Still Catch-22 At KLRN/KLRU By Bob Sindermann, Jr. Austin After months of being spoonfed details about improprieties at KLRN/KLRU, the two-in-one San Antonio/Austin public television station, the Federal Communications Commission is now in the midst of a full-scale, and thus unusual, investigation of the station’s management morass \(Obs., A textbook case of split control and consequent split accountability, KLRN/KLRU’s operation has long been plagued by an inability to resolve whether the PBS affiliate is run by the Southwest Texas Public Broadcasting Council, a non-profit group which holds the FCC license, or by the University of Texas, which owns the station equipment, studio, etc., and until recently has been manager of operations. The situation has worked out much like the old neighborhood football game quarrels are the rules made by the kid with the football or the kid in whose yard you’re playing? After two decades, no’ one at KLRN/KLRU is sure. Essentially, UT has been running the station under an ambiguous contract and lots of initiative, while complaints about UT’s operation have been deflected by the Council, under the Catch-22 rubric that it can’t interfere with the management of the station to which it holds license. Although a new contract was effected last year and a new manager, William hired, the snafu seems as unresolved as ever. According to Arthur . Ginsburg, chief of the FCC’s Complaints and Compliance Division, FCC investigators in January spent three weeks three times the norm gathering evidence and testimony from persons in Austin and San Antonio. The report is still pending, and may take some time to compile, but will likely be of critical impact. It is already clear that a routine threeyear renewal of the Council’s 20-year-old license is out of the question. At least ten persons, including station insiders and interested citizens, have sent the FCC dozens of letters, complaints and license-challenging petitions in the past year. Moreover, the FCC has revoked, in a similar case, a public TV license because of delegation of management and control by the licensee to a third party. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Paul Braymen, chairman of the Council, says “we’re glad” about the investigation “because there’s been so much controversy . . . concerning what two or three people have been hollering about and have filed formal complaints about with the FCC.” That sanguinity may be slightly forced. A letter of inquiry from the FCC to the Council in September 1979 produced some less than “glad” scurrying by Council and UT officials to demonstrate that the KLRN/KLRU situation was working smoothly. First, the Council and UT expropriated their own airwaves for 90 minutes last October 30 days after the FCC inquiry to answer their critics and urge the audience to petition the FCC on the station’s behalf. Critics got no air time. In December, the Council and UT came up with a revised contract stating , that the Council has “sole responsibility for the management and operation of the station,” but left UT on record as owner of the studios and equipment. Supposedly, the 1979 revised contract settled the issue of control and accountability. But it may have accentuated a deeper problem stemming from the original Council-UT contract of 1961. In the 1961 version, the Council stipulated that UT was manager of the station and bound itself to policies “mutually agreeable to the University.” That verbiage served conveniently last year allowing the Council not to dismiss the station’s general manager, Harvey Herbst, an action which the Council’s own investigative committee had recommended. The Council said Herbst was a UT employee and thus not dismissable by the Council. \(Herbst subFormer Council members, ex-staffers and public viewers who’ve been complaining to the FCC said this lack of action by the Council, though rationalized under the 1961 contract, was really an abdication of its responsibilities as licensee. When the FCC asked the Council to clarify its managerial relationship last November \(the 1961 contract was still in final and ultimate authority to dismiss employees.” One other point about that 1961 contract. The Council apparently never filed it with the commission and, on license renewal applications, has denied it existed. This revelation comes from some persistent digging by Neil Feldman, an Austin electronics engineer, who last fall badgered station officials to provide documents that should have been in the station’s public file in the first place. Feldman has written the FCC about significant discrepancies between the 1961 contract and a 1960 “working agreement” that actually was submitted to the agency with the application to construct the station. The council has told the FCC that the 1961 document 8 MARCH 14, 1980
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.