VPT board meets to address open meeting controversy - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

VPT board meets to address open meeting controversy

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COLCHESTER, Vt. -

When you think about Vermont Public Television, you might think of Sesame Street, Downton Abbey or Antiques Road Show.  But now the VPT Board of Directors is embroiled in a situation that is not so entertaining.  

The Vermont Public Television's board of directors met in South Burlington Monday, in part to give the public a chance to respond to concerns over the board's violation of open meeting regulations. The Federal Corporation for Public Broadcasting has frozen VPT's funding as it deals with the issue.

"So it is distressing to me that philosophically it sounds as if, or looks as if to me -- a minor donor -- that you are not upholding the ethics of what you should be about,"  VPT supporter Anna Johnston told board members.

On Friday, the board's audit committee announced that its own preliminary investigation shows some violations linked to closed board sessions to discuss personnel issues. The committee reportedly met more than 20 times over the past two years in private. "The rules further require in the event you have a closed session for an approved purpose, that following that meeting a notice needs to be issued indicating what group met, the date of the meeting and what it was that they discussed -- i.e.: a personnel matter that is where we misstepped and failed to provide that post meeting notice," said Tom Pelletier, the VPT Audit Committee Chair.

Some questioned why the board's own audit committee, made up of board members, was in charge of the investigation. "Would it be fair to say there for the audit committees investigation may not have been independent?" said James Leas.

"The internal review that is underway now is in fact comprehensive there is a commitment by the full board as well as the audit committee itself to ensure we conduct a full review with total integrity," Pelletier responded.

The controversy has VPT employees worried about the station's financial future. A letter written by employees was read to the board. "While these allegations alone have put a strain on the trust we have built with our viewers and members, the financial blow of this magnitude could result in a reduction of station's signal coverage, cutbacks in quality programming and the loss of valuable staff members,"  said VPT staff member Chuck Bongiorno.

VPT says they will work closely with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting during their external review of this issue. VPT is working to be re-certified with the CPB in order to be eligible for a million dollars in grant money. But some say, that is not enough. "As we move forward with re-certification I think it would send a good message to the public that the people who were in violation -- again whether knowingly or unknowingly  -- step down so we can move forward with a cleaner slate," Bongiorno said.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting should issue its report by the end of February.  That is when Vermont Public Television will learn if it will regain its certification and funding, or if not, what possible penalties could apply. Board member Tom Pelletier says he is confident that VPT will continue to have a very bright future.

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Internal investigation: VPT board violated open meeting regulations

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