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Censorship by Reno City Hall

McNeely Administration short-circuits first broadcast of cable TV consumer panel meeting and wants independent website taken down

RENO -- Reno senior citizens have expressed outrage over the censorship of a television program by Reno City Hall.

   "My voicemail has been overflowing with calls from irate viewers who wanted to watch our first televised cable consumer panel meeting and could not," senior citizen activist Barbara Stone said. She is a member of the new City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee.

 "For most senior citizens on fixed incomes, television is their only source of information and entertainment. Any interruption is a both a disservice to them and a threat to citizen participation," Stone said.

   "Charter Communications rations democracy according to who can afford to pay the most. Actions like that of city staff further separate government from the people," Stone asserted.

   On Friday, city staff ordered Sierra Nevada Community Access Television not to rebroadcast Thursday night's public meeting, the first of the new body to be televised.

   "I was shocked to turn on my television and not find the program on Friday," stated cable committee chair Andrew Barbano.

   "We notified the ratepayers that the program would be rebroadcast on Friday and Saturday. Apparently, the McNeely administration did not like the issues we raised," Barbano said.

   "Citizens should contact their city councilmembers and demand that the program see daylight'" he added.

    "The tape shows city staffers trying to convince us that the language of our empowering resolution passed by the Reno City Council does not really mean what it plainly states. (1)

   "City staff asserted that our only role is one of passive review and advice. They are trying to centralize information so that our committee sees only what staff wants us to see. Ratepayer interests drop through the cracks in such an environment" he noted.

   Stone said that "they didn't stop us from establishing a complaint committee in January, but now they don't want us to handle complaints. As I stated at our meeting, city staff is trying to stop everything we've been doing.

   "Things apparently changed after the publication of the city consultant's $53,903.69 report which shows that Charter has failed at every level to comply with its current franchise agreement," Stone said.

    Barbano noted that "the McNeely Administration opposed the creation of our panel last year.

    "City consultant Robert Sepe's report pointed out that City Manager Charles McNeely's administration has long been negligent in enforcing Charter's franchise compliance. The Reno Gazette-Journal made the deficiencies the subject of a page one article on Sunday, Feb. 23," Barbano said. (2)

   "Since then, we've witnessed an increasingly adversary attitude from city staff. They are trying to subvert our committee's work for consumers," Barbano added, "all this on top of a huge and highly questionable Charter rate increase."

   At the Thursday meeting, city staff was critical of everything committee members have done, from talking with the media to pushing legislation which would increase the city's power over the cable company.

   "Charter opposes Senate Bill 278, which would restore to the city a provision in its current franchise agreement which the industry went to the legislature and wiped out in 1997," stated committee vice-chair Karol Gorman.

   "Dr. Sepe recommended that everything be done to mitigate the potential impact of Charter's ongoing financial problems," Gorman noted.

   The Reno City Council last week endorsed SB 278, which was introduced by Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas. It would return to the city the power to provide cable service.

   At the Thursday evening meeting, Gorman pointed out that Charter's current 15-year franchise gives the city the power to take over cable operations should the service collapse. (3) The 1997 law negated that provision.

    Dr. Sepe has consistently raised alarms over the problems which could occur should Charter file bankruptcy. In his report to the city, Dr. Sepe noted that "Charter's stock value decreased 90 percent in 2002, with reports that the company's equity and bonds are trading 'as if the company is bankrupt...' (4)

   "It appears that the company's financial problems could be at the heart of the company's overall failure to provide Reno residents the most basic level of satisfactory cable service," Sepe stated. (5) Charter's stock has been recently trading at under a dollar a share.

   "The City of Reno must also anticipate taking full advantage of various legal and regulatory measures to protect the community in case of Charter's financial failure, and to ensure the level of local accountability and service excellence the community expects of a business located in Reno," Sepe concluded. (6)

   The executive summary of Sepe's report, as well as extensive news articles and links are posted at, a website owned and totally funded by Mr. Barbano and which city staff wants taken down. The site has been plainly disclaimed as unofficial since launch.

   "At our next meeting, I will bring my own video crew so that the McNeely Administration will not be able to flout the public's right to know and participate," the longtime media executive and consumer activist stated.

   Washoe County has established a similar panel, but unlike its Reno counterpart, Washoe's five members have direct responsibility to negotiate the franchise. (7) Sparks has no such entity, but has informed Reno staff that the Rail City intends to use its current citizen advisory board as franchise renewal time approaches.

   "We are doing our best to empower Reno's negotiators," Gorman said.


   1. Reno City Council Resolution no. 6077, 10-22-2002.
   2. "City of Reno could have prevented cable complaints" by Anjeannette Damon, Reno Gazette-Journal, 2-23-2003
   3. Reno City Code, Section 5.90.1414 subsection 2
   4. Sepe, Robert, Ph.D., Action Audits, City of Reno Cable Television Community Needs Report, 1-5-2003, page 4.
   5. ibid. (in the same publication) at 5.
   6. ibid. at 38.
 7. CORRECTION (4-10-2003) — I have been informed by a member of the Washoe County panel that they do not now have negotiating purview, although that seems to have been the original intent. The name of the body noted below was recently changed. Here is the memo recommending the county panel's establishment.

March 29, 2002

TO: Board of County Commissioners

THROUGH: John Sherman, Finance Director

FROM: John L. Balentine - Purchasing

SUBJECT: Appointment of Members to The Ad Hoc "Washoe County Cable TV Franchise Negotiating Committee"

Board of County Commissioners Agenda, April 9, 2002

Recommendation: It is recommended that the Board of County Commissioners appoint the following individuals to serve on the Ad Hoc "Washoe County Cable TV Franchise Negotiating Committee":

Amanda Coulsen by Commissioner Sferrazza
(Since replaced with William Puchert)
Tim Vernon by Commissioner Bond
Stephen Satchell by Commissioner Galloway
John Mitchell by Commissioner Shaw
Dexter Sale by Commissioner Short
Kathy Carter as Vice-Chairperson
John L. Balentine as Chairperson

Background: On September 26, 2000, by Commission Action 00-948, the Washoe County Board of Commissioners approved the formation of an Ad Hoc Committee for the purpose of negotiating a new, non-exclusive, Cable TV Franchise Agreement with Charter Communications. The current non-exclusive franchise agreement expires at midnight, March 21, 2003. (Editor's note: Extended for one year on Dec. 17, 2002.)
The Committee was empowered to negotiate a new, non-exclusive Cable TV Franchise Agreement, subject to final approval and agreement by the Washoe County Board of Commissioners. This recommendation is to name the Committee members, and begin the negotiations process.

   Watch this website and Barbwire by Barbano in the Sunday Sparks Tribune for updates. Click here to request placement on our mailing list.

    Thank you.




Reno City Council Contact Information

City of Reno
P.O. Box 1900
Reno, NV 89505

City Manager Charles McNeely — Phone (775) 734-2099, Fax 334-6307

Mayor Bob Cashell, 334-2001,

Ward 1 - Toni Harsh, 334-2011,
Ward 2 - Sharon Zadra, 334-2017,
Ward 3 - Jessica Sferrazza, 334-2012,
Ward 4 - Dwight Dortch, 334-2015,
Ward 5 - Dave Aiazzi, Council liaison to the CCCC, 334-2016,
At Large - Pierre Hascheff, 334-2014,

   You may contact the mayor and council individually through the hot links, above, or look below and highlight, copy them as text only, paste and send all the members at once. (Retain the commas.)


Who's your representative?
The Mayor and Councilman Hascheff are elected citywide. The remaining five councilmembers represent specific geographic districts. To learn who represents your neighborhood, click here.





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