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Farrell represents the purchase of piano for Dept. of Arts, Culture, and History | News, sports, jobs


MEETING — Members of the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority met Wednesday morning at the West Virginia Public Broadcasting headquarters in Charleston. –Steven Allen Adams

CHARLESTON — Michael Farrell, the president of the West Virginia Public Broadcasting Foundation, is standing by the purchase he approved of a new concert grand piano for the Department of Arts, Culture and History after the department tried to circumvent state procurement requirements.

During quarterly public meetings Wednesday of the foundation and the Educational Broadcasting Authority (EBA) in Charleston, Farrell also blamed ignorance of grant requirements and negative publicity for the loss of a $600,000 grant for one of West Virginia’s award-winning news reporting projects Public Broadcasting.

At the EBA’s Wednesday morning meeting, Farrell delivered a report to the authority on the foundation — one of two nonprofits that raise donations and seek grants for the partially state-funded West Virginia Public Broadcasting (WVPB).

“Well, this has been an unusual quarter for the foundation,” Farrell said at the EBA meeting. “We got some publicity, but it wasn’t really good.”

Farrell was referring to reporting of a nearly $200,000 Steinway and Sons concert grand piano purchased by the foundation in April 2023 and paid for in October 2023 on behalf of Department of Arts, Culture and History (WVDACH) Cabinet Secretary Randall Reid-Smith.

Farrell and Reid-Smith signed a memorandum of understanding in October 2023 in which WVDACH would repay the foundation in four monthly installments of $50,000 through January of this year.

Between April 2023 and October 2023, Reid-Smith had gone through a competitive bidding process for a new concert grand piano required by the state purchasing department, with two bids of $198,770 submitted by Steinway and one bid of $149,295 from Kawai. WVDACH officials questioned Kawai’s lower bid, and Reid-Smith even tried to get the Purchasing Division to agree to a fine art and historical artifact purchase exemption to purchase a Steinway without competitive bidding. The Purchasing Department rejected his request.

At the Wednesday afternoon meeting of the West Virginia Public Broadcasting foundation, only Farrell directly addressed the purchase of the Steinway piano, although some board members requested copies of the foundation’s bylaws and an unnamed foundation member filed a request for a legal opinion on whether the purchase was permitted under state law.

According to a review of the foundation’s previous meetings posted on YouTube in 2023, the potential purchase of the Steinway was not discussed at previous meetings and the costs were never mentioned in financial reports to the foundation during those meetings.

According to Farrell, the purchase of a new concert grand piano was part of the Legislature’s allocation of $2.2 million from available excess tax collections at the end of fiscal year 2023 in July of that year for capital improvements. Farrell, who declined to comment on the earlier story about the purchase, said Wednesday that he supports the purchase.

“There was a request from (Reid-Smith) for the foundation to advance money that the Legislature had already appropriated, but that would be paid out to the foundation in installments and costs,” Farrell said. “There was no loss of use of our money during the short period it was out. I made that decision. I stand by it.

“(Reid-Smith) was able to use that money to purchase a Steinway piano and that piano will be available for EBA projects and foundation-sponsored projects, and will help the Secretary achieve the agenda of the Department of Culture and History that he now has. Farrell continued.

The West Virginia Public Broadcasting Foundation is one of two 501(c)3 foundations that provide private funding for the state’s public broadcasters. It covers important grants, donations, awards and legacies. The other nonprofit that funds WVPB, the Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting Foundation, handles the annual membership donations.

According to the WVPB’s 2023 annual report, 46.2% of funding for public broadcasting – almost $5 million – comes from private funds. Another 35.5% ($3.9 million) comes from the state’s general revenue budget and 18.3% (nearly $2 million) comes from federal funding sources.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting has come under increased scrutiny following the March passage of Senate Bill 844, which reduces the number of EBA members and removes the EBA’s authority to hire the executive director of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, leaving that authority falls directly into its hands. from WVDACH and Reid-Smith.

At an April meeting of the EBA, Farrell had informed EBA members of the concerns that the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies – a major national donor – had about the new structure of the EBA created by SB 844. The Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, which accepts grants by invitation only, funds Public Broadcasting’s Folkways Reporting Project, a group of 20 reporters who submit stories for Inside Appalachia, a popular radio and podcast program.

The foundation applied for a new $600,000 grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies to fund the Folkways Reporting Project for an additional three years. But according to Farrell, a requirement of those grants is that the organization not be mentioned by name. Although the Public Broadcasting Service has credited Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies in the past, it decided not to fund a new grant because of Farrell’s mention of them by name in April and the attendant publicity.

Farrell, who took pains Wednesday not to name the organization, partly blamed the reporting on the April meeting but also admitted he was unaware of the grant’s requirements. Farrell said it was important that foundation members were aware of all grant requirements and prohibitions.

“I can tell you that over the last two and a half months I have spent hours, literally hours, on the phone with these people. And the main, if not the only, subject was the newspaper articles,” Farrell said. “We all have to know the rules. But… no one handed me a package with the text: ‘here are the rules of the subsidies we have.’ No one told me there were words and identities I couldn’t reveal. So this is all an educational process in which we will not end up in this earlier phase again, because we will all be better educated than we were four months ago.

There is still $270,000 in funding left for the Folkways Reporting Project to run through July 2025, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Public broadcaster officials also plan to meet with the grantor to repair any damage to the relationship and ensure the remaining funds are used. . The foundation will also work through other philanthropic organizations to secure new grants for the Folkways project.

It was announced on Wednesday that Eddie Isom, interim director of West Virginia Public Broadcasting since August last year, will become the new permanent director. The EBA recommended Isom for the permanent job in April, although the final decision was up to Reid-Smith.

Isom was appointed interim executive director by the EBA almost a year ago following the abrupt resignation of controversial WVPB executive director Butch Antolini. He was the chief operating officer and director of programming. He has worked at WVPB since 1996 in a variety of roles including TV traffic, broadcast operations, television programming and underwriting.

During Wednesday morning’s EBA meeting, Isom read the numerous awards West Virginia Public Broadcasting has received this year for its documentaries and news reporting, including awards for the Folkways project.

“People here believe in who we are and what we do,” Isom said. “I believe in who we are and what we do. And we will continue to do great work here at West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“It really is a bright sunrise to see someone with a passion for public broadcasting come and do a report like this,” said Elliot Hick, chairman of the Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting Board. “This has been a beautiful thing. It is very nice to see how the spirit of this building comes to life.”

“I support that,” said EBA President William File III. “We thank (Reid-Smith) and the governor’s office for their partnership and appointment of Eddie as executive director. It was something that met the deadline, and congratulations Eddie.



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