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Infighting at Santa Barbara Channels

Board Director Wants Executive Producer Out; Senior Producer Calls for Board Director’s Dismissal


In a letter sent to elected officials last week, Ernie Salomon — a longtime and highly visible producer for public access station The Santa Barbara Channels — called for the resignation of board director Ted Baer.

Salomon — in addition to questioning why no one on the board is either a staff member or producer — criticized Baer for micromanaging, including the attempted dismissal of executive producer Keri Stokstad. In a terse letter to city officials, Baer responded he was “not at liberty to discuss” personnel matters and “I only wish [Salomon] had taken the time to find out the truth before sending off one of his diatribes.”

Ted Baer
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Ted Baer

And in the Santa Barbara Channels board room last Thursday, Salomon claimed, “Never have I seen so much dissension in almost fourteen years at the station.”

Several producers and volunteers protested at the board meeting against an agenda item regarding the potential dismissal of Stockstad, which they perceived to be wholly unwarranted. (The board’s executive committee did not meet to set the agenda; it is understood to have been set by Baer.) The board meeting went into a three-hour long closed session, after which members of the public were let back in to be informed that no action was taken.

Channels is a public access TV company, which aims to provide a platform for community debate in Santa Barbara. Keri Stockstad was appointed as Executive Director earlier this year, and has received a lot of praise from the staff working with her. Producer Michael Nicholson told The Independent that Stockstad has “generated a hugely positive atmosphere,” and former Indy staff writer and Channels producer Cathy Murillo added that “producers and staff are fully behind Stockstad.”

However, the Channels’ Board of Directors has lacked confidence in Stockstad from the outset. A Board Executive Director Overseer was appointed to monitor Stockstad’s work, but this overseer subsequently quit. The tenability of Stockstad’s position has been featured on the agenda before, and the result was the same: no action taken.

In her speech to the board, Murillo said that: “I reiterate the need for producer representation on this board of directors.” She believes that the board’s composition — of external directors only — means that it will have difficulty in understanding why internal staff members do things in a certain way. Six new board members have been appointed in the last month, but applications from producers William Smithers and Murillo were turned down.

Other producers also mentioned that the lack of internal representation on the board is a problem. It certainly explains how there can exist such a sharp divergence between the board’s view of certain issues, and that of the staff.

It’s difficult to aggregate stats on how unusual it is to have a Board of Directors with a purely external composition. However, producers Michael Nicholson and Ernie Salomon, who draw on several decades’ worth of experience, affirm it to be extremely unusual.

Santa Barbara city council’s deficit-cutting policy led to a proposal to reduce the funding to the Channels by 30 percent. Keri Stockstad and various producers spoke out at both of the hearings on the issue, and the council decided to only reduce its funding by 15 percent.

Murillo said that Stockstad spoke passionately on the subject, and organized the attempts to secure as much funding for Channels as possible. Staff members at Santa Barbara Channels are now exploring ways that they can recoup their budget short-fall via fundraising initiatives.

Following the board meeting, Producer Ernie Salomon called for the resignation of Board Chair Ted Baer.

As Channels’ funding was recently reduced, Salomon believes that the organization needs to urgently focus on discussing ways to adapt, and to raise more money. He said that it is “really stupid,” to spend a whole board meeting debating the position of an Executive Director, who enjoys the full support of internal staff.

Salomon and other producers highlighted further reasons for their unhappiness. Board directors reportedly only attended the first hearing that the city council held to discuss Channels’ funding. The producers also asserted that board room friction will not help their standing with the council in future discussions over funding.

In response, Baer said in an interview said that public access channels all over the country are experiencing hard times and that Santa Barbara Channels is no different. He asserted that because the council cut the station’s budget — and if the unions don’t make concessions — the budget could suffer even more. The board has to start raising money, he said, which to date, it has not done much of.

As to the allegations that he’s trying to micromanage and fire the current Stockstad, he said, “They don’t know all the facts. They have been misinformed. And I can’t tell you what the facts are because of personnel considerations.” Baer did acknowledge in the three years he’s been on the board, no one has ever called for the resignation of the board’s president. “I guess being the board president, you take the heat,” he said.

Producers at Santa Barbara Channels have started to organize themselves with monthly meetings, and are considering their next course of action.

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