AETN Commission Demands Allegiance to Pledger


AETN Commission Demands Allegiance to Pledger
Courtney Pledger is executive director and CEO of Arkansas Educational Television Network. (Kyle Massey)

The Arkansas Educational Television Network Commission has issued an ultimatum to its nonprofit counterpart, the fundraising AETN Foundation: Get on board with Executive Director Courtney Pledger or else.

In a previously unpublished resolution approved unanimously during a March 27 emergency meeting, the commission set out seven demands to be met by Wednesday. If not, the educational network, based in Conway, will end its contract with the foundation, threatening an alliance created when the foundation was formed in 1984.

The first demand designed to end what the resolution calls an untenable “adversarial relationship” is that Pledger be reinstated as executive director of the foundation, a position the foundation took from her after the controversial firing of the foundation’s longtime COO, Mona Dixon.

Dixon had challenged Pledger on how payments were to be made to Rachel Raney, a consultant Pledger had brought in.

Next the resolution demands an affirmation of Pledger’s authority to hire, fire and discipline foundation employees, along with restored voting rights for Pledger and an AETN Commission representative on the foundation board.

The resolution seeks changes to the foundation’s articles of incorporation, including language for adding board members and changing the “registered agent for service on the records of the Arkansas Secretary of State to be AETN Executive Director Courtney Pledger.”

Anonymous “concerned employees” of AETN issued an open letter, reported by Whispers on March 18, complaining about Pledger’s treatment of workers and disregard for procedures. Pledger wouldn’t comment on the letter, and told Whispers through a representative that she thinks the commission’s resolution speaks for itself.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s spokesman, J.R. Davis, said “the governor supports Director Pledger and the commission supports Director Pledger. We’re going to keep the lines of communication open and continue to monitor the situation.”

Tension Over 2 Years
The governor announced Pledger as the network’s new chief with great fanfare two years ago, and many observers welcomed new ideas for AETN, the state’s educational TV conduit since 1961.

Some of Pledger’s projects, like online camera coverage of state meetings and live TV coverage of state high school sports championships, have generated positive buzz. But the employees’ letter described stressful encounters with staffers, tense early retirements and then the firing of Dixon, a three-decade employee, over what Dixon said was her questioning of the consulting payments.

That dispute led to the foundation board’s removal of Pledger from foundation leadership in February.

Dixon has appealed her firing and engaged a lawyer. She also said she invoked whistleblower status in discussions with foundation Chair Lynne Rich, a professor at the University of Central Arkansas, which shares its campus with AETN and the foundation.

Rich now appears to be a favorite of the commission, which names her in Demand No. 6: “Extend the term of the current seated AETN Foundation Board Chair Dr. Lynne Rich, until June 30, 2020 so as to re-establish the confidence of the AETN Commission in the Foundation and its activities.”

The resolution’s last demand calls for a 12-year limit on service by foundation board members.

“Existing members whose length of service exceeds 12 years will rotate off the board at the next annual meeting,” the resolution concludes.