Maryland public TV chief turns up heat Ho intensifies charges, hedges governor's role

October 21, 1995|By Michael Dresser and David Zurawik | Michael Dresser and David Zurawik,SUN STAFF

The dispute over charges that the governor is trying to oust Maryland Public Television President Raymond K. K. Ho and use the network for political gain intensified yesterday, with Mr. Ho's supporters calling for an investigation and others dismissing the accusations as absurd.

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, who serves on the House committee that oversees MPT, demanded immediate legislative hearings on the issue -- a call backed by Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the loser in last year's close race for governor.

"The idea of the governor's office trying to exercise direct control over MPT takes a page out of George Orwell's '1984,' " said Mr. Flanagan, a Republican who represents Howard County.

"This is a very serious and scary matter."

But five members of the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission, which runs the network, defended the actions and fairness of commission Chairman David H. Nevins, whom Mr. Ho has accused of orchestrating a campaign to oust him.

The defenders included Baltimore attorney Robert Douglas, an ally of Mr. Ho's, who said he has seen no indication of interference by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and expressed shock that the MPT chief would take his allegations to the press before talking to the commission.

Two Glendening appointees to the commission, Marsha Jews and Robin Oegerle, expressed outrage at the suggestion that they were part of an organized move to fire Mr. Ho.

Both said that neither the governor nor Mr. Nevins had sought their votes against Mr. Ho.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ho stepped up his charges in a four-page letter sent to commission members and to the press, but even as he did so he appeared to hedge his allegations about the governor's role and direct his fire at Mr. Nevins.

"I have never said that Gov. Glendening himself is abusing the system, but David Nevins, his appointee as chairman, is trying to take advantage of the situation to curry favor with the business community in order to build political capital and raise his own stature and influence in the state," said Mr. Ho, whose fate may be decided Monday at a meeting of the public television commission.

In his letter, Mr. Ho listed a series of charges against Mr. Nevins -- among them that Mr. Nevins asked him to an "off the record" meeting in which Mr. Ho was offered incentives to resign, even before he had received a pending evaluation.

The letter also elaborated on Mr. Ho's earlier charges that Mr. Nevins has a conflict of interest as commission chairman because his public relations firm represents Comcast Corp., the area's largest cable television company.

He said Mr. Nevins has pressured him to buy a $1,750 table at a Comcast-sponsored benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and to edit for free a film being produced for the charity.

Mr. Ho said MPT always charges for such work.

Mr. Ho also accused Mr. Nevins of recruiting for the commission another person with a conflict of interest -- Wayne Schelle, chairman of American Personal Communications, which is partly owned by Comcast.

Mr. Schelle, reached at his home on the Eastern Shore, declined to reply.

Those charges were added to Mr. Ho's initial accusations that Mr. Nevins had asked him to air shows about local business leaders and to cover various community events as a way of collecting political chits.

Mr. Nevins, reached yesterday during a port stop while on a vacation cruise, disputed the charges point by point.

He said the "pressure" on Mr. Ho to buy the table at a benefit was a mass-mailed letter he sent to hundreds of business associates on behalf of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

He added that he passed along a request from the head of that foundation, Josie Schaeffer, for MPT's help in preparing a video for an event to honor tennis star Pam Shriver, believing it was a common practice for MPT to donate such work to charity groups.

Mr. Nevins said Mr. Ho raised no objection and agreed to the request.

In fact, a memo supplied by Mr. Ho shows that the MPT president instructed a subordinate to carry out the request, saying: "As you know, our policy in the special projects unit is to charge for such services and generate much-needed nongovernmental revenue, but since Chairman Nevins told us to do it free as a favor to the Governor's Office, you should do what he requests."

Mr. Nevins said the memo was an obvious attempt to create a paper trail.

He denied ever seeking Mr. Ho's resignation, saying the meeting was requested by Mr. Ho to press the commission to wind up his evaluation.

Mr. Nevins said he explained to Mr. Ho that the review process was complicated and cautioned that he should not make assumptions about the outcome.

Mr. Nevins acknowledged that he had recommended Mr. Schelle to the governor as part of a requested list of potential appointees.

He said that he tried to recommend candidates based on their business experience, enthusiasm about public television and ability to help the organization raise funds.

Fred Puddester, Governor Glendening's assistant chief of staff, said yesterday that Mr. Nevins "has the governor's absolute support."

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