Five members of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington serve as volunteer arts advisers to the firm that the alliance has named as the best among eight firms competing for the lucrative cable television franchise in Montgomery County. Two other alliance members, including a past president of its board, own stock in the firm that received the second highest rating.
Peter Jablow, executive director of the alliance, confirmed the ties between alliance members and the top rated firms yesterday, but said the evaluation by the alliance's seven-member task force was free from influence by persons associated with the competing firms. The task force selected 1st County Cable as offering the best arts programming, and Montgomery County Cable Inc./Times Mirror Cable Television, as the runner-up.
As a result of a press inquiry, Jablow released the names of past and present members of the alliance who have ties to cable firms. He said it was always the alliance's intention to distribute the names when it releases its final report next Monday.
Eliot Pfanstiehl, arts coordinator for the Montgomery County Recreation Department and a trustee of the alliance, said he disqualified himself from the task force that evaluated the firms in favor of serving as an unpaid arts adviser to 1st County.
"I was in on the first two meetings, but I dropped out at the point where they decided who gets ranked where," Pfanstiehl said. He said he was still a member when the task force decided to not ask two of the firms to come back and offer a verbal presentation.
Jessica Chao, membership director of the alliance, said she is another of the five alliance members advising 1st County. She said the others are Allan Lefcowitz, Ted Parker and William Graham.
Chao also said the Capital Centre, which is owned by Abe Pollin, a principal partner of 1st County, donated $1,000 to the alliance. But Pollin said yesterday the Capital Centre has never donated money to the alliance, and that he had no influence in the rankings.
"I am very convinced that the report was a careful, impartial decision and we are glad we came out first," Pollin added.
Stephen D. Harlan, a past president of the alliance's board of directors and a trustee emeritus, owns $8,000 worth of stock in MCCI/Times Mirror, and lawyer R. Robert Linowes, a former trustee of the alliance, owns $30,000 of MCCI stock.
Harlan said he had "nothing to do" with the task force's report. "I didn't know it was going on until it was done," Linowes said. "I didn't even know there was a task force and didn't know that they were going to take this up."
"We feel that our process has been thorough, impartial and unbiased," Jablow said. "We feel confident in the quality of the report. Because of the nature of the Cultural Alliance, it figures that a number of people involved with cable firms would be affiliated with the Cultural Alliance."
A statement released yesterday by the alliance said that "since the alliance is a region-wide, nonprofit service organization for the Washington arts industry, many individuals associated with the alliance are involved in cable television efforts throughout the region, including Montgomery County. Though none of these individuals played any role in the decision reached by the cable task force, the alliance believes it is appropriate that they be identified in this document."
The D.C.-based alliance was formed in 1978 and now counts 250 organizations, ranging in size from Fairfax County choral societies to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and some 600 individual artists as members.
In releasing a draft of its report last week, the alliance said its intention was to impartially rate what the firms vying for Montgomery's $100 million franchise were offering to the arts community.
The other firms seeking the franchise are Tribune United of Montgomery County, Tele-Mont Communications, Viacom Cable Vision of Maryland, Cablevision of Montgomery County, Montgomery Community Cablevision, and Warner Amex. Only Montgomery Community Cablevision did not respond to the alliance's request for information.
Jablow said yesterday that they have received further requests to submit information about county cable bids from Viacom and Warner Amex and that the new information might possibly change the evaluations for their final task force report.
But John Hansman, who is handling the cable project in the county's office of management and budget, said that the report might not have that much effect anyway. The county's selection process is based on a 100-point scheme and arts programming would fall in a subcategory of community program in which a total of only 17 points are possible.
"We'll look at the report, but the amount of points specifically at issue here is fairly small."