Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | March 2, 2010

CMAP will provide the most bang for city’s buck

What’s the most important criterion for choosing any public agency service provider? The biggest bang for the buck.

The top criterion is not whether the service provider is local, or whether the service provider has good intentions.

What any public agency’s officials ought to prioritize when evaluating potential service providers is who can do the best job for the best price.

When it comes to who ought to be awarded the $18,000 contract for providing Morgan Hill’s cable television public access services, of the three bidders who responded to the city of Morgan Hill’s request for proposals, the hands-down, absolutely clear, not-even-a-close-call winner is Community Media Access Partnership (CMAP) based at Gavilan College in Gilroy.

It’s important to remember that cable television public access services break down into two parts. The first and increasingly irrelevant part is broadcast services, or running cable access television stations. The Internet, thanks to streaming video and services like YouTube, is rapidly diminishing the audience and need for public access channels.

The second, more important part is content creation, that is, providing residents with training and equipment to create videos. Videos can then be broadcast on public access channels to potentially reach the minority of households with cable TV, or, more likely, put online so that they can potentially reach a worldwide audience.

Since the late 1990s, CMAP has provided public access services for Hollister, San Juan Bautista and Gilroy, and the program has flourished, boasting a large studio on the Gavilan campus, a roster of classes, a community of more than 300 active members, and a professional, paid staff. CMAP’s bid included a provision for a Morgan Hill facility.

Since the late 1990s, Morgan Hill Access Television (MHAT) has provided these services for Morgan Hill. They maintain a small local studio and have approximately 25 active participants, according to one volunteer’s estimate.

A third group, Access Morgan Hill, which is apparently somehow related to Sobrato Arts for Education, also submitted a proposal; it relied on facilities at Sobrato High School. However, Morgan Hill Program Administrator Tony Eulo, who reviewed all the bids, said that Access Morgan Hill did not respond to the city’s request for a letter from MHUSD endorsing its proposal. Morgan Hill Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Wes Smith told me that he could not endorse an Access Morgan Hill proposal that was presented to him, but noted that he provided three alternatives to Access Morgan Hill that he could endorse; nothing seems to have come of those suggestions.

It seems to me that absent MHUSD’s blessing — and the district has many concerns that must be addressed in any bid it endorses, Smith said, including content, curriculum and volunteer clearance — the Access Morgan Hill bid is out of the running.

That leaves CMAP and MHAT, and there’s simply no contest. I have no doubt that the MHAT volunteers work hard and with the best of intentions, but compared to what CMAP has achieved in the same time frame, the best analogy I can come up with is “failure to thrive” that strikes some infants and children.

By using CMAP for public access services, we realize economies of scale. Video equipment and studios are expensive, so by pooling our resources with other communities, we can all have better facilities than we can achieve on our own. We also have access to a wider pool of talent.

City staff who evaluated the proposals came to the same conclusion that I did — CMAP is the best public access service provider for Morgan Hill residents.

But when the issue came before Morgan Hill City Council recently, a small but vocal group of residents convinced elected officials that keeping that money local is the top priority. It’s not. Getting the best service for Morgan Hill residents ought to be the top criterion. And when it is, CMAP is the clear choice.

We’ve got a break in the decision making process because city council members asked the three bidders to work together on a proposal. I’m not sure exactly what they expect to come out of that except perhaps political cover.

That’s too bad. Whether we’re deciding where to put the library (and by extension where to draw its more than 1,400 visitors per day) or which public access provider to hire, what’s best for the community as a whole needs to be the top priority.

I’ll be watching to see if city council members have their priorities straight when this issue comes before them again.

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