RACINE — A private contractor will soon take over operations of CAR25.
After nearly two hours of heated discussion that included failed attempts from some aldermen to have the discussion sent back to the Committee of the Whole and marked confusion, the City Council voted 10-4 on Wednesday to allow officials to negotiate a one-year contract with Skies Fall Media Group to run the cable access channel.
The move follows more than two months of wrangling between the administration, aldermen and those who run CAR25 over the process used to search for and select a contractor to run the channel.
During the public comment period before the vote was taken, several audience members — many of them with ties to CAR25 — urged the council to throw out the proposal to hire Skies Fall or send the entire discussion to its Committee of the Whole for further exploration.
“CAR25 is my career. I built CAR25 with my own two hands,” current channel manager Scott Nelson told aldermen. “Before you is a contract with no dollar amounts, no defined deliverables, from a company with no experience with cable access television.”
Mary Osterman, a member of the Cable Television Commission, and her husband, Racine County Board Member Monte Osterman, asked alderman to approve the contract with the company. Both said there was a need to improve the message of CAR25.
“This a chance for a new direction,” Monte Osterman said. “This is about putting a new face on Racine; with a new image. It is not about competition.”
The last episode in the CAR25 outsourcing saga occurred on Feb. 11 when the Finance Committee voted 3-1 to recommend that the City Council support Skies Fall’s proposal.
Emotions ran high at that meeting and the Cable Television Commission meeting on Jan. 26, where Skies Fall’s proposal was also recommended over a proposal from Badger Video Group, a company owned and operated by Nelson.
Discussion on the proposal during the council meeting was no different. As aldermen spoke in favor of the measure and against it, murmurs of disagreement from the audience were audible.
Much of the debate centered around whether Skies Fall, which has not run a cable access channel before but does have filming and video experience, could fulfill the requirements of running the channel, especially for what the city can afford to pay it. Alderman also had several questions about why the administration or Cable Television Commission wanted operations of the channel outsourced in the first place.
“There has been some discussions about CAR25 going in a new direction. It has not been articulated what that direction is,” Alderman Sandy Weinder said. “I do not think there has been enough public discussion among the aldermen.”
Three aldermen spoke in favor of contracting with the company: Ray DeHahn, Ron Hart and Jim Kaplan. Both DeHahn and Hart are members of the Cable Television Commission.
Aldermen who voted against the measure were Weidner, Keith Fair, Mike Shields and Krystyna Sarrazin.
Concern about outsourcing
In addition to crying foul over the process used to search for and select a contractor to run the station — claiming that it was tailored to favor Skies Fall — those close to CAR25 have complained that there was never a formal discussion about whether channel operations should be outsourced in the first place.
Running CAR25 cost the city about $106,000 last year. In its proposal, Skies Fall wrote it could run the station for $119,500 a year plus $47,500 in first-year expenses. Director of city’s Management Information Systems Department told the council, however, that whatever contract is negotiated with Skies Fall would be based on the “$106,000 budget amount.”
Dickert has said he knows Ben Kasica, the owner of Skies Fall Media Group. He explained late last year that the two met years ago when Kasica was playing with the rock group Skillet. He added that “there are not many people in this town I don’t know.”
During the debate, Dickert, who presides over council meetings, refused a request from Alderwoman Melissa Kaprelian-Becker asking to hear from Nelson about whether the channel staff responded to requests to improve the channel. Dickert did allow the council to ask questions of one of the owners of Skies Fall.