By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

Gold Beach Rotary Foundation and Curry County Voices (CCV) President Carl King said censorship is behind the county cutting ties with his group.

Without citing specific costs or county administrative duties associated with CCV, the Curry County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted Wednesday to revoke its contract with CCV. Commissioner Sue Gold alone voted not to sever ties with the group.

The action takes effect 60 days after the county serves written notice.

Commission Chair Chris Paasch and County Counsel John Huttl said they were cutting ties because Brandt Media and CCV were duplicating services and using one provider — Brandt Media — would streamline operations and be more efficient.

When King said the county would be paying Brandt Media for what CCV did for free and the county was telling untruths to serve a political agenda, Paasch gavelled him to silence and threatened to have him removed by a deputy.

Huttl said PEG revenues come to the county and therefore are part of its budget, and added Brandt Media and CCV were both producing content for the county’s public-access channel, and the county would work more efficiently with only one producer.

Brandt Media representative Charles Douglas said Brandt Media provides government content and access while CCV provides other content and services. He said adding other services to Brandt’s responsibilities would require an entirely new agreement with the county.

Paasch and County Director of Operations Julie Schmelzer originally said Brandt Media supported the county’s move to revoke its contract with CCV in earlier meetings. But Douglas, who participated by phone Wednesday, said the company was “neutral” concerning the deal.

On its website, CCV called itself “a group of community members and students who work together to produce government and education programs to be viewed on Charter Cable Channel 182 under a permit granted by the Curry County Board of Commissioners. The group is administered by the Gold Beach Rotary Foundation, a non-profit Oregon corporation or 501-C-3.” It’s not clear what role the group will have now that its permit has been revoked.

Documents provided by CCV said the group raised money on its own through the Rotary Club and foundation and also used PEG funds to pay for its activities.

PEG — public, education and government — funds are paid to the county through a 50-cent charge to cable TV subscribers. The county then decides how to use those funds to operate public-access cable channels dedicated to government and educational programming. PEG funds can also be used for various types of purchases related to production and programming for public-access channels.

King said the county revoked its contract with CCV — and its access to PEG funds — because commissioners Paasch and Court Boice and Huttl had unsuccessfully attempted to censor CCV programming on Channel 182 by asking him to edit out comments made by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley at a town hall meeting in May. CCV videotaped and aired the town hall without the requested cuts.

Merkley’s comments included criticism of President Donald Trump.

In emails to King, Paasch asked, “. . . if there were any plans to air anything political? I just want to make sure if something is aired for a particular party there is also programming for other party affiliations. I am sure you will be looking to put Senator Merkley’s town hall on the channel. I have received several phone calls that many in the County found some of his comments extremely offensive, especially his comments on the President of our Nation. I would hope you would find it in the best interest of our citizens that any and all of those type comments would be edited out.”

A later email from Boice to King said, “Someone filmed Senator Merkley’s Port Orford Town Hall recently and I’m wondering if that will or was included in the Curry Voices Programming? . . . he (Merkley) did have a couple of comments directed at the ‘loyal opposition’ and disagreements that would in my view give a political perception. Mr. Merkley has every right to do that — just the rules we have to follow.

“I have supported all your efforts to help offer solid Public Education through the Curry Voices -- P.E.G. Television Programing, but it legally cannot be political and I’m sure you fully agree.”

Huttl said in an email to King he would remind commissioners they do not have editorial control.

“However, Carl, I did find some FCC regulations on political speech which raise complications,” he said. “So if you can, please stay away from political comments from Merkley. Again, I don’t see this as editorial control, just trying to stay within government and educational.”

King responded to Huttl saying he would not edit or censor comments made by a U.S. senator, and in another response to the county, he noted that CCV’s permit with the county, “provides that Curry County Voices is fully and completely responsible for all of our programming and that the County has no editorial control over, involvement in or responsibility for the content of our programming.”

He said CCV would refuse content that it believed obscene, but noted nothing that occurred at the town hall fit that description.

Saying CCV would provide a like-forum for any state representatives who would like to hold a town hall, King added, “We would do the same for any elected official serving the residents of the county. We would not edit or censor any of their remarks, and we will not edit or censor the remarks of a U.S. senator at a town hall held to keep county residents informed of his views on the happenings in the nation’s capital.”

In other emails, Huttl and King go back and forth about the definition of educational programming with Huttl seeming to limit educational programming to information taught in approved curricula at institutions. For instance, he instructed King that a program including information from a book used at a college is acceptable while airing a question-and-answer period with the author might not be acceptable.

“I believe because the book has been on curriculum it is educational material,” Huttl said. “The issue is that what you are proposing is not the book but some level of Q&A, which I am not aware of any institution of higher education allowing this Q&A as credit toward a degree.”

King said no one from the county had contacted him with any concerns about duplicating services with Brandt Media, costs for CCV services or administrative issues.

Paasch, Boice and Huttl did not mention programming conflicts or the Merkley issue in discussions prior to the vote, but all three favored cutting ties with CCV, with Paasch and Boice voting to do so.

Paasch said after the meeting that programming and the Merkley issue had nothing to do with the decision to revoke the contract. He said King and his group could still put content on the channel but would have to go through Brandt Media to do so. He was unsure how the county would or could provide services like time for video editing or classes or where the equipment would be stored.

Gold and Boice did not respond to calls and emails requesting comments or clarifications for this article.

Huttl said, “First, we did not revoke the permit with Curry County Voices based on anything to do with Senator Merkley’s Town Hall. That is a complete red herring on the part of Curry County Voices.”

The county did communicate with King its concerns that equal time would be given for all political viewpoints, as per law, according to Huttl. But, after King gave his assurances, there was nothing further on that topic.

“The county enjoys a good relationship with Sen. Merkley,” he said, “and staff in no way agrees with Mr. King’s assertion.”

The county intends to handle the equipment storage and check-out in-house, Huttl said. And it intends to continue classes and trainings with the support of Brandt Media.

According to Huttl, Gold Beach, Brookings and Port Orford can have their meetings recorded and broadcast by arrangement as well.

Brookings-Harbor High School teacher Dane Tippman called CCV an outstanding asset to the Brookings-Harbor School District, adding it provided valuable professional development to teachers, and an equipment checkout system that expanded what the school was able to offer students.

“CCV was always eager to provide support for our local student learning projects,” he said, “and regularly offered job-specific training aimed at high school students which we hoped to take advantage of this Summer break.”

A letter from the Gold Beach Rotary Club to the BOC expressed support for CCV and asked commissioners to do anything they could to “to support the continued vitality of Curry County Voices.”

The group said it had raised $4,000 to support CCV and members had continued to donate funding and time since 2017. It noted a wide-range of programming it offered to the county including Bruin News features by Brookings-Harbor High School students; drug prevention training for parents; lectures and interviews with non- fiction and fiction writers; programs on healthy and inexpensive ways to prepare meals and community forums.

Curry County Economic Development Coordinator and Gold Beach City Councilor Summer Matteson supported CCV as well saying it had been airing Gold Beach City Council meetings for citizens who could not attend. She said continuing that service was “super important.”

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com

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