Hillsborough County Commission supports possibilities of working with public access channel on new programming - but sounds doubtful about committing funds

Thompson suggested to the BOCC that the TBNC would run a weekly show, perhaps live, that would provide information for the unemployed on how to look for jobs, that would offer career counseling, help people learn more about networking, and get more insights about job fairs and places to search for jobs. She said the channel would work with different agencies, where "we would put them on to assist viewers with knowing what to do to get a job."

Thompson said recently she surveyed those working at the station (where there is a small paid staff but many volunteers) and learned that a third of them are without jobs at the moment.

And she stressed to the commissioners that her station was a great way to train people inexpensively to learn how to work video equipment. "Everything is video these days," she said. "Newspapers, websites, you can't do anything without video." She also said this could help out efforts in Tallahassee to develop the film industry, such as it is, in Florida.

Thompson received a fairly good response from commissioners in terms of the interest in her staff and services coordinating with the county on such programming. But in terms of providing money?

It's questionable whether there would be four votes to do that.

Commission Chair Al Higginbotham said flat out he would never vote to provide such funds, saying there wasn't sufficient funds to maintain the budget inside the county's own communications office.

Commissioners Sandy Murman and Victor Crist praised the idea, but Murman in particular said she wasn't sure if she could support any monies going to the project. But she has been vocal in trying to find ways to alleviate the unemployment problem in the county, and suggested that Thompson meet up with the Workforce Alliance head about working together (That agency is the lead group in trying to help the unemployed find work).

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he was ambivalent about the idea. Admitting that he tweets "non-stop" (including during meetings), Sharpe said that he was concerned that new technologies were leaving TBCN behind.

But more importantly, Sharpe said he has always been uneasy about the idea of the government running a television station (which they still do with HTV, which broadcasts BOCC meetings among other things). "I support you," he told Thompson, but added that he would not "support any public dollars for additional services."

Commissioner Ken Hagan brought up some history when he said it was his vote in 2006 that retained public funding for cable access, and his vote in 2007 that killed it. He said he believed there was "potential" to partner up with TBCN.

The BOCC then voted on two separate motions:

The first was to direct County Administrator Mike Merrill to work the TBCN staff to look at funding allocations, and then report back at a future budget workshop. The board voted 5-1 to approve that, with Commissioner Higginbotham voting no (Les Miller was absent).

The second motion was to for staff to study opportunities with the county to work with other local broadcasting systems (not just TBCN but others) on how to deliver "cost effective programming to our constituents."

  • TBCN's Louise Thompson

After barely maintaining their county funding for years, in 2007 the Hillsborough County board of County Commissioners stripped their share of financing the Tampa Bay Community Network (a/k/a Speak up, Tampa Bay!) the local cable access channel in Tampa/Hillsborough County. Such funding had been a contentious issue for years before the board stripped it away (who can forget the Ronda Storms/White Chocolate wars of the early aughts?).

Combined with the fact that Bright House Networks then moved the channel from the lower rungs of the cable universe into up in the 600's, it would be an understatement to say times have been challenging for the public access channel. However, TBCN continues to survive, thanks to the funding it still receives from the city of Tampa.

Although the odds still seem stacked her, TBCN's head, Louise Thompson, spoke before the BOCC on Wednesday to propose that the county chip in funds for programming that would appeal directly to two groups of constituents that the board is on record as having said they want to help: seniors, and the unemployed.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.