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Community Media Center gets six-month reprieve from Santa Rosa council

Santa Rosa agreed to continue funding the Community Media Center of the North Bay for another six months while a community-wide discussion takes place about how to replace the nonprofit with something more collaborative, innovative and less expensive for taxpayers.

The decision was something of a reprieve for the center, whose contact runs out at the end of March. The city was proposing to shut it down July 1 and take over production of the government channel for at least 18 months.

But dozens of supporters urged the council not to allow the closure while a new media lab model is explored.

Dan Exelby, acting chairman of the center, said he supported the plan for an open public process out of which a "new media paradigm" could emerge for the center.

"The bottom line is we'd like you to keep the Community Media Center open during this process," Exelby said, noting that operates on the "shoestring budget."

Ida Johnson, who has produced her own talk show at the center for more than a decade, said the center simply didn't have enough to time to grapple with the changes that were being asked of it.

"Please, please. Slow down and give all of us time to come together," she said.

The center, opened in 1997, broadcasts public meetings, manages public access television channels and provides video production training to residents.

The city cut back sharply on funding to the center in recent years, and expressed dissatisfaction that the center wasn't finding other partners to shoulder operational costs. The latest one-year contract for the center cut operating funds from $660,000 to $300,000.

Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips said she has tried hard to impress upon the leaders of the center that "it's not business as usual. We need to do things differently."

"There certainly still is a place for public, education and governmentaccess services and a media lab in our community," Phillips said. "It's how we deliver that that is really the challenge before us."

The council rejected the portion of the plan that called for the city to hire technical staff and take over the production of videos of city government meetings, suggesting that transparency was best served with an outside group performing that function.

"People don't trust the government," Councilman Gary Wysocky said.

The city plans to gather feedback from the community at two public hearings and an online forum, and then hold discussions with various organizations interested in providing public media access services by summer.

The council said it wanted a concrete proposal by the time the six-month extension was up in the fall.

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