Independent Video Producers on San Antonio Public Access TV

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Awkward Position of PEG vs. City Government

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September 8, 2006

Communications and Public Affairs

City of San Antonio

P.O. Box 839966

San Antonio, Texas 78283-3966

Re: Document request

To Whom It May Concern:

Under Texas Government Code, Chapter 552 of the Public Information Act, I request copies of the itemized budget and all memos, documents, and correspondence related to the reinstatement of Public Access Digital Channel 20.

This is a follow-up to my last request, which was a copy of the agreement between the City of San Antonio and Time Warner Cable. I received that, and appreciate your diligence in dispersing these documents. Thank you for your service, time and attention.



October 24, 2006

Communications and Public Affairs

City of San Antonio (COSA)

P.O. Box 839966

San Antonio, Texas 78283-3966

To Whom It May Concern:

Under Texas Government Code, Chapter 552 of the Public Information Act, I request copies of the following:

A financial statement showing from which and to where the $415,000 of “Various funds were reallocated from [the 2006] budget for the reinstatement” of Time Warner Digital Channel 20 (referenced by John Danner in writing on 10.13.06 and in Chip Haass’ testimony on 4.27.06)

  • Documents showing Time Warner, Grande, AT&T, and any other PEG vendor payments processed, and where funds were allocated, by COSA in 2006 (any monies, either 1% payments or 5% franchise fees, received or disbursed for PEG programming since 5.15.06, including any funds previously placed in escrow by Time Warner)
  • A copy of the $1.8M proposal received by COSA from Time Warner by December 2005 (as referenced in “COSA PEG Transition” power point presentation 12.15.05)
  • Copies of the bids evaluated by COSA from “seven different companies” to supply equipment and installation for the PEG channels (as referenced in “COSA PEG Transition” power point presentation 2.2.06)

These are follow-ups to my last request, which was “the itemized budget and all memos, documents, and correspondence related to the reinstatement of Public Access Digital Channel 20.” I apologize for the confusing request, and appreciate the care and concern exhibited by the COSA Attorney staff John Danner and Gabriel Garcia in responding to my requests. Thank you, again and in advance, for your service, time and attention.



March 14, 2007

Open Records Division

Attorney General’s Office

PO Box 12548

Austin, TX 78711-2548

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter serves to file complaint against the City of San Antonio (COSA) for non-compliance.

In OR2007-00603, your office (AG) held COSA responsible for releasing various documents related to PEG programming. On March 2, I received copies of nine checks paid to COSA, as well as what looks like a “working copy” of a PEG budget. I will spare you those enclosures, seeing as you previously reviewed them. Although informative, the COSA release does not fulfill the terms of your ruling.

In the ruling, you “note that [COSA] did not submit information responsive to items three and four of the request. We assume[s] the city has released this information to the requestor. If it has not, it must do so at this time…” To date, I have not received those items: a copy of the Time Warner proposal or bids evaluated from other companies.

I have not received parts one or two of that request either. COSA has not, or will not, release any documents showing allocation or reallocation of PEG funds in their 2006 budget. In addition, the check copies received do not include payments outside the May-Oct. 2006 window. COSA Attorney John Danner noted in the accompanying letter that “We have redacted the information that [AG] allowed us to redact.” The lack of documentation provided suggests a disparity between attorney’s offices.

Whether or not the requested documents were withheld under sections of the Public Information Act is beyond my knowledge. I am requesting that AG help me gain access to these important public documents, and am grateful for the time and attention given to my requests. I also greatly appreciate your front-and-back use of paper—thanks for conserving Texas resources!

Thank you,

One of the things that have been brought to light during the controversies surrounding the implementation of the Texas State Cable Franchising Bill, commonly referred to as SB5, is the adversarial position the Public is placed in when trying to negotiate where funds from the cable franchise fees should be spent. Who should be making those decisions? The City, the citizens of that city, State Government, Federal Government, neither or all of the above?

There is a conflict of interest because City Government wants to have full use of the funds in any way they see fit, and the public, who are the users/consumers of PEG (Public Access, Educational, Government), are left in a position of hoping and praying they will receive some of those benefits in the area of Public Access and the Educational channels, as opposed to funds being spent primarily on the Government part of PEG.

In trying to just get information from the City of San Antonio, we the public have received a tremendous amount of stonewalling when asking for:

1) How much in cable franchise fees have been received by the City since the state franchising law went into effect.

2) An accounting of how the funds have so far been spent and if they have not been spent, are they being held in a fund somewhere or have they evaporated into the general fund?

The information we have acquired over the past year and a half has been by reviewing weekly City Council agendas, reviewing ordinances and requests for approvals of funding on PEG related matters and checking newspaper articles. E-mails and phone calls we send to City staff mostly go unanswered. We’ve since stopped trying to ask for much information from them. The last time we were able to actually talk to City staff was in the meeting the City of San Antonio called on April 10, 2007, because of the flap over the AT&T U-Verse system test. Video of that meeting is posted on this website and will run on the Public Access Channel in San Antonio in May 2007. Austin ran the video the very next day. We are not able to do that here because the city runs the public access channel at this time and we can only show two shows per month.

However, whenever negative publicity appears in the newspapers we then do get calls, and really quick.

Since about September 2006, Chuck Robinson, a volunteer with the Texas Media Empowerment Project in San Antonio, has taken on the task of requesting documentation concerning the income and expenditures for PEG from the City of San Antonio. His request apparently raised questions as to whether the public had a right to request this information under the Texas Public Information Act. The City went to the State Attorney General’s office asking if they had to comply. Apparently, not even the State Attorney General’s office could force the City of San Antonio to produce the expenditure documents that were asked for, because they have yet to be provided. (Doesn't anyone outside the City ever audit any of these expenditures?)

When Chuck asked for a budget for expenditures he was asked, “What do you mean by a budget?” Instead of answers we get questions. The copies of the franchise fee checks (funds coming in) were provided, and we’re talking millions in checks being received, but the expense side has not. There is not enough transparency here.

The answer we get when we ask when will some of the franchise fee funds be used towards re-establishing a production facility (which we lost as well when the channel went black in January 2006) is a vague “ We will be considering that in the future.” We heard that response at the last meeting on April 10, 2007.

That same response was given in a meeting held on May 2006, at the Mexican Baptist Church in San Antonio, when about 30 producers showed up because the Public Access Channel had been off the air for 5 months by then. So how much longer is it going to be before we actually are able to begin to re-establish production facilities, like most other major cities have? We are the 7th largest city in the U.S. for God’s sake!

Meanwhile the franchising fees are rolling in to the City without delay. Above are copies of the letters submitted to the City of San Antonio, requesting documentation of income/expenditures and the response from the Texas State Attorney General’s office concerning that request. Others in our community are attempting to get this information as well. All we can say is, what is going on and why all the cloak and daggers?

We don't want to really believe the noise we hear that AT&T is trying to dismantle PEG with the State Cable Franchise Laws they are lobbying for all across America. However actions always speak louder than words, and as the saying goes, the silence is deafening.

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