Aug 1, 2012

Alabama ETV commission hires law firm for defense against Pizzato complaint

In a special meeting Tuesday, the Alabama Educational Television Commission voted to hire a Birmingham law firm to defend it against a complaint filed by the former head of Alabama Public Television, Allan Pizzato, whom they fired in June.

Commissioners, meeting in a conference room at APT headquarters in Birmingham, entered into executive session to discuss the issue, filing past portraits of nine lay leaders from APT's fundraising organizations that still hang on the walls despite their resignations in protest of Pizzato’s termination.

The Commission returned to vote 6-0 vote to retain the Birmingham law firm of Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff & Brandt, then promptly adjourned.

After the meeting, Chair Ferris Stephens said the commission feels that Pizzato’s lawsuit is “without merit.” In the complaint, Pizzato’s attorneys allege that because he is a state employee, commissioners violated the state's Open Meetings Act by discussing his job performance in a closed executive session. The civil suit also seeks to remove Stephens, and void all decisions by the commission since his arrival in 2010, because, it alleges, he is ineligible to serve in that capacity as an employee of the Alabama Attorney General’s office.

Stephens said that the board’s decision to remove Pizzato was not related to earlier reports regarding the controversy to air documentary series by Texas-based evangelical Christian activist David Barton. Stephens said that overall, the commissioners “wanted a fresh and innovative approach to where the station is going.”

Throughout the meeting and executive session, Charles Grantham, Alabama Public Television c.o.o, remained at a table with a large box of petitions in front of him. Some 114,000 signatures asking the station to ban Barton’s programming were delivered to the station July 26 by Faithful America, a social-issue advocacy organization. When asked by a reporter if he could take questions, Grantham responded, “I have been advised by Commission Chair Ferris Stephens that I cannot utilize my First Amendment Rights and speak to the media.”

In related news, Pizzato’s attorneys at White Arnold & Dowd in Birmingham announced on Tuesday that they are now also representing Pauline Howland. She had served as APT’s chief financial officer and Pizzato’s deputy before she was fired with him on June 12. Howland was rehired soon after on a temporary basis, working off-site. — William Dahlberg

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