in Houston, Texas
KTRU radio station not named in generic Regents meeting agenda; descriptions must be specific under Open Meetings Act
Thursday, Aug 19, 2010, 07:43PM CST
By Steve Miller
radio

 

 

 

The Houston Press has led the way in covering the sale of the KTRU radio tower, FM frequency and FCC license by Rice University to the University of Houston, which plans to turn it into an NPR affiliate.


But the agenda item for Tuesday's public meeting at which the U of H approved negotiating the purchase may have been lacking in full disclosure, said Joe Larsen, a lawyer with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

 

The item on the agenda for Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting read:

“Approval is requested to delegate authority to the Chancellor to negotiate and execute an asset purchase agreement and a management agreement, up to $10 million, related to the purchase of a radio station for use by KUHF – University of Houston.”

Backup material for the particular item also omitted the fact that the radio station in question was KTRU, much beloved for years in almost every corner of Houston's boho community.


“The agenda did not make reference to the sale of KTRU, so the question becomes, how high is the expected level of public interest?” Larsen said. He said one explanation might be that there was more than one radio station under consideration for purchase, but "the best I can say is, if UH knew at the time the target was KTRU, that this fact should have been included in the agenda because they should have anticipated a high level of public interest."

 

He noted Rice University's statement that listenership was low for KTRU  - Rice University contends that Arbitron found ratings too low to be measured - but that the sale had generated considerable media coverage and, by implication, public interest.


The state Attorney General's office has said that meeting agendas need to be specific to meet the standards of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

 

U of H Board of Regents Chairman Welcome Wilson said the agenda items are posted with the assistance of the board’s general counsel, “and she is the one who develops the language for our postings and meetings. I would have no reason to believe that she would not get that correct.”


A U of H rep, Karen Clarke, said that the deal was discussed at a meeting of the finance and administration committee on Aug. 11, and a PowerPoint presentation was made referencing KTRU as the tower holder and frequency being considered. She said as the deal progressed over the last few weeks, Rice "was concerned about why it would go public and even said, 'Why do we have to do this in public?' We said, 'This is how we do business.' We have no intention of concealing this or dissuading anyone from speaking out about the deal."

 

She explained that the regents' action authorized the chancellor to negotiate for the KTRU goods, but the deal is by no means done. In fact, as of early this week, "Rice did not have full land rights or the easement to the actual tower," Clarke said. "It is the equivalent of selling a house and the driveway, and the garage is on someone else's property."

 

Regardless, Rice has pushed on as if KTRU is on its last legs.

 

Rice University President David Leebron tried to explain the deal and its secrecy in an e-mail to students and alumni:

“As much as I prefer to consult widely and involve all stakeholders in important decisions, this sale required months of complicated and, by necessity, confidential negotiations.”

Despite receiving government funding each year, Rice is a private university and is not subject to the open meetings or public information laws.


Clarke, the U of H rep, added that the regents had not expected much resistance to the deal from the KTRU community.


"We knew that some Rice students might be upset, but the way it was portrayed [by Rice] was that it was a small and insignificant number and that they would manage it. We never got the impression that it would cause an uproar."


The announced deal has rallied backers of the student-run station to form a dedicated website, a Facebook page, an online petition, and a Twitter account.


But so far, no lawyer.


“It will be a tough slough to get it reversed," Larsen said. "They might threaten to sue, or [the regents] might go back and do the meeting again and make sure they do it right.”

 

Editor's note: The second paragraph in this story was updated at 9:20 a.m. Aug. 20 to make it clearer that the Regents approved negotiating toward a purchase, not terms of a final deal.


Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.


Photo of a radio by flickr user Danny McL, used via a Creative Commons license.

 

 

Comments
Heidi B.
Friday, 08/20/2010 - 08:06AM

Love it! Thanks watchdog. The real problem is why Rice University was in open dialogue with the students about the proposed sale of the station.

Digi Guy
Friday, 08/20/2010 - 09:24AM

"but that the sale had generated considerable media coverage and, by implication, public interest." As a Rice alum and supporter of evolution in the music industry, I am saddened to see the KTRU staff and students, squandering this opportunity to gain many supporters for their online operation. The headline seems to be "KTRU is sold" From my understanding it's only the antenna. They couldn't BUY this kind of advertising if they tried. Rice is full of innovators... where are they now? Are they still clinging to their 8-tracks and preaching the "evils" of digital? There's a reason Blip.FM, Pandora, Podcasting, Last.FM among others are being so successful. Supply and demand! Come on KTRU! Adapt... evolve!

Chris
Friday, 08/20/2010 - 11:58AM

@Heidi B. Rice WASN'T in open dialogue with the students. That's why they're pissed. Administration kept them in the dark, didn't even tell the KTRU staff. The public speeches now are trying to save face.

Heidi B.
Friday, 08/20/2010 - 12:17PM

@Chris- Shit. Sorry that wasn't obvious to you as a typo.

Friday, 08/20/2010 - 12:43PM

Just for the sake of argument, classes at Rice don't start until Monday - most students can't be on campus until this Saturday. Hopefully there will be more of an uproar next week when more innovators can be there.

DS
Saturday, 08/21/2010 - 09:06AM

It's great to see such careful reporting on this issue. As both a UH and Rice alum, I am disappointed by both my alma matters - Rice for trying to hide this from their students, and UH for playing along with such a clearly shady agenda. Whatever happened to the academic ideals of openness and honesty?

UH Alum Robert
Saturday, 08/21/2010 - 01:11PM

I am appalled by how little the Rice Administration thinks of its students, alumni, and community that supports the institution. I am also upset that the University of Houston allowed itself to be duped by Rice into this mess. I am a UH alum. I am proud of my time at UH. I would go there again; it is a great institution. BUT! I don't want UH's image forever tarnished by this mess. UH, to rehabilitate itself now, in my eyes, should cancel the deal with Rice. It is all very appalling indeed. KTRU is a fine student run radio station and it should remain on the public airwavies. I wonder whatever other rules Rice has violated, such as FCC rules and regulations, for instance? I hope the FCC and the Texas Attorney General fully investigate this fiasco.

RAlum
Sunday, 08/22/2010 - 03:28AM

@Digi Guy - As a supporter of evolution in the music industry, I see KTRU and Last.FM/Pandora as polar opposites. Last.FM/Pandora guide you to new music, yes, but based on *your* listening history, likes/dislikes, and the same for other people who have similar likes/dislikes. The point of KTRU is that it introduces you to completely new, unrelated music. The other important point is that KTRU-FM is an FM broadcast (they actually already livestream as it is). That makes it accessible to everyone who has a car built since 1940s or any home radio. Yes, people could go out, find KTRU Blip.FM DJs or podcasts, download them, put them on their iPod, plug it into their car (some cars are surprisingly difficult to do this in, requiring paying even more money for small transmitters), and then get going. Or, as it stands now, they can hit the "scan" button. It's a matter of accessibility, and while I think podcasts would be a great thing for them to add (assuming licensing doesn't cause problems...), the accessibility factor just isn't comparable.

John Pirtle
Tuesday, 08/24/2010 - 12:02AM

This is part of a nationwide strategy to destroy independent media. KTRU was a reflection of the interested motivated Rice student community. That is pretty local and pretty grassroots. KUHF and NPR are pretty corporate. They are governed by wealthy connected boardmembers with their own agendas. KUHF is almost commercial. I think this is bad for Houston and bad for democracy. There is almost no independent grass roots media left. There is KPFT and KTSU, but Rice made a rich and interesting contribution to Houston. Commercial Radio literally makes me nauseous. I spend all my time at the far left on the FM dial. I generally like KUHF but not at the expense of losing KTRU. I hope this gets reversed.

Ethics in academia
Monday, 08/30/2010 - 03:24PM

This type of behavior is typical of UH Board of Regents. When they hired Dr. Renu Khator, they announced her candidature for public comments to follow State laws in form but not in intent. In fact, she was the "SOLE finalist" and, as a result, faculty, staff, students and public at large had no say in her selection.

To add insult to injury, they went on immediately to change UH nepotism rules which prevented the hiring of the spouse of the president. After this change, the spouse of the president has been hired even though he did not have sufficient qualifications to hold the position of professor at UH.

It did not stop there! The next thing was the appointment of the spouse, not just as a faculty member, but as ASSOCIATE DEAN at a salary and compensation way out of line.

The current rules of nepotism reads:

"Relatives of other System employees shall not be employed by the System in positions where the employee has the official authority to hire or recommend or approve the hiring, salary or promotions of the relative. Relatives shall not be employed in the supervisory-subordinate relationship even if it results from marriage after the employment relationship was formed. The supervisor-subordinate relationship shall be interpreted to include all levels of line administrative supervisors, from the lowest to the highest, not just the immediate supervisor."

As associate dean, the spouse is in the administrative chain...

There is a high level of unease with this appointment. The impression around campus is that the spouse is constantly using his wife's authority for personal gain.

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