In Which He Vents

I’ve often said I didn’t want to be in a public office because I’d have little patience of fools and tell the blowhards to shut up. Still, I serve on both the RTM and Area 2 Cable Advisory Council.

At last night’s CAC meeting, I unloaded with both barrels and I have to admit, it felt good.

Essentially, Sound View is the third party provider of Public, Education and Government channel programming under license from the state’s DPUC (Public Utilities). We’re nearing the end of the process for both Sound View and Cablevision to be refranchised. Despite CAC, Cablevision, the Attorney General and others complaining about Sound View, the DPUC’s draft ruling last month not only was refranchsing Sound View but giving them more than they asked for while at the same time more or less emasculating CAC.

The final ruling will come out on November 22 and earlier this week, oral arguments were heard from those parties objecting. And object they did starting with the towns of Orange and Milford as well as the AG.

As a result, I was fairly fired up as we drove out to Orange last night. Gerry Speno was all lathered up and angered at the DPUC’s clear favoritism and Fairfield’s inability to get Sound View to provide us with equipment so we could begin town specific Government programming. (By the way, the DPUC ruling more or less tosses out the notion of Town Specific programming.)

The meeting got underway and we began asking Tom Castelot, the unassuming head of Sound View, what plans were being readied for Sound View to begin handing out grant money to towns and organizations interested in producing programs for the three channels. He claimed he was waiting for the final ruling, that they hadn’t given it much thought yet and won’t until the new franchise period begins January 1.

I unloaded the first barrel by pointing out the DPUC was clearly going to rubber stamp the refranchising – he knew it, we knew it. Knowing it was coming; any well run operation would have begun planning so on January 1 they were in a position to begin handing out forms and cash. That he hasn’t begun the process showed poor management.

A little later, after we asked for input on how the grant process would work, he finally admitted some of his staff had begun thinking about it. Also, under the rules, he had twelve months to put things in order. He also intended to not only consult us but to consult the town leaders.

I unloaded barrel two. First, Fairfield’s been waiting on his cash for weeks now and there was no way we’d wait until the end of 2007 to get up and running. Second, we were appointed by the town leaders as their representatives so he talks to us and not them. Third, two of us admitted we could figure out the entire grant application process in about three hours so why on earth should it take a committee months? I pointed out how mismanaged and poorly run the operation had to be and that such incompetence should not be tolerated.

Later, as we shifted into executive session, one fellow rep came and shook my hand, pleased to have a fellow rabble rouser. Me, I just call them as I see them.

Sound View is sitting on a pile of cash, some of which it is using to try and do the same for Area 9 and it has for Area 2. That’s Area 2’s money being misspent which is probably a crime. Additionally, the DPUC told him he had too much excess cash and needed to use a large chunk of it. Rather than be proactive and come before us with a plan to provide towns with equipment, training, etc., he came empty handed with no plans, no cash. He’s probably hoping for the same lack of oversight from the DPUC that has allowed this kind of malfeasance to go on.

The rhetorical question we asked out loud more than once last night was why the CAC should exist if the DPUC has stripped us of just about all authority. Heck, in the new agreement, Tom won’t even be required to attend out meetings. Tough to advise him if he isn’t there to hear it.

There’s much about how Tom runs Sound View and how the DPUC has acted that begs for investigation. Of course, the entire issue has been ignored by the local media and not every town leader in Area 2 is properly versed on the issue to lend more than token support (Bridgeport, for example, can’t be bothered to name people to CAC). It may well come to the AG opening an investigation or a lawsuit from some quarter before the citizens in Area 2 receive the public access programming they deserve.