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Rocked by Rift, Pledger Earns Applause at AETN Commission MeetingLock Icon

2 min read

You may have read about the rift between the Arkansas Educational Television Network and its support and fundraising arm, the AETN Foundation.

Those usual allies were rocked by a dispute that led to the dismissal of a three-decade employee, but the issue didn’t get any mention at Tuesday’s quarterly meeting of the AETN Commission in Little Rock.

That meeting, in a sixth-floor conference room opposite the state Capitol, was a lovefest between commission members and AETN Executive Director Courtney Pledger.

A reporter was stopped in mid-question during a public comment period. “We don’t take questions, only comments,” Commission Chairman Annette Herrington said.

Later, she said she couldn’t address a disputed payment involving a content-consulting contract linked to the firing of foundation COO Mona Dixon, a public broadcasting fixture for more than 32 years. Dixon says her firing amounted to retaliation by Pledger.

After the dismissal, the AETN Foundation Board — a group separate from the AETN Commission — changed its bylaws, removing Pledger as foundation director and CEO. Traditionally, the AETN director has led both the educational TV network and the foundation.

Pledger confirmed the bylaw change last week but had little more to say, calling it a personnel matter she couldn’t discuss in detail. But in Tuesday’s commission meeting, she got nothing but applause from members, who, like Pledger, were appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Praise for Pledger
Commission members rejoiced in several of Pledger’s projects, including in-depth TV and online coverage of the state’s high school football and basketball championships, and a documentary about Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, “State of the Art,” scheduled to air April 26.

Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis did not respond to a request for the governor to comment on the AETN-foundation dispute, which involved a $14,000 payment that Dixon says she advised Pledger to either make from network funds or seek specific approval for from the foundation board. Instead, Dixon said in a letter appealing her firing, the outlay was made from foundation funds, bringing a backlash from the foundation board.

The contract at issue was with Team Raney, led by Rachel Raney, a documentary filmmaker and North Carolina public media executive Pledger engaged to help AETN rethink its content development and project greenlighting processes.

Dixon, who was fired on Feb. 12, wrote in a Feb. 26 email to foundation board chair Lynne Rich that her “termination without cause leads me to believe that it is in retaliation for me bringing information to the Foundation Board about the Team Raney contract.”

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