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From Key West With Love

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Retired and living in Key West, the last thing the guy wanted to talk with me about yesterday was missing money from WVIA when he worked there as a financial officer. When I called and explained a little something about the nature of my inquiry, he said he had no idea what I was talking about.

I repeated his name.

“That’s you, right?”

Yes, he said.

“You’re the guy who worked for more than 20 years at WVIA, right.


I told him I had two very official letters that named him and discussed details about the arrangement that allowed him to repay about $14,000 back in 2007 without the WVIA executives calling the cops.

All of a sudden his memory returned.

The man said the arrangement was supposed to be confidential, that he has a letter that makes it clear that WVIA executive Bill Kelly, the station lawyer and the members of the board of trustees would keep the matter to themselves.

So much for confidentiality.

Kelly last year talked with me on the record in some detail about the incident. He even once mentioned the confidentiality agreement. In turn, I called the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB), the agency that oversees WVIA and other public broadcast outlets across the nation, and spoke with a lawyer for the Inspector General’s office.

He seemed interested and told me he would check into the matter. Yesterday when I called, I learned that he has since retired. I’ll call the new chief counsel today.

But the WVIA mystery remains a matter of relevant contention in light of the recent announcement that Kelly will receive an annual salary of $199,000 as the station’s chief fundraiser – a huge amount, according to some supporters and  critics of public broadcasting who want to destroy the publicly-funded institution  overseen by an act of Congress in 1967.

When I found out last year about the missing money, I contacted state Sen. Lisa Baker, who at the time sat on the WVIA board. I asked about what some people called a theft and considered a cover-up by the board.

Baker quickly shot off a letter to Kelly and the station lawyer asking for an explanation about the deal that took place before she joined the board. Baker has since resigned from the board.

The lawyer and Kelly quickly responded, signing off on a letter that provides their side of the story and explains that no harm came to the station’s reputation and credibility because of their failure to report the matter to state and federal agencies.

That remains a serious matter of opinion.

People who support and donate to WVIA expect that their money will be protected and put to the best use possible. Kelly’s gigantic salary and benefits over the years, let alone today, and the conspiracy of silence to hide the missing money controversy do little to reassure supporters that the public’s best interests are being looked after.

The man in Key West seemed relieved when I told him I didn’t yet need to use his name. But, I explained, I really need to know more about what went on at WVIA during the time he worked there. He said he saw it all at WVIA, both good and bad.

Terrific, I thought. Maybe he can come on the air and talk. I’m still working on that.

Kelly initially agreed to speak with me on the air this week about his salary. Then he refused to return my calls. He had never agreed to talk with me on the air about the missing money or keeping the cover-up quiet.

And the well-known doctor and chairman of the WVIA board of trustees ducked my question twice when I asked him this week off the air if he knew about the missing money. Since he is named in Baker’s letter as having been sent a copy, I imagine that he knows more about it than he was willing to let on when I interrupted his vacation with his grandchildren.

The man in Key West said he took the money by mistake and that as soon as WVIA officials alerted him after his retirement and re-location, he immediately agreed to repay what he owned.

Sources tell me that some WVIA employees made it clear to WVIA management that police should have been called – maybe even the FBI since WVIA receives federal funding. But not only did station executives refuse, Kelly told me he also didn’t even report the incident to the people at CPB who oversee that station.

WVIA boasts of its documentaries about our community. They should make a documentary about this story and enter it in an award contest. Sounds like a sure winner to me.

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