By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Editors notes—As we continue to try and uncover what happened at APT that led to the firing of CEO Allan Pizzato and CFO Pauline Howland we have received volumes of information from sources that wanted to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs or other reprisal. Pizzato and Howland, public figures and former government employees, have even had their attorneys threaten this news organization with a defamation lawsuit.
Such threats by public officials should send a chill through the air of all who value a free press. Many past and present employees have come forward to tell their side of the story. It seems Pizzato and Howland have an aversion to any story that does not paint them in a favorable light. It is not the job of the media to judge the story but rather search for answers. In my opinion, threats by high-powered attorneys is the last bastion of scoundrels and thieves.
It is easy to see why former and current APT staffers want to remain anonymous in fear of such threats. This should never be the case with the press. I have no ill will or prejudice against Pizzato or Howland and would like to hear their side of the story. However, it seems they are more interested in hiding behind the skirts of their attorneys than speaking the truth.
God help us all the day that lawyers for high-profile public figures muzzle the free press.
MONTGOMERY—While shuttering the studios at the three-story media complex in Montgomery, Pizzato was building up his Washington DC facility.
According to a report in the Association of Public television stations, “APT’s newest production facility is located on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The studio facility has a set designed for the production of public affairs programs in order to produce interviews with Alabama’s Congressional Delegation members and other policy makers.”
According to an APT staffer, “When the DC studio opened we were told that one of the most important reasons we were in DC was to interview members of Alabama Congress in DC. What the employees of Montgomery could not understand is why we spent so much money to do that. Montgomery had been doing interviews of congressional members for years without paying anything at all 99 percent of the time or a small fee.” The staffers said that the House and Senate both have a studio with a satellite uplink for the purpose of interviews. “That is one reason no other PBS has a DC studio, there is no need. They further say, “Even after the DC studio was in place, most interviews were still done in the House and Senate studio because members of congress were to busy to go to the Folger Library studio.”
APT’s DC bureau is operated out of the Folger’s Library and has a budget of $236,510 according to published reports.
In an interview in July 10, 2011, with the “Tuscaloosa News,” APT spokesman Mike McKenzie said, “… the Washington, DC., bureau is paid for from APT Foundation funds and not state funds that have been cut, necessitating the closing of the Montgomery bureau and the layoff of 19 APT employees statewide.”
McKenzie said under a lease and joint-production agreement, APT creates education and promotion material for the Folger Library. Alabama teachers can use produced material in classrooms.
“The DC bureau has produced educational material with the National Parks Service Foundation, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Other productions include the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and Ford’s Theatre,” said McKenzie.
“Why is Alabama Public Television producing shows for the National Parks Service Foundation and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association?” asked one staffer.
Several of those who lost their jobs in Montgomery felt that spending that type of money on a DC operation was a slap in the face to many who had given their lives and careers to APT.
Another described the “outrage” that there was after layoffs of Montgomery workers. Pizzato restarted “Capitol Journal” without consideration of many of the former staff according to sources.
In an interview, APT public information director Mike McKenzie had this to say: “We always intended to bring it [Capitol Journal] back, we just had to find a different way to put the program on the air, given the resources that were available to us, sharing the news of the state and what’s happening at the Legislature.”
Veteran producers and others expressed outrage that they were not offered their old jobs back or even given the opportunity to interview for their former positions.
“Many of us thought as state employees we had a right to be at least interview for those jobs,” said a former staffer. “Some of us talked about bringing a lawsuit but thought it was better for APT and the state just to move on.”
The former employee, said that obviously Pizzato and Howland did not share the same sense of loyalty.
According to a former Montgomery APT employee, most of the employees at the Montgomery studio who were let go in July of 2011 had worked there a decade or more. “When he [Pizzato] let everyone go, he spent no more than 30 minutes at a conference table and the only concern he had and asked about…was how did the staff find out they were going to be let go before he got there?”
The reason the Montgomery staff was given for their termination was the state budget cuts “but in just 3 months, he hired a whole new crew…and did not ask anyone back that worked on camera/crew…hired all new people,” according to the former staffer.
Former and current APT staffers say they find it amazing that Pizzato is fighting a wrongful firing suit when “he fired staff wholesale, without regard, under false pretense and without remorse,” says a staffer.
Several past employees still wonder if Pizzato did not violate state personnel policy in letting them go–sighting budget cuts–and them turning around a few months later and filling those positions with newcomers. They also wonder how the Alabama Supreme Court could find that Pizzato and Howland suffered wrongful termination and not them?
“Does Alabama have two sets of standards?” asked one former employee that Pizzato let go. “One for executives and another state workers?”