the board that she be its only public voice for the near-term.

Since her term began in October, the board has rehired former MVTV executive director Stephen Warriner as interim executive director for six months while a candidate search is conducted. Mr. Warriner served as executive director from 2003 to 2010 before leaving to pursue a private venture. He said this week that he will be a candidate for the position.

Mr. Holt has been rehired and two vacant at-large board seats have been filled by Richard Knabel of West Tisbury and John McCormick of Edgartown. The 13-member MVTV board comprises representatives from each of the six towns, six at-large community seats, and a representative of the school superintendent’s office. The Oak Bluffs town representative seat is vacant.

MVTV is currently housed in cramped quarters next to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School but last week had a preliminary meeting with the Martha’s Vineyard commission (MVC) for approval to build a new facility a quarter-mile away on the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road on a site next to the Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home.

“Things are stabilized. We’re staffed appropriately with four full-timers. We’re waiting for the Comcast contract to be completed, so we can set a budget. We met with the MVC last week and we’re on their docket for Jan. 19. We’ll do planning and permitting work in the interim,” she said.

The contract between Comcast and each of six Island towns expired on June 30. Ongoing negotiations have included towns’ requests for coverage in outlying areas, including Chappaquiddick, and for an additional arts and culture MVTV channel on the Comcast band. Comcast provides five per cent of its Island cable revenue to fund MVTV, expected to range between $400,000 and $800,000 per year over the next decade. “We hoped to be done by year-end, but now it looks like mid-January,” Jen Rand, chairman of the six-town Cable Advisory Group negotiators, said this week.

Asked about her dreams for the now three-channel (public, education, government) facility, Ms. Lemenager said “First things first: have the building in place, then we need content — shows. Look, even Fox TV can’t fill its schedule. We need to simplify the process so people don’t spend 30 hours to produce a 30-minute show. Make it simple. We have enough creative, articulate people on the island to fill up our airwaves.

“We are not a news agency. We don’t cover events. You, the community, covers them. We want people to take what we offer, resources and training, and go out and cover and produce their own shows. And if we build it, they will come,” she said.