The Vineyard’s public access television network is moving forward with ambitious plans to build a new facility despite the resignation last week of the MVTV executive director and longtime board chairman.
Julienne Turner, who has headed MVTV since July 2010, and Denys Wortman, an MVTV founder and chairman of its board since 2002, announced Oct. 4 they were stepping down. Ms. Turner, who will stay on until the end of the year, said her reasons were personal. Mr. Wortman said his decision was triggered by hers.
“I’ve been the head of this for nine years, and sometimes change is good,” Mr. Wortman said. “With Julie leaving, that was, okay it’s time for me, too.”
In her relatively short tenure, Ms. Turner has been credited with pushing a broader agenda for MVTV, perhaps best known for its gavel-to-gavel coverage of selectmen’s meetings and other local government assemblies. Since Ms. Turner was hired, a new video on-demand server has been launched for their Web site so people at home can stream previously recorded programs. New technology has also been put in place and the station is in the process of converting to high-definition equipment.
MVTV has also held membership drives, expanded video training and reached out to schools, towns, and community organizations to encourage greater public use of the station’s equipment and facilities.
Recently, MVTV signed a purchase and sale agreement on a 1.4-acre parcel of land on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, between the Brazilian Church and Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, with the intention of building a new home there. MVTV now occupies an 1,800-square-foot space with no bathroom on the campus of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Its current lease with the school district ends in 2013.
The plan has been to raise at least $1 million in private funds to build a studio that offers more space and greater public access, and Ms. Turner was expected to champion that effort. Board members say the plan, which still needs approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the town, will go on.
“There were some members of the board extremely reluctant to leave the high school but they weren’t looking at drawbacks and Julie said, ‘This is ridiculous,’ ” said Ann Bassett, who took over as interim board chairman following Mr. Wortman’s resignation. “She really did push us to build something that works for us. There was a bit of turmoil, but she was right, she had all the professionalism that was able to push us forward. Instead of being mired in day-to-day stuff, she looked at what the next steps were.”
Organized as a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, MVTV gets most of its roughly $400,000 annual budget from Comcast, which is required under the Island’s current cable franchise agreement to pay five per cent of the cable television receipts it gets from Vineyard customers to support public access TV. That money is supplemented by modest membership fees from about 300 individuals and businesses who use MVTV services.
Comcast is now negotiating with the Cable Advisory Board, a committee made up of representatives of each of the six Island towns, to renew its cable license for another 10 years. In addition to seeking to continue the five per cent assessment, the board wants Comcast to provide $800,000 to keep MVTV’s equipment up to date. So far, Comcast has offered a one-time sum of $150,000.
At a meeting of the Cable Advisory Board Thursday in West Tisbury, Ms. Turner said results of surveys of Island residents about their cable service show that extending the footprint of homes covered by Comcast was a higher priority than capital funding for MVTV. But she suggested that the committee seek an annual capital expense commitment from Comcast as a way of bridging the difference between their $800,000 request and Comcast’s $150,000 offer.
MVTV is using about $400,000 it had squirreled away since 2002 to purchase the land and create engineering and architectural plans, but will need to do private fund-raising for the balance, she said.
The MVTV board is made up of 13 members, six appointed by the six Vineyard towns, six elected for staggered terms by members at its annual meeting, and one appointed by the school superintendent. Ms. Turner declined to elaborate this week on her decision to resign and said she was focusing on the progress the staff has made in the last 15 months.
“My reasons [for leaving] are my own and I ask the Vineyard to respect that,” she said. “We have a lot of exciting things going on . . . and that’s what I’m focusing on. We’ve had a tremendous amount of outreach in the past 15 months and I’m confident with the support of the board they’ll continue to grow and flourish.”
MVTV board members contacted by the Gazette, some of whom asked not to be quoted by name, said Ms. Turner’s efforts to make changes at MVTV caused strains within the board, but all were complimentary of her contributions.
Ms. Bassett recalled that upon her arrival Ms. Turner took steps to bring order to the organization.
“She tried to bring about a more professional way of doing things at the station. A little casual was good but a lot was counterproductive,” she said.
“I will miss Julie tremendously because she’s brought so much positive energy. She’s done some great things for the station, and got us on a fast-forward track,” said Anne Lemenager, secretary of the board.
“She has vision. She knows how to get out there and technically she’s also very strong,” said Mr. Wortman. “I’m sad about Julie, but I’m more sad for the people of Martha’s Vineyard and MVTV and how much better it could have become.”