Saving City Channel
October 13, 2010 1:28 PM
"Gee, you guys sure know how to talk!"
I can't tell you how many times I've heard that comment from Madisonians in the days following a City Council meeting. From what I can tell, we richly deserve our reputation as a community for being a bunch of civic-minded policy nerds. Lots of people watch the twice-a-month Council meetings as if they were their favorite reality TV show.
But the show was threatened for cancellation along with equally riveting geek programming such as the Board of Estimates, the Plan Commission and the Alcohol License Review Committee, among many others.
The problem stems from one of the worst corporate rip-off pieces of legislation ever passed by the Wisconsin Legislature. The bill pandered to the cable industry in innumerable ways, but the most significant for City Channel was that it phased out the payments required of cable companies (called PEG fees) to support this kind of open government programming.
This created a challenge for me in my 2011 budget because I needed to make a choice between keeping City Channel alive by making up for the loss of cable company contributions with city taxpayer dollars or letting this valuable service go away.
Well, there was no way I was going to let City Channel disappear. It has become too important to creating a public record of public decision-making bodies. But I still had to figure out how to come up with several hundred thousand dollars in a recession era budget.
So first, we set up a committee to study City Channel and recommend solutions. Several of those recommendations are included in my budget. We also asked our Fiscal Efficiency Auditor to take a hard look at staffing, and we concluded that the organization was top heavy with three supervisors leading a small staff of only six full-timers and some work study students. So we cut 2.5 positions and reorganized City Channel to make it a full fledged part of the city's Information Technology Department. That will mean some economies of scale, but more importantly it means greater collaboration between web-based and broadcast-based content. It's a response to the new era of crossover media.
The result is that we saved over $100,000, and so the increase in support from general fund taxpayers is $240,000 instead of $350,000. And there will be no cut in any programming except for one devastating final decision I made.
After nearly eight years, I'll be pulling the plug on my own show, The Mayor's Report. It saves a little money and demonstrates that I'm willing to shoulder some of the efficiencies myself. Also, I have no evidence, in contrast to Madison's favorite reality TV show the City Council meetings, that anyone has ever watched my show. I was done in by bad ratings, but the rest of your favorite wonk shows will go on.