Off the air 

MCAT deliberates on firing director

Staffers, board members choose sides in bitter fight

Randy Ammon, executive director for Missoula Community Access Television since its beginning nine years ago, is fighting for his job. Some close to the situation say he's losing the battle, but with troops rallying on both sides, the outcome is still uncertain.

The reasons for the attempted ouster are less than clear-MCAT's board President Bob Gilman refers vaguely to problems with "inefficiency." But both sides have retained lawyers, and thus ironically, representatives for a media outlet that champions, and indeed thrives, on the free flow of information have been adumbrated by silence.

Ammon will not talk and his attorney has advised him not to allow even his picture to be taken by the media.

"I have dedicated my life to the freedom of speech. I just hate being put in this position. I'm sorry," Ammon tearfully told the Independent this week.

Gilman, president of MCAT's board of directors, as well refuses to comment on specific problems with Ammon.

"There are privacy issues involving personnel matters at MCAT so I don't want to comment any further," Gilman says.

Nevertheless, the board's personnel committee has formally recommended Ammon's termination, and Wednesday night the assembled board scheduled an April 23 vote to determine the public access television veteran's destiny.

With the leadership staying mum, MCAT staffers say they have no idea why the board wants their boss out; two board members complained loudly Wednesday night about a lack of information.

Board member Rikki Danielson has spoken to the MCAT staff, and in a letter to the personnel committee, she articulated her findings.

"Members of the staff are so upset, they're ready to quit or sue or find a way to fire us. But that doesn't matter to the personnel committee or to the executive committee. They've stated that firing Randy is the only way to save MCAT," Danielson wrote.

"My observations reveal that the staff and the board aren't communicating with each other... What I cannot understand is why anyone on the board would complain so heartily and not be offering any remedies beyond firing Randy."

Danielson reiterated her feelings at Wednesday's board meeting, and board member Leslie Garvin spoke in a similar vein.

"I think that one of the problems here is that all the information is not being disclosed to everyone... There is no open communication and nobody is listening to what anyone else says," she said.

It all started last December, according to a letter from the personnel committee, after Ammon received an "unsatisfactory personnel evaluation" and was informed that he had better improve: The committee had "lost confidence in Randy's ability to lead MCAT."

The committee elaborated a little Wednesday night, giving five reasons for their recommendation that Ammon be fired, including that "his anger problems have created a hostile working environment. He has failed to develop organizational objectives... including failing to develop an effective community outreach program."

As well, they say, Ammon has a "chronic" time management problem, has failed to create a MCAT database, and has failed to improve his technical knowledge.

But the staff apparently does not see Ammon as fatally flawed-they are supporting him. They have written their own MCAT restructuring proposal that demotes Ammon in an attempt, they say, to just keep him on staff.

The board's second vice president, Gene Bernofsky (who also sits on the personnel committee), refuses to comment on past problems with Ammon, but says the board has a vision for MCAT's future and Ammon can not bring it there.

"Randy is my primary concern. Nobody wants to hurt this guy," Bernofsky says. "But his job skills don't match what we need for the future of MCAT. It's as simple as that."

During Wednesday's meeting Bernofsky asked Ammon, point blank, if he would litigate if dismissed.

"My first and foremost hope and all my efforts are going to be continuing to serve this organization. That's the way I feel," responded Ammon.

"So we're not getting a yes or no answer," Bernofsky replied.

"You're getting the truth. The truth is I have not made a decision... I am not going to tell you, absolutely that I'm closing all other options. But I will tell you that it is my intention to keep serving on MCAT," Ammon said.

The board decided Wednesday night to hold a closed, confidential mediation session on April 13 to try and solve the matter before the vote on April 23.

The 13-member board needs a two-thirds majority to oust Ammon, and no one is offering any predictions.

"I'm happy with anything it takes to resolve the issue," Gilman said of the added mediation session after the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting. "This whole thing just needs to be resolved."

MCAT Executive Director Randy Ammon has lead the community access station since its inception nearly a decade ago. (file photo)


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