If I were a judge, I would probably have to recuse myself from writing about J. Stan McCauley and his firing from Hartford Public Access Television. I may be too close to the situation to write about it fairly. I probably shouldn’t be poking a stick into this hornet’s nest, either.
But after I read Dan D’Ambro¬sio’s one-source puff piece in the Hartford Advocate last week about McCauley’s internet television station hpatv5.org, and then when I went to Hartford Public Access’ website, accesstv.org, and saw that it linked directly to McCauley’s website, I said to myself that something was amiss, and I needed to explore it more.
First, let me describe my horses in the race: I was a producer at HPATV for several years, and I worked closely with Helder Mira, who is employed at the station now.
After I started producing shows, I led the charge to install a satellite dish on the roof of the Veeder-Root building so that Democracy Now!, which paid for the dish and the installation, would air five days a week.
Beyond that, I have been to parties at Helder Mira’s house, where, actually, Stan McCauley was too. So I am friends with Helder.
With that out of the way, Monday night, March 17, was a producer’s meeting at HPATV, where the people who sponsor or produce shows get together to hash out time slots for the next 13 weeks.
In order to learn what time the meeting was, because I wanted to go and represent Democracy Now!, whose status was contested at the December meeting, I went to accesstv.org Monday afternoon.
It linked to D’Ambrosio’s article about McCauley, on McCauley’s site.
Weird, I thought. I know Stan got fired. Why would they still be connected? Monday night, the front page had changed.
“It sends back to my site because of the lack of vision here at the station,” McCauley said Monday night. He added that he has paid for accesstv.org at the same time he paid for his website for Light Source Ministries.
“I have always paid for the name,” McCauley said. “It has been a gift for the past six or seven years.”
Jerry Clapis, the former executive director at HPATV, acquired the accesstv.org URL eons ago, McCauley said, “It is the envy of the public access world.”
When Helder Mira called the internet service provider a few weeks ago to procure an email account for interim executive director Linda Bayer, the ISP said that the station no longer paid for it, according to Bayer.
The domain name was up for renewal in February, and McCauley put it on his credit card at that point, denying HPATV access to it, Bayer said.
“Rather than call me and ask me, they changed the URL,” McCauley said. Portions of the HPATV schedule are still available on the old website.
Bayer can produce a check to the ISP for the domain name and the hosting fees for 2007. But rather than fight over a domain name, Bayer said she wanted to have Hartford in the URL anyways.
“You pick your battles,” Bayer said. “We had been talking about a domain name that said Hartford in it. So I told Helder to let it go.” The station’s new url is hartfordpublicaccess.org
As for McCauley buying all the domain names with the station’s call letters, Bayer was non-plussed.
“Stan makes his own decisions,” she said. “If he felt it was useful to him, fine.”
Without knowing too much about the law regarding domain names, board member Paul Basch said he couldn’t make too much of an intelligent comment on it.
“I found it peculiar,” Basch said. In the meantime, he said the board is happy with Bayer’s performance as interim executive director, and that he said he hopes HPATV will have a new director in place by July.
At the producer’s meeting Mon¬day, Bayer told the 60 or so producers in attendance that the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has given HPATV a technical assistance grant to hire a consultant. The consultant has not yet signed a contract to do the work, but they have agreed on a scope of service for the consultant.
The consultant will not only help conduct the job search, but, Bayer said, he will work with the staff and the board for six months after the new director is hired.
“We will do some discussion with other stakeholders so that the board and staff are not working in isolation,” Bayer told the producer’s meeting.
Kevin Brookman, a producer who happened to be McCauley’s campaign manager when he ran for Mayor of Hartford, was vocal about having producers be represented on the board.
Board president Victor Moye is a former producer. In the Hartford Courant back in December, Moye said: “Here's a person having delusions of importance. Who do you think really gives a crap about who Stan McCauley is?"
Bayer promised that there will be discussions about producers having representation on the board, but it won’t happen overnight. Basch is intrigued by the idea.
Brookman also expressed reservations about the closed-door policy of the board. The board is acting on the advice of its attorney William Breetz in having closed door meetings, Basch said.
While Bayer has given Brook¬man some information about McCauley’s firing, Brookman claimed the board is dragging its feet on Freedom of Information Act requests regarding other documents.
At the end of the day, Brookman said it is unlikely that McCauley will be reinstated. Therefore, his goal is accountability.
“We want a board that has the best interests of the station at heart,” Brookman said.
Brookman also claimed at the meeting that McCauley’s dismissal was Mira’s fault, without mentioning Mira by name. He said Mira wanted McCauley’s job.
Mira did write a letter to the board expressing his concerns and those of other producers about McCauley’s relationship with HPATV employee Nyesha Smith. Mira said Brookman’s accusation is ridiculous.
“My concern is that the station has what it needs to run,” Mira said.
Producers at the meeting Monday night complained about equipment that has been broken for months.
Basch refused to respond to a stalking horse from Brookman.
“The board didn’t present any reason publicly for his firing,” Basch said. McCauley was an at-will employee whose employment could be terminated at any time.
McCauley, too, tried to pin the blame elsewhere. This is where it all stretches my imagination. McCauley said he was engaged to HPATV employee Nyesha Smith for more than 18 months prior to their marriage in June 2007. He said he has known her for 10 years, longer than his tenure as HPATV’s executive director.
At the same time, while they were engaged, he was her boss, which included routine performance evaluations and giving her raises. During the beginning of this period, the board was unaware of the relationship, and McCauley admits this.
Consanguinity is a huge issue for me, especially in a workplace where there are only five or six employees. I can only imagine how it troubled the board. McCauley was quick to point out that husbands and wives work together in other parts of the city.
After the relationship was re¬vealed a year ago, the board acted by having Smith report directly to the board, and switching her job.
Bayer said Smith is working professionally.
The March producer’s meeting was quite calm compared to the apparent melee that was De¬cember’s meeting. McCauley, who had just been fired, was challenging Democracy Now!’s five-day a week status because he wanted his show to be broadcast five days a week, too.
Considering that Stan was the executive director who facilitated the airing of DN!, I was kind of surprised that he would use it as leverage.
He admitted as much to me Monday night.
“When I was terminated, my show was terminated, too,” McCauley said. “I had to fight to get it back on. My contention was that how can you tell me I can’t do a five-day a week show when Democracy Now! is on. It was a political tactic. I knew they would never take Democracy Now! off the air.”
The situation worked itself out. The policy for daily shows now stands that it must be a free time slot and the show must not ever be a repeat.
Stan’s show airs from 11 to midnight daily, Democracy Now! airs from noon to 1 p.m. daily.
“I don’t remember any quid pro quo on Democracy Now! for his show,” Basch said. “But if that was true in his mind, that was true in his mind.”
McCauley remains welcome at the station. Bayer said she has asked for McCauley’s technical expertise, and she had a meeting with him Tuesday, March 18 for such purposes. However, McCauley said that the station is not interested in coming to him for help.
It is McCauley’s right to have a show on the air, said Basch.
“He has a right to be a producer, like anyone else,” Basch said. “Many people have presented very strong criticisms of us. They even televised a meeting where people criticized the board. We have not censored anybody.”
At the meeting Monday night, McCauley still clearly commands the loyalty of many people in the HPATV community. Brian Libert, who works at the station, commented in the meeting that “If I had 10 percent of the brain of J. Stan McCauley, I could answer that question.”
Many people said hello to McCauley while we talked in the hallway.
In a few years, Bayer said, people will look back on this time only as part of the station’s history.
“It was a little rocky when the Board asked Stan to leave,” Bayer said. “The staff are hard workers who do a good job. Change is difficult sometimes. Stan was here a long time. Just because he’s not here doesn’t mean that his work was not important.”