OETA dis­pute winds up in court

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - BY NOLAN CLAY Staff Writer [email protected]

Ma­jor donors to pub­lic tele­vi­sion in Ok­la­homa are with­hold­ing their sup­port be­cause of an in­creas­ingly bit­ter dis­pute be­tween OETA and the OETA Foun­da­tion.

The pri­vate foun­da­tion on Thurs­day made that dis­clo­sure in a pe­ti­tion ask­ing an Ok­la­homa County judge to get in­volved in the dis­pute.

It com­plained OETA “is at­tempt­ing to ob­tain com­plete and un­fet­tered do­min­ion and con­trol over the foun­da­tion.”

It told the judge one very sub­stan­tial donor al­ready has ceased mak­ing con­tri­bu­tions and an­other, the Kirk­patrick Foun­da­tion, will if OETA takes con­trol.

The Kirk­patrick Foun­da­tion “only funds non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions and does not make gifts to gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties,” its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Louisa McCune, wrote in a let­ter in June.

“The re­cent dis­cord on dis­play is a dis­ser­vice to the view­ers and con­sumers who rely on pub­lic tele­vi­sion for ex­cel­lence in pro­gram­ming,” McCune wrote. “At a time of frag­ile state-ap­pro­pri­ated fund­ing, to alien­ate ... donors is il­lad­vised.”

The Ok­la­homa Ed­u­ca­tion Tele­vi­sion Au­thor­ity is a statewide net­work that is sup­ported in part by state ap­pro­pri­a­tions. OETA states on its web­site that more than 2 mil­lion view­ers tune in every week. OETA also states it is “Amer­ica’s most­watched Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Ser­vice net­work.”

The Ok­la­homa Ed­u­ca­tional Tele­vi­sion Au­thor­ity Foun­da­tion Inc. was es­tab­lished in 1982 as a not-for-profit cor­po­ra­tion. The foun­da­tion said in its pe­ti­tion it has pro­vided more than $67.5 mil­lion to or for the ben­e­fit of OETA since 1989.

The OETA has pro­posed a new set of rules gov­ern­ing its re­la­tion­ship with the foun­da­tion. It com­plained that the ex­ist­ing 1992 agree­ment is out­dated.

It said it needs a new agree­ment to pro­tect the phil­an­thropic in­vest­ments of the “many gen­er­ous pri­vate donors and un­der­writ­ers.” It said it also needs a new agree­ment to com­ply with re­quire­ments of reg­u­la­tors.

In the pe­ti­tion Thurs­day, the foun­da­tion made a series of ac­cu­sa­tions about OETA.

Among the ac­cu­sa­tions is that OETA acted neg­li­gently last year when it hired a new ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Polly An­der­son, even though she had been forced out of a pre­vi­ous job.

An­der­son re­signed in De­cem­ber 2015 as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of WUCF-Chan­nel 24 af­ter nearly three years at the PBS sta­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Flor­ida in Or­lando.

Records ob­tained by the foun­da­tion show she was placed on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave on Dec. 7, 2015, “pend­ing re­view of al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct.”

In a sep­a­ra­tion agree­ment, An­der­son ac­knowl­edged that she was not qual­i­fied to hold any po­si­tion at that uni­ver­sity “now or in the fu­ture” be­cause of ir­rec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences and other unique cir­cum­stances.

The records ob­tained by the foun­da­tion show she was ac­cused of cre­at­ing a toxic work cul­ture and mis­us­ing in­sti­tu­tional re­sources for per­sonal gain.

“I rou­tinely had her em­ploy­ees come to me in tears about her dis­re­spect­ful ac­tions,” one su­per­vi­sor wrote. “Shout­ing at em­ploy­ees was rou­tine, as was de­scrib­ing them as in­com­pe­tent both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally.”

An­der­son de­clined to com­ment Thurs­day.

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