287WVN #256: Selectmen clash with WayCAM
- Aug 7, 2008Dear Wayland Voter,
The Board of Selectmen has clashed angrily with the Planning Board, the road commissioners and the Community Preservation Committee in the past over such things as the Town Center project and the use
of community preservation funds for artificial turf. The latest outburst involves WayCAM, the community access cable TV channel, which isn't even a town body. And the issue is small potatoes compared with
earlier subjects of dispute.
Also in this newsletter: Park and Rec officials continue planning new playing fields and welcome public input.
ALERT: LANDFILL HOURS CHANGE
Effective Aug. 12 the Wayand landfill will open at 8 a.m. instead of 7 on Tuesday and Thursdays. Saturday hours are unchanged: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
CONTENTION, COMPROMISE, UNRESOLVED ISSUES
During a heated two-hour meeting on Aug. 4, the selectmen and WayCAM resolved some disagreements over a Memorandum of Agreement that the selectmen want WayCAM to sign. WayCAM board members
accused the selectmen of withholding funds in an attempt to coerce WayCAM into signing an agreement which WayCAM says would end its status as an independent non-profit corporation.
At the end of the session the selectmen agreed to release part of $52,500 in capital funds from a new contract with Verizon. The money is funneled through the town treasury but can't legally go to any entity
In previous meetings selectmen had acknowledged as much, and even discussed releasing the entire amount as a gesture of good faith to speed progress toward an agreement. Little good faith was evident in
In an opening statement that the selectmen wouldn't let him deliver in its entirety, WayCAM Board President Ken Isaacson suggested a compromise: release part of the money for urgent capital needs and then
negotiate an agreement that recognizes the access corporation's independence.
WayCAM has no objection to providing financial information just as it has done for years when Comcast was the only cable provider, Isaacson said. But he said WayCAM won't accept an agreement that gives the
selectmen power to approve content or expenditures.
During the wrangling that followed, Selectman Joe Nolan said angrily and repeatedly that he was offended at the notion that the selectmen were trying to control WayCAM. Selectmen Michael Tichnor and Bill
Whitney similarly expressed impatience and bafflement at WayCAM's position.
WayCAM board members remained calm but noted that the latest draft of the agreement was radically changed from a version issued in June. Written without consultation with WayCAM, the agreement
specifies that WayCAM will change its board structure to give majority representation to members appointed by the schools and the BoS. (Any Wayland resident can run for one of four seats on the the present
board. The selectmen appoint two members and the schools one.) The proposed agreement also allows the selectmen to de-designate WayCAM as the community access provider and seize its assets on
grounds that WayCAM says are arbitrary and too broad.
The selectmen assert that the town deserves oversight of WayCAM because the tiny percentage of Verizon customer fees paid to WayCAM is made possible by licensing under town authority. WayCAM
responds that, like many community access channels elsewhere, it is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) corporation to protect independent, objective status and respect First Amendment concerns.
WayCAM has received funding from Comcast for nearly eight years with no Memorandum of Agreement and no negative comment from selectmen. When WayCAM enlarged its board of directors from five to
seven members last year, saying it needed more volunteers, it informed the selectmen as specified in WayCAM by-laws. There was no disagreement at that time, but on Monday night Whitney accused WayCAM
of ignoring proper procedures. Former WayCAM President Betsy Moyer gave him details of the change, which she said was properly enacted.
WayCAM board members said they were being forced to negotiate under duress, with the implied threat "You'll get the money when we have the agreement." Significantly, before Monday's meeting WayCAM
hired a lawyer, Kenneth Spigle, who boasts considerable experience in cable matters. Spigle said that in most negotiations one party doesn't control the ability of the other to function. Functioning became a
live issue when a WayCAM modulator failed the previous week, threatening to knock WayCAM out of service.
A temporary fix causes audio problems. Isaacson said WayCAM needs not only the $1,000 modulator but other capital improvements totaling roughly $30,000.
Though the selectmen denied any interest in controlling WayCAM, they questioned the list of capital items (with questions like "Why do you need to replace cameras?") and quibbled on the amount of money to
be released immediately. (Selectmen had suggested previously that WayCAM practiced deficit spending and was imprudent in hiring its only employee.) Whitney suggested $15,000, a figure he said he picked
out of the air. WayCAM's Isaacson came back with, "We could live with $20,000," and a 4-0 vote for that figure resolved that impasse.
Town Counsel Mark Lanza and WayCAM's Spigle tossed ideas back and forth as the less contentious parts of the nine-page agreement were discussed. The selectmen plan to evaluate progress on Aug. 18 and
hope to have a signed agreement by Sept. 8.
As for the difficult parts, WayCAM opposes anything that gives the BoS the power to "dictate how to do business in any way," as Spigle put it. If WayCAM allows that, he said, "it is no longer an independent
The selectmen's demand that WayCAM change its bylaws to give town officials power to appoint a majority on the board is a key sticking point. Selectmen suggested dire scenarios: What if WayCAM begins
broadcasting editorials? What if the board meets in Aruba? WayCAM says that under its bylaws it is accountable to Wayland residents and the Federal Communications Commission.
To give up its independence to town officials would raise "significant First Amendment issues," Isaacson said. (In other words, should town officials exercise control over a medium that broadcasts the workings
of town government?) Many towns prefer an independent access authority to avoid some legal liability as well as accusations of improper influence over content. (Wayland selectmen want the agreement to
indemnify them, which WayCAM says could be expensive.)
Nolan said that the bylaw change on board composition would merely return WayCAM to the status quo, when town officials could appoint three of five members. Given the present lack of trust between the
two parties, it is difficult to see how the status quo that prevailed until 2008 could be restored.
Provisions of the agreement would ultimately apply to Comcast as well as Verizon funds. Cable customers, and for that matter all citizens, might consider whether they prefer a majority of the board of their
community access channel to be elected from the population as a whole or appointed by the two most powerful town boards.
-- Michael Short
NEW FIELDS ON PRISTINE LAND STILL UNDER STUDY
Park & Recreation Director Nancy McShea says plans for new fields for soccer, lacrosse and other sports at Paine Estates are very preliminary, and comments from residents are welcomed.
The town owns undeveloped land in the area across Route 27 from St. Ann's Church. The Sudbury River lies to the west, Sandy Burr country club to the north and Charena Road to the south.
In an interview with WVN, McShea said two parcels are under consideration. One of them is about 10 acres, relatively flat and surrounded by conservation land owned either by the town or the conservation
group Sudbury Valley Trustees. One drawback is lack of public access. One access possibility is from Green Way, the road off Route 27 serving the Traditions assisted living complex and other housing.
Another potential problem is its location near conservation land, wildlife habitat enjoyed by walkers, birders and canoers. The Conservation Commission has jurisdiction over part of Paine Estates.
A smaller parcel closer to access roads could accommodate two soccer-size fields, but the land is hilly, and grading it could be very expensive.
The Community Preservation Committee rejected a request for $80,000 in preservation funds for a feasibility study. Those funds, collected by a small surcharge on property tax bills, are earmarked for
acquiring open land, preserving historic buildings and supporting affordable housing. Preservation money has been used to create recreation facilities on land acquired with preservation funds. Building new
fields on the Paine Estates land would create a legal difficulty, Community Preservation Committee Chairman Jerome Heller says.
Present plans call for natural grass fields available to school and town teams.
Park and Rec also has jurisdiction over approximately 10 acres adjacent to the former Nike missile site on Oxbow Road in the north end of town. This area is flat, will have a driveway and parking lot and will be
bordered by a 50-foot wide conservation buffer zone containing a handicapped-accessible path. The missile silos have been filled and capped.
McShea said that there was room for only one soccer field there and that the area was too remote for most residents. She envisions this land being used for more informal gatherings, for example picnics and
frisbee games, where families and small groups could relax without having to compete with organized teams.
-- Betty Salzberg
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Michael Short, Editor