Much has transpired since the Select Board last discussed this matter. I last reported to you in writing on February 27th. At that time I noted that, in accordance with rulings by the Department of Revenue and the Inspector General’s office, we were preparing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for Public, Educational, and Government (PEG) public access services. Since that memo, we developed a draft RFP and provided online input into what the public desired in an RFP. During the same period, the Select Board received comments on the process at its meetings and through email campaigns. In response, the Board published a statement of the status of the situation on March 8th. I drafted articles for the Annual Town Meeting warrant to permit contracting for a period longer than three years and to establish the accounts needed to manage the money as required by the Department of Revenue.
On February 3rd, I offered a contract extension to the Board of Amherst Media.The extension was signed and returned to me on March 10th. I signed it that same day. This extends the current contract with Amherst Media through June 30, 2017. To be clear, during this entire period, there was no disruption in services. The Town continues to honor all terms and conditions of the contract, including all payments to Amherst Media, and Amherst Media continues to honor all terms and conditions of the contract including recording Town government meetings.
Two important new developments last week impact how we will be managing the contract for PEG services.
In short, both the Inspector General’s office and the Department of Revenue have changed the way they are requiring us to interpret funds coming into the Town for PEG access AND how we contract for those services. Apparently, their initial rulings have caused as much confusion and consternation in many other communities as they have here in Amherst.
First, on Wednesday the Department of Revenue informed a meeting of Accountants and Auditors at UMass, and later confirmed in writing to our Comptroller, that “our latest guidance is that we now are allowing an additional year for other accounting methods that were to be no longer sanctioned per the recent IGR 16-102. This was stated at yesterday’s DLS Update session at UMass by the Director of Accounts.” (Email to Comptroller from Department of Revenue dated March 16, 2017.) This, in essence, means they rescinded IGR 160192. It also means that we will continue to account for PEG funds as we have in the past.
Second, on Friday, Comptroller Sonia Aldrich and I had a conference call with two representatives from the Inspector General’s office. We contacted the office immediately after receiving a copy of an email from the Inspector General’s office to the Senate President’s office dated March 10th and subsequently forwarded to the Select Board on March 13th.
In December, the Inspector General’s office had provided a written opinion that stated in unambiguous terms, “There is no applicable exemption for PEG access TV. Chapter 30B applies.” This written determination was a follow-up to an extended conversation between the Inspector General’s office and our Comptroller and Assistant to Comptroller earlier in December in which they were seeking guidance on how to contract for PEG services given the new (now postponed) Department of Revenue regulations. With the advice provided by the Inspector General’s office, we had been moving forward on developing a Request for Proposals (RFP) as required by Chapter 30B.
In this new email, the Inspector General’s office changed the advice it had provided earlier and now states that the Town could treat the PEG funds as a “grant” and, as such, would not have to comply with MGL Chapter 30B (the public bidding law) because grants are not subject to Chapter 30B. The telephone conversation we had with the Inspector General’s office on Friday confirmed this new interpretation. (See attached correspondence.)
What does this all mean? In short, we are moving back to the way we have accounted for funds and contracted for services as we have in the past.
I will immediately take the steps necessary to invite the Board of Directors of Amherst Media to engage in negotiations for a successor contract which now expires on June 30, 2017.
All supporting documents, including email that informed the decisions that we made during this process are provided at the link provided for additional info below.