1980 – Public, educational and governmental access channels begin programming on Columbus’ cable systems.

1984 – Public access becomes a separate entity; a non-profit organization, Columbus Community Cable Access, Inc. (CCCA), is formed to administer the city contract funds. CCCA moves into 394 Oak Street and Carl Kucharski is hired as Executive Director.

1985-93 – CCCA calls its channel ACTV (Access Columbus Television). By 1993 it has nine fulltime employees, four part-time instructors, over 200 volunteers, 60-70 active series programs. The ACTV Board actively participates in four committees that include staff, producers/volunteers and community members. The Producers’ Advisory Committee elects a producer/volunteer representative each year who holds monthly meetings and sits on the Board. Kucharski effectively handles the submission of a controversial “Race and Reason” program, which had previously caused the shut down of a public access center in Kansas. A yearly “Pyramid” award contest and ceremony is held each year giving away up to 75 awards for programming and volunteering. A “Storyboard” newsletter is printed regularly and by 1993 is sent out to approximately 1000 names. The National Black Programming Consortium exclusively airs their “Prized Pieces” award-winning shows on ACTV each year.

1992 - ACTV wins the “Best Public Access” in the U.S. award from the NFLCP. ACTV participates in an international “Video Olympics” that is cablecast live from the Wexner Center throughout the world. Over 70 local celebrities and politicians appear on PSA’s for ACTV to promote it as a “Free Speech Forum.”

1994 – The Board hires Laurie Cirivello as Executive Director following Kucharski’s resignation in 1993.

1995 – Howard Luken, aka Angsto the Clown, sues the public access organization in federal court for restricting his First Amendment privileges. He previously submitted a program that ACTV refused to cablecast because the Board of Trustees deemed it objectionable.

1996 – ACTV changes its name to Community21. Jon Berge, ACTV computer graphics instructor who is confined to a wheelchair, files a Worker’s Compensation claim after allegedly sustaining injury when being “bounced” down the front stairs of the building. Cirivello resigns as Executive Director. Patricia Williamsen, Board member, is appointed Interim Executive Director. Berge sues ACTV for lack of handicap accessibility.

1997 – Williamsen is hired as Executive Director. Community21 countersues several different parties involved in the two suits against them. Community21 is admonished by its contractor, the City of Columbus, for not holding open Board meetings. The City puts the public and educational access contracts up for bid. Staff are directed to stop referring to Community21 as a “free speech forum.”

1998 – Community21 gets the public access contract. No other entity applied for it. Two staff members are reprimanded and put on 90-day probation for expressing concern on behalf of staff to Williamsen and Board President Tim Shear about financial status of organization, lawsuits, fund-raising, moving into a new facility and staff morale. Added to charges against Suzanne Patzer, Executive Assistant, was the fact she mentioned that some African-American staff members were offended by alleged offensive racial remarks made by top management. After investigation, reprimand and probation are dropped but written reprimand remain in personnel files. Both staff members file grievances. Berge wins his lawsuit against Community21 and is awarded $550,000. That same day Patzer is asked to backdate two checks to Community21 attorney Joe Streb and to research small banks to move organization funds into, “so it will take them longer to find it.” Patzer refuses on the grounds the actions could be criminal creditor fraud. Patzer is reprimanded for insubordination. Both previously reprimanded employees file a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint and an Ohio Civil Rights Commission charge is filed by Patzer. The Board votes to fire Patzer, staff member of 10 years. No reason is given.

1999 – The City holds up Community21’s renewal of contract funding for a month because of controversy about lack of open Board meetings. Community21 loses a total of seven out of ten employees in a year. Patzer sues Board of Community21 for wrongful termination. Community21 Operations Manager Geoffrey Wingard files criminal charges against volunteer/producer Frank Cromer for “aggravated menacing” after prescreening a program in which Cromer’s stand-up comedy routine calls him a technocrat and states, “All technocrats must die.” The case is dismissed. Berge’s lawsuit is overturned. Luken’s case goes to trial and a jury finds in favor of Community21. Attorney Streb immediately re-writes the Community21 program policy manual forbidding “obscene” and “indecent” programming including touching of another’s thigh in a suggestive manner; prohibiting “calls to arms” or action; and adding that the policies could change anytime without advising the producers. The NLRB complaints are dismissed. The Ohio Civil Rights Commission finds “probable cause” in Patzer’s charges. No Pyramid Awards ceremony is held. The Volunteer/Producer Advisory Committee Chairperson is first voted off the Board and then the Committee is abolished. “Contract Compliance” meetings are held in lieu of open Board meetings, for people to address the Board. At the first of these meetings, four Board members, at Streb’s direction, refused to respond to any public comment and after the last speaker, adjourned and ended the meeting.

2000 – Community21 still resides at 394 Oak Street. Numbers of staff members, community supporters, producers and volunteers, and consequently programming, are decreasing.

Is this the end of free speech TV?

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