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AETN Standoff Still on StandbyLock Icon

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A crucial deadline in the Arkansas Educational Telecommunications Network’s standoff with its nonprofit fundraising foundation came and went this month with no resolution. But the executive director at the heart of the dispute, Courtney Pledger, broke nearly three weeks of silence on the matter.

Pledger has been the object of employee complaints, including an open letter to state leaders, since the February firing of longtime AETN Foundation COO Mona Dixon. Dixon had challenged Pledger at several points on the funding source for a content consulting contract. She has appealed her firing, describing it as retaliation against a whistleblower, and hired an employment law attorney, Melva Harmon of Little Rock.

The AETN Commission, appointed to oversee the Conway-based network, issued an ultimatum last month, making several demands on the foundation, which altered its bylaws to oust Pledger as its CEO in the wake of Dixon’s firing.

The commission set an April 10 deadline for the foundation board to reinstate Pledger, and affirm her hiring and firing authority over foundation employees, or face termination of the foundation’s contract for services with the state.

That date apparently came and went with no response, and an AETN Commission meeting by teleconference last week also failed to settle matters.

“The meeting was a discussion with all commissioners on possible next steps regarding the Foundation,” Pledger told Whispers. “The Commission is taking the time to carefully consider next steps.”

The commission and administration of Gov. Asa Hutchinson have fully backed Pledger’s leadership, and Pledger has called Dixon’s firing a personnel matter she’s not at liberty to discuss. Both Dixon and her lawyer, Harmon, declined opportunities to comment.

“The AETN Commission supports AETN’s vision for the future,” Pledger said. The network has put new focus on Arkansas stories and content in Pledger’s tenure, something she emphasized in her response to questions. She described AETN as “Arkansas’ storyteller,” and noted last Friday’s national premiere of its documentary, “State of the Art,” on the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

Meanwhile, observers close to the foundation board say members have discussed meeting most of the commission’s demands but have so far balked at restoring Pledger as foundation CEO. As a private foundation, the group does not open its meetings to the public and is not subject to the state Freedom of Information Act.

Pledger offered no estimate on when the stalemate might end, and no new deadline has been announced.

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