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City assumes operation of Laurel Cable Network

By Luke Lavoie, llavoie@tribune.com

1:45 PM EDT, June 4, 2013

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The Laurel City Council voted May 29 to take over operations and programming for Laurel Cable Network, which is currently staffed by the volunteers of the Laurel Cable Network Foundation.

The change in directorship will begin July 1. Current programming will not be changed, but plans are to expand what the network offers, said city Community Services Officer Carreen Koubek.

"We plan to grow with what we've got," Koubek said.

Laurel Cable, a public access cable station, has studios at the Laurel Municipal Center and is broadcast on Comcast Channel 71 and Verizon Fios Channel 12, and also streams at laurelcabletv.com.

"I look at this as being a realignment of responsibilities," said Paul Kirkpatrick, longtime president of the Laurel Cable Network Foundation. "I think it's going to be a win-win for everybody. It's going to be a wise move benefiting everyone concerned."

Mayor Craig Moe said he began exploring the move 11 months ago, and built into his 2014 budget the addition of two full-time city employees, a public information coordinator and administrative employee, to support the network's operations. That budget also passed last week.

A third employee will be added as a program coordinator in an auxiliary status, which does not include paid benefits, according to Koubek.

"We hope to bring in some talent that will help out with the operations of the cable," Moe said. "We are still going to rely on the volunteers, but most of them have full-time jobs. They can only do so much."

Kirkpatrick admitted that, because the foundation relied solely on volunteers, it was deficient in some areas.

"There are a lot of things that need to be covered video-wise that volunteers can't do," he said.

Kirkpatrick, who has served as president of the foundation for 14 of its 29 years, said the move will allow the volunteers to focus on the specialized functions of the network, like operating cameras.

"Our role as a foundation is not going to change a whole lot," said Kirkpatrick. "Our role will change as far as management and programming decisions, but it will free up the volunteers to do what they volunteer for."

Moe said the city will retain all of the foundation's volunteers willing to stay.

The foundation will also advise the city on programming and content, and the city will provide $30,000 in grant funds to the foundation in lieu of payment for the studio equipment, which the city will also take over.

The city has a close working relationship with the foundation that dates back to when the foundation began in 1985. According to the resolution passed by the council, the city provided the nonprofit with start-up funds in 1985 and 1986 to purchase the original studio equipment.

"The city and the foundation have always worked in harmony," Kirpkatrick said. "We have a mayor and a city administration that are very forward thinkers and staying on the forefront of technology."

Staff and volunteers together

After July 1, the network will be under the purview of the city's newly established Communications Department, which will be headed by its director, City Public Information Officer Pete Piringer.

"With the formation of the new department, it is mutually beneficial to have staff assist the foundation," Piringer said.

"We are hoping to retool the programming, strengthen that a bit," said Piringer. "A lot of good work is being done by Parks and Recreation, Police, Planning ... . We want to provide information that directly involves the community and what other departments are doing."

Piringer said he wants to create a task force or focus group made up of members from different segments of the community to get ideas for content.

"We need to get feedback from them on what they would like to see as far as programming," he said.

City Council President Fred Smalls said the council welcomed the idea of the city assuming control over the network.

"We are looking for enhancements. We want to add some additional programming and more programming that's focused locally. By adding a couple of positions to the budget, we are hopeful that it will bring on some staff that will meet those goals," he said.

Smalls said the move should not be construed as a slight against the foundation's volunteers.

"That's our public access channel," Smalls said. "We want to contribute as a council anyway we can to enhance the offering and quality of programming the cable channel offers."