CHESTER – Though it’s been a question that’s been asked multiple times in the last few years, as volunteers and direction were sought, selectman Joe Castricone again raised the issue to his board of whether the public access cable station should keep running.
And the conversation led to Selectman Chair Steph Landau chastising him for behavior inappropriate for a selectman.
Board members were unanimous in their opinion that the station brought an important service to the town, but how it should move forward is still unknown.
The latest round of questions for the cable committee was the result of the resignation of longtime member and recent chair Lenny Stein. Stein read a letter to the board at their Jan. 9 meeting, as reported by the Tri-Town Times, indicating that he was disgusted with the behavior of two fellow members, selectmen Castricone and Rich LeBlanc, and could no longer volunteer his time. The crux of Stein’s disappointment resulted in what he saw as his fellow board members going behind his back and changing decisions made by the group without his input.
Stein left his keys on the desk and walked out of the meeting without any response from the selectmen, except for an effort on selectman Jack Cannon’s part to have Castricone and LeBlanc explain themselves. They both refused to talk, citing a desire to go into non-public session.
The following week Castricone stated that the selectmen are now responsible for the studio and sought guidance for the next step.
Cannon took exception to the characterization that somehow the board had taken over the responsibility.
“The only guy that knew what he was doing there was driven off by you two,” said Cannon. “You guys said nothing as a volunteer of over 20 years placed his keys on the desk and left.”
Cannon put the ball firmly in his peers’ court for fixing the problem, but LeBlanc and Castricone said the matter was more complicated than Stein suggested.
Castricone said that because portions of the issue resided in discussions with the town’s attorney on an ongoing negotiation with Comcast, the local cable provider, he did not want to talk about it in public. He indicated that Stein’s characterization that he and LeBlanc made a decision to include extra money in their request to Comcast was incorrect, and said it was a decision suggested by their attorney.
LeBlanc was adamant that nothing was done behind closed doors and all members were in the know of all decisions.
“There were no surprises. There was nothing brought forward that nobody knew about. There are only three of us. How many discussions can you have and not bring it up?” said LeBlanc.
Cannon urged them to air some of the issue.
“Then don’t talk about the negotiations. Talk about how and why he feels you guys usurped his authority as chairman,” said Cannon. “To come here and tell us it’s the board’s problem? It’s not my problem. It’s your problem. You guys ran him off.”
Castricone said much of the disagreement centers on his and LeBlanc’s desire to improve equipment at the station and Stein’s opinion that it was unwise to upgrade in hopes that volunteers would come.
Castricone also said Stein had not been in the studio much in recent months.
LeBlanc took exception to Cannon’s characterization, saying he was playing for the cameras. He added that on three different occasions, Stein was directed to upgrade the studio but refused to do so. “The man refused to do it. I don’t care if the guy’s a skinflint,” he said. “We have the money…”
At that point Landau cut LeBlanc off to chastise him on inappropriate behavior for a selectman.
“Hold on. Hold on. If we’re going to discuss somebody, or if we’re going to start calling him names, that’s under reputation (justification per state law for non-public session). And I will not allow that,” said Landau.
LeBlanc apologized, but added, “we were also being categorized here as driving someone off.”
“We are the board! We are not subject to non-public,” said Landau. “If we are discussing someone else, in the past 12 years this board has gone ahead and protected that individual’s reputation. I will not sit here and have anybody’s reputation besmirched. And you need to learn that because it’s come up too many times.”
Landau took further exception to what he saw as a tendency for some board members to approach volunteers in an adversarial manner.
“It’s about time some people learn how to act as a selectman and not go ahead and cause problems that put us on the front page of the newspaper or in the editorial comments or in letters. Thank you,” concluded Landau.
Eventually the board got back to the heart of the matter, what to do with the station.
Castricone went into some depth about unreliable equipment and how few options exist for recording and playback of government meetings. He was clear that money had to be spent to improve the station to make it reliably operable again.
The town runs channels 20 and 21 for government and community television; channel 22 is run out of Chester Academy for school- related affairs.
Castricone said he had no problem putting the work in to bring things back online, but he wanted the board of selectmen to agree that it was worth the effort.
Selectman Joe Hagan said it was worth having replay capability and a video copy for town meetings.
“I think it provides a valuable service to the community,” said Cannon.
Castricone and LeBlanc subsequently agreed to get the station back on its feet. About $6,500 remains in the cable budget this year for a temporary fix, but there is also $73,000 in the Public Access Cable Television (PACT) fund for more substantial upgrades in the future.
Cannon asked Landau to contact Stein to see if he had any interest in coming back.
“Apparently there’s a huge gap between what these guys believe and what Lenny believes, and if there’s a way to bridge that gap and resolve that, maybe we can keep that resource available to the town,” Cannon said. “I don’t think anyone’s lying, I just think people have misconceptions of what was agreed to.”
Landau agreed to contact Stein.