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Nevins to be named chairman of public television commission


In a move that could signal changes at Maryland Public Television, Gov. Parris N. Glendening will announce today that he is naming a trusted Baltimore political supporter to be chairman of the commission that oversees the network.

Public relations executive David H. Nevins will immediately replace Zelig Robinson, an appointee of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, as chairman of the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission.

Mr. Robinson, Mr. Schaefer's personal lawyer, can remain as a member of the commission until his five-year term expires June 30. He said yesterday that he had no comment to make on Mr. Nevins' appointment.

Charles F. Porcari, Mr. Glendening's assistant press secretary, confirmed that Mr. Nevins will be sworn in today. He said the governor will also name Robin O. Oegerle, marketing director of the Ferris Baker Watts brokerage firm, to a vacant seat on the 11-member commission.

The moves come amid reports from former and current employees of staff dissension and poor morale at the six-channel network under the leadership of MPT President Raymond K. K. Ho.

Mr. Ho has been credited with transforming the network into an important force in public television production, using high technology to produce such ambitious programs as last year's "Live From Antarctica."

However, several former MPT managers, who asked not to be identified, said that Mr. Ho's management practices have alienated many staff members and have led to high staff turnover.

Mr. Ho yesterday attributed any unhappiness at MPT to past staff reductions and the threat of future cuts because of probable decreases in federal spending on public broadcasting. There's a lot of anxiety about the federal cuts," he said.

Mr. Nevins, 40, is president of Nevins & Associates, an Owings Mills-based public relations, advertising and consulting firm. Among his clients are Comcast Corp. and the Cable Television Association of Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia. During last year's gubernatorial contest, Mr. Nevins acted as a volunteer spokesman for Mr. Glendening and helped raise funds for the campaign.

In an interview, Mr. Nevins said he would examine all aspects of an organization he said is "at its crossroads."

"We want to make sure the people and the resources are being used for the benefit of the citizens of Maryland," he said.

"I certainly intend to do a thorough analysis of staffing at MPT and address staffing problems, morale issues and budget issues that I think should be addressed," he said.

"MPT, in terms of its programming, has by and large done an outstanding job. The station is very popular and is watched significantly by Marylanders," Mr. Nevins said. "That is something we don't necessarily want to change. But we want to make sure that in the process of being a major producer of national and international programming we haven't overlooked programming that is specifically for the benefit of the citizens of Maryland."

Mr. Nevins said one of the biggest challenges facing MPT would be adjusting to the likely loss of federal funding under a Republican Congress that is cool toward the notion of public broadcasting. Mr. Ho has been an outspoken opponent of those cuts.

The likely cuts will force MPT to seek "new revenue streams," Mr. Nevins said. Those could include more public-private partnerships and an expanded use of sponsorships, he said.

He said the budget squeeze would force the organization to look closely at its budget.

"That makes sure an organization with scarce resources uses those resources appropriately, and if that suggests an audit, then we'll do an audit," he said.

Mr. Ho, who came to MPT from a similar post in Arkansas in 1986, said that it is "healthy" to have new leadership on the commission.

"It's necessary to have a healthy balance between continuity and change. It would be equally foolish to have continuity without change as to have change without continuity . . .," Mr. Ho said. "Management and staff provide the real foundation and stability as we navigate through the whitewaters of change."

State Sen. Paula Hollinger, the Baltimore Democrat who represents the district where MPT is located, called Mr. Nevins' appointment "a wonderful addition" to the board at a time when public financing is threatened.

The senator said she was aware of staff problems at MPT as a result of complaints from constituents who have been forced out. "I have had long discussions with Mr. Ho about some of his employee relationships . . ." Ms. Hollinger said. "I never felt I had an adequate explanation."

Mr. Ho defended his record, saying that under his leadership the network had achieved record revenues, record viewership and record fund-raising success.

"Who do you think is getting the viewers? Who do you think is producing these wonderful shows?" he asked.

"It gets produced because I inspire people to perform. . . . I am pioneering the future of public television," Mr. Ho said.

Mr. Nevins said his appointment did not necessarily imply dissatisfaction with Mr. Ho's performance.

"Action shouldn't be based on rumor and people have the right to have issues fairly investigated," he said.

MPT operates Baltimore's channel 22 and five other stations around the state -- in Annapolis, Salisbury, Hagerstown, Oakland and Frederick.

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