Commissioners of the Arkansas Educational Television Network signed off on a resolution Monday meant to smooth ruffled feathers between the network and the nonprofit foundation that supports it.
There was very little discussion during a called emergency telephone conference of AETN’s governing commission. Commissioners voted to give the network’s fundraising arm, the Arkansas Educational Telecommunications Network Foundation, 15 days to respond to the latest draft of the proposed resolution.
The commission’s seven-point response is a counter-answer to the foundation’s April 12 initial suggested compromise to reduce ongoing tensions between the network and its fundraising arm.
Skip Holland, the network commission’s chairman, initially said the written response was unavailable to the press because “it is in fact a draft.” Holland agreed to release the document after an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter told the commission that the draft was a public document under the state Freedom of Information Act.
Holland said the agreement was necessary because of “the issues that we’ve had with the foundation around the fundraising platform that we have been using.”
“We’re wanting to broaden our abilities to do better fundraising in a digital age,” he said.
Tensions have flared between AETN Executive Director Courtney Pledger and the foundation since Pledger was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in March 2017.
Typically, the head of AETN also acts as the chief executive officer of the foundation, but in February, the foundation board removed Pledger from the foundation.
The action followed Pledger’s firing of Mona Dixon, the foundation’s director.
Dixon told foundation board Chairman Lynne Rich in a Feb. 26 letter that she was fired because she refused to follow Pledger’s direction to enter into a consulting contract with Team Raney for content development. Dixon said that direction would violate state procurement laws.
Pledger then came under fire from state legislators for a recent legislative audit that showed Pledger violated state procurement laws when the network entered into a 2018 contract with the Public Broadcasting Service to produce the documentary State of the Art featuring the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The agency also signed a second agreement with the vendor to produce and distribute the film. The contracts totaled $100,000.
Pledger also signed away revenue rights to go to the foundation instead of the network. The agency told lawmakers at a May hearing that the issue was corrected and any future revenue from the project would go directly to the network, not the foundation.
Other deficiencies cited in the audit included improper bidding, failure to log use of a state vehicle, hiring outside legal counsel and paying a vendor for training without documentation.
The network’s commission and the foundation board have been going back and forth in negotiations since April to create a manifesto detailing the rules of collaboration between the two entities.
In May, after the commission demanded that Pledger be reinstated as head of the nonprofit, the foundation said in a reply that she should have “NO role or authority over Foundation staff or operations.”
In Monday’s response, the commission suggested a compromise “in order to [ensure] alignment of mission and objectives” by demanding the full restoration of AETN Foundation board membership status to both Pledger — or the AETN executive director — and an AETN Commission representative in advance of the September regular foundation board meeting with “such status to include voting rights and all other rights of current AETN Foundation Board Members.”
In exchange, the commission said in the document, the foundation will allow Pledger, or the AETN executive director, to present a list of candidates for the role of AETN foundation director of development to the foundation along with any other qualified candidates who apply for the role.
But the hiring decision will be made at the recommendation of the AETN Foundation Executive Committee and with a vote of the AETN Foundation Board and the AETN Commission.
The network’s executive director also would not be able to terminate the foundation’s development director; that would be done solely by the foundation’s Executive Committee, the network’s latest resolution said.
The network also agreed that the foundation’s director of development would hire and supervise foundation staff and run daily operations.
Other points in the network’s resolution included:
The AETN Foundation board will amend the foundation’s articles of incorporation so it has from 8 to 15 members.
The foundation board will agree to accept four additional voting members as soon as possible “to provide fresh perspective and ideas.”
Rich’s term as the foundation board chairman will extend until the September 2020 meeting “so as to re-establish the confidence of the AETN Commission in the AETN Foundation Board and its activities.”
The AETN Foundation board will amend its bylaws to limit board members to four three-year terms for a maximum of 12 years of service. Existing members who have already exceeded 12 years will rotate off the board at the upcoming September meeting. The foundation would be able to stagger terms of other board members to “avoid undue turnover of members.”
Messages left for Rich were not immediately returned Monday.
There has always been an official collaborative agreement between the network and the foundation, Holland said.
“This utilizes some parts of that agreement, and parts of it are new,” Holland said. “The concept here was that the original agreement was changed by the foundation board sometime early this year and required a response from us, the AETN commission. This is our response.”
In a text message late Monday, Pledger said, “In this time of tremendous creative growth at AETN, we have the opportunity to set a new course for a revitalized, productive relationship with our foundation.”