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Show Me The Money

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Facing off against Republicans was easy back when GOP thugs were bashing Big Bird and marauding down Sesame Street with the ease of looters after a summer riot.

Nowadays, WVIA’s “Big Boss” Bill Kelly makes such a common sense defense all the more difficult.

So do board members at the local public broadcasting outlet.

While begging money from dedicated viewers to ensure the continued airing of kids’ programs and other community-minded offerings, Big Boss recently accepted an annual paycheck of $199,000 to serve as hustler emeritus and chief fundraiser.

People who don’t earn such great sums of cash often attack those who do, he told me in an off-the air conversation yesterday that felt like talking to the Queen of England about why she’s got the crown jewels and we don’t.

Big Boss was unapologetic and said he deserves every penny – even after layoffs and cut-backs at WVIA.

I explained that even average public broadcast supporters might have a hard time justifying his paycheck that’s drawn in part from public funds that hard-working people contribute through their federal taxes.

So I suggested that Big Boss come on the air and justify his wealth taken from the public trough. I thought maybe I could convince him to see the light and take a salary cut and, if not, at least expose him for the greedy public servant he seems to be.

Big Boss told me I would have to get permission for him to talk from the chairman of the board - not that he would have to get permission but that I would have to get permission for him to talk with me.

Big Boss’ logic seemed class-backwards but, then again, that’s our Big Boss.

So I called the chairman of the board, interrupting his vacation with his grandchildren. Don’t blame me, I said, blame Big Boss, whom you agreed to reward in light of a crumbling economy and countless coal crackers in your service area who are out of work, out of time and just plain out of luck.

The chairman, who's a locally famous doctor, launched into a lecture about how important Big Boss is to the future of the WVIA enterprise.

At least my medical insurance wasn’t getting billed for his advice, I thought.

But my taxes are.

The chairman said he’d call Big Boss.

And all systems were go for the interview, something Big Boss knows a little something about since he’s in charge of the kissy-face interviews with business people that Big Boss hopes translate into corporate cash contribution to WVIA.

Big Boss is to interviews what Log Cabin syrup is to hotcakes. Nobody leans back in his chair, crosses his legs, dangles his fingers like he’s holding an imaginary cigarette holder on the Riviera and flutters his eyelids like Big Boss.

But behind closed doors it’s all “show me the money.”

Big Boss got snippy during my invitation, by the way, criticizing me for sometimes cutting people off during tense interviews. So I promised to be gentle.

After receiving permission and after the show began, Big Boss left a message for me on my office voice mail. In turn, my producer called Big Boss and left a message telling him to call the show.

The call never came.

My guess is that he was listening and didn’t like what he heard – not just from me but from caller after caller, most of whom support public broadcasting, lambasting him and the privileged posse that authorized his salary.

So, if he won’t call to explain himself why should you call to support his paycheck?

Good question, huh, Big Boss?

Maybe he’ll call today. I’ll invite him because I’m not finished with this story.

Big Boss only renewed my interest in his station and the way they do the people’s business.

Maybe WVIA can make a documentary about the colleague that Big Boss and others once told me took some station money a few years ago. Rather than call police and report a crime, Big Boss and the board of directors called the suspected thief and asked for their money back. He returned the money, Big Boss said, and nobody was the wiser – especially the poor suckers who truly believed that Big Boss and Company took good care of the dollars they contributed to ensure quality community programming.

When it comes to WVIA, it might be time to change the channel.

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