Midvalley TV gets money from Basalt, scorn from GrassRoots | AspenTimes.com

Midvalley TV gets money from Basalt, scorn from GrassRoots

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A man who hopes to create a midvalley community-access television station has scored a $47,500 contribution from Basalt and the scorn of GrassRoots TV.

Steve Kaufmann, founder of Access Roaring Fork, said the grant from Basalt was an important step in creating a nonprofit station that will train students in video production as well as provide access for midvalley residents on their own local station.

The new startup station is spurring competition ” exactly what GrassRoots executive director John Masters said local television cannot afford. Masters claimed the money that Kaufmann received from Basalt isn’t enough to successfully launch another channel. and it siphons much-needed funding from the upper valley’s more established, 32-year-old station.

“I hate to see someone trying it again and being behind the eight ball ” struggling forever,” said Masters. “What’s sort of painful is GrassRoots could have provided more bang for the buck. GrassRoots is about as small as you can get and still have some professionalism.”

Kaufmann has no apologies about creating competition. He claimed Access Roaring Fork will do what “Aspen-centric” GrassRoots couldn’t or wouldn’t do for the Basalt area.

“I was a failure at getting them to spend a nickel or any attention on Basalt issues,” said Kaufmann. “That doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard for Basalt.”

Beholden to whom?

Adding salt to GrassRoots’ wound is the fact that Kaufmann was on the GrassRoots board of directors at the time he negotiated a deal for Access Roaring Fork with the town of Basalt.

Instead of appointing a member of the council or staff, Basalt appointed Kaufmann because of his work with the town on technology issues, according to Town Manager Tom Baker.

Baker said he viewed Kaufmann’s responsibility as representing Basalt to GrassRoots. “His job wasn’t to sell GrassRoots to Basalt,” Baker said.

Masters views it differently. If Kaufmann’s role was as Baker outlined, perhaps Kaufmann should have been only an advisory member instead of a voting member, according to Masters.

The GrassRoots board asked Kaufmann to resign in December because of the conflict with Access Roaring Fork. He honored the request.

But by that time, he had reached an agreement with the Basalt Town Council during the budget process to record and air council meetings and provide access to midvalley residents to his new television studio.

Kaufmann said he initially went to the council for startup funds. He pitched the angle that Basalt middle and high school students would learn how to produce their own shows. It’s a great way to teach them a skill and pay them a decent wage, he said. It’s a good alternative to flipping burgers.

Kaufmann said Basalt officials liked the idea enough that they asked if his crew could also tape Town Council meetings, something GrassRoots had done for several years. Kaufmann worked out a deal.

Conflict of interest?

Masters said he never saw that deal coming. Kaufmann didn’t fully explain Access Roaring Fork to him, and the town of Basalt never gave GrassRoots a chance to continue its role and expand it for the $47,500 it had available.

Once he learned about the deal, it was too late to do anything about it. Masters maintains that Kaufmann should have been more upfront about his negotiations on behalf of Access Roaring Fork while he was working with GrassRoots.

“I constantly felt like he was telling a quarter to half the story all the time,” said Masters.

Kaufmann said Basalt’s frustrations and desires for expanding opportunities shouldn’t have surprised anyone at GrassRoots. He said he tried at three or four meetings to encourage greater outreach to the midvalley.

“That was met with no interest,” Kaufmann said. “It’s an uphill battle with these folks.”

It was apparent there was no “quick fix” between the midvalley and GrassRoots, Kaufmann continued. “In the last three months I’ve done more outreach in the town of Basalt than GrassRoots has done in the last 10 years,” he said.

Kaufmann acknowledged that in retrospect he should have resigned from GrassRoots while seeking funding for Access Roaring Fork. But he denied the situation constituted a conflict of interest.

Baker said he had nothing bad to say about GrassRoots. He simply felt there were greater opportunities with Access Roaring Fork.

“Basalt’s the big dog with Access Roaring Fork,” said Baker. “With GrassRoots, Basalt was never going to be anything but a sideshow.”

On the air

Access Roaring Fork taped the first Basalt Town Council meeting of 2004 Tuesday night. Kaufmann worked with a team of youths. The channel also gives kids the chance to produce their own programs.

Anybody from Basalt and the midvalley can make arrangements with the station for a show. Some training will be required, which the students will provide for a fee. If assistance is required to produce a show, students must be hired for $10 per hour, Kaufmann said.

He believes it fits the bill of the proverbial win-win ” the midvalley gets greater access; the students get paid to learn a trade.

Kaufman figured taping the Town Council meetings can be provided for $1,200 to $1,500 for Basalt. The vast majority of the $47,500 grant is to help a new nonprofit, not to offer the same service GrassRoots offered.

GrassRoots was paid $6,000 by Basalt for taping and airing Town Council meetings in 2002. The town whittled the contribution down to $3,000 last year because of budget cuts. The town initially offered $6,000 to GrassRoots for this year, but GrassRoots demanded $10,000 to accurately reflect the cost of its service.

Although Basalt negotiated a deal with Access Roaring Fork and cut GrassRoots out of the picture, it still contributed $3,000 to GrassRoots for 2004 as a severance fee.

Masters said GrassRoots officials are trying to forget about what happened, but he still feels a mistake is being made.

“It’s hard to say we’re against [the concept] when we’re for it,” Masters said. “But Basalt is just not big enough to sustain a television station.”

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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