SALISBURY — The ongoing debate over proposed funding cuts to the public access cable channel that televises public meetings in Salisbury and Wicomico County reached a crescendo this week when Mayor James Ireton, Jr. on Wednesday vetoed an earlier vote by the City Council two days earlier.
On Monday, the Salisbury Council approved on second reading an ordinance changing the formula for the city’s annual appropriation to the cable channel PAC 14, which televises their meetings and the Wicomico Council meetings. The ordinance essentially creates a range for the city’s annual contribution to the cable channel from a low of 20 percent to a high of 30 percent.
For years, the Salisbury Council has contributed a set amount of 30 percent of the cable station’s budget. However, faced with budget uncertainties, the Salisbury Council has voted to potentially decrease the funding for the station, or at the very least, leave open an option to reduce the contribution in out years depending on the budget situation.
The council voted 3-1 on Monday to approve the ordinance on second reading. By Wednesday, Ireton had vetoed the council’s action, essentially calling it a direct stab at the cable channel veiled by budget concerns.
“My concerns are that a council majority has decided to engage in another do-over of previously agreed-to funding,” he said. “Additionally, the settling of old scores between council leadership and present and former PAC-14 board members has been evident over the course of this debate.”
Ireton said the current funding formula was written into the city code in an effort to ensure public access to City Council meetings.
“The intent of placing a formula for PAC 14 funding in the Salisbury city code was to give public access a secure funding source on which they could count and which would hopefully grow over time,” he said. “Changing this to a ‘range’ defeats the purpose and subjects their funding to political whims each year.”
Ireton said he vetoed the council’s decision only to help ensure the cable channel could continue to provide public access to city meetings.
“PAC-14 plays a key role in opening up the political process and guarantees transparency in government,” he said. “Reducing PAC 14 funding, along with the cuts they’ve experienced from the county, threatens their ability to continue to play this key role.”
The mayor basically chastised the council for voting to change the PAC 14 funding formula.
“Politicians should not de-fund the very organization that is dedicated to shining the light of day on the decisions those same politicians make,” he said.