Audit blasts Midpeninsula Community Media Center over spending of fees

City Auditor says nonprofit misused $1.4 million in funds; Media Center disputes finding

Midpeninsula Community Media Center, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit that produces educational shows, hosts video classes and broadcasts government meetings, inappropriately used $1.4 million in cable fees between 2010 and 2014, according to a scathing audit from the office of City Auditor Harriet Richardson.

The finding, which could reshape the longstanding relationship between the city and its "public, education and government" (PEG) access provider, has touched off a heated exchange between Media Center officials, who strongly dispute the audit's conclusion, and the auditor, who believes that the organization knew years ago it was using the funds unlawfully yet continued that practice anyway.

Media Center officials claim the audit ignored key pieces of information, misinterpreted the law and ran afoul of Government Auditing Standards, an accusation that Richardson has strongly objected to. Richardson's audit, for its part, questions whether PEG-access channels are even useful in this day and age and asserts that the "idea that PEG channels offer unique choices to viewers is outdated" -- a claim that Media Center Executive Director Annie Folger has called "upsetting" and untrue.

The rancorous dispute revolves around what's known as "PEG fees," which Palo Alto collects from the area's two cable franchise holders -- Comcast and AT&T -- and then remits to the Media Center. The fees, Richardson's audit states, are required by federal law to be used for capital expenditures. The Media Center used them for operating expenses, including salaries and benefits, professional services, janitorial services, maintenance and insurance.

The Media Center doesn't deny that it used PEG fees for operating expenses, but it maintains that it has not violated the Federal Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. To make its case, the Media Center included a letter from the law firm Best, Best & Krieger that disagrees with the audit's conclusion and asserts that the Cable Act "does not require that PEG fees be limited to capital expenditures." The auditor, meanwhile, had consulted with the City Attorney's Office and a consulting attorney and determined that the restrictions are legally binding. The consulting attorney's assessment was not available as of Thursday morning.

Richardson told the Weekly that the initial purpose of the audit was to make sure that AT&T and Comcast paid what they owed in cable fees. In addition to paying these PEG fees, the two cable companies are also to pay franchise fees to each of the jurisdictions they serve. This includes Palo Alto and its partners in what is known as the Joint Powers Authority (JPA): Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton and unincorporated portions of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

The California Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 requires a franchise holder to pay 5 percent of its gross revenues to each jurisdiction served, unless the jurisdiction approves a lower fee. The PEG fee, meanwhile, is set at 0.88 cents per cable subscriber per month.

In reviewing the payments, the audit found that the two cable-service providers underpaid about $216,000 during the four years of the auditing period. Comcast underpaid the Cable Joint Powers about $128,000 in franchise fees and $13,000 in PEG fees, while AT&T underpaid about $48,000 in franchise fees and $27,000 in PEG fees.

Yet over the course of the review, as the auditors researched PEG fees, they decided to also see how these funds are being spent, Richardson said. They took a closer look at Media Center's expenditures and concluded in the audit that the organization "inappropriately used an annual average of $340,000 of public, education, and government (PEG) fees, or $1.4 million during the audit period."

The audit, which the council's Policy and Services Committee will discuss Tuesday night, recommends that the city reconsider the need to continue collecting these fees. And if it does continue to collect them, these fees should be "based on a demonstrated need for future capital expenses related to public, education and government access," the audit states.

Furthermore, if the council elects to continue the fee, it should halt the existing practice of passing these fees through to the Media Center and instead place them in a "restricted account" for distribution based on city-approved capital expenditures that comply with the Cable Act, the audit states. It also recommends semi-annual documentation of expenditures and procedures for ensuring that the PEG fees are lawfully spent.

But the Media Center, in a long and strongly worded response, argued that JPA officials and the Media Center's board of directors (which ultimately approves the budget) were fully aware of and fully supported the use of PEG fees for operating expenses. In fact, the Media Center's partners preferred that the organization pay for capital expenditures like facilities improvements and equipment needs using its investment fund, the response states.

The Media Center also maintains that its existing voluntary agreement with the cities it serves allows it to use PEG fees for operations. The auditor countered that the latest agreement, reached in 2011, explicitly states that the Media Center only use PEG fees "in a manner consistent with the DIVCA and Cable Act" -- which is to say, restricted to capital costs.

Folger also told the Weekly in an interview that the Media Center has already taken actions to address the auditor's concerns about the PEG fees. Earlier this year, its board adopted a policy calling for the Media Center to use its investment funds for operations and PEG fees for capital expenditures.

But from Richardson's perspective, this change should have been adopted long ago. In addressing the Media Center's response, Richardson included a link to a YouTube clip from a November 2013 panel discussion in which Folger talked about the use of PEG fees. Folger said that the Media Center's local franchise agreement included language stating the fee could be used for any "PEG purpose."

"So we have been telling ourselves that because our local franchise allowed us to spend that $0.88 per subscriber for operations, we would continue to do so until challenged otherwise, and that's exactly what we've been doing," Folger said. "It's essentially about $327,000 annually now that we get in PEG fees as a result of this pass-through fee. ... We'd be hard-pressed to say it's being spent on capital each year."

Are access channels still needed?

In addition to the legal dispute over PEG fees, the auditor and the Media Center are also at odds over the the broader issue about the usefulness of PEG-access channels. In discussing the changing media landscape, Richardson pointed to a 2008 report from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which makes an argument that the "idea that PEG channels offer unique choices to viewers is out-of-date." (The report acknowledges, however, that "broadcasts of local government meetings increase transparency of government functions and help inform interested viewers about local issues.")

"Cable television viewers now have many channels available to them on their cable system," the Mackinac brief states. "Much of the programming and local information is available on the Internet through such web sites as YouTube and through email groups, rendering PEG channels increasingly redundant. Furthermore, only a small portion of cable subscribers actually watch the programming on PEG channels."

The Mackinac report wasn't the only source of information Richardson cites. The auditor also pointed to the most recent National Citizen Survey, which showed the percentage of Palo Alto respondents reporting that they had watched a government meeting during the prior year dropping from 31 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2014.

But the Media Center in its formal response took issue with the auditor's reliance on the Mackinac report, noting that it was funded by the Koch Brothers, the Bradley and Scaife foundations and "other hard-right supporters of what some claim is an agenda to undermine public education, destroy unions, suppress minority and deny public access to communication media."

The Media Center pointed to a separate study, from University of Texas in Austin, which concluded that PEG channels "retain their importance, and are of particular importance to minorities and to segments of a community with lower income."

The value of PEG channels, the Media Center's response states, "is measured not just by viewership, but by participation in the process of creating the programming, and its contribution to creation of social capital and civic engagement."

The audit, the response argued, accepts the premise from the Mackinac Center that sources of digital content, such as YouTube, are "equivalent to, and a substitute for, PEG channels." In fact, the Media Center claims, they are complementary.

"In the JPA area, for example, the existence of a PEG channel and PEG equipment allows producers to create programming that can be distributed via cable but then also distributed via other digital media, including public-access-center websites and YouTube," the Media Center's response states. "The PEG funding thus provides resources that allow citizens who would otherwise be unable to produce quality programming to develop free-speech content that is then available across platforms -- and allows those who rely on television as the main source of information to obtain community-specific information."

The City Council acknowledged the value that the Media Center provides last September, when it passed a special proclamation honoring the Media Center and declared Sept. 13 to be "Midpen Media Center Day in Palo Alto." The proclamation celebrated the organization as one that "envisions a community that explores and uses video and other electronic communication technologies to tell its stories, learns about the diversity of the community and engages in a dialogue and crosses political and cultural boundaries."

Now, with the auditor recommending significant reforms, it will be up to the same council to consider whether the organization still warrants public subsidies and, if so, whether new restrictions should be added to the city's agreement with the organization.

Folger, for her part, called the audit's recommendations "unreasonable" and said that they would turn annual funding for the organization into a "political football."

City Manager James Keene, in his response to the audit, wrote that staff agrees to "develop and implement criteria for the use of PEG fees to ensure compliance with the federal Cable Act, and to set fees at a level that is consistent with future capital needs."

Keene also wrote in his response that the new audit "raises an important policy question about the ongoing value of PEG channels in our community and the desire to invest in and maintain the current model for the provision of local community media."

Richardson told the Weekly that the report doesn't suggest abolishing the PEG channels but merely to reconsider the best and most cost-effective way to offer the services that the Media Center provides.

"We raise the question so people can think about it," Richardson said.

She also took issue with the Media Center's implication that her office strayed from ethical guidelines for auditors, as stated in Government Auditing Standards. Richardson, who was recently appointed by the Comptroller General of the United States to the Government Auditing Standards Advisory Council, said that the standards require auditors to "exercise professional skepticism in the work they do, which includes being alert to, for example, audit evidence that contradicts other audit evidence obtained or information that brings into question the reliability of responses to inquiries."

"Exercising our professional skepticism led us to provide multiple opportunities for the Media Center to provide reliable responses to our inquiries," Richardson wrote in her response to the Media Center's response. "However, during the audit, they changed the reasons they provided for why they used the PEG fees for operating expenses, which led us to take extra care toward providing assurance regarding our conclusions."


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26 people like this
Posted by Ken Allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2016 at 10:00 am

As a contributor of content and funding, even capital equipment, to the public access mission of the Media Center and its predecessor for more than 25 years and former elected member of the Cable Co-op Board that served the predecessor of the Media Center, I am offended by the audtior's conclusion about the usefulness of PEG channels and the alleged misuse of PEG funds. The Media Center has used all of its funds responsibly, in good faith, and it openly reported their use. Today, as before, the Media Center directly supports the mission of the City through its government channels and the community through recording and broadcasting events such as high school sports. Community producers such as myself provide programming such as concerts and documentaries that are watched by viewers throughout the Mid-Peninsula. Just because live TV channels are being displaced by online streaming doesn't mean that content providers such as the Media Center and the PEG channels do not have a role. The Media Center complements the growing use of online resources through its own live streaming, community promotion and listings as well as its productions and facilities provided at reasonable cost to community producers. The evident reduction of viewership of cable channels is readily explained by the placement of channels, and not just by the emergence of online services. (Where Public Access was once at Channel 6, the national cable company moved Public Access up the channel listings to make room for more lucrative commercial channels, so it is harder to find the PEG channels.) The auditor evidently has no memory of the history of the Media Center. When Cable Co-op offered to GIVE the entire cable system and operations over to the City in the the late 1990s, the City refused, agreeing to subsidize operations instead. When Cable Co-op was bought out by what became Comcast, it returned its proceeds to the subscribers and funded the Media Center so it could form, make capital expenditures to build a useful and community meetingplace and take over local operations and public access functions that serve the the community. PEG funds have hardly compensated for that capital expenditure. The report of the auditor seems to ignore the realities and makes it appear that there is a money grab underway to the detriment of the Media Center, its users and viewers.

20 people like this
Posted by marc665
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2016 at 11:06 am

marc665 is a registered user.

Isn't this a simple question? Both Comcast and AT&T can tell you what the viewership of the PEG channels is. If the numbers are low, disband the Media Center. Just because it has existed for years doesn't mean that it should continue.

If the viewership is high then continue funding the Media Center. But don't make rhetorical arguments that just because it has been around it should automatically be continued.


30 people like this
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2016 at 11:07 am

Easy, direct public access to city meetings is vitally important. The declining use can be explained by the lack of technology and ease of use. It is very difficult to find, for example, Council or Commission discussion on particular items.

The National Survey is not valid indication of the subset of citizens who rely on public access channels. I would expect decline in public access channels to parallel declining voter registration and low propensity voters.

Let's be honest. Most rational citizens avoid the boring, circular-discussions by 9 councilpersons.... like the plague.

This is rationale for more citizen information and involvement. More City Media Center support not less. You Tube segments would work, but someone has to edit, catalogue and archive the video information.

Does the city want to farm out this legally required archive function to lowest bidder and assure quality control?

City staff track record with lowest bid contractors is far from exemplary. Auditor should be auditing city staff for contract compliance and enforcement of rules, ordinances and other mechanisms to assure quality city services, such as parking, traffic, "F" intersections, on-time construction and known high accident rates.

The Auditor has a very legit role to assure that funds are spent appropriately and not play sudden, grand standing gotcha especially when city officials seemed to be fully aware of past practices.

City Council and Staff routinely fail to enforce their own rules, ordinances, etc. When facts and accusations of misdeeds (large and small) are brought into sunlight, the Council and Staff reaction seems to be plea of their own innocence and level full blame on the accused organization or individual.

In the case of Media Center, there are no likely villains. It is time to take simple corrective action and fund Media Center for their services. City Council, "Move On" to real problems.

30 people like this
Posted by Jeffrey Dauber
a resident of Ventura
on May 6, 2016 at 12:02 pm

Talk about a waste of government resources - perhaps we should audit the auditor for wasting our tax dollars and her time auditing the Media Center, which is not only a necessary organization in terms of public service (however underutilized, which is a question of community involvement, not dedication or efficacy on the part of Media Center staff...), but cherished and apparently innocent of every charge the auditor leveled.

Can we get a figure on how much money this audit cost, to include the fees paid to useless attorneys to offer legal 'expertise' on the matter?

I would much rather read an article which impugned the auditor for picking a fight with an already underfunded public service institution than the hatchet job we all read here.

I was also aghast at the revelation that the auditor apparently thinks Koch Brothers funded antigovernment "research" has a shred of credibility.

Shame on the editors for publishing this one-sided hit job, and shame on the auditor for wasting my tax dollars pursuing this issue at all.

Sent from my phone please forgive any grammar or spelling mistakes.

25 people like this
Posted by Another attack on public access
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2016 at 12:13 pm

They do excellent live broadcasts and maintain archives so you can see and hear what happened at city meetings. They do a GREAT job.

Can this be part of the City Manager's program to reduce public information?

He tries lots of things, like unreadable documents (INCHES thick for no reason).

Bad microphone for the public in the council chambers. Watch Menlo Park or East Palo Alto on TV and you will see a much better microphone setup where speakers are audible. CM spent big money to redecorate the chambers but nothing on inproving sound equipment. I spoke to a former councilmember about it last year and the response was, we also have trouble hearing them.

Useless minutes of public meetings not reporting what people said, only final votes.

"Community Meetings" with lots of fanfare, but dominated by his development advocates. Like the last "Summit".

And several PR/Marketing staff in his office. The budget for his office is close to THREE MILLION DOLLARS a year. Got a problem? Hire more PR and consultants and make a speech about how great you are.

24 people like this
Posted by Holy Commotion
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2016 at 1:18 pm

Sounds to me like the City Auditor went into this audit with great prejudice against this Media Center, or against public access. It also sounds, from what I just read, that she may not be thinking straight in general!

The city should seriously look into getting a refund on this audit: it was clearly skewed, quite likely on purpose by the auditor.

If an audit really was needed, get an independent, impartial auditor for the job. Harriet Richardson appears not to be impartial and is certainly not independent!

10 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of College Terrace
on May 6, 2016 at 1:23 pm

I would like to support the auditor. She saw that the rules were being broken, and she took action. Now she is being attacked by those who have an agenda and an axe to grind. We need more honest auditors like her.

6 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 6, 2016 at 2:11 pm

I believe the city auditor was acting in good faith. There may have been some confusion about funding sources that needs to be clarified.....but its not as if anyone at the Media Center was gaining financially.

The truth is that Media Center does an awesome and necessary job of recording, broadcasting and archiving public meetings for the community!

Without this service the public would be in the dark unless they could attend watch and retain every meeting.
For instance, City Council meetings don't even have verbatim minutes, Just action minutes, so the only way to really know who said what is to be there or watch the meeting on the MC 's site.

11 people like this
Posted by Jeffrey Dauber
a resident of Ventura
on May 6, 2016 at 2:11 pm


If by "axe to grind" you mean on the part of this auditor?

People speaking up in defense of the Media Center is hardly grinding an axe...

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Link to Media Center Audit:
Web Link

10 people like this
Posted by jlanders
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2016 at 4:32 pm

jlanders is a registered user.

The PEG (public, education and government) fee used by the Media Center for operating expenses and collected by Comcast in Palo Alto comes directly from customers. The fee is a line item on your monthly cable bill. So, the public has a every right know that the money is being used appropriately and responsibly.

The Palo Alto's City Auditor raises two important questions. First, is the money being spent by the Media Center in manner that's consistent with the regulatory framework? The Media Center claims that spending PEG funds for operating expenses is allowed and provides an attorney's lengthy legal summary to support their position. But the City, who would be the defendant in any legal action, points out that the law says what it says and there's no case law to support the Media Center's position. In fact, the City Auditor includes a link to a YouTube video that shows the same Media Center lawyer making exactly the opposite argument they gave the City in their audit rebuttal.

The second question is about the necessity of the PEG fee. The Media Center has a pile of cash leftover from the failed Cable Co-op, and seems to be struggling to find a way to spend the $340,000 it receives in PEG fees a year on capital expenses. The lack of capital spending appears to be the driving reason the Media Center wants to use the PEG fee for operating expenses. This exposes the City to any legal ramifications of collecting a fee that's fundamentally unnecessary given the requirements and regulatory framework to spend it.

Overall, the Media Center by all appearances looks like a 20th Century solution looking for 21st Century problem. I watch the Media Center's broadcasts of government meetings and sometimes view past meetings online. But the video resolution is poor quality. Graphics and visual presentations are almost impossible to read. Video of past meetings isn't indexed and gets posted days late. The City Auditor asks great questions: What is the value of the Media Center in 2016 and what are we getting for our fees?

These may be painful questions for Media Center supporters. But a visceral reaction questioning the integrity of the Auditor is completely inappropriate.

7 people like this
Posted by JFP_SF
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 6, 2016 at 4:34 pm

So, basically, the Media Center is run as badly as everything else in Palo Alto, and nothing will be done about it, except attacking the messenger.

16 people like this
Posted by Raynsart
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2016 at 5:21 pm

The Media Center in Palo Alto is an invaluable community resource! It is one of the very few places where people for different ages, cultures, genders and economic backgrounds volunteer together on creative projects. The Media Center offers the valuable ability to take reasonably priced classes in video production to increase technological skill sets and also to practice those skill sets without having to be hired into an extremely male dominated industry. For over 5 years I have volunteered to put on a public access television show that showcases local artists and allows them to demonstrate and discuss their art to educate the local art enthusiasts. When the economy crashed and I was left without a job, I found employment and a change of career at the Media Center. Perhaps the auditor should come and watch a show like Talk Art being recorded before she questions whether our talents and voices are worth recording.

10 people like this
Posted by Jeffrey Dauber
a resident of Ventura
on May 6, 2016 at 6:35 pm

So the Media Center may need help spending the money it does have to improve aspects of the services it offers. Fine, those types of concerns are perfectly valid in my opinion. I'm uncertain why the auditor thought it necessary, proper, or welcome to impugn the very existence of the Center itself? I don't think auditors are tasked with determining whether a service deserves to exist at all - that's an issue for a legislative body, not a rogue auditor barfing Koch Brothers' antigovernment agenda in Palo Alto.

If the citizens of Palo Alto think the Media Center needs upgrades to their digital offerings and infrastructure, or needs specific funding for general expenses (to avoid having to use monies theoretically budgeted only for capital improvements - something I haven't read into and don't particularly find important as a distinction) then they should appropriate monies for that purpose.

If the citizens of Palo Alto decide they don't want or feel they require the service any more altogether, again, they should vote or have their legislators vote to that effect.

I cannot see the value of having an auditor waste even more dollars and time doing these things, especially if they would like to color their report with subjective opinions about the substantive value of an organization they're auditing.

And I sure as heck don't think the paper should be regurgitating their report without calling out these issues. I suppose journalistically it's easier than writing a real story.

Imagine this wasn't the Media Center being audited, but VTA.

Would we welcome the auditor in that case to proffer opinions in general about the need for public transportation itself? I think not.

Let's keep it to fiduciary concerns, yes?

9 people like this
Posted by Bob S.
a resident of Mountain View
on May 6, 2016 at 6:37 pm

I don't know the financial aspects, which are a matter of discussion, but I can speak to the importance of the organization to the local community and beyond. The M/C is the lens that focuses the flutter of the butterfly's wings.
What is learned there, especially in the youth groups, can not be contained and will spread across the globe. It is teaching many, many people, young and old, how to express themselves with a very powerful, wide spread medium, but more importantly, to get involved with the community.

My story. I responded to a request for a short marketing film to be used by the Bay Area Stand Down, an event that caters to the health, dental, legal and housing problems of Bay Area homeless veterans. You can physically see the weight of their problems as they trudge into the camp on the first morning, but three days later, because the community banded together, they are energized by the care they received and the legal burdens lifted. I became an advocate for the homeless, and especially those with mental health issues. My message, Stop the Stigma against mental illnesses. My voice, video.

In a country where only a very small percentage of eligible citizens who are concerned enough about the larger community to vote, who is to say the same percentage of the population who views public access channels is too small. My though is, put in place as many lenses in place to focus people on the community as you can, as early as you can and as often as you can. And if you don't yet, check out the channels from time to time. You will most cetainly learn something new about your community.

16 people like this
Posted by Tom Upton
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on May 6, 2016 at 6:46 pm

I am a local creative person, a photographer in fact. I have lived raised a family and created a career in Palo Alto for over 30 years. I do not need to use a fake name to post my thoughts and Ideas here. I have been a student and a volunteer at the media Center for over three years now. I willingly give my time every month as much as I can spare to be involved with the productions and programs that need my skills and help. In fact most people there are volunteers and in fact MOST OF THE STAFF also volunteers as well. As a devoted visual communicator and photography educator myself I have found invaluable solace, support and meaning in being involved with this fine organization. Professional and passionate with their mandate I challenge you to find more dedicated, open, welcoming, skilled, and devoted group of people. The leadership at the Media Center is among the best I have seen and they inspire dozens of people like me –who have actual lives, to volunteer joyfully. We love the media center and the Phoenix that has become out of the ashes of the Cable Co-op. That you are being picky-picky chapter and verse, regarding operational versus capital expenditures at this point in time after many years of already publicly scrutinized operations, is puzzling. As such it appears to be more than specious projection, add to it the deft twist of the knife regarding the Media Center's "usefulness in the community" it takes on the flavor and attitude of muckraking, with a tablespoon of Trumpian Mean. I spend a good 10 to 15 hours there a month and I do so with other happy engaged volunteers, no one is making us do this. We are creatives, artists, idea people, techies and makers. You need us. But you don't see us. Do not pick the road most travelled by politicians, bean counters, and bureaucrats; the road of failed imagination. Examine the books if you need to, go over the costs, find the pain points and fix them. work together be kind. And open your eyes. Godspeed to you.

8 people like this
Posted by Kathy Cordova
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2016 at 7:19 pm

Today there are lots of places to get your message out and the community access channel is one of many. But this is just part of the value of the Media Center. To quote the Media Center's response to the audit, the value “is measured not just by viewership, but by participation in the process of creating the programming, and its contribution to creation of social capital and civic engagement.”

I've taken classes at the MC, produced videos for them and volunteered my time on other people's projects. My teenage son has also participated in their workshops and camps and learned a lot from the experience. I can tell you that you won't find a finer group of people who are passionate about and devoted to the community than the staff and volunteers at the MC. The MC gives everyone in our community a voice, as well as giving them the tools (of education and equipment) and support to communicate their message. The Media Center is a treasure of our community, as anyone who has been involved with them knows.

7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2016 at 7:35 pm

I have been using the City council agenda page for years, so I can keep up to date with local politics. There usually is a live video link,on this page, the same day council meets.However this last May 2 The link was not there. Furthermore, I have noticed that the PowerPoint presentations in council chambers are no longer transmitted clearly . Before I could see these presentations crystal clear. Where are we living now a days: Russia 1956? ....Just sayin"

2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2016 at 7:41 pm

Oops!! Forgot to add that the video link, links to government channel 26 that the Media center puts on live for City council meetings. here is a link to the City Council Agenda page: Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2016 at 4:41 am

> This is rationale for more citizen information and involvement.
> More City Media Center support not less.

Well, at least more video support—not necessarily more Media Center involvement.

> You Tube segments would work, but someone has to edit,
> catalogue and archive the video information.

Having a well-cataloged and easily accessible archive to city-produced videos/audios does call for specialized support. However, these days, a lot of this editing and archiving functionality can be done with software. Every city has this same problem—so working together to develop a common standard for providing this necessary function would be better than farming engaging small outfits like the Media Center to do what it wants, rather than provide a uniform interface to the general public when it comes to video/audio access.

> Does the city want to farm out this legally required
> archive function to lowest bidder and assure quality control?

It’s doing that now with its continued subsidizing of the Media Center. There certainly has been very little in the way of quality control of their product, and this review of the Auditor is probably the first time anyone from the city has seriously looked at this organization for any reason.

6 people like this
Posted by
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2016 at 10:11 am

I don't pretend to understand all of the issues related to public access but I would like to say what Midpen has meant to me and to the hundreds of thousands bereaved people who visit out site at looking for hope after loss. As a psychologist and bereaved parent I was unable to get any television interest in hope and healing after the death of a loved one. With the help of the fantastic volunteers and staff at Midpen we started producing our own television show Open to Hope. We are currently producing not only in Palo Alto but in at Manhattan Neighborhood where my daughter Dr. Heidi Horsley lives. We co-host the shows and are on Time Warner cable on Sunday nights at nine pm. Between Palo Alto and New York we have produced over 75 high quality television shows that give a voice to grief and recovery. Of course we then proudly put them on YouTube here thousands more bereaved have access. I thought that the whole idea of public access was to give a voice to those ignored by the mainline media. To me Public Access should be praised and defended. Sure we as Palo Alto residents need to watch that funds are used correctly but let's not be foolish enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

11 people like this
Posted by DC Kasundra
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 7, 2016 at 11:16 am

As more and more of the media is corporatized, public access is increasingly important, even if underutilized. Let's not kill another cog in public toolkit to produce and disseminate information.

2 people like this
Posted by JFP
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 7, 2016 at 1:53 pm

I don't have an opinion on whether we should shut down the media center or not. What's clear, though, is that they are spending money on operating expenses that is supposed to be only spent on capital spending and have been doing so for years. Whoever is running the media center needs to be held responsible for that. After that, we can debate the future of it.

2 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of College Terrace
on May 7, 2016 at 2:17 pm

In a time of disruption, it is very common to see those being disrupted put up a fight. Think about Uber and the taxi monopoly. Or the buggy whip makers and the internal combustion engine.

However, they should not be able to cook the books in their favor. This audit, by an honest City auditor, should be respected.

10 people like this
Posted by Thomas Atwood
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2016 at 4:03 pm

I also find it strange that the audit included claims about the usefulness of the Media Center to the community. Stranger still is the use of a study from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, well known as a "free market" libertarian think tank funded by the Koch Brothers, the Scaife Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Devos Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation, among other anti-government nodes in the right-wing infrastructure.

The families who fund these organizations already own more than 50% of Americans combined—apparently they see an interest in de-funding public access media and training in video production. Could it be that they'd prefer most Americans get their news from corporate media already under their control? If they succeed in implementing their agenda, we will have one news outlet in this country, without a union, public school, or publicly-run prison in sight.

Last Fall, Peninsula New Economy Transition partnered with the Media Center to record a series of three local cable programs on banking, finance, and the economy. We brought Marco Vangelisti—a Fulbright Scholar and economist—to deliver the three lectures. He presented perspectives that are virtually unavailable in mainstream media, and probably threaten the agendas of the Kochs and Waltons of this world.

Let's get an independent auditor capable of seeing through the smoke and mirrors of politicized agendas to weaken or destroy independent media. Let's go ahead and resolve any disputes about whether the Media Center followed appropriate accounting practices and step back from demonizing individuals who are only trying to do their jobs. And while we're doing it, let's recognize these attacks on community media for what they are—the strategic initiatives of people who would drown government in the bathtub.

4 people like this
Posted by 3 Cups of Fun!
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2016 at 4:20 pm

My kids and I produced a cooking show at the Media Center last year and had a great experience there. We learned so much about what it takes to produce a show from the lighting to reading a teleprompter. This is a great opportunity for local residents to get their message out!

The Media Center is not just about City Council meetings. There are cooking shows, talk shows and plenty of local, creative projects for our community to enjoy. I hope you will support the Media Center and local freedom of speech!

2 people like this
Posted by Read the Report
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2016 at 5:06 pm

Well after reading the report, it seems that the article should have been titled, "Media Center blasts the auditor for telling the truth!" The report does not say to shut down the media center, like many of the comments before mine imply. It is actually quite soft in reporting that the media center misspent the money, and that the city should look at whether there is a bona fide need for the PEG fees and whether to continue funding the media center with an alternate source of funding. It does not even suggest that the media center should pay back the money, which I would have liked to have seen the auditor suggest since the video proves that Annie Folger knew she was misspending it all along. So in return for "being challenged" about how she spent it as she said in the video, Ms. Folger blasted the auditor for telling the truth; made a big issue of the Koch Brothers' funding the Mackinac Center report, which seems like a pretty straight forward report that is NOT based on a political agenda; and challenged the auditor's compliance with auditing standards. This is our money folks. We pay it through our cable bill each month and have a right to know that it is being spent as it is supposed to be spent. Thank you to the auditor for telling it like it is.

6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 7, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Media Center realtime-streaming of council meetings is useful for me. I get more done multi-tasking at home than I do sitting in the council chamber for six hours. Mostly I'm interested in hearing the flavor of public comments. Some speakers could use better instruction on how to use the microphone -- I don't fault the equipment. True that video resolution of graphics is lacking, but most of the city-generated documents are available on-line at full resolution. Public speakers might want to upload their files to some available url where the audience can scrutinize them afterwards if desired. Or use large high-contrast fonts when trying to make a point. My DSL doesn't have bandwidth for realtime high definition video anyway.

Since I've never had a cable subscription, I guess I'm not paying the fee for this. Thank you everyone for the subsidy. There's value in keeping me off the streets.

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2016 at 10:40 pm

With so many people "cutting their cable", is it plausible that funding is drying up for the Media Center, thus the audit?

We cut our cable years ago, we use good old fashioned antenna plus internet TV(absolutely no bundling). Only downside is that Carriers ( only two essentially exist in Palo Alto) Comcast and AT&T, have raised their rates through the roof! First chance we get we will dump both of these company's, just like we did to Blockbuster. Just so no to corporate media monopolies!

2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2016 at 12:20 pm

> My kids and I produced a cooking show at the Media Center last year

There are thousands of cooking videos on Youtube that were produced in people's own kitchens without the need for teleprompters and other high-end production equipment.

The airtime on a cable-op show is pretty short. Youtube videos seem to stay up for a long time.

6 people like this
Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 8, 2016 at 4:43 pm

I find the media center productions to be worthwhile and a way to open things up to local concerns, including, but not limited to, the city council meeting. Cable providers are loath to allow channels that don't maximize their already exploitative profit levels. When we voted for cable years and years ago, the media center provision made many of us vote in favor.

Now we have a major attack on the center, disguised as an audit with a positive purpose: to assess whether cable companies were paying what they were supposed to be paying. Seems they were not. But this article passes lightly over this fact, and chooses to emphasize the assertions of the auditor against the media center.

How about a complet analysis of the existing law from a couple of attorneys, pro and con? How about it, Gennady?

Seems obvious to me--the city wants to grab those fees and put them in an account they can use for their own purposes, and the auditor is aiding and abetting this effort.

I would love to see more unbiased and in-depth reporting from the Weekly!

5 people like this
Posted by Mika Glass
a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2016 at 8:06 pm

The Midpen Media center is a very important resource for the community. It is a critical part of the public health and well being of its residents. Not only does it provide a recording of vital public meetings, it also provides an opportunity for community participation that promotes the well being of the local residents whether it is programs for and produced by seniors, inventors, youth, women entrepreneurs, academia, early learning teachers, educators, hobbyists and artists etc In a society so completely driven by money and profits, we forget the benefits of programs that nurture a better quality of life for residents. Do we only want to live in the mall where the shopkeepers are making money off or go on a packaged vacation. There must be opportunities for activities for residents where they can participate and share ideas without always being driven by profits that commercial channels are so focused on. It is sad to read the reports that are so quick to criticize programs that may be beneficial to a huge community but just not to them. The auditor can make inquiries but downsizing the program will have far reaching impacts.These public access cable channels provide such rich material. We should argue that it should be legistlated to be back at a lower dial number so that more people can have access. From the comfort of your home, you can visit and participate as a viewer in so many non commercial activities. It would be sad to allow a red neck reaction to dominate the discussion.

11 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 8, 2016 at 8:39 pm

Audit the "community outreach" staff and consultants since they repeatedly fail to reach out the the community and inform neighborhoods of meetings and other information relevant to them.

Also audit the staff and consultants who make it so difficult to find out what's really going on at government meetings, in government reports, etc. etc.

10 people like this
Posted by chuck jagoda
a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2016 at 9:19 pm

There are many things to say: Like to marc665: Did you mean it when you said: "If the numbers are low, disband the Media Center"? Would you agree with closing newspapers just because they're not selling as many papers and ads? We need free speech through as many media channels as possible-- not fewer.

And I agree with the supporters of the Media Center.

But we can get into this City Council judging others (like the Media Center) for doing something found to be a violation of laws an audit. There's a concept in law called coming before the court with clean hands.

Have we all forgotten this City Council was found to have violated a number of laws, procedures, and traditions when it met in secret with John Arrillaga to hear his pitch for a great bargain on some Palo Alto land that was clearly only to be used for a park or something everyone could use. Arrillaga wanted to annex to his own next door property.

This City Council does not have clean hands and needs to do something other than let our children and all citizen learn that laws don't count for the rich-- which IS the truth, of course. But is that they way we want to leave it and teach that lesson? Or have the council members allocute, name some punishment, and regain some measure of credibility.

And don't forget Jim Keene who set up the crooked meeting. He is just as guilty as the council persons.

Let's clean this up and THEN move on!

8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 8, 2016 at 9:29 pm

I agree with the Online Name from Barron Park that many of us have cut our cable cords. It would be nice if our "community outreach" folks and/or the Media Center could post videos of the meetings etc. to YouTube so we could all watch them when we want and cite them in discussions.

Having a permanent record of what's said is important.

This IS Silicon Valley.

Like this comment
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2016 at 9:56 pm

There is, however the live link was not there May 2nd. Here is a link for the City of Palo Alto's concil meetings' archived minutes and video:

Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by marc
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2016 at 8:02 am

@chuck jagoda "...We need free speech..." I agree, except that I don't think it is the city's responsibility to fund it.

You are welcome to start your own paper/blog/newsletter/channel and fund it. You have the right to free speech and can say things I don't agree with. I am not going to try and shut you down.

Just don't force me to fund you on the grounds of "free speech". Don't claim that you need the funding because you are doing a public service.


19 people like this
Posted by Ed Flabeets
a resident of Atherton
on May 9, 2016 at 9:51 am

I can understand a city auditor questioning the use of restricted funds. That's her job.

What I cannot accept is a city auditor questioning the validity of community access television which is mandated by the federal government through an act of Congress.

Richardson is CLEARLY overstepping her authority and her actions suggest a bias that renders her unfit to audit this organizations.

5 people like this
Posted by Douglas Kreitz
a resident of Professorville
on May 10, 2016 at 6:21 am

The Media Center is a jewel in the crown that is Palo Alto. It represents the best in free speech and is a reflection of our community. It is my honor to be one of the people at the Media Center who empowers people to create content so that each can have a voice and then get their message out to the public. I teach the field video production classes to many dozens of our citizens each year at this incredible facility. Our students range in age from 11 to 80+ years old. Classes are given to (only a partial list) Girl Scout groups, Youth Community Service (YCS), Palo Alto Middle Schools, senior citizen organizations, as well as to the members of the general public who sign up for our many workshops and forums. And this is only one small part of what the Media Center offers. Many more dozens of people are trained each year in how to produce propfessional-level television shows on a wide range of topics. Many of the comments from others on this Town Square tell a more complete story about the value of the Media Center and its programs. Our City Manager and the Auditor are out of line questioning the value of PEG stations in this dialog - especially quoting right-wing sources as their back=up data. If there are expenditure issues to be clarified and resolved, that's your job. That's what I'm paying you to do as a Palo Alto citizen and taxpayer.

2 people like this
Posted by Manager's influence
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 10, 2016 at 10:16 am

With so much lack of enforcement and downright illegality in our town and the auditor spent a lot of money and time investigating the Media Center??? Something very rotten in the state of our city staff.

The Auditor is_technically_ responsible to the Council but how are they supposed to monitor it? In fact, the Auditor's office is right near the City Manager's. I have no doubt that his influence is at work here.

There has been high turnover in recent years in the Auditor office. I recall previous auditors doing in effect PR for the city. Maybe this is a clue.

4 people like this
Posted by Tomas Moran
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2016 at 3:42 pm

I am disappointed at the City Auditor's report. There was obviously a conscious decision to go beyond auditing the receipt of funds (which come from the two giants that control the majority of cable access in our region). Any restrictions that go toward 'capital' versus 'operations' on this type of fee is artificial. As a user of the Media Center in the late 1990s to produce programming to focus on the unhoused and homeless in Palo Alto, I am keenly aware of the need for both capital and operations in order to give us the high quality environment that this award-winning Center has provided our Silicon Valley Community. Imagine giving $0.88 per month back to the corporate giants rather than to our wonderful MPAC!!

4 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on May 10, 2016 at 4:43 pm

Oh my! The money doesn't come from Comcast and AT&T. The money comes from cable TV customers in the area covered by the franchise agreement. The fee gets added to cable bills for Comcast customers in Palo Alto. If you have Comcast in Palo Alto, you're paying the PEG fee each month as part of your cable TV bill.

The mandate for public access died with Barry Goldwater's 1984 Cable Act. The City, providing the franchise, gets to decide if public access is part of the franchise agreement and if a PEG fee is necessary. That's the law.

The Media Center had absolutely nothing to do with breaking the Arrillaga story. The Media Center isn't a bastion of open democracy in Palo Alto. You can love or hate the fuzzy videos. You can be left-wing, right-wing or "center-of-the-bird". The fact is, the Media Center gave the City Auditor multiple stories about how the PEG fees get allocated and spent. That's not good for a public service organization that has a budget of over three quarters of a million dollars a year. Calling the City Auditor dishonest and corrupt doesn't help.

2 people like this
Posted by Tomas Moran
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2016 at 4:57 pm

@Bill of Barron Park: of course it is in my bill!!! how else would you collect it? That's silly.

Now, if you are talking about letting us slice and dice waste out of our Comcast invoice, I'm all "rabbit ears" ;)

... and I would not start with those $0.88

6 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 11, 2016 at 10:38 am

Public hearing of the audit before the Council's Policy & Services Committee last night. Large turnout of Media Center supporters provided moving testimony to the value of public access TV to the community. (video: Web Link. Public comments begin at 16 minutes.) The committee voiced firm support for the Media Center and its mission and, I'm confident, will find a workable path forward through the regulatory thicket.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident411
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2016 at 10:55 am

Much was made at last night's meeting about the City Auditor using a report by a right-wing consultant. This is no surprise to me. [Portion removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Manager's influence
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 12, 2016 at 11:50 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

2 people like this
Posted by Kerry
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2016 at 6:09 am

Cable rates of gone through the roof. My AT&T basic TV plus Internet is about one hundred dollars a month. This is ridiculous. I am looking for another way to watch TV.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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