January 8, 2019; Oklahoman
Yesterday, in a unanimous vote, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA), a PBS affiliate, elected to cut ties with its thirty-year independent charitable fundraising partner, the OETA Foundation. This story may seem familiar to you in its basic scaffolding—another caution about the fact that even when you have created an independent body to be your supporting organization, relationships change over time.
In this case, the television network is a government entity, the foundation is its nonprofit, and their relationship has soured in a public enough fashion that the foundation believed it could take its case to court, suing OETA, its birth parent, over control of the foundation based on the premise that donors were being alienated by the dispute. The disagreements at the dispute’s core include the redrafting of an old memorandum of understanding between the two and OETA’s choice of a new chief executive who, the foundation claims, was forced out of a previous post after being accused of misconduct. As was reported in the Oklahoman, “Records obtained by the foundation show she was accused of creating a toxic work culture and misusing institutional resources for personal gain.
For their part, OETA’s board has accused the foundation, which occupies the same building, of going rogue. In a statement to the Oklahoman, the board charged,
Donor funds, given in good faith, have been misappropriated for unauthorized programming, unsolicited content creation and production while the OETA has been forced to operate with fewer dollars as state appropriations have declined.
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As we delve deeper into the operations of the OETA Foundation, it is clear they continue to overstep the authority granted to them by state law. It is apparent they are willfully misleading donors, withholding funds and refusing to release financial documents….There should be no mistake, OETA is prepared to pursue every legal avenue available to right this wrong and restore openness, accountability and trust for the benefit of donors and the future of public broadcasting in Oklahoma.
This week, the Television Authority characterized the foundation’s lawsuit as “an apparent attempt to damage OETA’s reputation among its donors and in the community and assert control over the operations of OETA.”
“OETA has determined,” it added, “that the relationship with the foundation has become untenable and termination of the agreement is the only viable option,” adding that it has already established a new nonprofit, Friends of OETA Inc., to replace the foundation’s role.
Furthermore, it wants the foundation out of its shared building, serving it with an eviction notice that would have the group out as of January 13, 2019.
“It is unfortunate we had to take this action,” said Garrett King, the chair of OETA’s board of directors. “We were left with no other option after the OETA Foundation began changing locks, attempting to make alterations to OETA’s building, denying access to part of OETA’s building, interfering with day-to-day operations and attempting to hack OETA’s computer network.”—Ruth McCambridge