By Meredith McCulloch
After a 45-minute debate at the first session of Annual Town Meeting, the Town Meeting voted “no” on Article 8, a proposed by-law amendment regarding the responsibilities of the Cable Television Committee. The vote by show of hands was 83 to 150. The article was on the warrant as a “petitioner’s article.” (Signatures of ten voters are required to place a petitioner’s article on the warrant.) The Selectmen had voted to disapprove and the Finance Committee offered no recommendation.
Funds that support Cable TV are collected from each cable provider at the rate of 3.5% of the subscriber’s monthly cable bill and are earmarked to support the operation of Bedford TV (BCAT) They go directly to the Town in a special account that is tracked by the Finance Department.
Supporters stressed that the additional language proposed in the article, “Monitor the Town’s cable television funds and advise the Selectmen and Town Manager on expenditures from those funds,” would add oversight and codify the Cable TV Committee’s role. Jim Shea, chair of the Cable Television Committee, argued that expenditures from this fund do not go through the Finance Committee or Town Meeting and need the additional oversight that the by-law change would provide.
Selectman Bill Moonan spoke for the Selectmen in opposition to the article. He expressed concern about how the change would affect the interaction between the Selectmen and the Cable TV committee.
“The Selectmen are indeed appreciative of the time and effort the Cable Advisory Committee members puts in providing this service,” he said. In connection to the budgetary process he said the Cable TV Committee has received a spreadsheet on income and expenditures and also has access to a routine quarterly report. He went on to say, “because the proposed change would reduce the Selectmen’s fiscal and fiduciary responsibility, the Selectmen recommend disapproval.”
Town Counsel Robert Mangiaratti said the Selectmen presented him with two questions: Would the amendment be legal and what would the consequences be? He researched the issues and concluded that the Article 8 proposal would be legal under Massachusetts General Laws Home Rule Amendment. He found nothing in the laws referencing a Cable Advisory Committee, but said such committees do appear in state regulations. He went on to say that the amendment would establish oversight of the Selectmen’s role in dealing with the funds and take away or check some of the Selectmen’s authority.
Several townspeople, many with experience on local cable committees, spoke both for and against the article. Joe Piantedosi, a former Selectman spoke in favor of the change, saying that the Committee went to the Selectmen and “tried to get them to do the right thing …I’m appalled by this.”
Catherine Cordes, also a former Selectman, pointed out that the typical route for a by-law change is to go though a By-Law Review Committee, similar to the recent one for Charter Review. This process allows an opportunity to look at a proposed change in a by-law from all angles within the context of other by-laws.
There was agreement that Bedford TV does an excellent job. In 2013 and 2014 Bedford TV received national Hometown Media awards for overall excellence in Public Access, Education or Governmental programming from the Alliance for Community Media.