In 1986. Saturday Night Live broadcast the lost ending to Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In this version, the community cheerfully chips in to save George Bailey and the Building and Loan. Then Uncle Billy remembers that it was Mr. Potter, the dastardly bank president, who stole their deposit. The mob promptly goes to the bank and kicks the living daylights out of him. It’s funny because it highlights that ancient thirst for revenge that lurks deep within us. But it also reminds us that in the real world not everyone is kind or can be trusted.
As with the Building and Loan in the film, our local public access center is in the middle of a deep financial crisis. Over the years, many good people have served as volunteer directors on the Cmedia board, trusting their leaders and employees to operate honestly. Unfortunately, the recent examination of finances has exposed the dark side of trusting too much. But Cmedia is not alone. These kinds of financial troubles have affected many Sonoma County non-profits and successful businesses in recent years.
This current Cmedia board voluntarily reported its financial difficulties to the city immediately upon discovery.
Perhaps the board members expected a sympathetic hand up. Instead, after a city audit, Cmedia was told that the city staff would recommend immediate termination of its contract and the closure of the center.
Well, now, hold on there, Mr. Potter. Didn’t the Community Media Center take a voluntary 10 percent reduction in contracted funding during the fiscal crisis of 2003-2005? And didn’t the city ask for and receive another voluntary $70,000 per year reduction in the recession crisis of 2009-2010? And didn’t this last contract add on the city’s own closed captioning costs (about $35,000 per year) onto the media center’s shrinking budget?
The current Cmedia board was working hard to restore trust in the organization. None of that mattered, as the board’s contract had a clause that ensured its termination if restricted funds were misused.
And on Dec. 6, the Santa Rosa City Council voted unanimously to follow city staff’s recommendation.
But, an interesting thing had happened. As in a Frank Capra movie, the people who recognize the importance of this outlet came to speak on behalf of the center and defend the concept of the Community Media Center. We heard how this center provided an important platform for ministries of many different faiths for nearly 20 years. City staff reported that the media center covered thousands of government meetings in a professional and effective manner. Residents spoke on how the center provided equipment, training and a platform for their creative works and that now endangered right, free speech. The City Council members listened and recognizing the benefits, they directed city staff to come back soon with a plan to reinstitute community access.
Santa Rosa hasn’t turned into Pottersville yet. Maybe I’ve seen Frank Capra’s film too many times, but I still believe in the goodness of people.
Plans are already in the works to restore community access in a new and more self-sufficient way, and I hope that those who have benefited from the services of our Community Media Center over the years will come forward to help. The Community Media is worth saving.
Dan Villalva is a member-producer at Cmedia labs. He is the former executive director of the Community Media Center of the North Bay.