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Critic Asks Fine-Tuning of Cable TV Compliance

February 05, 1987|RALPH CIPRIANO | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Rolland B. Samuelson, a member of the city's Cable Communications Advisory Commission, is waging a one-man battle against Simmons Cable TV of Long Beach.

The battle went prime time Tuesday, when Samuelson appeared before the City Council, and Simmons' own camera crews, to complain that Simmons has violated municipal law by not handing in financial reports on time and not keeping a strict accounting of public-access programming funds.

Frank G. McNellis, Simmons' president and general manager, said in an interview that his firm has complied with city law since it was granted the cable franchise for Long Beach and Signal Hill in November, 1985. The firm now has 48,200 subscribers in the two cities.

"There is nothing that the city has ever asked us for that we haven't given them, whether it's required or not," McNellis said.

McNellis said the firm asked for and received permission from the city manager to file a late financial report. He also said the city is responsible for management of public-access funds.

Of Samuelson, McNellis said, "He's got a burr under his saddle, but we don't know what caused it."

Council Asks for Inquiry

Council members Tuesday asked acting City Manager Robert Paternoster to investigate Samuelson's complaints and report back to the council.

Several council members also praised Simmons for upgrading services since the firm took over the city franchise. Councilman Warren Harwood called the firm a "quality cable company."

Deputy City Atty. William H. Keiser, who has reviewed Samuelson's complaints, said in an interview that Simmons technically violated a city ordinance last year when it submitted an annual financial report two months late.

The report was due March 31, just five months after Simmons took over the city's cable franchise. Kaiser, said, however, that city officials decided that the firm had "substantially complied" with city law.

"They (Simmons Cable) may have been a little late in getting the report in, but nobody's going to kick them out for something like that," Keiser said.

While Samuelson had sought a list of subscriber complaints made to Simmons, as required by city law, Keiser said a new federal law prohibits such disclosure. The federal law, he said, is designed to protect subscriber privacy.

Samuelson, 74, a retired businessman, said city officials are not strict enough in their dealings with Simmons.

"If I got a ticket and I didn't answer it, they would come to my home and arrest me," Samuelson said in an interview, adding that violating the city ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Fuzzy Accounting Picture

At the council meeting Tuesday, Samuelson also complained about the way Simmons keeps track of $130,000 that the firm annually allocates for public-access programming. Samuelson said he and other members of the cable commission, which is supposed to recommend how the money should be spent, usually have no idea how much programming money has been spent.

City Auditor Robert E. Fronke said in a November audit report that the city's record-keeping concerning allocation of public-access money should be improved.

In the audit, Fronke said the city's Telecommunications Division, which oversees Simmons Cable, maintained "no regularly updated summary of total additions, allocations, disbursements and balances available."

"Therefore, neither management nor the (cable television) Commission has readily available information on total funds used and amounts remaining," Fronke said in his report.

Last year, Samuelson, who is a producer of public-access shows, complained to the state Industrial Relations Department about allegedly unsafe studio conditions at Simmons. A subsequent inspection resulted in a $375 fine because the firm kept an aluminum ladder next to electrical equipment, according to a memo from Paul D. Berg, Simmons' manager of production and programming. The aluminum ladder has since been replaced with a fiberglass one, Berg said.

Time-Consuming Complaints

Other members of the city's cable commission said Samuelson takes up much of the commission's time with complaints about Simmons.

Luanne Prior, a member of the commission, said that Samuelson is tenacious in watching over Simmons, but that he also has "antagonized a lot of people" with his complaints.

However, a former commission member, June Mulcahy, said Samuelson is to be commended for his dedication. "He really reminds me of a dog who has got the scent of a bone," she said. "You can offer it all the Kal Kan you want but it won't be deterred."

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