By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
SAUGUS — The Board of Selectmen signed a five-year contract with Saugus Community Television, which includes an agreement that the panel will oversee cable access station spending.
“There has been quite a bit of turmoil over the access of the PEG (Public, Educational and Government) access channels,” said Special Town Counsel Ira Zaleznik. “With that turmoil in mind, we set out to draft an agreement that is hoped will end the turmoil and will provide the appropriate level of supervision of this board.”
Rather than cash coming from Comcast and going straight to SCTV, it will go through the Board of Selectmen for appropriation. Budget proposals and requests for funds will be made by SCTV.
Each piece of equipment will be itemized and listed so selectmen will know the cost of the equipment “to ensure the money is spent in the manner that it was intended,” Zaleznik said.
The SCTV board of directors includes five newly appointed members; Fatima Allan, Al DiNardo, Donna Sordello, Bill Williamson and Tom Lucey.
“One of the problems, and I would say it was probably done with the best intentions, was (former SCTV board members) were utilizing the funds for the operation of the channel for causes and measures that were not within their mandate and the scope of what they were supposed to be doing,” said Zaleznik.
As an example, Zaleznik said the board used funding to award a scholarship to a Saugus High School student.
In 2012, the selectmen declined to renew the 2007 agreement between the town and SCTV, a private television station operated separately from the town, and instead formed Saugus Cable Television Station, a for-profit entity funded by the town that operated under the direction of the Board of Selectmen.
The vote to make the change was later rescinded, but then that vote was rescinded, leaving the duties to SCTS.
Problems extended to include fraudulent court documents, unauthorized money, accusations of open meeting violations, and several lawsuits from and against the town, all of which have now been dropped or resolved.
“It took a long time to unravel everything but now it’s unraveled,” said Debra Panetta, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen.
By using the existing nonprofit, the new SCTV board can use business mechanisms already in place, such as payroll and other accounts, Zaleznik said. As an alternative, dissolving the existing nonprofit and creating a new one would have been a lengthy and costly process.
“It’s easy for them to start up the operations rather than starting up a brand new nonprofit,” he said.
Selectman Jeff Cicolini said he was pleased the agreement included that the board could conduct performance reviews up to four times should they feel it’s necessary.
“That’s a very big piece, in my opinion,” he said. “If the people in the town aren’t getting what they expect out of it, I like the idea that that can be assessed once a year or as needed. It gives us a little extra oversight.”
Crabtree said the town’s staff spent more than 100 hours resolving the problems.
“Things happened and you don’t expect them — it became complex with politics and many personalities,” said Crabtree. “I’m hopeful this will allow the town and cable entity to move forward so we can all focus on what we should be focusing on.”
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.