Saturday, January 30, 2010
PICTURED ABOVE,HARTFORD PUBLIC ACCESS TELEVISION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR BILLY SCRUSE
In 2007 after Stan McCauley was removed as the Executive Director of Hartford Public Access Television, the only explanation given by the HPATV Board of Directors was that they wanted to move in a "new direction".
In 2009 the Board of Directors hired former Perez spokesperson Billie Scruse as the new Executive Director. As of now, after several months with Billie Scruse at the helm steering HPATV, many producers and others familiar with HPATV would probably say the new direction the board wanted is apparently reverse.
Although several producers and former employees have complained to me about the lack of respect they claim Scruse shows to those involved with the station, that seems to only be the tip of the iceberg in what is being called incompetence by some.
Operating the station is a highly technical operation and does require a working knowledge of numerous electronic equipment to keep the programming on the air. From what sources have told me, Scruse has refused numerous offers to be trained to better understand what it takes to keep the operation functioning.
This was evidenced last year when HPATV channel 5 was broadcasting a blank image over channel 5 for almost 20 hours. Scruse apparently had no clue how to rectify the situation until a long time former Executive Director of the station, who wishes to remain nameless, corrected the minor problem within minutes and HPATV was back on the air immediately. Although he wishes to remain nameless, this is the same Executive Director who was terminated to make way for the Board's "new direction".
The Hartford Public Access Television web site appears to not have been updated in a year, mentions a producers meeting which was held almost a year ago as an upcoming event, and even lists names of employees who left months ago. A new website called "hartfordtv.org was reserved by Scruse in October of 2009. No content appears on the site, other than numerous pop-up ads when you go to the site.
According to information found on-line in a search for "billie scruse", her area of expertise is branding and marketing. I would think that would include an active updated website. Although one of Scruse's first official acts as the new executive director was to paint the lobby of the station, she also introduced a new "logo" for Hartford Public Access Television and unveiled it at an open house. Most people have never even seen the logo and apparently is has never even appeared or been used on the station. So much for branding.
In addition, apparently several pieces of computer equipment, including laptop computers have "disappeared" from the station recently. Police sources have advised me that the thefts or "disappearances" have not been reported to them for investigation.
Just as a little history, Public Access Television was implemented by the FCC in 1972 and required all cable systems in the top 100 markets to provide three access channels. These three channels are often referred to as "PEG", standing for Public, Education and Government channels.
In 1972 the US Supreme Court upheld the requirement for Public Access Television, which had been challenged by cable operators. In 1976 the requirement was expanded to all communities with 3500 or more subscribers.
Public Access Television is open to anyone wishing to produce a program, regardless of content or quality, Both Federal and Connecticut law are very clear on confirming the publics free speech rights and prohibit any censorship or editorial control over programming with one exception. No commercial programming may be aired on public access channels, including fundraisers or "infomercial" type content.
In numerous court decisions, the public access channel has been compared to the modern day town square and these decisions continuously reaffirm an individuals free speech rights to say what they want on public access channels.
Now the connection to the Sasha Show. Sasha Hunter, a longtime producer at HPATV has experienced numerous technical problems with failing and poorly maintained equipment while producing her programs at the station. Sasha Hunter as well as other producers readily admit to a contentious relationship with Scruse, beginning shortly after her arrival as Executive Director. Producers I have spoke with described Scruse as "condescending" and "disrespectful" in her dealing with them.
Apparently during a recent "Sasha Show", Sasha reached her boiling point and apologized to her viewers for all of the technical difficulties during the program. She then went on to say that the management and staff needed to get their acts together and fix the problems at the station.
Sasha was well within her 1st Amendment right to free speech in her comments. Free speech rights are the basic premise that Public Access Television was born out of.
Apparently though, in the eyes of Scruse, Sasha crossed some imaginary line in Scruse's mind for publicly calling her out on her incompetence. The following week when Sasha Hunter arrived at HPATV to begin preparing for her program she was told by staffers that Scruse had suspended her show for at least three months.
Although I made numerous attempts to contact Scruse , she has not returned any of my calls. I understand there are two sides to every story, but so far the only version available is that of Sasha Hunter and other sources I have spoke with since Billie Scruse does not have the courtesy to return my calls.
Scruse apparently made the comment that it was the Board of Directors who made the decision to suspend the Sasha Show. Not surprisingly, two Board Members I have spoke with had no idea that the program was suspended and never were contacted to make a decision and claim it has not been brought up at any board meetings.
Furthermore, Sasha Hunter has not received anything in writing to detail any infractions or received any warnings from Scuse or any others regarding her behavior.
The clip of her comments on the air have been obtained and are available for your consideration below. Prior to seeing the clip , I was expecting much worse than what the clip shows. Sasha's comments begin at about 1 minute into the clip.
As of today, no explanation has been provided to her, her show is still off the air and Billie Scruse still hasn't had the decency to call me back. This issue is definitely not going away as Sasha Hunter promises to follow through with court action if necessary.
As Scruse was a staffer in the Mayor Perez administration before she lost her job, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by her lack of regard for courtesy, transparency and the public's free speech rights.
If you would like to voice your opinion to Ms. Scruse, please feel free to e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This issue is also discussed in detail on our "1 Hartford" program tonight. The link to the program is on the post below.
Friday, January 29, 2010
I have to say I think I witnessed a miracle on Main Street today, that's 550 Main Street, Hartford City Hall to be exact. As if that wasn't enough, I was lucky enough to witness this miracle in the presence of my newly adopted grandmother Prenzina Holloway. Gramma was ranting about something and kept saying "no one intimidates me, I don't care what color they are". I'm not really sure what she meant, but she kept looking at me as she said it.
Gramma, weren't the Christmas presents enough?
Anyway, back to the miracle. As the previous blog entry said, on January 27, 2010 at 4:00PM the deadline had expired for the submission of petitions to qualify for the March 2, 2010 Democratic Town Committee elections. Unfortunately for team "Arena" and team "Giles" discrepancies were noted, essentially clerical errors that none the less would invalidate those petition sheets that were incomplete.
Now I've always wondered how miracles are actually validated and after today it is all much clearer to me. Apparently on Wednesday just before the 4:00PM deadline for any changes or submissions, someone had photocopied the petitions clerical errors and missing signatures and everything else. Well, for some reason after the mistake was realized the documents in question left the City Clerks vault and made their way back to the Democratic Registrar's Office. Apparently the documents arrived in the Registrar's hands with mere minutes to spare.
Now here is where the miracle begins. Even though the circulators who had failed to sign the petitions were not in the Registrar's Office, she apparently laid her hands on the stack of forms and by some miraculous power, within seconds all of the missing signatures appeared on every single document in question. I know it happened within seconds, because if the documents were changed after 4:00PM it would have been illegal.
And as anyone who follows City Hall knows, nothing illegal would ever happen in that building.
Myself and Grandma were there when the petitions were turned back over to City Clerk John Bazzano, and lo and behold, as I turned over page after page, the documents that just 2 days before were verified incomplete, were now 100% complete. I knew it had to be a miracle, things like this just don't happen on their own.
I guess I'm an optimist because I prefer to see the glass as half full and I want to believe that a miracle has happened. If it was closer to Christmas I could almost be convinced that it was a gift to team "Arena" and team "Giles" from Santa Claus, but we all know he is back at the North Pole now. And after what the Arena's have done with their taxes, Santa might just be giving them a bag of coal next year.
But you'll always get the pessimists who see the glass as half empty. They might claim that the signatures that suddenly appeared are the result of fraudulent activity on the part of certain individuals wanting to win an election at all costs with no regard for the law, integrity or honesty. Did they even consider that the copies showing the missing sections that would invalidate them could also be part of the same miracle and the copy machine deleted those sections?
Well, it's time for a nap, it's not easy witnessing miracles, not to mention spending time with Grandma. Besides, Easter is fast approaching and I need to get ready for the Easter Bunny, not to mention St. Patrick's Day and the leprechauns.
I believe, I believe, I believe.
This week on the "1 Hartford" program we discussed the recent actions by the Executive Director of Hartford Access Public Television Billy Scruse. The program airs weekly on Hartford Public Access Channel 5 Saturday's at 10:PM and Monday's at 11:00PM
After HPATV producer Sasha Hunter made comments that were less than flattering regarding Scruse and her operation at Hartford Public Access Television, Hunter's programs were immediately removed from the air for at least the next three months. We discussed Hunter's right to say what she did and Scruse's retaliation.
We also talked about Hartford's impending budget disaster and the way it is being handled, or some would say ignored, by the Perez Administration.
If Sasha Hunter's comments got her show taken off the air, let me be the first to say good-bye and thanks for watching "1 Hartford". This program is hard hitting and lays it all out about the mis-management of Hartford Public Access Television.
If Billie Scruse disliked Sasha exercising her free speech rights, she'll go ballistic over this.
TO VIEW THE PROGRAM ON ACCESSTV.ORG CLICK HERE
Thursday, January 28, 2010
For a couple weeks now, Democratic Town Committee members have been circulating petitions to qualify for the Democratic Town Committee elections scheduled for March 2, 2010.
Many people that I spoke with were concerned about one of the candidates running for a position on the Democratic Town Committee in the 5th House District. Hartford's Democratic Registrar of Voters Olga Vasquez apparently was on the "Giles" slate and was in the running for a Town Committee seat.
Those that I spoke with, as well as myself, were concerned about a conflict of interest between running as a candidate for town committee as well as being the person charged with administering and overseeing the same election.
The "Giles" slate consists of Olga Vazquez's mother-in-law Juanita Giles, Vazquez's husband Radames Vazquez, Olga Vazquez herself as well as nine other individuals.
Although one would hope that any official that would put themselves in such a questionable position, would have the common sense to remain as "hands off" as possible. The issue of a conflict of interest seems to have become the reality as serious questions are now being raised.
Apparently Registrar Vazquez was responsible for overseeing the petition forms and her office was required to validate the signatures of Democratic voters who had signed the forms. Once the forms were delivered to Vazquez's office, each petition was checked and the signatures were verified and then turned over to the City Clerk to be kept and filed as official documents.
All seemed to go well until a member of the 5th District challenge slate, the "Kirkley-Bey" slate noticed an irregularity in the "Giles" slate's submitted petitions. I have used the names of Kirkley-Bey and Giles to identify the two 5th district slates, only to make it easier to follow.
Apparently Mark DiBella was checking petitions that were already filed with the City Clerk's office and noticed that "section C" on the majority of the Giles' slates petitions were incomplete or not filled out at all. Although a small percentage of the petitions were filled out properly, the majority were not.
That seems to raise the question why Registrar Vazquez would sign some, but fail to sign the rest. Although sources had told me Vazquez said the section wasn't required and had apparently instructed circulators not to complete it, I would think the question has to be asked why you would sign any of them at all if you thought it wasn't required.
After DiBella noticed the error, he requested photo copies of the documents. At approximately 3:50PM yesterday, January 27, 2010, Vazquez and her Deputy Registrar Garry Coleman retrieved the documents from the City Clerk's vault and took them back to Registrar Vazquez's office.
After the documents were received by City Clerk John Bazzano, the petitions, according to an FOI representative, then became public documents. The question then arises as to what right Vazquez had to take the documents from Bazzano's care and control take them back to her office. To most people discussing this today, it is the general consensus that Registrar Vazquez should not even be able to touch the documents in question, especially since she is a candidate, and in light of the allegations of potential irregularities or the perception of a conflict of interest.
Apparently City Clerk Bazzano felt less than comfortable with the direction this was going, and by e-mail requested a clarification from the Secretary of the States Office. One of the staff attorney's that the Secretary of State apparently supervises in her "active practice" of law responded through e-mail to Bazzano's request. That e-mail is posted below.
Theodore Bromley, a staff attorney in the Legislation and Elections Administration Division of the Secretary of the State's office stated that, essentially, if Registrar Vazquez had noticed the problem before the petition deadline, 1/27/10 at 4:00PM, the circulators could have come into the office and signed the forms.
Obviously, since DiBella had copies of the documents and Vazquez did not retrieve them until 3:50PM. ten minutes before the deadline, they were not corrected in time.
In Attorney Bromley's response to John Bazzano, he summarizes that "if this does not happen, however, the petition pages would have to be rejected pursuant to the state statute".
SECRETARY OF STATE STAFF ATTORNEY'S CLARIFICATION
DTC Petition SOTS E-mail
Although Registar Vazquez refused to let anyone review the petitions today, even though they are public documents, other sources provided more information. Apparently the "Gile's" slate petitions may not be the only ones in jeopardy of being disqualified.
The 4th District slate, the "Arena" slate, led by Hartford's Democratic Town Chairperson Sean Arena apparently also has submitted petitions without section "c" completed.
In both cases, any petition forms disqualified would most likely result in the slates not meeting the minimum number of signatures required to qualify for a position on the March 2nd ballot. This would result in the challenge slates in both districts winning by default and promising a major shakeup in the make-up of Hartford's Democratic Town Committee.
This shakeup would have wide ranging repercussions for the Hartford political scene, including whether or not Eddie Perez would be able to garner the party's nomination if he were to choose to run again. With the upcoming trial for Perez on his corruption charges, that is a big if as to whether he will be capable of running.
Again it is a big if as to whether Perez can or will run, but the shakeup would, according to most observers, benefit Town Committee Chairperson challenger Bruce Rubenstein. Rubenstein is running on an anti-corruption agenda and vowing to return integrity to Hartford City Hall.
As of this time no decision has been made by Registrar Vazquez as to whether she will obey the law, or follow in the footsteps of her political mentors, father-in-law
Abe Giles and Mayor Eddie Perez.
It is safe to say though that if Mark DiBella and others have their way, the matter will be on a fast track to be decided by a Superior Court Judge. From what sources are telling me, DiBella and the others have contracted the services of Hartford Attorney Bob Ludgin. For those who don't recall Bob Ludgin, he is a former City Councilperson and comes from the City Hall era when Councilpeople were bulldogs, not lapdogs. The days of council people like John O'Connell and Bob Ludgin.
Although I attempted to contact Registrar Vazquez for comment, she was sequestered in the bunker known as the Registrar's Office in the basement of Hartford City Hall and didn't return my calls. At the same time, her husband was in the Political Strategy Command Center on the 2nd floor, also known as the Mayor's Office, presumably trying to figure out their next move.
As I said in the title, oh what a web they weave. Luckily though for DiBella and the "Kirkley-Bey" slate, Mark DiBella has one thing on his side that the "Giles" slate and the "Arena" slate don't.....the truth. Superior Court judges tend to prefer dealing with the truth and the facts.