News Briefs

No answers for public access

City officials took no action and had no answers about the plight of public-access television, but they did listen to program producers at a January 17 forum about the future of Channel 20.

Public-access station Channel 20 has been off the air since January 1, when the City became responsible for the production facilities for government, education, and public-access channels. Since the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 5 last year, cable companies no longer have to provide facilities for public, government, or educational programs, although they do have to provide channel space. `See “Fade to black, December 15-21, 2005 and “Pulling the plug on public access,” December 22-28, 2005.`

Last month, the City allocated money to continue government programming on Channel 21, but none for public-access television. Local colleges and universities are operating the educational channel. It will cost an estimated $90,000 to buy equipment, air pre-produced programs, and hire one full-time staff person to run Channel 20.

Approximately 50 public-access producers and City officials, including Public Utility’s Assistant Director William Maddox and Fiscal Operations Manager Veronica Carrillio, met to assess the equipment and studio needs for programs. Many producers were disappointed that neither Time Warner nor the City widely distributed information about Channel 20’s demise until mid-December. Asked why the City wasn’t more forthcoming, City officials ignored the question.

Producers said they need quality equipment and a studio in order to generate programming. “Putting us back on the air without any editing or studio is like giving us the keys to a brand new car without a motor in it,” said Simon Ortega.

While one of the goals of the meeting was to assess producers’ equipment needs, the City is already bidding on equipment.

Other suggestions for reviving the channel include pairing with a non-profit organization or collaborating with San Antonio high schools or universities that already have facilities, equipment, and staff.

Mark Sullivan, president of the non-profit San Antonio Film District, said he has access to 185,000 square feet of studio space, props and digital equipment. “We would like to help; our door is open for you,” he said.

Hugh Henry, former host of Freethinkers Forum, emphasized the importance of Channel 20. “Public access is a place where San Antonio talks to San Antonio.”

– Corinne Welder

City Council puts the squeeze on workforce development

Initially, it appeared that COPS/Metro Alliance jumped the gun on January 12, when it issued a press release stating that Project Quest, a job training program, could lose $2 million because four City Council members rated workforce development as a low budget priority. But they might be on to something.

Project Quest provides low-income and unemployed people with job counseling and training for skilled work such as nursing, mechanics, and computer programming. Since 1992, Project Quest organizers say the program has trained 2,500 people, and placed 1,800 in jobs, increasing their annual wages from $9,000 to $27,000.

Although it is true that a survey of City Council members resulted in a reduced the portion of the Community Initiatives budget allocated for workforce development from 22 percent to 15 percent, no dollar amount has been attached to those reductions. “There hasn’t been any decision about the budget,” said Dennis Campa, director of Community Initiatives, “and there has been no reduction to Project Quest.”

In 2005, the Community Initiatives budget was $7.2 million, with $1.5 million going toward workforce development. Project Quest received $1 million from workforce development, and $2 million in one-time funding, provided by City Council from surplus budget.

The Community Initiatives budget, which includes youth and family programs and workforce development, is determined through a Council survey, in which its members rate the percentage they believe each area should receive; votes are averaged. In the this year’s survey, Sheila McNeil, Richard Perez, Delicia Herrera, Kevin Wolff, and Chip Haass voted to reduce workforce development to 7 percent or less of the budget.

This is where COPS/Metro is on to something. These reductions mean that in 2007, if the entire Community Initiatives budget were to remain the same, the workforce development pot would shrink to $1 million. Although seven other organizations receive funds from workforce development — including ACCD, Dress for Success, and Goodwill — Project Quest receives 63 percent of the budget, the largest portion. If there is less money to go around, Project Quest would most certainly receive fewer funds; the amount is uncertain.

Yet, Campa asserts that a low budget priority doesn’t translate to funding reductions for Project Quest. “A reduction in the workforce budget doesn’t mean we won’t get more money into Community Initiatives before the budget is adopted. Between now and then there may be new revenue, based on CPS or property tax.”

Susan Pagani

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