By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Lavish travel, expensive toys, high priced studios, cronyism and a flagrant disregard for employees is the legacy of former Alabama Public Television CEO Allan Pizzato, according to current and former APT employees. Far from the tortured liberal martyr hung on the cross of religious zealotry, Pizzato was a man bent on building a personal empire using millions of dollars of Alabama taxpayer’s money and the donations of thousands of companies and individuals. This is the opinion of many of those who served under the Pizzato regime before his firing in June.
The twisted trail that led to Pizzato’s downfall is not the one that has been painted by the liberal press or mainstream media. Former and current employees say Pizzato demise came at his own hands when the ATEC board that governs APT finally said enough is enough.
According to those who spoke with us under conditions of anonymity, because of impending lawsuits and fear of reprisal, they said the trouble with Pizzato started almost from day one.
“Allan wanted APT to be primarily based in Birmingham. He did not like Montgomery and did not want to live there,” said one of our sources.
According to these employees, whenever anyone would quit or get fired from APT “he would not replace them in Montgomery. He would put the position in Birmingham.”
Records, they say, indicate that when Pizzato took over APT approximately the same amount of people were employed in Montgomery as Birmingham, “In the end there were 12 left in Montgomery and around 50 in Birmingham. He had wanted to close down the Montgomery studio from day one.”
No one seemed to question why Pizzato would want to continue to pay $400,000 dollars a year for a leased space in Birmingham, when APT was suppose to own a three-story facility in Montgomery.
“The old board that was here just pretty much rubber stamped anything Allan told them,” said a APT insider. “They didn’t understand anything about broadcasting. A lot of them didn’t even have any experience in television. He pretty much just came in and ran over them, more or less.”
After almost 12 years that began to change, says the APT insider, “It wasn’t until the new board members like Rodney Herring, Farris Stevens, Les Barnett and Jay Holland came on and realized that there was just something not right about this.”
Even the new AETC board members went along with Pizzato’s plan to sell the Montgomery building. The only problem was APT did not own the Montgomery property or the land under it.
“Pizzato, kept talking about how he was going to sell the building, everyone knew we didn’t own that building,” said another APT employee.
But the AETC board did not know that the building was owned by the state of Alabama and the land owned by the city of Montgomery. APT pays a small administrative fee to the state for the building per year and $1 per year to the city of Montgomery for the lease on the land. The lease states that at least one show per month must be produced at that location.
The board only learned that the Montgomery facility didn’t belong to them until after they fired Pizzato and CFO Paula Howland.
“He told the board that we owned it,” said an insider. “It wasn’t until they did their own investigation and they found out that there was no deed to [the Montgomery] building.
“He [Pizzato] had just signed a 20-year lease two years ago for the building. So how did he not know that [APT] didn’t own [the Montgomery] building?”
One had to question the wisdom of paying almost a half a million dollars in rent in Birmingham as oppose to a dollar a year in Montgomery.
“Closing of the Montgomery studio had absolutely nothing to do with budget cuts. The closing of the Montgomery studio was because he thought that he was going to be able to sell the building to Alabama State University and in turn take that money for renovation on the building that he was trying to purchase in Birmingham which was the old Cox Television/Radio Station,” said one of our sources.
“Allan’s life and cronies were in Birmingham, he looked down on Montgomery,” said a former APT employee. “Allan disliked Montgomery and especially the legislature, he would find any reason to avoid the Capital.”
In fact during the time of the “budget hearings and committee hearings for the budget for APT with the Alabama Trust Fund, Allan was in Vegas for 10 days to look at purchasing ‘new toys,’” said our source.
Pizzato spent millions on equipment and remodeling, “Some of the stuff still sits in boxes, thousands and thousands of dollars worth.”
Pizzato propensity to develop new property was widely questioned by staff when he decided to construct a new studio in the Alabama State House.
“We had a beautiful studio two blocks from the Statehouse, with state-of-the art equipment, robotic cameras, everything,” said our source. “Every governor since Big Jim Folsom has come to this studio and had interviews there.”
Several APT staffers said there was nothing wrong with the studio and that legislators even looked forward to getting away from the State House for a few minutes during session. “The problem was not the studio, the problem was that Allan didn’t like it because he didn’t build it. It wasn’t part of his grand plan.”
The new State House studio cost hundreds of thousand to build and APT pays the state $27,000 a year in rent.
According to those we interviewed these were not Pizzato’s only studio debacles.
Alabama is the only state in the country that has a television studio in Washington, DC, a place not greatly loved by most Alabamians. But what is not known is that the DC studio’s which has not produced even a hand full of productions in the last 5 years has cost the state hundreds of thousand for personnel and travel.
APT employs two producers in DC that are paid over a hundred thousand apiece per year with nothing to show for it.
Travel cost for Pizzato and his entourage has sometimes topped a hundred thousand for one trip according to an inside source. According to some employees a DC studio also gave Pizzato free visits to see his daughter who lives in Washington, DC.
In the next installment, we look at travel, staff firings, Pizzato’s big award, crony deals and more.