MacRae blasts selectmen for decision to drop support of Public Access TV

BELMONT — After getting an earful from a small but vocal group of Lakes Region Public Access television supporters, selectmen said last night they would revisit their decision to withdraw financial support from the not-for-profit entity at their meeting on June 17.
Speaking most loudly was town resident Alan MacRae who was one of the pioneers of public access television in the area and who recounted the four years it took to form what is now known as LPRA television with the 14 original area communities in the late 1990s.
He also scolded the board for not making a better effort to find someone to tape their meetings for later broadcast, which was the primary reason selectmen cited for not paying the town's $15,067 assessment to LRPA for 2013. They had a volunteer who had a time conflict and told the board she would be unable to tape the meetings.
Representing Belmont, MacRae chaired the LRPA board of directors for seven years.
Selectmen voted unanimously on May 20 to reject the bill from LRPA, saying in part the decision was based on a lack of a person to tape their meetings. Other concerns to selectmen were the sustainability of the business model and a mistake in the billing that led them to think this year's costs would drop by $5,000 over last year's.
MacRae also said the town adopted a special petitioned warrant article in 2008 that provided for the taping of meetings and that appropriated $5,000 for the taping. He told the board he considers that a mandate from the voters and would "take legal steps" to ensure the mandate was obeyed.
"I will not stand idly by while you watch this go down the toilet," MacRae said.
Selectboard Chair Ron Cormier likened LPRA to a "failing bank" that sees customers leave when word gets out that the business model may not be viable. Cormier also served on the LRPA Board for years.
The remaining six members are Belmont, Gilford, Meredith, Laconia, Alton, and Northwood.
Cameraman Patrick Sweeney, who is a Belmont resident, indicated that without Belmont and Gilford, which also put its decision to pay the bill on hold so the two town managers could consult with each other, the business model could fail.
He said the system is technically ready for full streaming, meaning meetings can be broadcast live over a specified channel or the Internet. One way of raising additional money was LRPA's outreach to individual sponsors in the same way public television and public radio do and the LRPA board has been actively seeking ways to raise additional money.
Also speaking on behalf of LRPA was Heritage Commission member Linda Frawley and Center Baptist Church's Rev. Doug Connolly. The church records its services for broadcast and, because it operates under the town of Belmont's auspices, will no longer be able to do so should the the town not continue its membership.
Frawley also noted the additional programming made possible by LRPA, including the shows done at the bandstand.
She reminded the board that the town of Belmont gets close to $60,000 annually in franchise fees from MetroCast — the cable company that hosts LRPA's three channels as part of its franchise agreements.
Frawley also said Belmont doesn't spend a lot of time on its image and that she believes broadcasting meetings on LRPA would better engage the community. She also said that there as some Shaker Regional High School students who would volunteer to do the taping.
Beaudin and the board said they have contacted the school after one of its students made a great recording of the Belmont candidates night but didn't get any volunteers.
MacRae also talked about the WLNH Children's Auction — the biggest singe nonprofit fundraiser in the Lakes Region. The entire event is broadcast live on LRPA each December and that coverage is widely credited with exploding it popularity, beginning in 2000.
After listening for about an hour, Cormier said he would like to see a business plan. He said the only thing the town ever sees is a bill from LRPA and, like the outside public service agencies that come to the board and budget committee annually, he would like to see more about what they do and the long-range future plans.
Selectman Jon Pike, who said a few months ago that if it was possible he supports taping all of the town's meetings, told the people that they have given him a lot to think about during the next two weeks.
(Editor's note: Alan MacRae is a freelance photographer who has had, over the years, many pictures published in The Laconia Daily Sun.)