Steve Strait, appointed to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission by Gov. Michael Dunleavy last August, submitted his resignation on Dec. 31, saying that the co-chairs of the commission have refused to hold a meeting and that his requests for a meeting have fallen on deaf ears.
The commission appears to have not met since last spring, although by statute (AS 44.21.256; AS 39.50.200) it is supposed to meet four to six times a year, for a maximum of 15 hours per year.
The commission is in charge of overseeing grants to the 26 public broadcasting radio stations, and the four public television stations in Alaska — Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Bethel. Those grants have been zeroed out due to budget constraints.
Still, Strait says the commission is bound by law to hold quarterly meetings. There is a paid staff that reports to the commission, headed by Mollie Kabler, executive director, so that staff needs to report to someone, but for now, co-chairman Carl Berger has stated through written communications that he has no plans to meet and, further, he has not been able to reach his cochair Lisa (Vaught) Simpson. Both of the co-chairs’ terms expire in August, 2020, unless extended by the governor.
“Having served years on the APBC previously, I know the role it plays in fulfilling its statutory duties. Historically, there are quarterly meetings but I have been unable to convince a majority of commissioners appointed by the previous administration to hold a meeting and the current chairs state they do not intend to meet again in the future,” Strait wrote to Gina Ritacco, director of Boards and Commissions. “The APBC’s last meeting took place May or June 2019. Many managers of public broadcasting question the need for this Commission. APBC public minutes and agendas have disappeared from public access and in short this is a non-functioning Commission,” Strait said. He recommended that the commission be eliminated in statute and that another organization, such as a nonprofit group, could continue the oversight role.
Alaska Statute provides these duties to the commission:
The commission shall
(1) apply for federal and private funds for public broadcasting purposes and receive all federal, state, or private funds, property, or assistance that may be appropriated, granted, or otherwise made available to the commission for public broadcasting purposes, and use and disburse funds and property for purposes consistent with the terms of AS 44.21.256 – 44.21.290, subject to reasonable limitations imposed by the grantor;
(2) provide consultative services in all aspects of public broadcasting to all public or private agencies in the state that request them;
(3) serve as a library and clearinghouse for public broadcasting information;
(4) through grants to qualified entities, develop an integrated public broadcasting network for the state;
(5) through grants to qualified entities, develop and distribute public broadcasting programming in the state;
(6) prepare and submit to the governor and the legislature, in compliance with the state information systems plan adopted by the commissioner of administration, a long-term plan for the development of public broadcasting stations and systems in the state, and biennially update the plan; and
(7) perform all other functions necessary to ensure the orderly and coordinated development of public broadcasting in the state.
Strait said the commission, which includes Aaron Weaver as also appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in August, has not actually sworn in the Dunleavy appointees since the commission hasn’t met, nor has it produced a long-term plan, as required by statute.
Former Gov. Bill Walker had appropriated $3.5 million for public radio through the commission in 2018, but most of it was vetoed by the governor and the veto was not overridden by the Legislature.
The commission, even without the grants to disperse to the stations, still has a duty to oversee a grant to the rural emergency broadcasting and rural satellite service.
“We as a body need to step up, get active, conduct election with a recommendation to add the position of Secretary to APBC officers,” Strait wrote his fellow board members in October.
The dismantling of the commission would have to occur through statute, but with a staff to oversee, it’s uncertain who Kabler would report to, although her contract ran out last year. She is currently the holder of all the public documents generated by the commission over that past decade.