OETA dispute winds up in court
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 It complained that the existing 1992 agreement is outdated.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.