The city of Dyersburg's latest attempt for a meeting between cable committee members and CableOne manager Elvis Brown resulted in a few empty chairs on Thursday morning.
Brown declined attending the meeting, because he did "not have any new information to share" with board members. But his was not the only empty seat in the conference room.
Cable committee members Bart Williams and Charles McCright were also unable to attend the meeting.
Cable Committee Chairman Freeman Dudley and Mayor John Holden were the only members of the cable committee to attend, but aldermen Bob Kirk, Lewis Norman and Kevin Chaney were there, as well as City Recorder Gleyn Twilla.
Mayor John Holden said he and city aldermen have been attempting to schedule a meeting of the cable committee since CableOne dropped two more channels from its lineup on Feb. 4. The channels were brought back just over one week later, but since that time, aldermen have repeatedly requested another meeting with Brown to discuss the situation.
At Thursday's meeting, Holden reported sending several requests to the CableOne manager concerning a time convenient to Brown to schedule the meeting and shared his final e-mail with Brown, dated Friday, Feb. 20.
"At our board meeting Monday night, (Feb.) 16, the issue of holding cable committee meeting came up and the chairman asked that I contact you to schedule a meeting one day next week," said Holden in the e-mail. "Please let me know some available days and times next week in which we could schedule a meeting. ... If you are unable to meet with us next week, I anticipate that the committee will proceed with the meeting regardless in order that we discuss our current cable situation."
Brown e-mailed a reply on Monday, Feb. 23.
"Please thank the cable committee for inviting me to meet with them concerning the current situation with certain channels," said Brown's e-mail. "Unfortunately, I do not have any new information to share regarding these channels at this time. However, please keep in mind that CableOne is continuing negotiations for carriage of WPTY and WLMT as I have mentioned previously."
After the meeting on Thursday afternoon, Brown confirmed that negotiations are continuing between CableOne and Newport Television Broadcasting Corp. to carry WPTY and WLMT out of Memphis, but declined to comment further on why he chose not to attend the meeting.
"I know the mayor has made several attempts (to schedule a meeting)," said Dudley as he called the meeting to order. "It basically boils down to him saying he doesn't have anything to say to us."
"The thing that bothers me is that he does not see fit to come over and talk to us," said Norman.
At the meeting, Holden also shared a memorandum informing aldermen of CableOne's application for a state franchise, which Holden expects will be granted within the next 45 days.
"With a state franchise in place, CableOne is not required to have a local franchise agreement with the city, but will (still) be required to pay the city five percent of all revenue generated from cable services provided within the city, excluding internet and cable phone services," the memo stated. "The city's local franchise agreement with CableOne expired on Aug. 15, 2008. Subsequently, the city and CableOne agreed to operate under the terms and conditions of the Agreement until the parties reached a new agreement or CableOne applied for a state franchise. We have negotiated with CableOne regarding a new agreement, but negotiations have stalled due to service issues."
Aldermen asked Holden if CableOne had informed him that they applied for a state contract, or if he found out through other means. They also asked if CableOne was current with franchise fee payments to the city.
"They did not officially notify me of the state franchise," said Holden. "They are current. They pay quarterly."
The aldermen also related their surprise at the continuing negotiations between CableOne and Newport stated in Brown's e-mail. Several of the aldermen said they thought the negotiations had been successful when the channels returned to CableOne's lineup.
"My question is, if the negotiations are still going on, why was it so imperative to cut the channels off by midnight on Feb. 4," said Chaney, who was one of four aldermen to switch from CableOne service during the time the channels were down.
"I've had several people come by to talk to me," said Dudley. "People wanting a portion of their money back."
"That's what I hear," said Chaney. "They are charging for something they are not providing. (The residents) think it's a city service."
"And we are just a captive audience," said Norman.
"We have absolutely no recourse whatsoever and an empty chair to ask questions to," said Chaney.
"A few years back, we had cable issues and a representative from Phoenix came and fed us. He took us to Neil's and listened to our issues," said Norman. "Now we can't get any higher than the local guy and he is letting us know that he is in charge."
"The girl I talked to who is supposed to be 'in the know' over there said they are talking about a 10 percent increase," said Dudley, who said he also heard CableOne lost as many as 250 customers in the week the channels were taken off the air. "I don't know if those numbers are accurate, but I do know they lost four (aldermen)."
"The tragedy is people are looking to us (for help)," said Norman. "(Mr. Brown said) 'Get them to call me.' But if you've ever tried to call over there, you can't get through. I suggest (the mayor write) a pretty straightforward letter to someone higher up than Mr. Brown."
"Mayor, would you feel comfortable doing that?" asked Dudley.
"I will," said Holden, who said he wrote a similar letter over a year ago. "I'll bring up the issue of the channels and any reimbursements for the channels and our level of frustration with the service and quality. We will send a letter out today or tomorrow expressing our concerns and requesting someone to come give us some more information."