The Fight for Control of Alabama Public Television
The story behind the abrupt firing of longtime public television manager and its fallout.
If you’re looking for background on this developing story, read this post from the bottom up.
UPDATE (7/26 at 4:30 pm): Former APT Executive Director Allan Pizzato gives his first extended interview following his firing to Corporation for Public Broadcasting Ombudsman Joel Kaplan. In the column, Pizzato says the disagreement ultimately came down to commissioners not being willing to leave programming decisions to APT management.
UPDATE (7/26 at 2:00 pm): A about a dozen people deliever the petition to Alabama Public Television headquarters in Birmingham. Click for a full story.
UPDATE (7/26): This morning, a group of religious leaders will deliver thousands of petition signatures to Alabama Public Television headquarters in Birmingham demanding the network keep evangelical minister and conservative activist David Barton’s religious DVD series off the airwaves.
UPDATE TO STORY (7/24): Alabama Public Television’s Chief Operating Officer Charles Grantham has sent Governor Robert Bentley an open letter criticizing the recent changes at APT. Here is a copy of that letter:
July 19, 2012
Governor Robert Bentley
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, Alabama 36130
Dear Governor Bentley,
Having worked in several capacities for Alabama Public Television (APT)
under the Alabama Educational Television Commission (AETC) since 1978, I feel
it is time for me to make an open statement concerning the recent firings of
two of my co-workers—co-workers and leaders who have led APT in becoming one of
the premier educational television institutions in America. Under the direction of Allan Pizzato,
education was the primary focus within the organization. APT is currently looked at nationally as a
leader among public television stations as to how to best serve the educational
needs of teachers and students, with teachers being anyone who wants to share
knowledge and students being anyone who has a thirst for knowledge.
Aside from education, another area that was an important focus for Mr.
Pizzato was the quality of locally produced programs and documentaries that
showcase the great state of Alabama. When
Mr. Pizzato became the leader of Alabama Public Television (APT) in 2000, there
were zero Emmy awards on the shelves. Because
the bar was raised under his leadership, APT has garnered some 17 Emmy awards
with over twenty-five nominations in the last seven years. There have been numerous other awards, but the
Emmys are the “Best of the Best”.
APT has also been selected as one of three initial television stations,
commercial and public, to test a new way of transmitting warnings to the public
over mobile/handheld television. This honor
was a direct result of the forward thinking of Allan Pizzato and the APT
management in working with other agencies on both the state and federal level.
These are only three areas where APT has become known locally and
nationally as a leader. In all circles,
Alabama Public Television is spoken of highly. APT is one of the bright and shining positive
lights of which all Alabamians can be proud. Much of this positive image has been due to
the leadership and drive of Allan Pizzato and his devotion to Alabama Public
Television. We are one of the things
that are nationally considered positive about Alabama
Pauline Howland, former Deputy Director and Chief Financial Officer of
APT, is the perfect example of what you want in someone looking out for your
money. She is honest to a fault and a
stickler for all rules and regulations being followed. AETC is audited by two different state
agencies, and, in addition to these two required audits, APT subjects itself to
a yearly independent audit by an outside audit firm. During the years that accounting has been
under the direction of Mrs. Howland (since 2000), there has been not one
finding of wrong doing.
Now a shadow is being cast over APT by its own directors. The seven member commission, AETC, at its June
12, 2012 meeting abruptly fired Mr. Pizzato and Mrs. Howland, saying only that they
wanted to move in another direction. It
is my belief that the firings were based solely on ideological differences and
personality clashes between Mr. Pizzato and some of the commissioners; Mrs.
Howland’s firing was just . . . well, I just don’t know why. Within 48 hours, the Commissioners
mysteriously asked Mrs. Howland to continue to work from home for six weeks for
the purpose of preparing APT’s FY2013 budget, while at the same time, one of
the Commissioners was accusing her of doing something unethical while employed
at APT. This begs the question: Why would you allow someone full remote
access to all records and files if you had true grounds for a dismissal?
Several of the commissioners have their own agendas, which may or may
not have been in the best interest of APT. One commissioner has suggested dropping PBS
programming. Is he going to answer the phone and explain to parents why their
children no longer can watch such programs as Sesame Street, Clifford and
Curious George? When told that some actions might jeopardize the licenses of
APT, they went looking until they found a legal firm that would see things from
their point of view. On programming and other issues, at times the
commissioners did not want to hear the advice of the management team—a team
made up of Pauline and Allan and myself, who just between us three have nearly one
hundred years combined broadcasting experience. In their actions leading up to the firings, several
of the commissioners may have broken some of Alabama’s Sunshine laws along the
way. The courts will have to decide that
The staff of Alabama Public Television has endured a lot in the past
few years caused by budget cuts. Since 2008, APT has seen its state funding cut
by over sixty percent. Even with these
type cuts, the leadership of APT, along with a very dedicated staff, has
managed to still keep its bright light shining. Now it seems we are being
stabbed by the very people who, according to the Alabama Constitution, are
supposed to help us solve our problems. The staff morale is the lowest I have
ever seen and we have no confidence in our commissioners. Our public and private
foundation members resigned after the firings. What kind of message does that send when
leaders in the communities who love APT resign in protest? Our commissioners have caused literally
thousands of dollars in private support to be pulled from the organization. Each
day more and more of the citizens of Alabama, along with businesses, are
pulling their support based on the actions and perceived future actions of the AETC.
Some of the changes made by the commission may jeopardize future federal funding.
All the commissioners say when asked by the staff “why the changes” is “they
want to move in a new direction.” When
you are recognized as one of the best in all categories, a change of direction
means you are moving away from greatness. Alabama Educational Television was
the first educational television network in the United States and under its now
former Executive Director and Deputy Director/CFO was maintaining being a
leader and a bright light on Alabama.
If something is not done immediately to stop this destructive spiral,
it may be that history will record that under the watch of Governor Robert
Bentley, Alabama Educational Television died an untimely death.
Chief Operating Officer
Alabama Public Television Network
cc: Members of the Alabama Legislature
UPDATE TO STORY (6/29): A Washington-based attorney cautioned against Alabama Educational Television Commission members making programing decisions for Alabama Public Television instead of APT staff. That viewpoint comes from a memo by attorney Todd Gray sent to now fired APT executive director Allan Pizzato. Public broadcasting newspaper Current acquired the memo dated May 23, 2012. The commission fired Pizzato and his chief deputy suddenly during its June 12th meeting. Pizzato had raised concerns over possibly airing portions of a DVD series from evangelical minister and conservative activist David Barton. The commission also revised APT”s mission statement on the June 12th meeting to remove language on sexual orientation, among other changes.
Read the legal memo from attorney Todd Gray here.
See Current’s before and after of the APT mission statement here.
UPDATE TO STORY (6/26): Public broadcasting newspaper Current offers a lengthy report on the controversial firings of two top Alabama Public Television executives. The paper says fired Executive Director Allan Pizzato may be pursing legal action. Meanwhile the network brought back his deputy, Pauline Howland, on a temporary basis to help complete work on APT’s 2013 budget.
UPDATE TO STORY (6/21): Three more people have quit a board linked to Alabama Public Television following the firings of two network executives. An official says chairman Gordon Martin; vice chair William E. Smith; and C. Scott McLain resigned from the Alabama Public Television Foundation Board. That’s a private group with duties that include helping the network raise money. The departures mean seven of 16 members have now quit the three panels that help operate Alabama’s public television network. Details on the other members who’ve resigned and the why they resigned are below.
We’ve posted minutes from the meetings that started this controversy.
UPDATE TO STORY (6/20): Another leader at Alabama Public
Television is quitting following last week’s firing of Executive Director Allan
Pizzato and another top official. Blue
Cross Blue Shield President Terry Kellogg has resigned from the board of the APT
foundation. That comes on the heels of
four members of the Alabama Educational Television Foundation resigning last week (see below). One of those who resigned, former
federal judge Vanzetta McPherson, tells the Montgomery Advertiser there are
irreconcilable differences at the heart of the resignations. She says at least one member of the Alabama
Educational Television Commission (the group that fired Pizzato) no longer
wants to include sexual orientation in the network’s mission statement about
UPDATE TO STORY (6/15): The chair of the Alabama Educational Television Foundation (the fundraising arm of Alabama Public Television) confirms to WBHM that he and two other board members have quit the foundation board in protest of the firing earlier this week of APTV Executive Director Allan Pizzato and his deputy Pauline Howland (details below). Birmingham Attorney Joe Mays says he, Vanzetta Penn McPherson (vice-chair) and Alysson Edwards have all quit.
Current.org reports that board member Robert E. Nesbitt of Birmingham has also resigned. That leaves Mrs. Gloria J. Alexander Dennard of Birmingham on the Foundation board, as well as the seven members of the Alabama Educational Television Commission (the group that fired Pizzato and Howland).
APTV announced the firings late Tuesday, June 12th (the same day layoffs were announced at the Birmingham News). Their dismissal was announced following their refusal to air programming they believe was misaligned with the programming values of public television.
Current.org, a newspaper that covers the public media industry, broke the story with this article. Current reported that Pizzato and Howland were fired after raising concerns about the possible airing of a DVD series from evangelical minister and conservative activist David Barton. Barton’s supporters say his work is historical in nature. Detractors, including many historians, say it’s not historically accurate.
Pizzato told Current it was a matter of “irreconcilable differences in opinion on the future direction of the station.” Public reaction to the news was mixed (though on social media channels overwhelmingly critical).
APTV responded to feedback this way….